Friday Free-for-All #14

In which I answer a random question generated by a website. Here’s this week’s question Feel free to give your own answers in the comments.

What do you attribute the biggest successes in your life to? How about your largest failures?

Well, this one is easy, because it’s opposite sides of the same coin.

Biggest successes? When I’ve let go of fear and just gone for it, despite my instincts.

Biggest failures? When I haven’t.

Or another way to put it is this: you can’t succeed if you don’t do, but you will always fail if you don’t. You may fail if you do but, surprisingly, those kinds of failures still lead to successes in teaching you other things.

And the fears that hold us back are not necessarily phobias or actual risks. They can be mundane as well — the fear of being inconvenienced or having to figure things out or whatever.

A big case in point for me was a few years back. It was just shy of a year after the little health scare that made me create this whole site in the first place, although not the event I wrote about in the prologue.

Basically, I had an opportunity to go to a resort in Palm Springs, spend the 4th of July weekend hanging out with a bunch of guys, and just getting out of town and relaxing.

I was fortunate enough that I could afford it, but what held me back was figuring out what to do with my dog. I mean, logistically, it was simple: Arrange for her to be boarded from Thursday afternoon through Monday morning, and I really trusted her vets to do that. Actually making the call to arrange it was another thing.

But I did, and made the trip, and wound up having a great time.

The same group was going to have an adult weekend camp in the woods near Big Bear around Labor Day, and by that time, after telling a neighbor about the whole previous thing, she told me that she’d be happy to board Sheeba any time, so this was suddenly not an issue.

But after I’d booked this one, I got an email from the organizer asking if I could give a ride to somebody from WeHo, since he didn’t have transportation up to the camp.

And I almost said no, because… how weird, right? I’m not an Uber driver. I don’t know this guy, and we’re going to be stuck in my car for hours. The only thing it seemed like we had in common were our first names.

But the lure of the experience was too much, so I said yes, picked him up, and in the course of the trip and the weekend, in which we wound up being the only two bunkmates in our cabin, we bonded, and he and I are still good friends to this day.

I’d call that a success. This was also the weekend when I learned that the late, great Sheeba actually liked cats. Who knew?

Other big wins have been when I’ve put fear aside to actually talk to people, and have managed to wrangle a few nice LTRs that way — and IRL, which is much scarier than via app, believe me. And good things have also happened when I’ve talked my way into talking my way into jobs.

Now, as for failures coming from fear, it’s obviously a lot harder to gauge when you’ve failed because you don’t really know it. If you never applied for that job, then you’ll never have heard a definitive “No.” If you never asked that person out, you can’t have been rejected.

Although maybe it’s not so much a case of fear stopping things, but rather lack of initiative — which brings us back to the do or don’t mention up top.

We can pretend that it’s fear that stops us, but that isn’t always the case. Often times, it can be laziness, procrastination, annoyance, or inconvenience. Like electrical currents, humans are quite fond of seeking the path of least resistance and, in general, this will lead to the lowest possible energy state, whether we’re talking people or electrons.

We’re certainly seeing this right now with people who are itching to get out of lockdown and go back to the life they knew. If that’s not taking the path of least resistance, I don’t know what is. They are letting inconvenience dictate their actions, not realizing that this will just lead to failure, not only personally, but systemically.

I can’t say what failures I’ve face in the past when I let laziness, procrastination, annoyance, or inconvenience win — but I can list every single case in my life when ignoring all of those and actually doing something led to a success.

How about you?

Can’t live / in fear

One of the most important things you can do for youself is to let go of your fear — it will open doors you never imagined even existed. Today, it put me in a music video.

A subject that I’ll discuss a lot in my book is how fear holds us back — whether it’s keeping us from going to the doctor, from having new experiences, or overcoming addictions.

In my post about my fear of roller coasters, I mentioned that I finally conquered this fear after a group of friends shamed me into taking a ride only for me to find out that I actually love roller coasters, but I think that peer pressure might be an early theme for me.

Fortunately, I had peers who mostly pressured me into good things.

One other thing they talked me into back in the day was auditioning for a play in college. Now, beyond third grade plays that don’t really count, I hadn’t really acted on stage before. I had taken one disastrous drama class in middle school and had played in the combos for a few small musicals, but part of the point of being in the backing band is that you aren’t on stage.

I figured, “Well, I haven’t done this before, there’s no way I’m going to get cast, and it’ll stop my friends from bugging me to get involved in theatre,” so I auditioned.

I got cast. In a featured speaking role. With lines and everything. I went from afraid to terrified, but I had already committed, so there was only one way to go…

And that, dear readers is how the acting bug bit me. Not that I ever wanted to pursue it as a profession — I prefer playing odd supporting roles and leaving the real work to the real pros, and I’ve certainly done some odd ones. If I had to pick favorites, they’d be the depressed unicycle riding bear in an adaptation of a John Irving short story, The Pension Grillparzer, The Dreamer in Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, a leather-clad Jesus figure leading his blind mother along and whose dialogue is entirely in Spanish, and basically every spear-carrier in The Comedy of Errors rolled into one in the form of a slightly greedy, slightly drunk, river-dancing Irish cop, but which doesn’t seem to have any reviews online..

At least the L.A. times did say something nice about me: “Jon Bastian’s bear and Matt Ryan’s hand-walking man own the house…”

Along the way, I’ve also done extra work in film and T.V., and a series of flash theater performances put on by L.A.’s own Playwrights’ Arena over the course of a year in celebration of their 20th anniversary. I think I managed to do thirteen of those, which were all live in various locations around the city, and very much right up close and personal with the audiences.

None of this would have happened if I had let fear stop me from auditioning for that first play way back in college. And it hasn’t just been about the experience acting on stage. I’ve made a lot of close friends through all these various shows and performances, and every so often I get to help an artist make a statement.

That’s what I was doing today, for a music video for a song by Deidra Edwards called “We Already Know,” which involved a large and very diverse group of people singing in a park in an act of political resistance, and then some studio follow-up shooting. I’m very excited about this one because of the message, and because it’s also both a real and symbolic return to performing for me, which is something I’ve been working my way back into over the course of this year.

One of the lines we sang in the song says, “Can’t live in fear,” and that is certainly the case. It’s something that I think we already know, but we also like to resist the thought and let our fears win out.

But when we don’t let them win, magic happens.