Overcoming Fear

Overcoming Your Fears- A Comedian’s Guide to Finding Success in Stand-Up Comedy

As Albert Einstein said, “you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” Expanding your stand-up comedy career requires exploring the unknown. Without change, you’re destined to repeat the same mistakes and you’ll always get the same level of success. There’s one primary factor that limits one’s ability to create a change: fear. If you’re having difficulty making a decision, it’s usually because you fear making the wrong one. In essence, we want to avoid knowing that we brought about our own pain. This is as much true in comedy as it is in every other field.

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Here are some very common, universal fears:

  • Fear of the future and of the unknown (safety fear)
  • Fear of not being safe (safety fear)
  • Fear of the reactions of loved ones (a self-esteem fear/social fear)
  • Fear of no longer knowing who you are once something important in your identity has change (psychological fear)
  • Fear of not being able to control other people and circumstances (fear of safety)
  • Fear of not being loved (self-esteem fear)
  • Fear of being alone (self-esteem fear/social fear)
  • Fear of not having enough money (safety fear)
  • Fear of not being good enough (psychological fear)
  • Fear that your greatest dreams won’t come true (psychological fear/self-esteem fear)

How to Overcome Fear

Overcoming fear requires some degree of faith. It’s very easy to measure what you’ll lose when making a change, but nearly impossible to measure what you’ll gain. What you stand to lose is tangible and easy to identify… it’s right in front of you. What you stand to gain is usually deeper than you can imagine.

I went through this process yesterday. I was invited to an event that would require me to fly back to my home state to attend several days earlier than I planned. It’s very clear to me what I’d lose from choosing to go… but it’s not clear at all what I’d gain. In order to reach a decision I’d have to make several assumptions about the event. How accurate could these assumptions possibly be? Can I really quantify how much new business I’d get from attending the event? Is the new business the most important characteristic of the event?

The problem is that when you make assumptions, the brain naturally grabs the most obvious ones… it’s just how the brain is naturally wired (for me it jumped to the question “how many more shows can I book in this industry?”). But the obvious assumptions aren’t the only important ones. In fact, it’s what I don’t expect from the event that will likely be the most powerful. Aside from stand-up comedy, I’m also an entrepreneur that’s passionate about helping people live better, more fulfilling lives. The event is going to be full of similar-minded people (in fact, ones with far more business experience than I have). The less-obvious benefit of possibly meeting a future business partner is a positive, even though it’s not guaranteed. And that’s just the second-most obvious assumption I can make among infinite possibilities.

When surveyed near the end of one’s life, most people regret what they didn’t do more than what they did do.

The point is assumptions about what you’ll gain and what you’ll lose are skewed towards saying “no” to many opportunities. While it generally keeps us out of trouble, it also keeps us from expanding our lives and careers. It’s the fear of being wrong that traps us.

To get past it, you first must realize that you have inaccurate and incomplete information. Accept this not as a fault, but as a fact of life. Second, attempt to determine (to the best of your ability) what other positive benefits can be obtained. Go past the obvious. Just because it’s harder to determine what you’ll gain doesn’t make it any less important. Third, have faith. Once you’ve done your due diligence (gathered the important information), adding more information tends to lock us into “paralysis by analysis.” Once you feel like you understand the positives and negatives of a decision, it’s time to make that decision. To do this, get some distance. Otherwise, short-term emotions will cloud your thinking. Your brain will push the fear button. If you look at it more objectively, you’re far more likely to come up with the right decision and bypass the fear.

How Fear Plays a Role in Stand-Up Comedy

For those of you thinking “yeah… so what?” let me connect some dots. This fear plays a huge role in…

In each case, the same thing is happening. There are known costs and unknown benefits. I had intense stage-fright early in my career because I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to be as high quality as possible. This high standard made me afraid of the stage. As I overcame stage fright I became a public speaker as well as a comedian. I started lecturing. There was no way of me knowing that overcoming stage fright would help me expand my career into another industry… creativity.

The same is true from writing stand-up comedy. It’s easy to gauge what it’ll cost you to take an hour out of your day… it’s near impossible to determine how that time will add up to expand your comedy career (or even your career outside stand-up).

Is it coincidence that the people who are on top of their industry (regardless of which industry we’re talking about) are those that have embraced uncertainty?

Can you find any top-players in any industry that have played it safe?

Jared Volle