Do it, Heather.
No, I can’t.
Well, I am sure I have something going on that night.
You can cancel it.
Maybe I should just wait a few months.
Is this how it is going to be? You want to do something but only when the timing is right?
Good point. I pulled out my phone. I will just send the email. If I get it, great. If not, then I know I should wait.
ME: Hi is this spot still open? I would be interested, if so.
SCOTT: It’s all yours! Thanks so much! More details on the way.
Shit. I guess I am doing this.
Several months earlier I attended a storytelling show called This Much Is True with some new friends. We met through the vast RPCV network but realized that we enjoyed writing and storytelling and found this free show. The show casts several experienced storytellers and occurs every second Tuesday of the month. It’s usually really fun and the stories range from creepy to hilarious to sad to inspiring.
TMIT happens to have a sister show, Story Lab, which is specifically for people who are new to storytelling or would like to give it a try. It’s quite easy to sign up, you just have to attend Story Lab or TMIT and put your name on a list.
That’s all I did, but, because it is so easy, the wait list is long. It would be until at least Spring 2015 before I could get a spot, but I surely would, said Scott, the show organizer, in the monthly emails he sends.
However, someone dropped out of the January show and Scott sent out an email to see if anyone could fill in. It was roughly three weeks till the show, but I sent that email, even without a story in mind.
I said yes because I’ve always wanted to tell stories in front of audiences, because I think I would be good at it. I said yes because I am tired of being the greatest force stopping me. I said yes because I wanted to stop making decisions based on fear.
After I got Scott’s confirmation of me in the cast, I went home and immediately wrote a story and spent the next three weeks rehearsing it to myself in front of the mirror and my roommate’s dog. I thought about phrasing and orientation while running or sitting on the train.
I believe I have some greatest hits when it comes to stories – getting kicked out of two countries in two weeks, the time I almost died – but I forced myself to dig deeper and find a different story**. Even the day before the show, I wondered if I should change my story, if I was trying to make this into something, but I stuck with it because I felt that it was something I needed to tell.
Besides telling the story, a big fear for me was inviting people to the show. I feel like I am sometimes still planting roots in Chicago and I wasn’t sure if I could get anyone to come. I am silly that way. Again, though, I did not want fear to lead the way so I asked almost everyone I knew in the city, and most of them came. The night of the show, a friend remarked that it felt like a wedding because half of the people on one side were there for me and the other half for everyone else. See what I mean about being silly? It turns out that I am actually doing well with the making of friends and I’ve picked really great ones who came out on a winter Tuesday night to hear me tell a story.
Before the show was to begin, Scott asked us to go up to a group of people we don’t know and introduce ourselves while thanking them for attending the show. Gosh, I thought, I am already going up on stage; now I have to go to talk to strangers? This is worse. I told one of my friends about the assignment and he asked me, shortly before the show, if I had done it yet. I said no, that awful feeling burping in my gut.
Just do it, I said. So, I did and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I had thought it would be.
Then the show started and I was fourth. I tried to pay attention to the other speakers, but I couldn’t help from going back through pieces of my story to make sure I included this or that.
What if my story wasn’t going to hit the mark I had hoped? What if I speak too fast and my gestures revealed my nervousness?
Then, shortly before I was to go up, a rush a confidence came over me. I was going to nail this.
And I did.
The story I chose was perfect and my friends and other members of the audience said it resonated with them. It wasn’t just my story, but all of ours.
The rush of performing a story important to me combined with so many wonderful people at my side gave me such an intensified high. This was a win I needed. Maybe I had found my niche. Maybe I had found a home in Chicago.
Even this morning, when I started to feel down, I thought about going to bed that night, glowing so much that I couldn’t sleep. Nothing came to save me. I saved me. Just by saying yes.
The reason I share this story with all of you is not to boost my own accomplishments but to share one piece of advice. So many times in my life I have said no because of fear. I’ve turned down opportunities or not gone after them because I was afraid I would fail. When I replied to Scott’s email, I had no idea if I could tell a good story live or if anyone would want to hear me do it. The only way to know was by saying yes.
So, sweet ones, say yes. Don’t let fear guide you, and I promise to do the same. We can’t guarantee that we won’t fail, but I promise you that it will always be OK. Say yes and discover what you never thought was possible.
**My story, in case you are wondering, is about the loss of meaning and purpose I felt after Peace Corps and how a young refugee girl in Chicago reminded me that meaning and purpose are found in presence.