Will anyone come to my party?
“Do we have enough fondue?” I asked no one in particular… in a panic.
It was the night of my 16th birthday party. I was a quiet, introverted, underdeveloped teen (boobs: not so much) and I didn’t have any close friends at my high school. I didn’t have any close friends, period. Also, I’d recently chopped my hair into a pixie cut. Imagine: Peter Pan — except riddled with social anxiety.
But you don’t turn 16 every day, so I decided to invite a huge group of people over to my house for my party — pretty much everyone from my drama class. Theater nerds, Shakespeare buffs, aspiring musical theater actors. I figured, out of everyone at school, these weirdos were the closest thing to “my people.”
But as the clock ticked on, and the fondue pots developed a thick top layer of cheese-skin, I became agitated.
Nobody was coming.
Nobody was coming.
Or — worse! — maybe one person would come, see the huge spread of food that I’d laid out, and realize that everyone else had bailed. Somehow that felt even more humiliating.
I adjusted the basket of carefully cubed bread and apple chunks sprinkled with lemon juice (to prevent discoloration) and sighed.
SWEET JESUS!! SOMEONE CAME!!
In the end, all of my fretting proved to be unnecessary. Much to my amazement (and relief) quite a few people showed up to my birthday party.
It wound up being an unforgettable night that began with a dozen teenagers asking, “Uh, what’s the deal with all the fondue? Did we time-travel back to the ’70s?” … that unfolded into a no-holds-barred game of Truth or Dare… and that ended with my very first kiss, huddled secretively in my dad’s home office next to his fax machine. Quite a party.
But I will never forget the pain, the hollowness, the anxiety that I felt — so intensely — in those hours leading up to the party. I will never forget how it felt to wonder, in total agitation, “Will anyone come to my party?”
I will never forget that feeling — and I cannot forget that feeling — because I still feel that exact same feeling all the time. Even today.
The very first time I decided to teach a writing workshop — no charge, totally free, with donuts! — I was so afraid that nobody would come to my party.
The very first time I decided to teach a writing workshop — but this time, charge admission for tickets — I was so afraid that nobody would come to my party.
Even after teaching sold-out workshops in dozens of cities in 3 countries around the world — every single time — I felt that twinge of anxiousness, wondering, “What if this time nobody buys a ticket?” “What if everyone flakes at the last minute?” “What if people come but then I suck and nobody wants to see my stupid face again?”
And so on.
And so on.
To this day, every single time I throw a “party” of any kind — a birthday party, a dinner party, or a work-related / professional party (like a book launch, workshop or retreat) — I feel a lump in my gut, fearing that nobody will come.
I’ve had to work on dismantling this particular fear — reason with it, soothe it, coax it out of my system.
Because I know that if I allow this particular fear to be “in charge” of my decision making, I WOULD NEVER CREATE ANYTHING.
I would never release a new book. I would never announce a new workshop. I would never say “Yes” to crazy-beautiful invitations, like teaching a writing workshop on an island in the middle of a lake or at a beach house in Hawaii. I would never take any creative, personal, professional or emotional risks. I would be paralyzed in place, like a 16 year old girl hovering anxiously by the front door, watching the fondue coagulate, forever and forever.
How about you?
Do you ever say to yourself…
“Oh, I would really love to ________ but I’m scared nobody would show up. Too risky. I’d better not.”
If so, here are some notions & questions that might help you to wriggle through the fear:
— Picture a scenario where not one single person shows up to your “party,” whatever your party may be.
Imagine that scene. Guess what: you’re right. That scenario is possible. It could happen! Guess what else: it won’t kill you. You’ll be OK. There are worse things in this world than throwing a party with lukewarm attendance. Try to make peace with this “worst case scenario” as best you can.
— Even if nobody shows up for your party… would you still enjoy being there / doing it?
Would it still be enjoyable even if it winds up being a seminar / workshop / retreat / dinner soiree just for you? Maybe so. Hell, maybe it would be MORE fun that way.
— Could you come up with a happy “Plan B”?
If nobody buys a ticket to your workshop — but you already bought lots of food, made a music playlist, and rented a venue — could you shift gears? Maybe you could invite all of your friends and family (for free!) and turn the event into a joyful “just for fun” gathering. A chance to catch up with people you love!
Having a “Plan B” might help you to feel less anxious and more excited about… whatever happens. (Because no matter what, it won’t all be “a waste.”)
— If you never try… will you regret it?
If there’s something you’re longing to do but then you don’t because you’re too scared… your spirit feels bruised and often, you wind up feeling pretty regretful later. Wouldn’t it be better to at least TRY? At least, then, you can take pride in knowing you gave it a real shot.
— Could you remain flexible and less “attached” to a specific outcome?
If you’re thinking about doing a “workshop,” for example, see if you can bring yourself into a mindset like this one:
This workshop will be fun and meaningful no matter what. If my friends show up, bonus. If people are willing to PAY to show up and I make a profit, double-bonus. If this thing sells out, and every seat is filled, and people are clamoring to buy tickets for another event, triple bonus. If nobody wants to come and I wind up being alone, that will be enjoyable too. Regardless of the specific outcome, this feels right and I’m doing this.
This is a healthy, flexible mindset that will allow you to move forward without feeling sad, desperate and insane.
Basically, the grand emotional shift that you’re making is moving from…
“Will anyone come to my party?”
“Fuck it. I AM the party.”
And that is the truth.
You are the party.
Life is the party.
Being alive is the party.
Having an experience that enriches your life — alone or with others to share it with you — is always a party.
The more you remember that, the less you’ll worry about “attendance” and “ticket sales” and “public perception” and other anxiety-provoking things of that nature. (And — ironically — the less anxious and desperate you feel, the more likely it is that people will actually want to attend your shindig. Go figure.)