Monday, November 23, 2009

Doing Scary Things

A close friend reminded me how I used to advise students to do something scary every day. It's one of those diminishing returns concepts, because after a while it gets harder and harder to find scary things. Last Thursday, I had a nice one.

Back Fence PDX is an interesting, fun concept. as a sort of dinner theater, seven people get up on stage, one at a time, and tell a story. The story must be true, personal and un-rehearsed.

If you have been to an ABBB, you know I like telling stories... but that is very different. Stage fright doesn't make sense to me when you are surrounded by people who have held your head when you puked and put on bandages when you bled and would be there in a heartbeat if you cried. At ABBB, we are reconnecting with the old stories and catching up with the new ones.

These were strangers, with bright lights in my eyes (want to make a jail guard nervous? Put him in a room with three hundred people all watching him, and then blind him.) It was something new. And the story was something I don't talk about often. I can only think of twice when I had a failure of moral nerve in my career, times when I followed the policy even though it was wrong. I told about the old one, the one that is not so raw. How a good man died because everybody did the right thing, followed the rules.

The internal state had some adrenaline. I don't think the audience saw much, and what they did see was a rookie trying to figure out a microphone. No shakes, voice steady... just visualizing tripping on the way to the stage...

There was a secondary effect, too. It caught me off guard. When several people seek you out to say they were moved to tears... what do you say? I had no idea. "Thank you," maybe.

It's good to be a rookie again.

It's also fun to tease K: avant garde dinner theater with her husband followed by a book release party for a friend, she's officially literati now, I think.


Kai Jones said...

I get bored if I'm not afraid of failure at something; I enjoy a new hobby most when I'm still scared I won't be able to learn it.

Is it the fear or the eventual conquering of it by demonstrating mastery? My accomplishments seem less worthwhile if I wasn't at some point afraid I wouldn't achieve them.

Mark Jones said...

We talked about this in person already, Kai, but--what you're talking about is mastering a challenge. If there's no risk of failure, there's no challenge. You get bored when you have nothing to challenge you; it's not about needing fear of failure...that's just an inescapable part of anything worthy of being called a challenge.

Scott said...

I've tried the find something scary one too. I've also done the find something new to do everyday that's embarrassing.
I want to hear the story too.