If someone invited you to go sky-diving, would you go? If you were offered a top corporate position in a field that was unfamiliar to you, would you accept the job? Whether it’s a fear of heights, a fear of the dark, or a fear of public speaking, we have all experienced fear.
Perhaps the biggest fear for many of us is a fear of failure.
But if we never try, how will we know the outcome? So many people worry about what will happen if they fail, that they lose sight of what could happen if they succeed.
When I was a little kid, my family would take a yearly road trip to a rustic getaway called Trinity Alps Resort in northern California. We stayed in old wooden cabins, grilled freshly-caught fish, and swam in a swimming hole along the river. There was a walking bridge that extended across the swimming hole, and older kids would jump off of it into the water below. But there was only one spot that was deep enough to jump into. Otherwise, you risked jumping into shallow water.
One summer, I was determined to try the jump. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea at first, and I remembered hearing people scream as they jumped from high above. But I also knew that when the jump was over, those kids would come up out of the water laughing and having a great time.
I asked my dad if he would do the jump with me, and he agreed.
As we walked out onto the bridge, I faintly heard the people swimming below. The laughter that had sounded so close to me when I was swimming sounded muffled and distant from the bridge. There was no way for me to see how high up we were – I was born blind. All I could do was step off the bridge, trusting that I would land in the water and not on a rock.
My dad counted to three, and we jumped together.
The feeling of free-falling through the air was incredible. I couldn’t fully enjoy it because I knew that at any moment we would hit the cold water. But by the time we finally did, I was glad I had jumped. As soon as I surfaced and caught my breath, I asked my dad if we could do it again.
In the same way that I was uncertain about jumping into a river I couldn’t see, I was uncertain about how to be successful as a blind person in the very visual entertainment industry. Every step off of the metaphorical bridge stretching across my career was a chance to fail – but also a chance to succeed. And although at times I did fail, with every success came more confidence to face the next challenge, and the next after that.
As the first-ever blind contestant on American Idol, one of the hardest things for me to do was to give a convincing performance in the group songs on elimination nights. I could have decided to make it easier on myself and sit those numbers out, but I wanted to participate just like every other contestant. But for me, it was more than learning dance steps and choreography. I had to memorize the positions of numerous cameras and keep track of them mentally as they moved around the stage over the course of the song. On top of all that, I had to rely on my memory and spatial awareness to make sure I was in the right place at the right time on stage. One misstep and I could have ended up in the lap of someone sitting in the front row of the studio audience.
But because I took that risk, Idol producers and millions of viewers around the world were inspired to re-think what a blind person is capable of doing.
I have to wonder though – would I have chosen to audition for Idol in the first place if I hadn’t decided to jump off the bridge in Trinity Alps? Fear is fear, and the way in which I dealt with my ordinary fears was the same way I tackled extraordinary challenges. In the end, we all have a choice: to let fear of what might happen keep us from reaching our goals and dreams, or to take a leap of faith into the unknown and learn as we go. Fear of failure didn’t stop me from releasing my first CD at 11 years old. It didn’t stop me from starting college at 14, or from living in London, England on my own as a blind person, or from asking a girl out without being able to drive a car, or from connecting with millions of television viewers even though I couldn’t see the cameras. In every situation, I chose to step out in faith and trust that I would eventually succeed.
People who achieve their dreams are people who are not afraid to take risks. And we will never know what we could have accomplished if we never put ourselves to the test.