What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?: Living Your Dreams while Quakin' in Your Boots

What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?: Living Your Dreams while Quakin' in Your Boots

by Diane Conway

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Author Diane Conway has a gift: she disarms people with a combination of raw emotional honesty and outrageous, heartfelt humor. Using this gift, asking, "What would you do if you had no fear?" Conway approaches the police officer, the waitress, the politician, the lawyer, the cab driver. They tell her their secrets, their long-hidden dreams and fears.


Author Diane Conway has a gift: she disarms people with a combination of raw emotional honesty and outrageous, heartfelt humor. Using this gift, asking, "What would you do if you had no fear?" Conway approaches the police officer, the waitress, the politician, the lawyer, the cab driver. They tell her their secrets, their long-hidden dreams and fears. Chronicled in her book, these people's stories are inspiring, surprising, crazy, and sometimes breathtaking. We all dream of what we would do if....we quit soul-numbing jobs, applied to medical school, bought tickets to South America, found true love, quit drinking, or had an affair with a dangerous European. Conway's fresh voice and Studs Terkel-in-drag personna will open your heart and challenge you to live the life you were meant to live.

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." —Helen Keller

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New World Library
Publication date:
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5.78(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.63(d)

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What Would You Do If You Had No Fear?

Living Your Dreams While Quakin' in Your Boots

By Diane Conway

New World Library

Copyright © 2004 Diane Conway
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-930722-42-2


Who Would You Be?

"All my life I've always wanted to be somebody. But I see now I should have been more specific."

Jane Wagner, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe

Freedom to Choose

"To choose is also to begin."


We think of our lives as being determined by the grand choices we make, the earth-shaking decisions such as: who should I marry, what house should I buy, what the devil am I gonna have for dinner? But a lot of life is in the details, the small moment-to-moment decisions and choices we come to all the time.

I've always had a hard time making up my mind. It actually seems as if there are several minds in my head and none of them can agree. There's infighting, relentless lobbying, and squabbling galore. Some people call this state of mind "the committee."

When we want to make a big life change, the fear of the unknown often lurks around the corner. The task seems daunting, and at moments like that, I like to think of the construction of the Pyramids; even such magnificent structures could only go up one brick at a time. You don't have to carry the entire pile of bricks at once — when choosing to do things differently, you only have to make one choice at a time, and one choice is frequently magic. We decide to take a different route to work. We choose to say "no" to an activity or commitment that brings no joy. We pick out a fabulous pink top. We take a day trip somewhere new. The freedom from fear happens one action, one thought, one choice at a time.

Ever try on a sexy pair of shoes and just know you'll walk away a different woman, more confident, full of "Yeah, Baby, I'm cute" sass? I've seen a man put on a sharp suit that totally changes his demeanor. When we make a decision, it's good to grab an object that will symbolize the choice and anchor it. You could carry a little metal angel in your pocket, wear khaki shorts that scream "Safari!," or sport a fabulous new haircut. Symbols, lucky charms, and talismans are a great way to remind us how far we've come and where we wish to go.

"I got my ears pierced and drank a Fuzzy Navel," says Deanna of her declaration of independence at age twenty-six. These served as her lucky charms.

Deanna's face looks like the very illustration of a luscious, wild woman: her mop of go-to-hell red hair and green eyes make you wonder why God created any other color combinations for humans; her green rhinestone sunglasses match her eyes; her vitality and love of life hit you like a bright, fluffy pillow.

Hard to imagine this vibrant woman was ever anything but independent, but Deanna was not always this way. For nearly half of her forty-two years, she felt paralyzed. The fear of making mistakes was what kept her locked in a life she hated. She was terrified of even the smallest choices. "I would get a panic attack anytime I had to choose, even off a menu. I would just close my eyes and point like a child."

Her parents belonged to a fundamentalist sect that did not allow much of anything, and certainly not freedom of choice.

She says that for years she did not even know what kind of clothes she liked. She and her sisters wore whatever her mother brought home from the Goodwill that fit. It cracks her up that the people she knows now always say, "What a great sense of style you have." And "Oh, that is so Deanna!" Just as Gertrude Stein once infamously quipped, "There is no there," Deanna says that for years of her life there was no "her" there.

When she left her first marriage at age twenty-six, it was the first time she'd ever been on her own. Her parents and then her husband had controlled every single aspect of her life. Until then, like a fish in a fishbowl, she didn't realize how small her life was. Her husband made all the decisions just as her parents had, and there was no room for dissent.

When she told her mother about the abuse in her marriage, her mother said, "Oh, Deanna, what is forty years of misery for all eternity?" Her mother's meaning was clear: Deanna should stay in that marriage forever, no matter what. That comment finally pushed her over the edge and out of the marriage. Her first act of independence was getting her ears pierced; when lightning didn't strike, she was amazed. Next, she drank a Fuzzy Navel, flavored with Peach schnapps, and again she wasn't struck down. Her ticket out of fear-based living began with small choices.

Once out of her cage, she pursued freedom with a vengeance, taking consciousness-expanding classes and reading books on personal growth. Only after several years did she fully realize how bad her marriage had been and what a diminished life she'd been living. It takes time away from a situation to see it clearly.

Today she says, "It takes a lot of life to figure out who you are. Now I know who I am, I'm me."

Deanna's core need is freedom — but it took half a life of emotional incarceration for her to discover and pursue her deepest desire. Ever since Deanna woke up to her wild woman inside, she's become a creative dynamo. Her graphic design office features purple walls, gold drapes, and fairy artwork everywhere — it's magical. Her mind dances with so many sugar-plum-fairy ideas that she made up a sign that reads, "I forbid any new ideas to enter."

In addition to her graphic design work, she's written several books, designed accessories, and displayed her art work in galleries. She produced a mural in her town that depicts a Mission Blue butterfly. This is the only place in the world where Mission Blues live and the only place where this one-of-a- kind woman lives.

She's found her outrageous self and has a husband and two boys who love her for being who she is.

Not long ago, Deanna was telling a friend about some wild thing she was planning, and the friend said, of Deanna's husband, "He lets you do it?" She laughed. "Lets me? Ha, no one has permission to let me anymore. I let me!"

"Freedom breeds freedom. Nothing else does." Ann Roe

Life Challenges

Ask yourself, "Am I waiting for someone or something to let me be me?" Think about what you'd do if you weren't waiting.

Write your declaration of independence.

Get a symbol of your dream and keep it with you.

While Alive, Live!

"You're alive. Do something. The directive in life is so uncomplicated. It can be expressed in single words. Look, Listen, Choose, Act." Barbara Hall

Fred made a lot of noise after he found his voice. He was an accountant who sounded as if he'd just jumped off the back of a boxcar on a freezing morning after smoking three packs of Camels and drinking a fifth of Jim Beam.

Fred drank at least that much for years. He'd sit on a barstool in some longshoreman's bar on San Francisco Bay and curse the lucky suckers who were doing something with their lives. The sailors whipping by on the Bay looked like freedom personified, while Fred felt as if life were literally passing him by. He was a barstool dreamer, too lost in an alcoholic fog to do anything. In his forties, he hit bottom and sobered up.

With the liquor gone and his head clearing, like many people who have been let out of the addiction prison, he didn't want to waste a minute more wishing and hoping — he decided to be a doer. He dove into sailing lessons and crewed on sailboats every weekend, becoming one of the lucky suckers he had envied. He took improvisation acting classes, and his boxcar voice was all of a sudden on radio ads that featured New Jersey tough guys and ex-cons. In a funny paradox, he was playing the type of man he used to be. Kids at the library loved story time when Fred was Mr. Grumpy.

He started renting an apartment in Paris for two months every year, and then the trips got longer and more frequent. He became a beloved favorite of the expats. He relished the art, language, culture, and food in France. Fred was a man amazed: an actor, sailor, and part-time Parisian. Fred recently passed away but while alive, he lived.

Life Challenges

Make a list of all the things you want to do before you die.

Think of someone you know who has lived fully. Take them out for coffee and discover their secret.

What lucky suckers do you envy? Become one.

I Wish ...

"Yesterday they told you you would not go far. That night you open and there you are. Next day on your dressing room they've hung a star. Let's go on with the show."

Irving Berlin, "There's no Business Like Show Business"

Sometimes we don't know what we want; we only know that our present life doesn't quite fit anymore. Todd says, "I didn't like where I was but I didn't know where else I wanted to be." One step toward a lifelong love affair with music changed everything.

In musical theater, there are people with pitch-perfect tone and the technical skills to hit all the right notes. And then there are the rare talents who embody the spirit of the song — who can "sell" the song, in musical parlance. These people make you believe. When you sit in a dark theater and hear these virtuosos perform, you get chills. Like the best of them, Todd seems born to play the lead in any musical theater production.

As a little boy, Todd was fearful of things other kids took for granted. But he had the gift of music; he could play the piano by ear from age five. Alone in his room he entered another world, separate from the stunts and rough life of the Southern boys in the neighborhood. He would listen to his idol, Elton John, for hours. Todd even memorized all the liner notes in the albums. His favorite was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Still, Todd, now thirty-nine, relates, "I never had the grand plan like some driven performers who plot out a career A to Z." He's amazed at his good fortune, like a kid in a candy store: "I didn't set out to do this, and I never dreamed I'd have this success and personal fulfillment from loving what I do."

Not so long ago, Todd was stuck in an administrative job that did little more than pay his bills; he was good at it, but he definitely had no passion for his job. Something was missing. Six years ago, when Todd moved to Atlanta, he started voice lessons with a coach. This led to an audition for a regional musical theater. One day he watched the TV program Inside the Actors Studio, which was featuring an interview with Barbra Streisand, who said something like (in Todd's recollection): "When you make a move or a decision, things happen to back you up." Taking that advice to heart, Todd let go of his day job as soon as he heard he'd been cast for the production. He's been working in theater every since and wonders at this amazing turn of events. What had seemed like a pipe dream, so far out of reach, was now a reality.

It was as if this life in the theater were just waiting for him to move into it, to own it. Todd gets philosophical when he tries to make sense of his abrupt life change and good fortune: "I wonder about this whole predestination thing.... Am I a character that's already written and I'm living out the play? Do I really have control of any of this? Or does a higher hand plan it even when I think I'm choosing from free will?"

Despite his initial success, though, Todd soon endured a string of flops, and for a time he stopped performing. He went into a dark questioning period, asking himself, "What am I doing? Maybe I don't enjoy this anymore, maybe the pressure is too great."

He even began to diminish his talent and, he says, "I started almost to hate doing what I love." He'd run into the same obstacle many performers eventually face: the fickleness of the business, and the lack of security that goes along with it. But these doubts often don't last, as performers again get the itch to put on the greasepaint and hear the roar of the crowd. Abandoning talent leads to pain, which luckily brings us back to using our talents. Todd realized he was throwing his gift back in the face of the creator who gave it to him, and he got back on stage. He came out of this experience with a good offer to work with really talented people.

Todd now makes a great living doing what he loves. He's had some peak experiences, including singing the national anthem for the Atlanta Braves and being in the chorus at the opening of the Olympics.

But his biggest thrill was the opportunity to sing back-up for an Elton John recording session. Todd says, "It was surreal, never, ever, did I think I'd be at that level." He told Elton's guitarist, "I've known you guys all my life, I just never met you. Thank you for what you have done for my life."

The little boy, who battled fear, had met his idol. Today Todd gets to do Elton John numbers in shows — with his wild costumes and his ability to sell a song, he brings the essence of Elton to life.

Today, Todd says, "I look at the way my life turns out in a good way. I look back at all the fears I had and I don't have them anymore. I was the kid who was afraid of so many things, wouldn't even get a driver's license when all my friends couldn't wait to get theirs."

In answer to the question "what would you do if you had no fear?," Todd says he'd write a musical. "Deadlines motivate me. It's almost like the less time I have, the more I get done," he says. I gave Todd a deadline and told him I'd be encouraging him to fulfill this dream. So far his life has proven that talent can triumph and that, even though we don't always know the path we're on, miracles can happen to put us in the divine spotlight.

In the beginning of the musical Into the Woods, Cinderella sings, "I wish...." In two notes, Todd says, the song brilliantly depicts the longing and hope with which every dream begins. At the end of the show, Cinderella again sings, "I wish ...," symbolizing a new beginning. There is always something new to wish for. We are not aging if we keep wishing. Remember that the sweet dream you hold is holding you.

"... and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Anais Nin

Life Challenges

Start with "I wish ..." and write fifty things you wish for.

Find a class or a coach, and begin studying something you have an itch for.

Make a list of your childhood pleasures. Rediscover some today.


Where Would You Go?

'The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life."

Adeline Ainsworth

Say "Yes"

"I would not creep along the coast, but steer out in mid-sea, by the guidance of the stars."

George Eliot

Saying "yes" to life opportunities is like opening a secret door or finding buried treasure; it is like loving yourself enough to take a risk. Have you known people whose first response to any suggestion or invitation was "no"? In improvisational comedy classes, the very first lesson is that you always say, "Yes, and...." If your improv partner says, "We are little green people and we only eat figs," you say, "Yes, and I love figs. What an aphrodisiac." You always play along. When we say a knee-jerk "no" in improv or in life it stops the action.

Practice saying "yes" to life. Your results may not be as far-reaching as those in the following story, but who knows. Why not try?

Janet first learned to sail small boats at Girl Scout camp but didn't really keep up with it after that. In her early thirties Janet worked in Boston, for a financial institution. A friend from her women's group issued an open invitation, to the group, to come sailing in Florida. The friend, Carol, and her husband, Don, owned a boat down in the Keys.

Janet was the only one who took Carol up on the offer, the only one who said yes. This "yes" started an odyssey that would last years. Janet flew down to Key Largo and boarded the Domicile, a top-of-the-line, forty- nine-foot Liberty sailing sloop, for a three-day cruise to the Bahamas. The minute they hoisted the sail Janet threw up. But she was hooked by the silence, the salt air, and the dolphins. She got along well with Carol and Don. They made several stops along the way, and at the end of the trip Janet flew home from Nassau and went back to work as a financial analyst.

Next time, the trip lasted two weeks, Turks and Caicos to Puerto Rico. Janet discovered that she only would get seasick for the first three days, and after that she would be fine.

Then she got the call to go out for three months from Boston to Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. As fate would have it, the international corporation she worked for was offering layoffs, so she volunteered and got three months' severance pay. As she says, "I got paid to sail. And anyway, my friends all said I looked funny in a business suit."


Excerpted from What Would You Do If You Had No Fear? by Diane Conway. Copyright © 2004 Diane Conway. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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