back to Change

Ever taken a risk for a dream? It’s thrilling. And terrifying. But the strangest thing about it is that sometimes the scariest part comes after the risk itself.

Roughly six months ago, I made an arguably crazy career decision, creating a collage of creative projects in lieu of a steady job. I wanted flexibility and freedom. And, importantly, I wanted to create space for music. I’ve been a singer since before I can remember, and I wanted to give that part of me some space to breathe.

And guess what? It worked. (So far, at least.) But, surprisingly, some of the most important parts of my plan have been the hardest to realize. Chief among them: getting better at playing the piano. I want to be able to perform alone, which means I have to accompany myself. (One-person a cappella shows are hard to pull off.) Which means I have to play the piano and sing at the same time. Which has always been insanely difficult for me.

So I deftly avoided it, filling my time with a million other things, until I called myself out one day. What was the point of creating this life for myself if I’m not going to take the time to face the hard stuff? My beautiful keyboard was calling to me, its 88 keys beckoning, but I was ignoring it. Because I was scared. I couldn’t get memories of awkward childhood piano recitals out of my head. What if I just can’t do it? I scoured my memory for inspiration and courage.  

And then I remembered my friend Jules, who was in the running for a fancypants scholarship at NYU Law a few years back. In order to prepare, she emailed her close friends and asked us to come and pretend to be her panel of judges. She’d wear a suit, we’d ask her tough questions, and then she’d give us pancakes and mimosas. Obviously, we agreed. The fake interview went beautifully; Jules, having already faced most of her fears before the real interview, got a full ride to law school.

I remembered the feeling of that day. No one was going to let Jules off easy, but we also loved her and wanted her to succeed. And she rocked it. What if I could create that feeling for myself? I thought.

So I gave it a shot. 

Here’s the email that I sent out to a group of 30-ish trusted friends. The Venn diagram I refer to is the one at the top of this post. 

Hi friends,

So, I can sing, and I can play the piano fairly well. But I’m really bad at playing the piano and singing at the same time, and I’ve rarely done it in front of people. Which is not good (see Venn diagram below).

In the last few weird months of self-employment, I’ve found that the best way to motivate myself to do anything is to create deadlines involving other people. So, to that end…

Wanna come over at 8ish on Thursday, December 19 to hear me sing and play a bunch of songs? I’ll probably just pick a bunch of random covers that I like to sing and learn piano accompaniments to them, though I may also do some originals. Not sure yet. I know that you will all love me even if I screw up, which will likely happen, so this is like a STEPPING STONE TO AWESOME. So, anyway, it’ll help me out a lot. :)

Please let me know if you’d like to join me. Plan to show up around 8; I’ll have some booze, but you can also bring some, or some EANABs (Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages) or snacks if you like. No pressure if you can’t make it – it’s a tough time of year, and it really doesn’t matter if there are 5 or 25 people there. But I’d love to have you!

xoxo, Mailande

 And guess what? 20 people showed up. I played a bunch of songs. I screwed up a lot (believe me – one friend accidentally sent me a video that was literally 18 seconds of me trying and failing to find the right chord). But you know what? It didn’t matter, because they love me, and they don’t care if I screw up. And I was able to get over that first huge mountain of fear and see that this big scary goal was actually possible.

Then, two weeks ago, my friend John-Paul emailed a bunch of friends to come listen to him pitch a new idea, replete with dinner and hanging-out time. He emailed me separately with “Thanks for letting me steal part of your ‘help me’ script!”. I was thrilled.

So, between Jules and me and John-Paul, you can note the common ingredients here. 

  1. Face the fear. Pick something that you really want to do, and that is also scary.
  2. Ask for help. Reveal your fear, and your desire to get over it, to a bunch of people that you trust. Let yourself be vulnerable.
  3. Make is social. Give those people something to eat and/or drink while they help you out. And help them become friends with each other.
  4. Put it on the calendar. Commit to a time and place, and let that commitment be the kick in the butt that gets you going.
  5. Show up. Do your best, don’t sweat it if you screw up, and hug everybody at the end if you like.
  6. Ask for feedback. Showing up and giving it a shot is just the first stepping stone to awesome. Getting there takes time, practice, and honest reflection from those you trust.

So, here’s what happened to me: a month and a half after my little concert, I played the piano and sang at the same time in front of 60+ people at an actual show, with my band. It wasn’t perfect, but it was WAY less scary than the first time. And I’m turning the solo piano concerts into a monthly series.

Everyone has things they dream about doing. Those things are scary, because they matter. And going after the things that matter is much better with support. So, please – zero in on something important, steal/tweak my email script, and share your heart with the people around you.

Ever faced down a fear and emerged victorious? Or are you still wrestling with the scary stuff? Feel free to share your story in the comments!


Mailande Moran is a musician, writer, and media consultant based in Durham, NC. She is a 2013 graduate of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, where she served as a Fellow for the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship's Impact Investing Initiative and the Center on Leadership and Ethics. In the summer of 2012, she worked with Enterprise Community Loan Fund to analyze and communicate the impact of green affordable housing and transit-oriented development in Colorado. While pursuing her MBA, she consulted with the healthcare NGO Healing Fields in India, the microfinance start-up Seeds in Kenya, and the for-profit maternity hospital LifeSpring in India. Prior to Fuqua, she focused on social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in strategy roles at Echoing Green and the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. Mailande graduated from Duke University in 2006 with an A.B. in Art History. She is passionate about creating a safer, more equitable world. You can hear her music on Facebook (mailandemusic) and follow her other adventures on Twitter (@mailande). read more about