when fear of failure is sneaky

when fear of failure is sneaky

I'll begin this with a personal story — one I believe will resonate with a lot of y'all, even if it's within a very different context in your own life.

I've posted before about the band I sing in, Más Moss. So far, we've written over a dozen songs together, played 4 live shows and counting this year, recorded and released a (now physical) EP and our first wearable merch, and we get together to practice almost every week.

That might sound like a lot to some people, or very little to others, I guess depending on who you are.

Considering that we're four people in our 30's with day jobs and other responsibilities, I used to consider it a triumph simply that we got together so regularly to practice (and rarely, to write). That's great and all, but as we've started to acknowledge more recently, rehearsal is only one small piece of the equation if we want to continue to get better, create more new music, share it with the public, and not go broke in the process.

Our bass player Seth, who works in the music industry primarily as a sound technician, is the one who has his act together the most when it comes to the administrative parts of the band: he got us off our butts with booking shows; he's always sending and posting new ideas for the band, like where/who we might play with; he managed most of the process for our EP release and the t-shirt; he's always exploring the best gear for us; and recently, he's been posting a lot of ideas for songs.

About a month ago, Seth expressed a totally valid concern that, as a whole, we really didn't seem to be showing up for the band outside of rehearsal.

Busted.

At first, I wanted to make excuses for myself: Work has been super stressful. I've been really busy. When I do have time to relax, I just want to veg and watch Gilmore Girls and West Wing. I don't really know how to do a lot of the things the band needs. It's who you know, or the money you have to invest, and I got neither.

Getting to the FULL Truth

But hell, I am a therapist after all, and I usually know better than to buy my own bullshit, even if it takes a little time to suck it up and admit it. All of those things above are certainly true to some extent, but I knew there was a deeper reason — one related to mindset – that I needed to explore.

And the answer actually took me by surprise: I realized that I was afraid of failing.

"No way," my ego wants to say. "I do ALL THE THINGS! I've always wanted to be in a band, and I'm in a band. I've wanted to blog and start a solopreneur gig, and I have this website and coaching business. I got my masters and followed my passion in my career. I wanted to do yoga teacher training and I did it!"

But, I realized — ego defenses aside — if I'm really honest with myself, I want to do all the things, but I don't want to try that hard at them, because then no one can blame me if I'm not super successful. And I can't blame myself either, because *shrug* it wasn't like I really tried. If I play small, I can't be expected to make big results, so I can't truly fail.

Whoa.

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creativity rising: a singer realizes her dream {más moss EP release}

Yesterday evening, I hit 'publish' on a short-and-sweet blog post on another site announcing the release of a debut EP album. 

No, I'm not promoting someone else's music (though, trivia fact, I did intern for a boutique music PR agency during college).

This is a band that *I'm singing in*. This is my music — our music. 

And it's so surreal to finally be at this point.

The post below is a somewhat-self-indulgent history of my relationship with making music, so if you're not into that right now, justclick here for the info on how to download/stream our EP. (I will say, though, that there are certainly some good lessons in my story if you stick around!) 

It's in my blood, y'all

I got my first karaoke machine in the third grade.It came with a cassette that had just one karaoke song on it — The Power of Love. I didn't know or particularly even like The Power of Love, but damn if I didn't I learn that song and belt it out anyway. I had a microphone and a tape recorder!

A few years later, I upgraded to a fancier Koss boombox (thanks, Dad) with a badass karaoke function that more-or-less silenced the lead vocal track on most CDs (and a real mic!). I sang in my room for hundreds, maybe thousands of hours over the next 5+ years, recording tape after tape and even dueting with myself and friends. My mom quickly realized that if she wanted to see me at all, I had to have a karaoke boombox at her house, too (thanks, Mom).

I sang in choir in junior high and early high school, until I decided that I was not a fan of our choir director, and besides, school choir doesn't get you famous like Britney, anyway (SMH at my younger self). I briefly sang in an emo punk band with my sophomore-year boyfriend until that relationship reached its expiration date.

After that, eight years (!!) passed before I did much of anything else with music. I started singing with a friend who was a talented pianist, and we co-wrote a few songs together and played a couple small gigs. It was fun, but then I started grad school, and life got in the way for both of us.

Two years later, I moved to Nashville. Of course, when you're new in Nashville, everyone asks if you moved here to pursue music. I'd laugh and say no, I came temporarily for my grad school internship to work with eating disorders and got a job I couldn't turn down, so I stayed.

I left Austin, the live music capitol of the world, for Nashville, the songwriting capitol of the world. But no, I wasn't here for music. Anytime I had to acknowledge that, a part of me internally cringed, and I'd do my very best to ignore it — because if I'm being honest with myself, I am most alive and joyful when I am singing. 

The stories we create

If I really love it so much, why didn't I pursue singing? Well, one big reason is that I had a story in my head for many years that because I "just" sang, no band would want me.

No one needs "just a singer" when so many singers can also play piano, guitar, etc. So I made a few half-efforts to learn guitar, but my heart wasn't in it. For me, I was only learning guitar so I could sing. So as much as that was probably a fairly good reason, it wasn't enough to make me passionate about or committed to the sometimes-painful learning process and consistent practice required to get good at an instrument.

And of course, there are a million other reasons that could be perfectly great excuses if I let them: "I may be good but I'm not that good", "I don't have the time", "it's impossible to actually make a living doing that", and many more thoughts that have helped me rationalize why I didn't take any action.

Meanwhile, I went about my life with a little hollow part at my core. A part that winced in jealousy anytime I saw someone else doing what I wanted to do. The part of me that lived in the "should've/could've/would've" mindset as though it were actually already too late. 

Turns out, choir is kind of awesome

Another year or so passed. When I initially moved to Tennessee, I started attending the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, and it gradually became the first church that has ever actually felt like a spiritual home for me. (Sidebar, I would never have imagined myself as a voluntarily church-going person, but the FUUN congregation, and UU in general, opened my eyes to a new meaning of "church." Also it's Nashville, so isn't church like a requirement? I kid!)

FUUN is home to Jason Shelton, our Associate Minister for Music, one of the most well-respected contemporary UU composers internationally, and all-around badass. For over a year, I watched him conduct the choir with a mix of enjoyment (of the beautiful music), admiration (of the talent), and jealousy (because I wasn't up there). Once I became consciously aware of that last one, I thought to myself, "I have no right to be jealous if I don't want to get up there and be a part of it myself." And like that, I joined the choir.

As my first time really singing in years, it was like a part of me that had gone into hibernation was suddenly waking up and being fed.

And then... Más Moss!

Fast forward another year, and my then-fiancé Chris and I started talking about how it might be cool if I tried singing along with him and his friend Ben, who he'd been jamming with on and off since high school. Another friend of ours, Berry (who recently helped us buy our first house!) got a bass for Christmas, and we started having fun learning a handful of covers. I also messed with a vocal line/lyrics for a couple of previously-instrumental tunes Chris and Ben (along with their friend Matt, a very talented bass player who left this world too soon) had written together.

Before we knew it, we were planning on providing the music for our own wedding, because we're weirdos and we do what we want. By the time the wedding rolled around, we had written four original songs together (and learned that many covers) and were practicing regularly. We played a couple house parties before the wedding, and had a blast playing our reception before we turned it over to DJ Spotify.

Not long after, we were sad that Berry had to direct his time elsewhere (though it did sort of result in our home ownership, so can't complain), but equally excited that our friend Seth was interested in joining us on bass.

We kept writing and practicing, and started working on recording our first EP. All of those things took priority over booking live shows, since we wanted to have quality tracks to share with potential venues as newbies on the scene. We DIY'd the recording thanks to Seth's knowledge and equipment, so it took a whiiiiile. (Also we all have those things called "day jobs," so scheduling is no small feat.)

Then, Seth teamed up with Evan Sieling who mixed and mastered the tracks... and voila! We got photos done with Brad and Ashley of All of the Stars Photography, and got our ducks in a row for the digital album release.

So here I am now, releasing a real recorded album, available to the public. (Hey, that's you!)

On not being a slave to your thoughts

No, I'm not selling out Bridgestone Arena (or even a crappy dive bar) or gracing the cover of Rolling Stone like my 14-year-old-self fantasized about. We haven't played live shows yet because of how we wanted to prioritize our time and efforts, and we decided not to print physical copies of the EP yet. At times, my inner critic goes to town with imposter-syndrome comments about how facts like these make me not a "real" musician.

But another part of me is wiser.

It knows that if I just let thoughts like these make my decisions, I'd still be sitting in those pews and concert venues looking smugly annoyed and secretly feeling sad and jealous.

It also knows that music will be one of my greatest gifts to the world, even if only 100 people ever hear these songs.

Howard Thurman explains this perfectly in one of my favorite quotes:

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

If you've made it all the way to the end of this epic post, good on you! I think there's probably a reason. I wonder if there is a small hollow part in you that needs to be acknowledged.

So I'll leave you with this question:

What is it inside you that is begging to be fed so it can come alive? What is it that you need to do or create for your light to shine brightly into the world? And how can you start to DO that, even in the tiniest baby-step kind of way, right NOW? 

Listen to Más Moss's debut EPhere, and get links to download and stream from your favorite online music serviceshere

3 reasons you shouldn't try to be fearless

fearless

In the personal growth world as well as overall popular culture, the idea of being “fearless” is often praised. We hear things like, “you have two choices in any situation: love or fear.” And we’re told that if we don’t choose love, we’ll diminish our power and not lead the abundant lives we deserve. Makes sense in theory, right?

But I’m not buying it. As a therapist, I work with clients who have gone to tremendous lengths to avoid, cover up, or anesthetize fear. (In many cases, this started as a survival mechanism to cope with trauma.) We’re a culture of professional numbers and avoiders. We become so obsessed by the idea of “happiness” that we think feeling other emotions means that we’re somehow failing. But by putting pressure on yourself to be somehow “fearless,” it’s likely that you’re actually hurting rather than helping yourself in the long run. Here’s how:

1. You’re more likely to play it safe by keeping your dreams and aspirations small.

If you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that fear is bad, how will you ever truly step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself, when that likely entails falling down or failing numerous times along the way?

In her book Playing Big, Tara Mohr shares that one of her biggest lessons about fear came from Rabbi Alan Lew, who explained to her that Biblical Hebrew uses several different words for fear. The first is “pachad,” which is “projected or imagined fear.” This is the type of fear that happens when we catastrophize, obsess over the worst case scenario, or believe irrational thoughts our minds tell us, like “if you don’t nail this presentation, your career will be destroyed.” The second word for fear is “yirah,” which Rabbi Lew described as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting.”

Learning about this helped me better articulate what I already knew to be true: that fear in some contexts (pachad) needs to be reframed and challenged, and fear in other contexts (yirah) is a natural part of stretching yourself into the uncharted territory of bigger dreams. If I never experience yirah, I know I’m cheating myself out of living up to my potential.

2. You reinforce blanket judgments about “positive” and “negative” emotions.

I understand what people mean when they say “negative emotions” (typically they’re alluding to sadness, fear, anger, guilt, shame, and loneliness), but what is it that really makes them negative? I like to reframe these feelings as “challenging” or “difficult,” because even calling fear a “negative” feeling is making a lot of assumptions -- and as we just discussed in #1, it certainly isn’t always negative.

Practice taking the judgment out of the fear you’re experiencing, and instead, describe what the feeling is like. Do you feel your pulse racing, your face hot? What would happen if you allowed yourself to sit with that feeling and breathe into it, rather than insisting that it needs to go away immediately? How would you respond differently to the feeling?

3. You’ll be focused on “what you want less of” instead of “what you want more of.”

If you believe that you should be fearless, you’ll do whatever you can to anesthetize that feeling when it inevitably shows up -- even if it’s something that leaves you worse off in the long run. I often ask my clients, “What are the things you do to try to get rid of or avoid fear and other difficult emotions?” Their answers almost always include isolating, emotional eating, shopping, bingeing on Netflix or social media, excessive sleeping, drinking, and smoking. On the more severe end of the spectrum, they mention drug use, cutting, hooking up, compulsive exercise, bingeing, and purging. Almost every time, they say that these behaviors they use to try to numb the feeling actually end up making them feel worse in the end.

When you’re so focused on what we want less of in our lives (like fear), that’s where your energy and actions are centered. This leaves little time and energy for focusing on what you want more of, like connection, spirituality, adventure, play, learning, and giving back.

I’m all for choosing love… but I’m also for befriending fear. Let’s have the courage to not be fearless.

doing it anyway

I've been thinking for quite a while about how I want to carve out my little corner of Web in this new phase of my life as a Tennesseean and LMSW psychotherapist. I have had numerous blogs in the past -- and the ones I stuck with the longest were way back in my teen angst high school days, when blogging was a huge outlet for me. When I think of blogging in my role as a helping professional, I usually end up paralyzed with all kinds of unhelpful thoughts like, "Look how many brilliant therapists and life coaches are already out there blogging! I have nothing unique or interesting to add to the conversation, so why bother?" and "Wow, I will never be as successful as that person, and how is it fair that she is gorgeous on top of everything?!" and "Why didn't I just go to business school?"

As I said, not very helpful thoughts. So here I am, sitting at home and not feeling so great -- trying to wish away some kind of throat ailment before a big choir concert this Sunday -- and I just thought, ENOUGH.

Enough waiting. Enough paralysis. Enough comparison. Enough.

I have something to say. And despite my fears and insecurities, I'm doing it anyway, because I believe something good will come of it for me and hopefully for readers, too.

The things I have to say may not be brand new or genius, and they certainly won't always be poetic. But I'm going to say them anyway.

I chose "Waking Up in Wonder" as the name of this blog because I'm very interested both personally and professionally in the power of mindfulness (the "waking up" part), and when I am "awake," I am in awe of the beauty, wonder, love, pain, science, and mystery of the universe. I've learned a lot in the past two years about mindfulness and its various therapeutic applications in DBT, ACT, etc. (more on those later), and the more I learn, the more I realize that being mindful just means being truly alive, and that most of us in western culture have to intentionally learn and practice mindfulness, because it goes against almost everything we learn in our society. Despite my knowledge of mindfulness in psychotherapy, I know that I have a long way to go with integrating it more into my own day-to-day life. (I am Gen-Y, after all... Facebook and iPhone be damned.)

"Waking up in wonder" is something that I want to practice multiple times a day. In the literal sense of waking up each morning -- and that will get its own post soon, as I am so. not. a morning person  -- but also at moments throughout the day that I notice myself checking out and not experiencing the utter splendor of the world around me. I hope some of the things that I write about encourage other folks to do the same.

Welcome, and I hope you'll follow along. Namaste.

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