I have come to realize that everything I fear, I manifest into my life. It must be one of those hilarious things God created to have us work through in our lifetimes.
In my youth I had a crippling fear of public speaking (I know. Shocking, right?) that caused me to become very ill in high school and miss many days when we were supposed to do our oral reports. So, whenever I was randomly called on by the teacher to read out loud in the class, I would hyperventilate. I finally became clever and used excuses like, “I forgot my glasses,” even though I didn’t wear any. By the time I got to college, I was hoping oral reports were a thing of the past. The major I signed up for in college was special education, because I always had a fondness for the little kids who had disabilities and thought I had the patience and love it took to work with them. (Little did I know that special education would overtake my life in the next decade with my own son, Evan.)
Because of my major, I was forced to take a public speaking class. My bones shook as I saw it on my freshman class list of requirements for my major. There was no way around it. I knew I had to try and speak in front of a group of people or I would have to leave college. As I walked into an auditorium-style class, I began to shake. The teacher announced that every student was going to stand in front of the class and briefly talk about themselves. Before he even finished his sentence, I grabbed my backpack and ran as fast as I could toward the exit. When I busted through my guidance counselor’s office door I was in hysterics. I was crying so hard she thought I was attacked. When I explained my fear, she then tried to explain that the majority of people have this fear and I shouldn’t be so freaked out.
I put my head down between my legs and vomited all over her floor. Needless to say, she got the message that I had a severe anxiety disorder about speaking in public.
She then said to me, “You know, Jenny, there are other majors that don’t require public speaking. Why don’t you tell me if there is anything else you’re interested in, and I will look to see if public speaking is a requirement?”
I sat there for a second and felt sadness fill up my chest because I was allowing fear to let go of a passion of mine. I had always dreamed of becoming a special ed teacher. I thought about other things that were interesting to me and I told her, “Well, I love the idea of doing something in medicine and healing. Nursing always seemed like it would be mentally stimulating, but also have the nurturing aspect I wanted in special ed.”
My guidance counselor looked at the nursing requirements and smiled. “No public speaking, Jenny!” With that, I walked out of her office as a nursing student. Even though I felt relieved that I would never have to speak in public, something inside of me was saying, “You live what you fear most. You can’t hide from fear. It will find you. ”
OK, a voice probably didn’t say it like that, but that’s what it felt like inside of me. That I could run but not hide, and that sooner or later it would show up when I needed to overcome it most.
I shook off that soul ache and kept focused on finishing school as a nurse. Sadly, by the end of the second year, I was forced to drop out. I couldn’t afford to be in school anymore and headed back home to live with my parents.
While lying depressed and heartbroken in my old bedroom, I contemplated what I should do with my life. I looked to my left and saw my old Grease album with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta staring at me. When I was 7 years old, I saw that movie with my mom in the theater. I remember looking up at her when it was over and telling her that I was going to Hollywood someday to become a star. Back then, my fear of public speaking had not yet developed, so it was an innocent fantastical dream I had with no concept of fear.
As I lay on my bed, I knew I had to try one thing in my lifetime to make at least one of my dreams come true. Fear was such a debilitating emotion that I knew if I didn’t try to face it head on, I would probably just engage in something that I’ve coined “Irish therapy” for the rest of my life. (Irish therapy: Drinking alcohol and telling everyone in your family what you could have done with your life, but never did.)
So, I opened the phone book. (For those in their twenties, phone books were big yellow books with the numbers of businesses and complete strangers. Crazy, huh?)
Anyway, I called the Better Business Bureau and got a list of agencies and started on this path to find my purpose in life. As miracles or destiny had it, I found myself on my way to L.A. and was soon auditioning for producers.
I would still puke on my way to auditions, but I knew that I couldn’t let fear take control of my life anymore. Then (with what I think was a wink from God) came my very first motion picture acting job. I was hired to be a nurse — Christopher Walken’s nurse — in a movie called “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.” Mind you, the only line I had was, “hello,” but I got to wear the nurse outfit and feed Christopher Walken baby food with a spoon for five days. And thanks to my son Evan, years later I got to learn and use many more medical terms than I would have ever learned in college. Especially, “Let me get another opinion.”
Facing fear head-on has been an incredible lesson for me. You begin to live your life with what you fear most. There is a reason for feeling fear — it’s an alarm that goes off inside of you to tell you that whatever is causing you to be scared is on your list of requirements in the school of life. Sorry, you can’t switch majors!
What is your biggest fear that you have yet to overcome?