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Facing the music: Unlearning self-sabotage

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OCTOBER 05, 2018

t was a warm October evening, just a week after the Las Vegas shooting at a country music festival last year. A candlelight vigil was being held in our town square in honor of the victims, and I had volunteered to take photographs of the event. But at the last minute, my journalism teacher suddenly notified me to ask if I could conduct interviews of attendees as well and even speak to a congressman who had arrived to direct the vigil.

I instantly panicked.

As a little girl, if someone were to ask me what my biggest fear was, I’d say “the dark.” When I grew older, my answers changed somewhat into other common social phobias: “spiders” and “heights.” But the truth of it all? Being out in the open, showing aspects of myself to the world and risking the possibility of judgment, dislike or even apathy. I didn’t like talking to strangers. I didn’t like performing in front of a crowd. I definitely didn’t like spontaneity and all the risks of failure that may come with it.

But of course it’s almost entirely impossible to go through life while completely avoiding situations that make me feel vulnerable, although I have spent a good amount of time in the past trying to do just that.

I’m not sure how or when this fear of mine developed, only that it has inhibited many of my actions in detrimental ways over the years by increasing my anxiety and self-doubt. There were many instances in which I hid from the spotlight because of fear — something I’m just beginning to admit to myself now.

When I was in the sixth grade, I transferred schools and joined my new school’s orchestra class midyear. But upon attending my first class, I realized in horror that everyone was far more advanced than me. And so I dedicated myself over the next few weeks to catch up to everyone else by spending hours a day watching YouTube tutorials and going through method books.

My orchestra teacher held a sort of test every semester, where every person in the class would take turns playing a set of pieces. She would then rank each musician in relation to their peers. Depending on how well you played, you may be first chair, second chair and so on. There were about six cellists in the class, and because I joined the class late, I was in the last chair. This sort of test terrified me. I didn’t want the attention, no matter how good or bad. So when the time came for me to perform, I skipped a few notes, plucked the wrong strings, hesitated at spots that I normally sped through when practicing in the privacy of my own bedroom. And with this, I ended up moving only a few seats forward, to third chair. I was content with where I was, or at least I thought I was. This continued until the end of middle school and my time in orchestra. I played smoothly and fluently in private, but I never became first chair.

Looking back on it now, I’ve realized how this was closely linked to my fear of vulnerability. My fear sabotaged any chance I could’ve had of being first chair because I was overcome with thoughts of how I might fail under a spotlight. I thought it was better to remain an average cellist. That way, no one could judge me at all. They would not even notice I was there.

But as I moved on to high school and decided to join the school newspaper my sophomore year, I was in for a big change. As a student journalist, I was constantly being put into new situations and meeting new people. And I admit there were times when I felt overwhelmed from all the tasks required in journalism. Talking to strangers, sharing my ideas with my editors and having my articles read by the whole school made me feel exposed, and I would constantly worry about saying the wrong thing.

But I loved to write, and I did love journalism, so I knew I would have to overcome my fear in some way. Slowly, with each article I wrote and each interview I conducted, my confidence grew, and I even began to volunteer to attend different events and write about it. One of the most memorable events I attended is also the one that made me realize the importance of being open and honest in that it could impact others in positive ways.

I wasn’t mentally prepared to interview the vigil attendees that October night; I had no questions written down nor had I given myself my usual pre-interview pep talk as anxiety relief.  But I agreed, ignoring the anxious side of me that threatened to make me turn back and ask if someone else could do this assignment.

Instead, I thought about how this interview and this article I would write could help people in my community learn more about the event, and this thought was what gave me the courage to step forward out of the crowd.

I reached out with my recorder, hands slightly shaking, and spoke to the congressman.

From someone who used to be afraid of playing music in front of a class of 30 people, to be standing in front of a crowd of hundreds to interview a state congressman was a shocking experience for me. It was simultaneously amazing and intensely nerve-wracking, but it also made me realize how many of the best and most memorable experiences in life come from putting yourself out there.

Though I’m not proud of my years of hiding, I’ve learned a lesson about what it means to be strong and vulnerable in my openness, and it’s something I intend on keeping in mind in the years to come. Being open meant being vulnerable, but it could also give me the ability to contribute more to society. Putting myself out there is just the first step to seeking happiness.

Hopefully, with this realization, I’ll be on my way there.  

Contact Stella Ho at [email protected].

OCTOBER 05, 2018