Real terror is presenting your complete novice artistic vision to an actual professional. You open yourself up to criticism, self-doubt, pre-exhaustion and shattering of dreams.
I’m an actor, by trade. I know how to walk into a room, sing a song, do a dance, pour my heart into my work, have my heart set on the stars, prematurely write my Tony award speech before I’ve even walked out of the audition room, and be disappointed for the millionth time that I didn’t book the gig.
I know rejection, that’s for sure. Fifteen years as a NYC actor has toughened my skin to alligator thickness.
Or Magda from There’s Something About Mary. (Remember her and her suntanning?)
Presenting my ideas and actual design drawings to professionals I’m employing to realize my dream is ten times more terrifying than singing center stage.
Perhaps defending my honors thesis in college was equally terrifying.
(“The Cultural Disintegration of European Integration”…which, thank goodness, was printed in hard copy form and has never, ever, been sent across the internet airwaves because I’m sure it’s as convoluted as its opaque title.)
Nevertheless, like my honors thesis, I know my bag inside and out. I know my vision for my company, I know how I want it to look. I believe in it.
And my mantra is still: way dumber people than me have figured this out. So, here goes.
My semi-snobbery gives me confidence.
I’ve been really lucky to have 100% across-the-board positive reactions to my idea.
But here’s what it comes down to, people: if you don’t do it, yourself, your idea, your dream, your voice will be buried in the miasma of dis-expression.
Everyone is terrified by the thought of creative rejection. EV-RY-ONE.
And it’s thrilling.
But here’s the other part:
Fear of success is also a real thing
I’d never understood the notion of “the fear of success” until dropping off my plans, drawings and materials to Ben Liberty. Up to that point, the notion of self-sabotage or fear of success sounded like an absurd psychological notion created by psychologists to fill space in a theoretical void.
Along with “fear of success”, I couldn’t wrap my head around quitting when everything seems like it’s going well.
But then, I got it..
Walking out of Ben’s with a sense of accomplishment, and then having to pay Ben serious bucks for the prototype, I definitely said to myself:
“If I just quit, now, I’ll never have to tell people I failed.”
“If I quit now, I’ll save money should this tank.”
“If I quit now, everything will be so much easier.”
“If I quit now, I won’t have to put so much work into this damn thing.”
I don’t know from whence these thoughts originated, but they were there.
And I’m so glad I did have those thoughts. It taught me about another level of relatable humanity. These thoughts are real. Embrace them, let them go.
I also knew I wouldn’t quit. I couldn’t quit.
Because my fear of embarrassment is worse. (Not sure what that says about me…something about peer pressure and how others perceive me. Whatevs. We’ve all got our issues.)
For three years I wrote in my Christmas letters to friends and family, “So, I’m still working on my diaper bag project.” I’m sure most people reading the letter thought, “Huh?” or “Cute. Keep dreaming.”
But in my last Christmas letter I got to say, “My bag is now for sale at Barneys.”
And that was worth it.
And that wasn’t even about the Barneys mystique. It was that I’d followed through.
There have ve been plenty of those projects in my life…my memoir about cleaning out my childhood home, the charming general store I want to open in rural Connecticut, my podcast about interviewing dads about being dads. All these things are still plans of mine (albeit slightly on the back-burner…I’m too busy for that stuff, right now.)
But I’m really committed to this one. And I’ve persevered. And I’m proud of that.
But I wasn’t allowed to wallow in self-congratulation. Another friend of mine said, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool you made it into Barneys. Your epitaph can read so. But now the real challenge begins: keeping this fucking company alive for the next 12-18 months.”
Oh, yeah. That.
Fear of success: don’t fail me now.
Oh, but wait…my fear of success would be the least of my worries as I’m handed the sample in the next chapter…