You might be thinking to yourself, “How do you know the fear never goes away?” It could just be me. It could just be pessimism, or cynicism. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks a few years back after witnessing an eye opening conversation in the green room of the UCB Theater. I saw two very accomplished comedians talking in one of the side rooms. One of these people was a cast member on SNL. The other was a correspondent for The Daily Show….Person one said something along the lines of “I’m just not sure what I’m going to do.” Person two said, “Yeah, things have been so fucking dry lately. I’m really, really worried.” The conversation proceeded from there and sounded like the exact type of conversation I was having with my own friends who were in the trenches performing all around NYC with me….
These were two people who both had careers I would kill for. Being on SNL! Being on The Daily Show! I think for any of us whose dream it is to do comedy, those would be two crown jewel jobs. Those would be two jobs that most of us would think feel like a life-altering accomplishment. Getting those gigs would feel like grabbing on to the brass ring we’ve been chasing. Those are the types of gigs that you imagine lead to the validation, wealth, and fame that we chase so hard. You have to imagine that’s true, right? Those jobs? You will feel like you did it. You made it. Your life can have a movie ending where the sun rises and the credits roll and the hard times are over, you’ve done it. You’ve won.
But I eavesdropped on those two individuals, and realized—the fear is inside us. It’s part of why we do what we do.
The chase is the thing, and the thing is the chase.
There are no external circumstances that can erase the anxiety and fear of people like you and I—people who have this dream but also have a ton of terror regarding it. Getting that gig, getting that approval, getting that whatever your version of that dream job is—doesn’t erase the anxiety. The anxiety is internal. It’s part of us. I have never accomplished anything that made it diminish even slightly. We all wind up wondering “What’s next? How am I going to make my health insurance next year?” And even if we can get over that, the anxiety rears its head in some other form. It is part of us.
Now that might seem dismal, but I found witnessing that conversation to be one of the most incredibly liberating experiences of my entire life. If people in THAT position were still feeling that way, there was zero chance I would ever escape the constant self-doubt and self-questioning I tortured myself with every day.
So that being the case, I might as well operate with more freedom, I might as well take the chances I want to take, because apparently, I learned, even success doesn’t erase those negative, nervous, gnawing feelings—so what is the big deal if I don’t ever get it?
An answer to the question, “I’ve always really wanted to get into acting and/or comedy but I’m terrified of failing at it. How do you get the courage to perform?”
Also of note from his response:
“So—the reason I wrote that novel up above is because it gives me credibility when I got to answer your actual question of ‘How do you get the courage to perform?’
“Well, the success you’re chasing isn’t going to be as good as you think it is. And I can tell you very much, with all honesty – the failure never hurts as much as you think it will, either….
“I will say it simply—the good parts of getting the show didn’t solve any of my problems. The failure didn’t create more. Not at any given point during the process did it ever feel like those things had the effects I always expected they would have.
“If I can fail that big, you can take an acting class.
“If I can fall on my face that profoundly after the New York Fucking Times writes a profile on the pressures I have as the star of that sitcom, you can do an open mic or two.
“If it doesn’t work out, trust me, you will be ok. If it does work out, the great parts will come from what you discover about yourself and the joy of doing the work. Success and failure are real things, but the effects we assume they will have are constructs we make up.
—David Milch, creator of Deadwood and Luck, “The Men Behind the Curtain: A GQ Roundtable”
I could easily hear this coming out of a very weary Doc Cochran.