The number one fear in America is public speaking. Down at number four is drowning. Statistically speaking, Americans would rather drown than have to present in front of a crowd of people. A hyperbolic statement for sure, but it still begs the question: why? Logically speaking, it seems silly that anyone would have such crippling fears over something seemingly so innocuous. Yet whenever the spotlight is put on us, our fight or flight response is triggered. Your mind goes blank, your natural breathing process is disrupted, and the one time you chose not to wear an undershirt, you start sweating profusely. There are a myriad of psychological factors that play into this, but I think the simplest reason is the fact that we overestimate what's at stake. We feel this burning ray of judgment ready to pierce through our skin as soon as we do something less than perfect. We all have experienced this feeling starting in grade school, but for some reason, that mindset doesn't change much into adulthood. At least not without a lot of effort.
Being an artist of any kind places you in one of the most vulnerable positions you can find in a career, metaphorically speaking. Art is subjective, and will likely lead to many people liking what you've created. It will also lead to many people hating it. You're creating something that is completely unique to yourself, and putting your art out there to be critiqued, and often, judged by the public. It's a scary proposition. To have something you've poured your heart and soul into be completely dismantled by an industry expert is heart-wrenching. Many people give up after such a soul-crushing event.
But the most important thing to realize is that the most successful people across all industries share one common feature, and it's not talent. The most common factor shared among successful artists and entrepreneurs is the trait of perseverance. This may sound like a cheesy morality lesson at the end of a Disney movie, but this has been proven time and time again. For many of the biggest success stories, it took years and years of failure to reach a point where they found any modicum of success. Just because you haven't achieved what you were hoping to after a year or two doesn't mean you failed. It means you haven't found the right opportunity yet. Use that as a motivational force to work even harder to succeed, not as a damning indictment of yourself. This is something I've tried to keep in mind and apply to my career, despite my own fears.
I would say my two biggest fears are judgment by others, and failure. As you can imagine, these two fears are quite prevalent when trying to build a career in voice acting. But these fears extend beyond voice acting; they've been apart of my whole life. When I have time to distance myself from the situations that create these fears, I can logically recognize that the world won't end just because my joke didn't land as well as I thought it would, or I stumble over words talking to a girl I like.
And yet when I'm in the moment and experiencing that fear, it DOES feels like the world is ending. This stems from my childhood, and I would guess it does for many others as well. The long-held automatic reaction from my brain to go into fight or flight mode after almost every single "failure" is simply a self-defense mechanism. It's a psychological perception that I'm under attack, or my survival is at stake. And when your brain is taught to react in the same way over the course of two decades, the habit becomes much more difficult to break. So, how did I defeat this deep-rooted fear?
The best way I can describe overcoming the majority of my insecurities is "reprogramming" my brain. Because my brain was trained to react a certain way after every single negative or overwhelming event, I needed to reverse engineer my reactions to these situations. The first step was catching myself every single time I had this kind of fearful response. And I have to say, that would come out almost every single time I would set foot on stage or provide a voice over. My fear of judgment and failure was so crippling that I couldn't receive any kind of feedback for my performances unless it was positive.
This was obviously unhealthy and antithetical to becoming a better actor, so once I diagnosed where these fears were coming from, I started reacting with a set phrase. That phrase would vary, but it would usually be something to the extent of "It's okay to make mistakes" or "You're a good person". After repeating these phrases literally thousands of times over the course of several years, I was able to overcome these fears by completely changing how my brain reacted to situations I used to fall apart in. That's not to say that I've erased all of my insecurities, but I'm in a position now where I'm confident in the work I produce and I respect myself enough to allow myself to fail.
I realize that the advice I just laid out is purely anecdotal, but I think it's a problem that many others share in this industry. We put ourselves in a position to be judged so frequently that it's very easy to allow our insecurities to get out of control. It's easy to let your fears drive you to the point of giving up because you're so afraid of what others will say about you. Even though we are emotional creatures by nature, it's important to approach these fears through logic and understanding.
With that being said, I will caution everyone not to fall prey to the opposite problem. Confidence is critical to have success as a voice actor, but thinking you're infallible or too skilled to receive critique is just as damaging to the advancement of your career. You need to be confident enough to respect yourself and your own abilities, but humble enough to respect others when they're trying to help you.
To summarize, love yourself, forgive yourself, and allow yourself to fail. I've certainly learned significantly more from my failures than I have from my successes. And I will say, voice acting has become a lot more fun since I started doing that.