So. My final post. I wrote it last Friday so it’d be all ready for posting today. I thought I’d nailed it.
Only I hadn’t. The post was meant to act as a finale to my blog tour, in which me and my book characters talked about things they were afraid of. Today there was going to be a video of me facing a fear of my own, just like my lovely Sally Howlett does in The Unfinished Symphony.
But the post was not complete. I realised that I needed to ask what YOU would love to do, if you weren’t held back by fear. So I did.
What followed – it’s all pasted below – blew my mind.
Some of the responses were silly, many were funny and a couple were downright illegal. But so many of them spoke of secret dreams, of all-but buried hopes, and of lives that you didn’t or couldn’t dare lead. ‘I’d like to be able to go outside,‘ said one tweet. Another said, ‘I’d like to do all the things I used to.’ (I related to that so much that I actually cried! What happened to that noisy little Robinson who thought nothing of pointing her sledge down a snowy precipice? Who would sing at the top of her voice in front of anyone and not give a flying fuck? Who played violin solos at school and went thundering off on a cross country course on her little horse without a second thought? I’m still here! I didn’t die! So what happened?)
Many of you spoke about places you’d like to see or move to and there was a very strong theme of being tied to jobs and lifestyles that you didn’t actually want.
This is the really interesting thing, though: ALL of you (apart from Kevin, who wanted to grow wings and fly) – talked about things that are achievable. Not one single dream was beyond the realms of human possibility.
So why aren’t we doing those things? (We? Yes, we. There were several in there that I could have written myself . . .)
One word: fear.
Fear is a fucker. Fear tells us that we might break our leg, or fail, or look stupid, or be unable to find the time or money to do what we really want. Fear keeps us plodding on through lives we don’t actually enjoy all that much, because (it tells us), we are trapped. Fear even tells some of us that we could literally die if we struck up conversation with another human being we’d not met before. Fear is a prison, disguised as ‘common sense’ or ‘responsibility’ or ‘X/Y/Z disorder/syndrome that cannot ever be changed or overcome.’
But while fear is a fucker, it is something we can take control of. All of us. We were not born this way. We can, if we’re willing to change, overcome our fears and step into the lives we’ve only dreamed of thus far. And nobody is exempt from that, whatever their circumstances, whatever their background. Wouldn’t it be amazing to learn the right tools to tell fear to fuck off? And then get to work on achieving the things you wanted to achieve?
Not all of the dreams you/we shared are things we can do RIGHT THIS MINUTE, I know that. Some of them require fundraising, or childcare, or training. Which in turn might require fundraising, childcare . . . And some of us would need help or coaching to be able to move on through our fears. I guess it’s at this point that most of us give up. It’s too much . . . we can’t achieve it. And so there we are, back at square one.
Will we thank ourselves for living this way, when the grim reaper comes for us? Will we be glad we never found the courage to do what we wanted to do? I kind of doubt it.
‘Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.’ – Dorothy Thompson, American writer/social historian/genius
I’ve written before about how I learned to tackle fear, and I won’t go into it again now. This blog is long enough! But if you’d like to know more, please do send me a message or tweet / FB me. I am turning a lot of fears on their head; more every day, but this incredible list you’ve all compiled has shown me that there’s still more work to be done! More wonderful goals that I need to start taking little actions towards achieving.
So anyway, here’s the list. Read it and weep! Or – better still – punch the air, because today could be the day when you decide that things are going to change. Today might be the day when you do one little thing – however small – that might get you closer to achieving your goal. Rome wasn’t built in a day, remember.
At the end of the list I’ve written a little piece – and put up a video – of me facing a fear of my own, to remind you that anything is possible!
What would YOU do if fear wasn’t an issue – reader responses…
I would sky dive
Quit my job and stay at home with my kids
So many things, i often think my life would be unrecognisable if it wasn’t for fear!
Get back into acting.
I’d chuck in my job and start a delicatessen
Quit my job, move to Italy, open my own lingerie shop, write a book…
Fall in love. Or join a travelling salsa troupe and tour the world. Or sign up to VSO.
I would go help save the lions
Have a second baby…. whoops too late… the new one is cooking away
Quit my job and go work in a theatre
Spend my whole life travelling around the world!
Sing in front of an audience. If they were deaf, and I was drunk.
I would totally get on a horse and ride a cross country course if I was brave enough.
Stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower or even better Empire State Building
Everest. Always wanted to, and have decided on base camp when the boy leaves home.
So many simple things but never dare in case others thought I was crazy… dye my hair blue, get a tattoo, wear short shorts, sing in public on my own, tell people how I really feel about them!
Playing a violin solo in a concert. Waaaaay too terrified!
Dye my hair pink and wear and do ridiculous things!
Go to latin dancing class – I am literally the most malco person ever with anything remotely choreographed
Pack in my job and move to valencia to live!
Go for my motorbike licence and then buy a sexy beast of a sports bike and ride across Europe! I used to ride my bros around the field now I’m too chicken to get on the back
Go for my PADI licence
Do a turn on Strictly Come Dancing (for plebs obvs cos not a celeb)
I would finish my book and actually let someone read it, daft eh?
Move to London, New York or Australia
Stand up comedy
If fear or money won’t have been my concern then I would have surely bought a cottage in Irish countryside or would have gone to Istanbul on my own for at least a month.
Swim with sharks – they are magnificent but no way
Travel to New Zealand but I’m not a fan of flying
Snog charlie Higson
Move to Vangroovy (Vancouver) and write full tine and do a Masters. Although I still have to finish my current BA, 1st of 4yrs done.
Emigrate to Canada but sadly I’m too old now. Secondly: be comfortable in room full of people I don’t know!
Go into Space. D’you think Branson has a spot for me?
Bungee jumping + sky dive. And to take all the rides at the Six Flags Magic Mountain, LA.
Because i seriously don’t know how to enjoy those rides. Fear, i guess.
Surf the biggest longest wave in the world …then fly to the moon
Have a pet bear!!
Emigrate for a few year (not sure where yet).Oh and go into space on Branson’s space tourist shuttle.
Public speaking! I would love to be able to give witty amusing lectures, but my neck goes red and blotchy and my voice an octave higher and I speak really really quickly!! Yet I have so much to say…..
I would go on the worlds scariest roller coaster.
Tell a mum I know that it’s due to her upbringing her kid is a brat!!!!
Jump out of a plane
Sky dive, and maybe quit my job and travel the world
Face a bully and ask for an apology or at least an explanation
Fly with Wings
Deep sea diving
Work at a monnkey rescue sanctuary
Jumping over rooftops
Swim with sharks
Bungee jump somewhere awesome
Learn to dance
Finishing books and putting them out on submission
Going everywhere I want by myself, not letting a lack of company stop me travelling
Living in any country I wanted to
Cut my hair in a pixie crop
Flashing at westlife
Tell someone how I really feel
Take up a team sport
Shout the truth from the rooftops
Say what I really think
Go back to doing all the things I used to.
What a list, eh? Well, when I plotted this blog tour with Penguin, we talked about the things I could be filmed doing on the old facing-my-fears front. We talked about me hanging out with a spider, me singing at my own launch; me sky diving or being a life model. The problem with all of these was that, although they are all things I’d be terrified of doing, they’re not actually things I dream of doing.
Finally, I had it. I knew what I wanted to do. And it may come as a surprise to some of you . . . I wanted to throw a launch party.
I’ve had parties before. Launch parties, birthday parties, house-warming parties, farewell parties. But have I ever had a party and been completely relaxed during the preparation, the run-up and the party itself? Have I fuck! Every party I’ve thrown, since my 11th birthday party disco at Box Village Hall in 1991, has been fraught with anxiety! A living hell! These were my thoughts. On every occasion. Always.
* I don’t have time to organise this
*Nobody will come
*Even if everyone says yes, they’ll cancel at the last minute
*I will look stupid and feel awful
*I won’t choose the right venue/music/outfit/whatever
*Nobody will get on; everyone will feel awkward and I’ll have to try to manage everyone’s experience of the night
*I will look fat
*People will feel sorry for me
*People will judge me based on what my friends are wearing (brilliant, that one)
*I will absolutely hate it. Every minute.
Normally, with this cacophony roiling around my head, I’d start thinking about cancelling around one month beforehand. The feeling would get stronger and stronger as the party approached. Often I would cancel it. More than once I sent resentful messages out telling people I’d had to cancel because of cancellations. THAT would learn them! If I didn’t cancel, I’d generally stuff myself with food and booze during the run-up, to take the edge off my terror. This would not work well with my plan to lose loads of weight and look amazing. I would always buy an outfit – several outfits, sometimes – and would waste HOURS scouring the shops and internet for the right thing. My employers suffered repeatedly; it was always their time I used. I didn’t want to waste their time but I ‘couldn’t’ stop myself.
I did normally enjoy the parties themselves, in fairness to myself. But I’d howl through them in a hurricane of adrenaline; panicking and apologising for not being able to speak to anyone; babbling and gabbling like a monkey. By the time they were over I’d be utterly spent and barely capable of speaking. I’d then email everyone individually, apologising for this/that/the other, thanking them over and over again for coming. As if they’d done it as a favour!
My launch party for A Passionate Love Affair with a Total Stranger in 2013 followed this precise format. Worse still, I had to make a little speech and do a reading of my book. Words can’t describe the fear! I was red and shaking. I had never felt so exposed in my life. All I could think about was the fact that EVERYONE was staring at me and that I looked fat and stupid. That they were clearly hating my reading of the book because they were NOT LAUGHING. This picture doesn’t really do it justice but I think you can tell by my odd smile and red face that I was not entirely comfortable.
This time, I wanted it to be different. I now had the tools to do a fearless, happy party, but for a little while I still doubted myself. Then I realised how limiting and unhelpful that doubt was. I decided to smash it.
And I DID! I was relaxed, happy and excited at every stage of this party. From my original idea to bring in some opera singers (The Unfinished Symphony is a love story set in the opera world), right through to the Morning After when I turned up to wash up the champagne glasses, I felt fantastic. I didn’t worry about who was coming. I trusted that people would get on and talk to each other. I trusted that the food and booze would be right, and that people would have a good time. And best of all, I made a speech without blushing or stammering; without my heart pounding or my body pumping adrenaline. I was totally calm. In fact, I was totally awesome. Here is a video to prove it.
If I can do that, I can basically do anything. And so can you. Is today the day?