Sometimes people ask me how I can just freestyle rap in front of any audience. They say things like, “I’d never have the courage/confidence/craziness to trust myself to make up a rhyme on the spot that wasn’t terrible.”
The reality is that I don’t think I have a lot of courage either. I’ve just changed the question I ask myself before I start to rap.
When I started rapping my question would be, “What will people think of me?” or “Will people laugh at me?” After all, I was a skinny white kid from North Carolina who was usually wearing a dress shirt and “professional” shoes.
But one day, I had a life changing experience on-stage in front of 500 people.
You see… I bombed.
I had been asked to rap as the closing number for a step show in college. To prepare for the event, I had written a customized rap about Wake Forest, our basketball team, our extortionist food services provider, and other inside jokes. When I had demoed the song for my friends, they all thought it was hilarious.
And it was a great rap. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to deliver it as planned.
When I took the stage, the DJ started playing my beat on his turntable. Right before I started to rap, the record skipped (he was using vinyl). This totally threw me off, and I only managed to deliver the first few lines of the rap before feeling shaken and falling back on a mediocre freestyle performance.
When I left the stage, I initially thought, “I totally failed.”
But then I remembered all of the times when I had rapped and it had gone well. And even though I didn’t deliver the great rap I wanted to perform at the step show, it was truly just a small bump on the highway of life.
So I changed the question I asked myself moving forward. Instead of asking, “What could go wrong?” I began to ask myself, “When have you ever truly failed?”
Yes, I’ve made mistakes. Yes, things don’t always go as planned. Yes, I didn’t always do as well at certain things as I would have liked.
But I never truly failed because truly failing would mean quitting. And that is something that I hadn’t done.
When my friend Joe Martinez was debating moving from Atlanta to New York City, one of the things I asked him was, “When have you truly ever failed as a photographer? I’m sure you’ve had shoots not go as well as you would have liked, or maybe you didn’t get a great grade on an assignment. But when have you ever truly failed?”
I remember the look in his eyes when he said, “You’re right. I haven’t.” And he has been incredibly successful since his move to NYC.
Sometimes the fear of failure feels so crippling without any tangible evidence of failure! We can live our lives in fear of disappointing ourselves and our loved ones. We can stop ourselves from taking risks because we feel like we’re a fraud. We dim our light and hide our power for fear of risking a momentary flicker of the flame.
So when you’re considering an opportunity and you’re not sure if you’re worthy or qualified, ask yourself, “When have I ever truly failed?”
When you want to take a risk but worry what people will think, ask yourself, “When have I ever truly failed?”
When you feel disappointed in yourself and consider giving up, ask yourself, “When have I ever truly failed?”
The fact that you’re still continuing to dare greatly means that you’ve never truly failed.