My knees shook visibly as I stood, waiting. I figured I shouldn’t lock them and risk passing out, so I let them tremble, and vainly tried to pretend no one could see. The rest of the room was dark because of the lights glaring in my face from a dozen angles, but I could still tell there were people out there. Of course. Witnesses of my doom.
Arrayed on the stage around me were the members of the band. Acoustic and electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboard. And me—the vocals. Sure. Why not? I stood before a mic, quivering, my voice suddenly as distant as the Oort Cloud and just as hypothetical. I hadn’t sung in front of anyone since 6th grade. At the time, I’d been wearing a pink beaded headdress in our church’s children’s musical, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of staying experience that will inspire confidence through the long, echoing years. It certainly hadn’t prepared me for an audition.
The sharp triple crack of the drum sounded, the introductory notes from the keyboard, the first chords of the guitar. And my one, panicked thought was, WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!
I don’t like challenges. I really don’t like risk. I don’t like it when something is outside of my comfort zone, out of my reach, or too far from this large blue recliner. But in that very small corner of me that is adventurous and industrious and likes to dream big dreams, there sits an irritating little gremlin that occasionally jabs me with an urgent finger.
You could do something…new. You could do something difficult. You could do something that might end in embarrassment. Or failure. Or tears. And it might turn out to be the greatest thing you’ve ever done.
Sure, I think, I could do it. But why on earth would I want to?
The problem, as I engaged in this lengthy argument with myself, was that I knew why most stories are compelling in the first place. There’s a secret ingredient that good storytellers use. It’s a four letter word: risk.
Because there’s risk involved, we become invested in a story. How much would we care about Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring if we knew that all he had to do was go over the Hill, across the Water, and hand it off to Gandalf? Who would think twice about Mark Watney if his rescue was a routine pickup, accomplished following tried-and-true NASA protocols, with safety assured for everyone? Would we care about an Olympic athlete’s reach for gold, or Mr. Fredrickson’s search for adventure in South America, or Marshall’s efforts to piece their shattered football team back together, if they had no failure to face, no reputation on the line, no loss to risk?
Authors inflict risk on their characters, and the characters grumble and complain, but to the readers, it’s an essential part of the tale that otherwise would be lifeless and drab as our backyard in August.
So, there I was. This opportunity to sing had been dropped in my lap. And I was determined to take it, despite my gut reaction, which was to say, No thank you, I can sing in my bedroom just fine. Maybe I should have…Maybe, instead, I could have sat at home. In the recliner. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been standing there, petrified, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
But unlike on a printed page, a flesh and blood character has a choice. You do, I do; every day. Every day we make choices that shape the story our lives tell. They shape the character of the role we’ve been cast in. Opportunities are either accepted, or allowed to fade into the next sepia-colored 8-hour work day. I’m not saying you have to face a dragon once a week (though that would be cool). No, I just know that, for me, I want to live a life of adventure. And since there aren’t really enough dragons to go around, I’m going to have to actively seek out opportunities to challenge my mentality of comfort and complacency.
So there I was, my feet echoing hollowly as I crossed to the mic. Knees visibly, violently trembling as I waited for my cue. Voice tentative as I