Back in 1993, I received a phone call from an agent who asked me if I wanted to audition to write Diana Ross’s memoir. I didn’t understand what he meant. Audition? That had never come up before. He went on to explain that she had fired her writer and there were three months left to complete the book. She wanted to see if she liked my writing before she hired me so the agent offered to pay me for one chapter, a dollar a word, that I would write about her concert in Central Park in 1983 that had been rained out. The caveat was that I wouldn’t be able to interview her. I had one review at my
disposal, a short piece that her daughters, Tracee, had written and I had a week to submit my chapter.
I said yes. I hung up the phone and sat there, paralyzed. What
did I just do? Who did I think I was? I felt like an imposter and when the agent and diva found out, I knew I would be humiliated. I read the review and her daughter’s piece, I pulled up a blank document on my computer screen, put my fingers on the keyboard . . . and I took to my bed. I lay there with the covers pulled up, trembling on the inside, wondering what the hell I thought I was doing. The very gall of me to think I could write in Diana Ross’s voice.
I spent most of the day in bed. When something rocks me, I give myself twenty-four hours to feel it and be afraid. But no more. No
wallowing. The next morning I got up, made some coffee, put myself in the shoes of an international diva and I began to write. How would it feel to be on stage when the rain began pelting down on the musical instruments? How would it feel to stop dead in the middle of singing one’s heart out and calming the audience so everyone would leave the premises safely and quickly?
There is a Zen saying: Leap and the net will appear.
I finished writing it, I submitted the chapter, I got the job, and I began an extraordinary journey into the legend that is Diana Ross. What if I had been too afraid to even try?
I’ve done a lot of risk taking in my life and I’ve come to know the difference between going for something difficult and doing something stupid. When I was touring with the ballet in the sixties, I was in Brussels eating frog’s legs with a few fellow dancers when a French speaking man about my age invited all of us to a private party. My companions begged off but I decided to take a risk and go with him. My French was shaky but I could make myself understood. The night ended when he tried to get me to sleep with him, I said “Non!” and he shoved me out into the street at midnight and locked the door behind him. It was dark, I had no idea where I was, but I found a taxi, a pure miracle, and made it back to the hotel. I had dodged a bullet that could have been my demise. That was stupid.
The point here is that if you don’t attempt to do the difficult thing that doesn’t put your life in danger, you miss out on magnificent experiences. You might fail, God knows I’ve failed a lot in my life, but the things that have come my way by taking a risk, the successes I’ve had, make it all worthwhile. I know an American woman who turned down an opportunity to voice coach Princess Diana because she was too afraid. The Princess died in a car crash shortly afterward and my friend regrets her decision to this day.
The next time you get faced with something risky, if it isn’t life threatening, just go for it. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll know
you tried. If it does, you might have one of the most transforming experiences of your life.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was
more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
– – – Anais Nin