The Indelible Force of Fear

debaseinstallCoaching With Intent

Fear. FEAR! Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. 

It comes in all shapes and sizes. It comes in different colors, fonts, and styles. It is around us and here to stay. The quote on the left was sent to me by a friend, Nikki Booth. She asked me to write about it, because that’s what we do in the pageantry arts and as I really think it through, it probably ranks at the top of the skills we learn and pass on to the performers we teach. 

The quote is very timely for me and I find it ironic that Nikki tagged me in it on Facebook. Last week I got the opportunity of a lifetime when I spoke at the National Bullying Conference in Orlando. Speaking at national conferences isn’t new, for me as I have spoken at several before, and I have spoken at the National Bullying Conference once before. Speaking at conferences requires guts, because you risk your reputation while speaking in front of a national crowd. You don’t know who is in the audience and you have no idea what their background is. This conference however was even more frightening, because I spoke on a topic that is often unique, controversial, and requested a call to action at the end. Advocacy at this level requires guts of immeasurable quantity and the ability to accept the naysayers, negative Nancy’s, and pessimists who live a life of “it can’t be done.” In the end, the speech went well and my co-presenter Heather Rothman (another pageantry princess)  and I celebrated with a strong cocktail in the local pub. 

None of this however, would have been possible without the help of the pageantry arts. I’ve written about this before. The power behind the ability to perform in front of a crowd and to be judged takes nothing short of a miracle sometimes. We teach young people everyday in rehearsal that overcoming fear is probably the most important life skill a person can have. I’ve been teaching for over 25 years in this activity and the challenge of overcoming fear doesn’t stop when the sabre is tucked quietly away in the closet with old dance shoes and medals. I believe the fear that comes from creating a product and presenting it to be judged, criticized, ridiculed, mocked, and placed value upon, is harder than performing ever could be. Even as I write this little blog post, I can’t help but wonder how it will be received. In the pageantry arts we don’t just compete. We create performance art and ask young people to step onto a stage to have others form an opinion of that art. With all of my years in the activity, it’s been just in the past decade or so, that we have begun to call ourselves artists and with that title, comes creative fear. 

Years ago, when people would congratulate me on a job well done with a guard or ask what I did for a guard, I usually responded with some self-deprecating remark like, “Oh it’ was nothing. It took a team. Yeah thanks.” or my personal favorite, “I’m just the tech.” It’s not always easy, even when the art is good, to appreciate your own work and sense of value in the world of performance art. It’s easier to judge yourself harder than the audience and put yourself down, because fear tells us that if we step up and say, “Hell yeah we were good!” or “I might not have designed that, but by God we couldn’t have done it without the creative flow of a great technician,” then we don’t have to take full responsibility for the good and the bad. I have found that being humble is my defense against the fear of seeing myself as talented and good. Sometimes I put myself down, because fear tells me that success might not come again, so don’t get use to it. As a woman in America, I’ve been subjected to the hidden messages that being bold and assertive was unbecoming of a lady. So, when you couple absurd gender based societal messages with fear; you get a person who hides behind a curtain of insecurity. 

In critique, I see instructors coming to the table unable to have an open dialog, because of fear that we as judges might actually say the words, “I really liked it.” 

Instructors often start a conversation with, “Yeah it wasn’t our best run.” 


“We were missing Sally Mae who had mono all week and well you know kids and their parents, so Betty Sue who is Sally Mae’s exchange partner freaked out and missed count 5 after the exchange and forgot to toss, because well…I think she has mono, too.”


Yeah, you just blew your three minutes by excuses, when all I wanted to say was, “I noticed that you had a hole during the exchange, but I really like where the show is going.” 

It’s fear. Fear allows us to make excuses and it keeps us from hearing the good and suggestions for growth. I see this not just out of young artists in the activity, but out of the most prominent designers and techs. I personally do it all the time. I do it at work. I do it as a mother. I do it as a writer. I do it as a judge and I most certainly do it as an instructor. 

Living the life of a creative person is a rough life and it doesn’t matter what field those creative juices flow in. Opening your mouth, your heart, or soul to express a new idea just once, is more than most people do in an entire lifetime. In the pageantry arts, we do it every year day in and day out. I’ve been working in the field of social services since I was 23 and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begged colleagues to think differently. I’ll ask the question, “So, if the statistics on bullying haven’t changed, so then clearly the status quo isn’t working. Give me a new solution. Give me something different.” And in light of the lack of a creative response, I open my mouth, with the fear of ridicule and say, “I have a new idea. It’s different and may not work.”  I’ve learned over time that those that fear change or new concepts, will be the first to pick apart and blow holes through the idea. The truly creative people, the people that look fear in the face and say, “Screw You,” will attempt to find the good in the new, before finding the bad. 

Fear. It isn’t for the faint of heart and those who fear for the sake of fear, lead a life of comfort. They don’t take chances and roll over into apathy. 

I thank God for the failures of the staff that taught me and the failures of my own creative process. They made me stronger and even more creative. They taught me how to stand up for myself and in front of a crowd to defend my ideas…the good ones and the bad ones. 

Last Thursday, when I spoke of new ideas in front of a national crowd, I had McGavock High School, the Star of Indiana and the Pride of Cincinnati to thank. Through them and every judge that told me I could do more, I stood with good posture, made eye contact, and opened my mouth to a different future. 

We are a wondrous activity.