How fear of failure can be your best chance for success


Jennifer Ewing.jpgWelcome, one and all, to the very first contribution to Ms. In The Biz by Jennifer Ewing. Me. And, consequently, the cause for many hours of inner reflection, procrastination, and mild to advanced terror. I’ll come back to that terror thing in a moment.

I should tell you, I am not a blogger. I tried, once, when I was fifteen and living in Edinburgh, Scotland 8,000 miles away from all of my State-side friends and comforts, desperately needing an aid to keep me connected. So I had a blog to record my day-to-day teenage adventures. After a while I realized I was spending more time fiercely trying to stay connected than having new adventures, so I had more adventures, fell off the blogging wagon and inevitably, had a better time being fifteen in Europe. There was a big life lesson in there.

I am not a Californian. I spent a summer in Los Angeles after high school studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I went to Santa Monica beach with my girlfriends and some jerk on a skateboard laughed, audibly, at my tan – or rather, my severe lack of a tan. (I am that girl in photographs that is so white, she glows.) I knew in that moment I was never going to be a Californian. (I went to dark, gritty New York City where half our time is spent underground. I also knew I was better suited for that city when I yelled back at the jerk a la skateboard, “SCREW YOU, I’M IRISH!”)

So what am I? Besides Irish and pale. And why am I writing to you on this website predominately consisting of California-based, part-to-full-time bloggers? Well, you might have to ask Helenna Santos-Levy who invited me to be a part of this project, because I’m not sure myself.

But I do know this much: I’m an actor. I’m a woman. And I am working as hard as I can to figure out Career, Relationships, Self. In no particular order.

I am here because it terrifies me.

No, really.

If there is one thing I am learning this year, it’s that fear can be the most destructive or the most helpful force in life.

Last summer I was invited to teach acting to kids for two weeks. Ages 8-18. I said yes. I immediately regretted it. What the hell did I know? Who the hell was I to teach these kids about the great craft of acting? I’m too young, I don’t have a Master’s Degree, I’ve never done this before, blah blah blah. But I countered, no, don’t panic Jen, you’ve been in scores of productions, performing for almost 20 years, with two years of relatively fresh conservatory training under your belt, surely you must know SOMETHING. Right…?


Fear of failure convinced me I knew absolutely nothing, was totally out of my element and all I wanted to do was renege, curl up in a little ball and cry.

But I had already said yes. I contemplated chickening out. I even drafted emails to get out of it. But the inner tough-girl who had been so painstakingly forged in my time in New York wouldn’t stand for it.

No, I wouldn’t back out.

I felt like I knew nothing. So I went about learning everything. I was taught a long time ago that BEING PREPARED was the actor’s/student’s/Boy Scout’s best chance for success. So I spent the six weeks leading up to classes rereading Uta Hagen’s Respect For Acting and A Challenge for the Actor, pouring over my own notes from my days in acting school in New York, reaching out to every teacher I knew for advice, scouring the Drama Bookshop for books on theatre games for kids.

Now, do you think if I had said, “No, I can’t do that, forget it,” I would have done so much valuable study and exploration into acting which benefitted not only me, but students with a passion for acting? Not a chance. Day one of the first class, I knew I still didn’t have all the answers. I knew I was still scared of failure. But I showed up. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t do my homework. Another thing: doing your homework and showing up are two of the very few things any of us lowly actors actually have any control over in our success. My dad always said “showing up is half the battle.” If that’s true, the other half is definitely the homework.

Fear is something that will always be there for anyone that is human. It’s a part of our programming to keep us from that ultimate fail: Death. But come on, that audition/job/project/role is not likely going to lead to death.

So my advice? Acknowledge the fear. Don’t waste time furiously trying to ignore it, or bury it somewhere you think it won’t bother you. It will still be there, and if you don’t address it, Fear will crash your party again and again. So instead of running away, use that impulse to move towards sharpening your skills. The more tools and materials you have in your kit, the stronger your house will be, and the more you will be confident in the strength and integrity of your house! What a lame, fortune-cookie metaphor, I know, but you get my point. As with going on auditions, taking a new class, putting yourself out there, the more you meet the associated anxiety, the easier it will become to move past it. Never doing anything that’s a bit scary and sitting in a little ball crying, feeling “safe,” but totally irrelevant and doing nothing with your day, it will not.

As a recovering Perfectionist, I struggle a lot with “Not Being Enough.” (Talking about that is a whole ‘nother kettle of blog posts.) Not only in my work, but in my relationships too. Over the last few months, something I have come to embrace is that I am enough. We all are. That said, there is always room for improvement. I don’t know about you, but I like improvement. And how exciting it is to explore my own potential, and learn new and wonderful things in my crafts and passions!

Which leads me back to why I’m here.

Writing for Ms. In The Biz is an incredible opportunity to keep company with ambitious, interesting, creative, knowledgable, AMAZING women. Am I scared I’m not good enough for this? YOU BET. But I said yes. I guess the appropriate pop-culture reference here would be: challenge accepted.

Oh – and my stint as an acting teacher? We had fun! They learned stuff! I learned stuff! It was a 100% Positive Experience. I feel far more qualified to teach or coach again in the future, and it’s no longer something I am terrified of tackling. So there you go.

I encourage you to go out and do something scary. See what your fear can do for you.

x Jennifer