Projecting Fear

“If you were watching a movie of your situation, what would you want the main character to do?”

I first posed this question to myself a little over two years ago. We had just moved from a church of about 60 people to one of about 3,000 and 60 people—not an accurate number but close, and it sounded nice in the sentence. Charity and I had been leading worship/music for many years at our previous church so we naturally joined the worship team of our new church straight away, me on the keyboard, Charity on her amazing voice.

The weeks leading up to playing our first Sunday in front of our new, large, church I ran into something that I did not expect.


Not the fear-for-my-life type of fear, but the slightly more annoying putting-myself-out-there type of fear. The kind that comes along and tells you that you are about to give people the chance to form opinions about you, your ideas, and your skills. The fear that tells you that it’s better being mysterious, because people can’t think you are bad at something if you never risk showing them. The fear that tells you that safety is the best policy.

It was odd because I didn’t feel afraid. I was confident enough in my musical abilities. And that is on top of the fact that I am an incredibly even keeled guy. Almost to a fault so. A friend of mine would always tell me that I just “ride the wave of life, man.” Like a tanned surfer, sporting a puka shell necklace and a Hakuna Matata tattoo unashamedly emblazoned across his chest, I could make Timon and Pumbaa the proudest, worry-less, quasi-foster parents in the world. It’s just a problem-free philoso-phy that I have.

Yet leading up to that first Sunday whenever I would think about that much larger stage and much larger seating capacity, I’d find a much larger pit in my stomach. I would even start to shake like I was really cold—I really wasn’t. Which again was strange, those involuntary physiological reactions never happen to me. Fear usually doesn’t grip me like that and I can usually shake it off with a shoulder shrug as I grab life’s surfboard.

Not this time though.

Naturally I started thinking that I was surely out of my depth. Why else would I be responding this way? And it started to make sense. I was unfamiliar with the new equipment, the new songs, the larger band, the new people, the new keyboard with so many knobs and buttons that it makes NASA’s mission control center look like it was made by Playskool, for ages 4–6. The whole thing was vastly different from the two-piece, piano and drums only, set up I’d been used to for so many years. From the back of my mind rolled a whisper saying, “You can’t do this. You should just quit before you make a fool of yourself. Seriously…you can’t do it.”

It was freaking me out.


Movie Life

We’ve all heard the “if your life was a movie would you watch it” thing. I would hear that and think about my life. Would I watch a movie of a guy sitting at a desk all day, then doing the family routine every evening? Not if you paid me. So then I would feel that to make my life a good movie I should be spending every waking moment, and copious amounts of cash, doing exciting and adventurous things. “Ok, so I need to quit my job and start rock climbing, and skydiving, and racing camels across the desert, and possibly fighting crime as a masked vigilante, and trying to capture Bigfoot on film…” All back-to-back scenes culminating in the ultimate movie-I-would-watch life. The idea is a nice motivational warm and fuzzy, but that quickly dies once I think about how unattainable it seems.

So then I would just head back to the boring-movie-life grind.

As I sat in my office the week before the big Sunday I had this thought. What if the movies of our lives are mostly made up of all the smaller moments? What if, in the middle of the grind, adventure is found daily? The tiny decisions that quite possibly could lead to more adventure.

For instance, would I watch an overconfident guy decide to address a large group of people? No.

Would I watch a guy, with a great fear of public speaking, decide to address a large group of people? Yeah.

Both tiny decisions, but one is definitely more watchable. Why though?

I then created a movie in my head where the main character was in my exact scenario. A nervous keyboard player, incredibly anxious about an unfamiliar situation.

What would I want him to do?

Quit it or kill it?

When I see someone in a movie decide to take a chance, or confront the enemy, or put themselves out there, or take on the world, I feel bravery well up inside me, like I can take on the world, too. Though it usually lasts only until I have to take on say, a keyboard sitting on a larger stage.

It’s easy to root for someone else to be adventurous, for someone else to risk something. Because of course I’d want the main character in my situation to be courageous. To get on that stage and kill it. Or at least try to. I would think, “Come on pal, you can do it,”…then I’d wonder why I called him pal, I never call people that. But after I vow to never do it again I would root and cheer. I want to see bravery on the screen. I don’t want to see a guy passing up opportunities only to retract back into his shell of normalcy. Even him getting up there and failing would make a much better movie than a quitter who never started.


What To Root For

I realized that it would be hypocritical to expect a movie character, in the exact same scenario, to be brave and then let myself cower in fear. You go ahead and risk it, I’ll just applaud from over here, balled up in the fetal position. I closed my eyes and found resolve.

When I walked through the doors on that Sunday I was still nervous, but much less than I had been all week. Which was fine, bravery doesn’t exist without fear. I got out there, knowing I was going to kill it, or at least try to. And where I didn’t I would just work on it for next time. My performance was fine, not without it’s share of mistakes that come with climbing a learning curve, but what amazed me was that I was able to take a fear that was spiraling out of control, grab it by the horns, and wrestle it down. My perspective had shifted from feeling inferior to a situation to feeling in charge of it. Thanks in part to imagining a hypothetical movie character doing the same thing.

Recently I just had a really good friend quit his ultra-stable job and take a major risk starting a new practice, going out on his own. He didn’t have to, but he chose to. He chose adventure. He risked something. I’m watching his movie rooting and cheering, and have never been more proud or inspired by him. It makes me look at my movie character and say, “See. Come on, be brave…pal.”

We have been on the worship team for over two years and my wife and I are actually now leading the worship at one of the multi-site campuses. That small decision to be adventurous has turned into more adventure.

I’m the music director, leading the band and telling everyone what to do. Which that first time was another fearful, decision moment, and I chose what I wanted to see on screen as I have since put this “movie character” thought in my mental back pocket and tend to pull it out frequently. When I’m headed to a film shoot, or sitting down to work on a book, or standing up to talk in front of strangers, or choosing to start a blog, or thinking about dancing with my daughter in the store because a great jam comes on, or realizing that I haven’t played with my kids in a while, I’m thinking what decision, right now, would I root for on the big screen.

I think we can take the “movie of our lives” scene-by-scene. The days are full of small adventures, opportunities to put ourselves out there. To take risks and confront fears, no matter how big or small. It’s not necessarily fun, but I think it’s easier when you’ve seen someone else do it. Even if it is only in your mind.


How do you deal with fear, and risk? What helps you get through it?



photo credit: Awaiting an Audience via photopin (license)


  1. Kathy said:

    This is my new go to. Thank you.

    May 12
  2. Wendell Nickerson said:

    It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points how the strong man stumbles,———-if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who never know victory nor defeat. Teddy Rooosevelt. The quote is longer but you get the point. Dad Nick

    May 12
  3. Josh Smith said:

    This was almost too long for a Tuesday morning 🙂

    Great post! I’m smack in the middle of that now, too! In the moment fear is so real, it makes us crave that safety of a coasting life. But life can be so much more when we choose to be adventurous. Adventure doesn’t always look like racing camels across the desert, but it comes when we break our routine and do something different!

    May 12
    • Ryan Long said:

      Right on man. And sorry for the length.

      I thought, Would I want to see a movie character write a long post for a Tuesday morning? And then went with my heart.


      May 12
  4. Tom said:

    You Killed that Ryan. Very inspirational and thought provoking. Thank You!

    May 12
  5. James Powell said:

    Great article man. One I can definitely relate to. In response to your end question, I just do it and try not to think to hard about it. Most of my best work comes out when I feel relaxed and free to be myself. So I try to ignore the fear and insecurity whispering in my ears and try to enjoy the moment. Sometimes easier said than done.

    May 12
    • Ryan Long said:

      “…try not to think to hard about it.” That’s great! We are usually our own worst enemies. My mind is usually the first in line to bring me down.

      May 12
  6. Roy said:

    Awesome post, as always deep but simple insights inspire me.

    May 12
  7. Eleanor said:

    Chris Richards told me a story once about her granddaughter who is afraid of heights. They were taking a walk together through a wooded area, and she held her granddaughter’s hand and walked her across a fallen log (I think one end was propped up on something, maybe? But you get the idea — it made the girl very uncomfortable). Chris stopped her in the middle of the log, and told her to take a deep breath, and “enjoy the fear.”
    Wow! I still chew on that statement. That feeling that makes us want the earth to swallow us whole can also lead to some of our greatest moments. And we should take time to actually enjoy it.
    I’m not there yet. 🙂

    May 18
    • Ryan Long said:

      That’s interesting Eleanor. “Enjoy the fear.” That sounds like something that takes a lot of practice. But as long as we are practicing I think we’re on the right track.

      May 19
  8. Tammy Payne said:

    How did you do that…jump inside my brain and write a story about the movie I’m in right now?? These past 8 months have been my “scenes 7-11” in the T-Payne movie. I grew up playing/singing/leading since I was 7. In our last church, on the worship team for 15 years, it was easy breezy. So comfortable and confident. Remember in Titanic when Leonardo is at the front of the ship screaming “I’m on top of the world!” That was me. THEN…I decided to try out for the worship team here. My movie would be one that I would DVR so I could watch it over and over again. Thank you for posting this….My new adopted phrase from you is “Bravery doesn’t exist without fear.” And you’ll be proud to know that I am already on chapter 317 of the Nord manual. 🙂

    June 3
    • Ryan Long said:

      That’s great Tammy! Watch that movie over and over and over. For a while it was a daily viewing for me. I’m glad I’m not alone in this.

      From everything I’ve heard, and it’s a lot, you’ve been killing it. Maybe you’ll filter through PPN during our time off and I can give a high five. Thanks for being brave and stepping out there. Imagine if you hadn’t. We would’ve never had the great T-Payne on our team, and that would be sad because you are awesome.

      Great job on the Nord manual :). Not the most engaging of reads but hopefully it’s all making sense. Please let me know if you ever have any questions about that crazy machine.

      June 3

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