I remember the day I got the email to play my very first gig. A local musician found my Myspace music page (don’t try to look it up, it doesn’t exist anymore), and invited me to open for him at some dive bar in a Portland suburb.
I remember feeling incredibly flattered. Most bands work their asses off just to play for free somewhere, and here I was being handed a gig—and my first one, too. More than flattered, though, I remember being terrified. I’d never played for anyone outside of my apartment before. A live gig? I’m so shy! How does that work?
After a few minutes of hyperventilation, I sat down, mustered up the biggest dose of fake confidence I could and, fingers shaking, replied with, “How much does it pay?”
The answer was “nothing,” but of course I said yes anyway.
I invited everyone I knew to come out, but on the night of the gig only two friends showed up. Thanks Drew and Ruthie! When it was time to play, I sat down in front of the crowd—about 20 people all shooting pool or turned the other way, talking—and got to work.
My fingers shook, my voice trembled, and I hit lots bad notes. But damn it, I was playing my first gig. And once in a while, someone would set their pool cue down long enough to clap a few times. They were listening! Even the two guys that got in a fight in the middle of my set were nice enough to keep it down while they roughed each other up.
When it was all over, I packed up and got out of Dodge as fast as I could, passing on my free drink.
Before I went to bed that night, I asked Drew and Ruthie how it went. I could tell how hard they were trying not to let me down. The truth is I knew it was mostly a train wreck.
But that didn’t matter because guess what? I just finished my first gig! And once you finish your first gig, no matter how terrifying it is or how poorly it goes, you get to move onto your second one.
But you never get a second gig until you play your first. And that first one will be the scariest thing you ever do.
If you really want something, then you have to want it bad enough to go through at least a bit of hell to get it. You have to face your fear head on and dive into that very first time without ever taking your eyes off of the real prize: the second time.
Do you want to be a writer?
If you want to be a writer, then you have to get out your pad of paper and a pen and put some words on it. But you’re not done there. Then you have to publish them. Hitting that publish button for the very first time is the most frightening feeling, but guess what? After awhile, you get used to it.
Do you want to be an artist?
Painting and drawing in your studio at home is fine, but if you want more than that, then eventually you have to hit the pavement and start putting your work in front of other people. Have you talked to a coffee shop about hanging your work yet? Have you called any galleries? Have you said “yes” to every opportunity to put your work in front of new people?
If not, what’s stopping you?
Do you want to be a musician?
Then head down to the closest dive bar you can find, and ask how you can get on the bill. When the bartender tells you who to call, call them right away, and then tell them you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Keep doing this until someone believes you—it’ll happen eventually.
Can’t fill a two-hour set? Then say you’re out-of-town for two weeks and spend every day learning covers until you can.
Want to climb a mountain?
Then why don’t you? If you read about Mt. Everest all day long, you’ll never get started, but if you pick something easy, you can start today. Find a hill close by and walk up it. Keep doing this until you accidentally find yourself standing on a summit.
The fear will be there the whole time, but if you move forward slowly and deliberately, you can mostly ignore it.
Want to run a marathon?
There’s a myth that marathon runners are the healthiest, most elite athletes in the world. That’s true for marathon winners, but it isn’t for the rest of us.
Forget about running 26 miles and just run one. If you can’t run one yet, then run half of one. If you can’t do that, then just take a walk around the block. Can you put your shoes on and get out the door today? If so, you can run a marathon.
Want to travel the world?
The fear of travel is immense… until you do it. The idea of finding yourself in some strange land with no idea how to survive is frightening… until you do it.
Some day you’ll survey the most remote corners of the earth, but for now your job is clear and simple: get on a plane, in a car, on a boat or train and go anywhere. Eventually, you’ll laugh at how scared you were. Here’s a good place to start.
Want to start a business?
Then you’re going to have to sell something, and making that very first sale is the most uncomfortable thing you’ll ever do. Coincidentally, it’ll be one the most rewarding also.
There’s a lot of advice out there about all the Herculean tasks you have to complete before you can call yourself a business owner, but the truth is all you have to do is sell something and keep some of the money. Don’t underestimate the effort it’ll take—it’s not easy—but it’s not rocket science, either.
If you can make $1, then you can $1,000. Don’t forget to frame the first one you make.
After that very first gig years ago, I went on to play bigger ones with better crowds, and I even joined a band for a while. Those were a lot more fun. But even while I was enjoying a little more success, I never forgot about that very first one at a smoky dive bar in a Portland suburb. In fact, today, I even reminisce about it.
The very fist step is the most important one you’ll ever take. And that fear you feel when you take it? That’s where a lifetime of stories come from.
So what about you, now? Have you taken your very first step? If not, what’s holding you back?
Image by: Madilyn Peiper