Do you ever get the feeling you’re not participating enough in life? Are you trapped in your own head like Being John Malkovich, destined to watch the world play out before you? The older I get the more I realise just how frustratingly self-conscious we can be. The combination of wanting people to like us and trying to avoid conflict has us tiptoeing about like conformist ninjas, gushing niceties on auto-pilot and letting more opportunities slip through to the keeper than Kevin Pieterson.>
For me it began in grade six when I had my first dose of self-doubt. My first girlfriend and I were on school camp together. The sun had set and we took an opportunity to sneak off behind the dorms. I stood next to her for five minutes, not speaking. I looked down to the ground and haemorrhaged. My skin turned to glass. A ghost hand erased the scripts in my mind. My heart punched full stops with each passing second. She mumbled something and we wandered back to our friends, only to break up a few weeks later.
At that oily breeding ground for fear, high school, there’d be times when I’d sit in class knowing the answer and then having a mental shoot-out about whether to raise my hand. What if I seemed too square? What if I tried a joke and it backfired? This syndrome continued on into uni and then adult life. When I’m at a show and they ask for a volunteer, I know damn well I’m suited for the role – that I usually succeed at any kind of performance – yet a shy black hole is still in the back of my body, perpetually stewing and swallowing confidence. ‘What will people think?’ Welcome to world’s worst rhetorical questions.
Growing up in a tumultuous home environment, I learnt to take life, and therefore school, very seriously. I worked hard as a student and wanted nothing more than my teachers to like me. On the few times I was faced with the raised voice of reprimand, my heart would collapse like a cake; my chest sizzling with failure and regret. To what lengths have I carried this through with me? In a sharehouse, when someone behaves badly, or when a friend asks for my opinion, how much do I swallow to avoid any risk of being ‘told off’? Playing things safe seems like the logical option, it’s comfortable and no one gets hurt – but ultimately, it’s emotional laziness. Confronting a situation is hitting the gym of life. It burns and it aches, but that’s just passion and impulse cleansing your veins. Afterwards a tear is shed and your heart feels lighter. Your soul has been exercised!
I’m in so many situations where I could network, socialise or flirt. Wayne Gretzky said “you miss 100% of the shots you never take.” We sit back waiting for someone else to make the first move, waiting for someone else to get their hands dirty, to stick their head out, to prop up our fragile egos with an offering – a compliment – a hello! Anything. If you spend too long in your own stream of consciousness, your hands and feet get all wrinkly. The antidote to fear is to ask yourself “what is the worst thing that can happen?” In most cases the answer is “I’ll feel rejected.” But is that so terrible? Will it permanently kill you all dead? Is it not a risk you can absorb, when most of the time it may never happen and you might create a new contact, friendship or romance? You have to ask, is it worse to be rejected by someone else, or rejected by yourself? That's how I feel when I’m sitting on the sidelines.
Justin performs as The Bedroom Philosopher and writes for Frankie, Jmag and The Big Issue. New album Brown & Orange is out now. www.bedroomphilosopher.com