Are you a BIG giant phony?
Are you walking around acting out a role someone else cast you in? Perhaps someone told you “respectable people don’t do that.” Maybe you ignore your calling because you’re afraid what a loved one will think of your choices.
Or perhaps, you live behind a carefully-constructed veil, never letting anyone see the real you. Because, if they can’t see the real you, then they can’t dislike the real you.
If that’s you, I have only one question – whose life are you living?
I love to sing. Ever since I was a little kid singing to 45 records in my bedroom, I imagined myself up on a stage. Unfortunately, I never had the talent to be a “real” singer or the confidence to sing in front of anyone. Which is why I’ve always admired people who can speak, sing, or act in front of an audience, even if they were horrible at it. At least they got up and tried.
Meanwhile, I was too chicken.
In 1996, my best friend died. I was feeling kind of reckless and a bit emboldened to do things I’d not done. Your best friend dying has a way of forcing you to think about your own life a little bit more. So, one night I went to a local bar with some friends. The place was packed with people I knew back in high school – people I hadn’t talked to in years, people who only vaguely knew I existed. Those who did know me, knew me as the fat, quiet, nerdy kid who was always reading, drawing, or writing stories in class.
Knowing of my stage fright, my friends pushed me to go on stage and sing karaoke. My friend Neil offered to go up on stage and sing with me, which seemed like a good idea because he’d be there to share the shame if everything went horribly. Neil was more adventurous than me, and his spirit was infectious, so I agreed.
Rather than picking something safe that I could kind of talk-sing my way through, like Frank Sinatra or something, I went with the Smashing Pumpkins song, Bullet With Butterfly Wings. The song is a hard rocking barrage of unholy screams mixed with an almost falsetto softness – a tough song to pull off and easy song to look bad on. But I was with Neil, so at worst, we’d just look like a couple of drunks having fun.
We got up to the stage. The DJ put the spotlight on us. I could feel the eyes of the entire bar scrutinizing our every move. I prayed nobody could see that my leg was shaking uncontrollably as the DJ introduced us. I reached inside myself, searching for the courage to sing. The music began to play.
And that’s when Neil bailed out on me.
Yes – he left me right there. Alone on the stage. With a sea of people staring at me.
Panic gripped me. “Oh my God,” I thought, “I’m gonna choke right here.”
But instead, I sang.
And let me tell you, I didn’t just sing. I ROCKED.
I sang, screamed, and wailed as well as Billy Corgan on his best night (or at least in my memory, I did). As the song ended, the place erupted in applause. People I once knew approached me afterward, shocked, saying, “Dude, where did THAT come from?” and saying how awesome I was.
I was a “rock star” for one night. And it felt amazing.
But it didn’t really matter what my peers thought of my singing. I could just as easily have bombed and been laughed off stage. What mattered was that for the first time ever, I was alive in the moment…
Living not without fear, but in spite of it.
And right then I knew what it was like to live life like you mean it.
That night was a turning point. I learned to ignore my fears of what other people thought of me. I am who I am, and to pretend otherwise is a disservice to me and others.
When you live your life unafraid of what others will think of you, a funny thing happens. You’ll find that when you’re being the genuine you, you will attract genuine people into your world.
Are you being the real you? What would you change if you weren’t afraid?
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