Escaping the Fear of Failure
I have always been one of those people for whom things come easily. In fact, with very little effort, I’ve been able to do decently well in life. I know this is annoying to hear. But it’s also annoying to be this way. It means that I have very, very little discipline. I stayed up the night before a project was due, and still got an A. I got the highest grade in the class on a last-minute paper, after our teacher explained that he would be able to tell if we started the night before.
I swear I’m not sharing any of this to brag! Well, maybe a little. But I’m really sharing this because you might be like this, or your child might be like this, and there are major drawbacks. When you’re not used to working those effort muscles, it’s really easy to tell yourself something isn’t meant to be if it doesn’t come easily, or if it does require effort. Spoiler alert: no matter how easily things come to you, it takes effort to build a career, to build a life.
When I was in my second year of acting school, I felt a little beaten down. I couldn’t cry in a scene, and I genuinely felt like maybe that was the end of my acting career. I mean, what actor couldn’t cry on command? And what the heck? I used to be able to do that, and now my tear ducts were totally dry. Well, this was also around the time that I was having trouble with acid reflux and my voice was constantly sore. I went to an ENT for a scope exam and I actually prayed that I might have vocal nodes. See, if I had vocal nodes, I decided I would just stop trying to be an actor. My actual life-long dream, and because it started being challenging, I was hoping there would be a major roadblock so that I could throw in the towel! This is how afraid I am of failure BECAUSE I had learned growing up that I don’t fail, and thus never had to develop the skill to grow from failure.
Finally now, I see the benefit of discipline and guess what. Discipline doesn’t come easily to me. I have to WORK on being more disciplined so that I can WORK more on the things I actually want to accomplish.
In the past six months, I have written a play and a screenplay. Over the past year or so, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on screenwriting and have practiced writing first drafts 3 times, all the while preparing myself to write the story I had my heart set on.
While outlining and brainstorming for this Dream Story, my acting coach told me I should write a play, or adapt one of the screenplays for the stage. So, as an exercise more than anything, I sat down and wrote 3 pages everyday for the month of December until I had formed an original script. With the addition of two short scenes at the end (totaling about 5 pages together), I just did a reading of that script. It went phenomenally well, and we have a producer who has agreed to fund a one-day workshop of the script, to be followed by a two-week run in New York City.
But what about my Dream Story? Well, I finished writing my Dream Story after I finished the play, and immediately emailed it to friends and family. I was over the moon! I adore my play, but I absolutely love my Dream Story and I feel very attached to it. The responses were positive, but my filmmaking friend gave me some honest feedback about the pacing and overall story structure. Her email was actually also pretty positive, but I felt so disheartened. I actually thought about just stepping away from it altogether. And then, I talked to my husband about it.
“I’m going to have to completely re-write it, maybe multiple times! It must not be as good of an idea as I thought.”
My husband laughed a little and said, “I think this is going to be really good for you. You care enough about it that you’re not just going to give up. What happened with the play is rare, and most writers do have to keep re-writing and re-working. Screenplays don’t just fall out of your head fully-formed.”
As annoying as it was to hear, he had a good point. This is the lesson in discipline I’ve been waiting for.
I’m in the process of outlining, taking things a little slower, and making deadlines for myself. It’s making me a stronger worker, even though it’s frustrating. At the end of the day, I believe we are better off having worked hard than things come easily.