In praise of being scared -- or at least uncomfortable

By JD Bruewer

“Can you put a little more gravitas into it,” she said. “You know, like Anthony Hopkins.”

I was in a little studio near an airport, reading lines for a commercial I was auditioning for. I’ve had limited acting experience in the past, a couple stints as a movie extra, a couple of local commercials and minimal stage work. This role was perfect for me, a father offering heartfelt advice to his child about what is important in life. But that wasn’t why I was auditioning. I was there because I needed the money.

JD Bruewer is a public relations specialist at Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

JD Bruewer is a public relations specialist at Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I should be resting easy, but thankfully I’m not. After a successful career as a journalist, I began a second career in PR. Two years later I was downsized and found myself with no job, few prospects in the small town I lived in, and a family to provide for. It was the worst thing that could happen and the best thing that has happened.

Suddenly I wasn’t afraid any more. Nervous and stressed, yes, but not afraid. I could only go up from there. I found work in Cincinnati, bought a house and developed a plan to get my family on track. The plan has hit a few snags, including an old house that won’t sell. By the end of the summer all will be well. Until then, the budget is a bit tight.

That’s how I ended up at this audition, as much for the cash as the experience. Taxes were due and I didn’t want to dig into retirement funds to cover them. During the audition I was scared and felt kind of stupid, but I embraced the fear, put it aside and had fun doing something new.

It’s not the only new scary thing I’ve done in the past year. I finally started the communications consulting business I always said I’d do “someday.” I’ve been a long-time mobile DJ; now I’m doing gigs in foreign languages. I’m also working with a local theater group.

Why am I telling you all this and what does it mean to you? I’m challenging you to do something scary, or at least uncomfortable. It will be good for you. My extracurricular activity has created new revenue streams to support my family in tough times. Helping us face challenges now and in the future.

The best way to be ready for the future is to learn new things, but new things - despite our desire to learn them - can be uncomfortable.

In Erica Andersen’s recent book, “Be Bad First,” she looks at the research of British scholar James Atherton who studied resistance to learning. Atherton found that students in a training program began to shut down when confronted with information that seemed to contradict what the already knew.

Study participants became confused, unable to concentrate, and even angry when asked to learn things that would cause them to work differently or rethink their practices.

I have found that being uncomfortable usually means I’m fully engaged, and usually learning something. After 20 years of being a mobile DJ, I still get nervous before gigs. The more nervous I am, the better I do, because I am more fully invested in my performance.

Being a little nervous or scared is exhilarating. It makes you feel alive. There’s little difference between being anxious and excited. To paraphrase a great local band, The Raisins/Bears/Psychodots, “Fear is Never Boring.”

By the way, I didn’t land the part.