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Fear of Looking Foolish

The root cause of all my excellence, all my ability, is fear.  I am afraid: afraid to look bad, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to look like a fool in front of others.  So I make sure I am prepared.  I make sure I am in control.

Of course I like to do well at anything that I do.  Of course it is never a pleasure to be bad at anything.  But it is fear, a deep mortal fear, a deep-rooted fear, that motivates me more than anything else.

And all the preceding is words, words, words.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

I am sitting in my car, thinking of driving home.  I am frightened, insecure.  Why?  I'm going to confront strangers -- people I've never met before.  I am going to a weekend-long dance camp.  Some of you out there are saying, "but Henry, you love to dance, you love dance camps, why are you afraid?"

All of my life I've been afraid of others.  I'd rather stay home alone and not go out to meet others.  Embarrassment is others.  Shame is others.  The great French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said it simply: "Hell is other people."

Perhaps that statement is too strong -- but the easiest course for me right now is to start up my car and go home.  Who will know I was a coward and took the easy way out?  Who will know I did not go?  No one.  And some part of me just wants to go home, be alone.

But I am a very good dancer.  Why am I afraid?  I then realized that it is because I am a very good dancer that I will go, that I will confront strangers.  If I did not dance well, I would be afraid to dance in front of others, and I would be afraid to be among strangers.

And that's when I realized that everything that I do well, I do well, in part, because I am afraid to look like a fool in front of others.  It is that fear, that fear of falling on my face, that motivates me to prepare for class, to prepare for a talk, to prepare for any meeting, any encounter with others.

Of course that motive -- fear -- drops off after awhile: you teach well, dance well, write well -- do anything well, because there is more pleasure in doing something well, than in doing something badly.

But fear is the great motivator -- and skill is its offspring.  If necessity is the mother of invention, fear is the mother of competence, the mother of excellence.

Of course there are other mothers to competence, to excellence, but I am sure that a good part of the reason I do anything well is because I am afraid of looking like a fool in front of others.  So long, for now, from Henry.


Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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