The other day, my friend and I went to a local improv show. For those of you who don't know me, I've always wanted to be an actor.
I love entertaining my friends, taking on different characters and reading scripts. I've dabbled in improv and comedy writing, but I have gotten so caught up in life that I haven't done much of it recently.
During the show, however, the improv team asked for an audience member to get up and join the team for an improv game they were going to play. "Finally," I thought. "This is my moment, my time to shine."
I just knew I would get up on stage, wow the team and then get invited to join the team right after. After this, I'd be well on my way to becoming an "SNL" regular with a fragrance, a book deal and a Netflix original in the works.
This overwhelming surge of confidence was immediately shattered by that annoying little cousin we all have, who follows us around relentlessly: insecurity. I immediately thought I couldn't go up there.
“What if the audience thinks I'm trying too hard?”
“What if I'm really terrible at improv?”
“What if I get up there, have a severe reaction to one of the team member's cologne and start sneezing uncontrollably?”
“Ryan, go!” my friend encouraged me. But, I couldn't bear to put myself out there and be embarrassed.
The moment came and went. The team moved on, and picked someone else. I sat in my seat and watched some other guy fumble around on stage with the improv team. So long SNL, and so long fragrance.
After the show, I was talking to my friend about doing improv and acting.
“I'd watch you do improv. Why didn't you go on stage?”
I shrugged the question off, but I kept thinking about why didn't I just get up and do it. I could have done it. I could have at least been as good as the guy who went on stage. So, what held me back?
Granted, playing the game with the improv team was definitely no guarantee that I would become the next Jimmy Fallon, but the truth is, I'll never know.
I thought about this on a grander scale. How many other opportunities had I cut myself from, simply because I'm afraid of being embarrassed?
I started reading this book I got for Christmas called “101 Secrets For Your Twenties,” by Paul Angone. It's really worth reading if you have any spare time between your quarter-life crisis meltdowns and Tinder dates, as it describes situations like this that many young adults experience.
In a world filled with Snapchat, Instagram and the picture-perfect lives we create on social media, I found myself so caught up in my “image” that I let the fear of embarrassment hold me back. I totally missed an opportunity because I didn't want to be embarrassed. The crazy thing is, “the possibility for greatness and embarrassment exist in the same place.”
There it was in plain English. The difference between those who are great and those who are mediocre has a lot to do with the simple fact that many of us don't try because we worry might embarrass ourselves.
Sure, there was a chance I would have gotten on stage and made a fool of myself. Afterward, I would have gone back to my seat and enjoyed the rest of the show (before going home and crying into my pillow).
But so what? Life would have gone on, and that would be the end of an embarrassing night.
But maybe, just maybe I would have been really good. Maybe I really would go on to become the next Jimmy Fallon. The only way to test your potential for greatness is to risk embarrassment. Take the leap of faith, and give up this ideal image we put forward.
Embarrass yourself and talk to that guy or gal you've been eyeing. Embarrass yourself and take that cooking class. Embarrass yourself and enter that rap battle.
Life is too short to be worried about embarrassment. This is especially true when you consider the flip side of that coin: It could be your big break. Let go, get embarrassed and be great.