Raise your hand if you remember the 1984 pop hit “Somebody’s Watching Me“. C’mon, don’t be ashamed. I bet you can hear that wired falsetto in your head right now. Sing it: “I always feel like somebody’s watching me…“
It wasn’t a particularly good song (even by 80’s pop music standards), but it was a hit. If you don’t know it, look it up. If nothing else, it’s mildly amusing. (Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the five minutes you waste).
Other than two famous vocalists – some dude named Michael and his brother Jermaine (last name Jackson) – backed up Mr. Rockwell, there was nothing special about the song. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say it was a hit due largely to the right combination of an expertly crafted syncopated rhythm coupled with the requisite amount of repetitive lyrics to give it just the right bubble gum pop stickiness so that it’d get…um…stuck in your head. Maybe that’s enough for temporary success (at least of the one hit variety), but it’s hard to miss the irony of a guy no one remembers singing a song about everyone paying him too much attention 33 years ago, and I have to wonder if the anxiety of having somebody watching us was, at least in part, responsible for the success of the song (albeit as brief as it was).
I’ve heard, when asked to identify their greatest fear, most people put public speaking at the top of their list. Jerry Seinfeld noted the fear of death is second, which, as he expertly quipped means at a funeral most of us would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.
Why is that? Simple, right? Most of us don’t like being the center of attention. Mmmm…maybe, but that’s not really an answer to the question. That’s just another way of saying we don’t like being looked at or giving the speech. It has got to be deeper.
Like most things the answers are probably varied.
You might fear public speaking because you struggled with a speech problem as a child (it’s there, in the back of your mind, reminding you of your inadequacy). She might remember how her fifth grade embarrassed her in front of the whole class. He might just worry he’ll forget what to say or do. I might have a propensity to say something stupid, or inadvertently offensive (like asking a woman I’ve just met when her baby’s due…but she’s not pregnant).
It’s varied, but variance doesn’t eliminate some commonality, and these fears tend to fall within two common clusters: the fears of judgment and failure.
Some of us shy from the spotlight because we’re afraid of what others will say about our efforts or worse, what they’ll say about us. If they notice I say both like it’s spelled with an “L”, then they’ll judge me as not very smart. If her stutter sneaks out, they’ll mock and criticize.
Others worry we’ll fall on our faces…on the stage…in front of everyone. We ask ourselves questions like:
- What if everyone hates the book I just spent a year (or longer) pouring my free-time, my creativity, and a little bit of my soul into?
- What if I sing the song and I’m so bad Simon Cowell makes a special trip to tell me I’m rubbish who couldn’t book a gig in the lobby of a Red Roof Inn?
- What if I give the eulogy and the corpse actually gets up and walks out?
Not every fear of judgment or failure is rational or legitimate, but for the one who feels it the fear is real. Real enough to set up residence in the comfortable land of “What if?” where dreams don’t really die, but the lives they live are half lives of un-realization.
So, what do you – petrified eulogist, wannabe author, shower singer, and Mr. or Mrs. Never-tried-never-failed – do? Eulogize. Write. Sing. Try and fail (or succeed). But whatever you do, keep doing it.
While you do it, remember people will look at you. They will judge you. When the judgment comes, evaluate it for it’s worth. If it’s fair and useful, then embrace it, use it for fertilizer, and grow and improve.
You will, in all likelihood, fail. Learn from that failure, then do it again, only do it better. Then learn and do it again….repeat. When the failure comes, get back up, read a story about Thomas Edison or some other wildly successful former failure, and do it again until success dives in and catches you just when you thought you’f all on your face again.
I know it’s easy for me to say, but let me let you in on a little secret: This blog is me practicing what I just preached.
This is me saying: I am a writer.