From ‘Safe Spaces’ To ‘Brave Places’

From the new book,

 “Unleashing Your Creativity: Lessons From A Reluctant Creative”. 

I had written and performed a song titled ‘One More Mile’ for a local TV show featuring Texas songwriters. I was (and still am) a nobody in the ‘Live Music Capitol of The World’. In a town that has housed legends like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zant, Charlie Sexton, Janis Joplin, Jimmie Vaughan, Patti Griffin, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, I was in way over my head.

After taping, I was packing up and talking with a woman named Lee. “I really liked your song, Tom.” she said.

“Thanks,” I replied, “Um.. you’re very kind…”

“No, I’m not.” she laughed. “Anyone who knows me will tell you just how blunt I am. But this song is really well done… you should come check out our songwriters group next Tuesday night. You’d fit right in. It’s a very safe place.”

“That sounds great!”, I responded.

Total lie. It didn’t sound great. In fact, nothing could sound worse. 

What could possibly be great about a noob like me singing my pitiful songs for a group of experience songwriters and having them critique every word choice, every strum of the guitar, and every vocal inflection? I’d rather listen to Britney Spears and shove sharpened pencils into my ears. Fortunately, my wife overheard the conversation and hounded me to give it a shot. Always my biggest cheerleader, she wouldn’t let me squander the opportunity.

Reluctantly, I drove into south Austin the following Tuesday night, guitar in hand, to the Austin Songwriters Group (aka Texas Songwriter’s Association). Sitting around the perimeter of the room were 26 other creatives like me. One by one, they each took their turn. They passed around copies of their song, subsequently performed it, and then sat back down to listen to the group’s critique. I was sweating. I had to pee.

And I thought I was going to vomit.

Now it was my turn. I passed around copies of a song I’d been working on called ‘Someone’. Even though it was just a rough draft, the song itself was pretty terrible. It was still very rough. I felt like I was at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

“Hey, y’all. I’m new here, my name is Tom…”

“Hi, Tom…” they all responded in chorus.

“This is my first time here,” I continued, “so… if this song tanks, you’ll never see me again.”

They laughed. I laughed. I was joking…sort of. But it seemed to calm my nerves. I performed my song as nervous sweat rolled off my forehead. My voice quivered. My hands shook. It was the longest three minutes of my life. Finished, I sat down and fumbled with my guitar as I waited for their critiques to begin.

They began sharing their thoughts and criticisms. As they talked, I tried to listen. I couldn’t hear very much over my own heartbeat pounding in my ears. Before long, I caught myself only pretending to listen. As my heart rate began to settle down and I wiped the sweat from my eyes, I had a breakthrough. I realized one, solitary, life-changing fact:

I didn’t die.

They could have loved my song. They could have hated my song. They could have laughed at my writing or my voice or any number of my insecurities. But the truth is I survived. As far as I could tell, they even may have liked the song. But that didn’t really matter at that moment. What mattered was that this ‘safe place’ had become a ‘brave place’ for me. To some people, I know that sounds silly.

“Of course, you didn’t die.”

“Dude, that’s ridiculous.” 

“You’re being totally absurd.”

Most fear is absurd. It’s unfounded and illogical. That’s why conquering it is so simple. Actor Jamie Foxx has famously said, “You know what’s on the other side of fear? Nothing.” He’s right. There’s nothing there. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. And the more you do what you fear, the more you will move from ‘safe places’ to ‘brave places’. Just try it. Walk through it. You’ll make progress, I promise. It may not always feel like a straight path…but it will take you there.

When was a time YOU tried something new… and didn’t DIE? How did that help you grow past your fears? 

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