Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Feel the fear - and do it anyway

The Gathering logoA few years ago when I was The Gathering's publicist I was invited to enter a pitching competition at the New Zealand Film and Television Conference. Each competitor had exactly five minutes to make their pitch to the audience of film and television executives, for whatever TV show they wanted to make. The first prize was $6,000 and TV3 would consider screening your winning entry once it was made.

I had a week to prepare, and decided I would pitch to make a documentary of the Millennium Gathering. We had already made a Gathering documentary a couple of years before, so with an editor friend I made a 5-minute show-reel using the best footage from that doco. I included sound at the beginning and end, and the rest was silent. It would be shown on the big screen behind me as I made my presentation.

Still from Subterranean Homesick Blues videoI decided to use the "Bob Dylan" technique and accompany my speech with large cue cards - like in his video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. I practiced my presentation until I had it timed exactly at 5 minutes, and prepared as thoroughly as I possibly could.

The night before the conference I lay awake practically half the night, sick with nerves, absolutely terrified, wondering why the hell I had ever agreed to enter this stupid competition. If anyone had given me the option, I would have quit right then, because I truly didn't see how I could possibly go through with it.

But I couldn't back out, because I had promised I would take part - which I did. As luck would have it, I was picked to go first, and delivered a pretty good presentation, timed to perfection. Apart from a bit of "nervous dry mouth" halfway through, I did just fine.

I won the competition.

Imagine if I hadn't gone through with it because of my nerves the previous night (and the following morning)! I felt (and still feel) so proud of myself for "feeling the fear and doing it anyway". Winning was a fantastic added bonus - but I think for me it was actually going through with it that made me feel the proudest. Granted, I would probably have piked out had anyone given me the chance, but they didn't, so there you go.

I was reminded of this challenge today, when we took niece #1 and nephew #1 on the open-topped bus that takes tourists around the city where my sister lives. I think many people (adults and children) are frightened of the unknown, and nervous when asked to do something they haven't done before, and many people are uncomfortable with change. Although we had prepared the children as well as we could beforehand, by talking about our upcoming adventure, they were still quite freaked out by the prospect - especially niece #1.

So we did it in baby steps.

Once we were on the bus (with a lot of comforting help for niece #1 by mummy), we stayed downstairs for ages. Being on a bus was enough of a new experience for it to be absolutely fascinating just sitting on it. Not really looking out of the windows, not really listening to the commentary - just being there. It was actually a very cool tour - even my sister found out stuff she didn't know - and we were so proud of how quickly both children calmed down and began to take an interest in their surroundings.

The bus stopped occasionally to let people on or off, which again was interesting enough to keep the children occupied, without needing to do anything more. Each time we stopped, we casually asked them if they would be interested in going to have a look upstairs, and for ages they absolutely weren't.

But after an hour or so, completely out of the blue, niece #1 decided she'd like to go and have a look. We went upstairs together, had a look round, sat down for two seconds and then she decided to go back down again. We met mummy and nephew #1 about to come up the stairs! We all had a little rest, and then almost immediately both children decided that upstairs was where they really wanted to be, so back up we went - and stayed there for the rest of the journey.

I think what today's adventure has reinforced for me is the importance of taking manageable steps towards a goal. Sometimes you plan to do something that's just so daunting, you don't know how you're ever going to achieve it. And sometimes the fear of what you're planning to do can be so debilitating that it stops you in your tracks, and you can't even begin.

Sometimes I think it's actually a good idea to put yourself in a position where you actually can't back out - like I experienced with the pitching competition - because then you really are going to have to feel the fear and do it anyway. And then you make sure you're thoroughly prepared, and if you can, you break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Feel scared about this little bit. Do it. Feel great that I did it. Feel a bit more scared about this next bit. Do it anyway. Feel even greater. And on and on, a bit at a time, until you achieve your goal. The fear is almost always worse than the actual thing - but this is something you only figure out if you actually do the things that you're afraid of.

Because, as niece #1 so neatly put it "I didn't want to go on the bus at first, and now I really like it!"

ADDED 3 AUG: We went swimming yesterday and practiced our techniques of infinite patience and teeny weeny baby steps. After an initial total meltdown in the changing rooms we finally ended up 2 hours later with niece and nephew #1 actually SWIMMING and telling us they really really loved it and they didn't want to go home. Wow!

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Anonymous said...

Nice article, but are you aware that Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway is the trademarked title of a book by Dr. Susan Jeffers. She needs to get credit for it.

webweaver said...

Hi there anonymous,

I was aware of that, but thank you for reminding me.


"Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" (TM Dr Susan Jeffers). How's that?