Music, Fear and Fun – Joanne Renee Munley
I love music! I love listening, dancing and singing to it. I also love learning, especially about myself. So when I heard that The Breakthrough Performance Workshop uses music as a vehicle to help people overcome fears that block them, I was more than willing to “give it a go” – yet the thought of performing onstage to a live audience with the possibility that I could make a complete fool out of myself provided me with enough “fear ammunition” to think about it before I made the leap.
Two years later I found myself at the first weekend of our workshop along with 12 other participants, waiting for a turn to sing in front of the group for the first time, in preparation for our onstage performance eight weeks later. The added excitement of that moment was that Bob McKenzie from KTVU Fox 2 News was there, filming us for a future “Segment Two” on the 10 O’clock news. While interviewing me, he asked if I wanted to be a professional singer, like some of the other participants. I let him know that my main reason for being there was to have fun with music and hopefully to just “get over myself” while doing so, I explained to him that in my personal life, as well as in my career as an educator and consultant, I burned myself out again and again by so much “efforting,” struggling, and attempting to do everything perfectly. And when I didn’t match up to those expectations, I would hold myself back from trying new things, feel frustrated at myself and shrink myself down hoping others wouldn’t see how imperfect I was. I let Bob know how fearful I was to just think about being seen performing – not knowing how perfect or imperfect my performance would turn out to be.
So, for the next eight weeks I got to face that fear repeatedly each time I rehearsed in front of our group. Of course, other participants had their own “recipe for fear” they were dealing with. The beautiful thing was that our facilitators were so supportive and honoring of each one of us that I felt safe to reveal other beliefs and fears I had been ashamed to have anyone else know about. Bringing in CDs to sing each week where either the words or music touched me deeply helped me to get to know myself better. I loved researching music where the artists could express for me the parts of myself I wanted to reveal at that moment. Feeling the love, support, and compassion of the other group members also helped free me up to “just be me” with whatever was going on and we soon become a very closely bonded group. A wonderful shift was happening – instead of avoiding and not wanting some of these places of myself to be seen, I became very curious watching “what wanted to show up.” It was like I was on an adventure getting to know myself.
Soon my worries of singing in front of others – not knowing if my voice was off-key or if I was rhythmically incorrect – gave way to getting very present with the music, my experience and the other group members. At one point in the workshop I remember one of the facilitators telling me I had a choice between perfectionism and fun, and I knew then I was ready to stop struggling so hard to get it right. From that point on, instead of wanting to get my turn over with, I looked forward to singing in front of the group – perfect or not. Now I was actually having fun being in front of the group and even wanted more microphone time. Wow!
As the performance date come closer and more of my friends, colleagues and family members told me they would be at my performance, I started to forget once again about fun over perfectionism and my body let me know that it did not like that. During the workshop, a health challenge I had been dealing with was flaring up and I was afraid I would not be able to perform. Once again, leaning on the support of our facilitators and the group I felt their confidence, trust and acceptance of me being who I am. With the performance just a week away, the Breakthrough staff kept growing as more and more former participants returned to help our group prepare by finding costumes, choreographing group numbers, and being there for emotional support. Again, the love and support kept pouring in and I felt so cared for that my fears again started to melt away. I noticed that I was speaking up and asking for help, allowing myself to receive it, and trusting that others would be there for me. I realized that I did not have to do life alone and struggle so hard to get it right and I really started experiencing “breaking through” this old fear pattern.
It was now the night of the performance and our Breakthrough group gathered at the 7th NOTE Show Club in San Francisco. The club was overflowing with about 350 audience members, the band was blaring and I was waiting backstage for my time to go on. In that moment I could not say that my fears were gone, but it did not matter. As I felt the immense love and support of the audience, filled with all our friends and relatives who came to encourage us, and the love of the support staff that were volunteering their time to help with the performance, as well as the love of the facilitators, band members and the other 12 participants, I just knew I could not fail. So, when I stepped onstage I did make the choice of “fun” over “perfectionism.” I did make the choice to show up and be seen in all my talent and beauty, and I did make the choice to surrender and trust the “perfection’ of the moment.
Now, two months after my performance those same choices present themselves to me in how I choose to live my life. New work opportunities are brewing for me and with great anticipation I am embracing this change. Thankfully my fears do not run my life as much as they used to. I’ve realized that life does not have to be such a struggle and that my apprehensions do not need to be in the way of my being in the world. Now I understand what Nelson Mandela said in his 1994 inaugural speech:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are more powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Today, because of my “breakthrough experience,” I see myself and my world differently. I choose to stand and shine in my own glorious light rather than in the shadow of my fears. And when I forget, I just close my eyes and recall the immense love and gratitude I experienced receiving my applause at the end of my solo number. Then once again I remember to trust myself, others and “life” more. In surrendering to that, the music I have loved is now in me and I live life from a place of adventure, mystery and effortless fun.
Thank you Breakthrough!