Many of us have that awful dream where we fail miserably at something or are suddenly naked in front of a crowd. Either dream leaves us sweating and glad to wake up.
While the dreams differ, they have a correlation. Trying to succeed lends itself to vulnerability. We very well may fail. And when we risk failure, we often feel naked.
Years ago I had an acting teacher tell me that I’d never become an actress because I was too afraid to fail. It was a terrible thing to say because I took it as a determinant. He planted a seed of doubt within me that later grew to a full fledge lack of confidence. I didn’t hear the teacher’s feedback that I needed to take more risks. I just heard that I was a failure. If he had said, “You will become an actress when you can risk failure,” this would have encouraged me. I heard the negative versus the affirmative.
Eight years ago I took up acting lessons again in earnest. The first two years I trained were excruciating. The teacher was excellent. Because of his skill as an acting coach, he identified everything that was not working in my performances. Listening to him give me feedback in front of other students about how I wrinkled my forehead, or inflicted my voice oddly, or started speaking in a high pitch was embarrassing. Yet when we’d watch the video playback in class, I noted that his perceptions were accurate. It was illuminating. But illumination came at a price. I felt like a failure. This sense of failure extended beyond my acting skills. I felt like a failure as a human being.
With time I grew more comfortable with my teacher and the class. I became less attached to what others thought of me as a person and began taking more risks. The takes that I thought were awful instead had moments of spontaneity and vitality. The takes where I was trying to manipulate my emotional responses in an effort to please the audience were lifeless and intellectual.
Our desire to succeed can drive us but it can also become a strait-jacket, locking us into our present state of development.
This became abundantly clear to me yesterday. My boyfriend, at my request, highlighted what isn’t working in my own writing. He has had a number of books published. I’m struggling to get mine published, which is why I asked for his help. Nothing is more nerve wracking than having the person you’re most intimate with kindly reflect back your flaws. Temporarily, this requires more vulnerability than one would imagine. But there is no growth without it.
I felt naked yesterday. Then I got past this because everything my boyfriend said was true. I could see the value in his points and was grateful for the help. I gleaned what I needed to do to clean up my sentence structure and to better clarify my ideas. I no longer took the feedback personally. My writing needs improvement. He was helping me further develop a skill. I stopped viewing my writing as a reflection of my flawed self.
Sadly, at some point on the road to adulthood, we move from a child’s innate curiosity while exploring new developmental thresholds to wanting to be perfect. In that, we miss invaluable opportunities for growth.
It’s hard to be witnessed, yet deep down, we all want to be seen and validated. In the process, we often recognize imperfection in the areas that we most want to succeed. Realizing our current limitations can be difficult to metabolize. It requires that we unmask ourselves. But if we want to connect, share, and tap into our full potential, this is the risk we must take.