I’m haunted by the memory of my 5-year-old cousin on the catwalk of a kids modelling show. Beaming, her curly blonde hair sparkling like a halo in the thick light of the stage lamps, she ambled down the runway with her hands on her hips, queen of the room, the world, of all eternity. At the end of the runway she spotted us in the audience, 10 year old me, her mother (my aunt) and her aunt (my mother), ran to the edge and stooped, as if she might fall into the crowd, and reached out, half waving, half trying to touch us. She was shouting joyfully and the audience laughed as she was pulled off stage, still flapping her chubby fingers at us, coathanger smile persisting.
I’d gone along with her and my aunt to the audition for the show, and the auditioners had asked me to do a walk in front of them. Severely embarrassed, I couldn’t bring myself to move and instead cowered in my seat while my younger cousin, fearless, Conan The Barbarian as everyone called her, took to the audition with as much gusto as she would have were she Marilyn Monroe incarnate. My aunt took me back to my grandma’s house, where my cousin was celebrated and where I, mentally kicking myself, practiced a catwalk in secret in a corner of the kitchen where no one could see me.
I could do it! I could walk in a straight line, turn around, and walk back! Why hadn’t I been able to do this easy act in front of people, when it mattered? I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt, even as a child, realizing that a moment had passed me by and I hadn’t done even the most simple thing to make the most of it. No one had asked me to freehand a crochet of the Pope’s face in 10 minutes or less. No one had asked me to eat 16 cockroaches and regurgitate them undigested and still living. It might sound trivial–a children’s modelling show–but I was slapped with the very stinging reality that there was nothing holding me back that day other than my own attitude.
Now, I try not to stop myself from doing things that seem scary. I still haven’t been on a roller coaster, but hey, you don’t need to eat shit to know that it tastes kind of funky, right? OK, so maybe I should try going on a roller coaster, but that’s not the point. The point is that when life presents you with an opportunity, no matter how small (applying for a job, asking someone out, going on a roller coaster) or how big (sky diving, moving to a new city, attending a funeral), it can be really terrifying, and chickening out is the easiest thing a person can do, especially when there’s a whole season of Orange Is The New Black that needs watching. The downside to chickening out is regret. And the one thing we don’t want to carry around with us, on top of all the other baggage, is regret.
So when you’re scared, ask yourself:
Are there kids doing it?
Kids are dumb and small, and you are (hopefully) smart and big, so if kids can do it, you can too.
How often do people die or become otherwise grievously maimed doing it?
If the answer is every day, then it’s OK, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. If the answer is almost never or never (for instance, there are no documented cases of anyone dying from asking for a raise), then suck it up and do the damn thing. If the balance of probabilities is on the side of you living, then go balls out.
How often will you have the chance to do it again?
Carpe diem, bitches. If it’s a recurring opportunity, you can build up to it and prepare, but you don’t want to let rare moments that can’t be recreated (for instance, you’re in Slovenia in the middle of the mountains and someone presents you with white water rafting) pass you by.
What have you got to gain by not doing it?
This is maybe the most important question you should ask yourself. What will you gain by sitting this one out? The answer is probably nothing. Unless some bored rich guy has wandered in off the street and offered you a million dollars NOT to ask that person out, demand that raise, move to that new city, jump out of that plane, then there’s nothing to actively gain from retaining the status quo, other than a regret. Doing the scary thing isn’t necessarily going to fix your life or make everything wonderful, but you WILL gain something from your experience, even if it’s as simple as learning something new about yourself, or having a new story to tell.