But what if nobody shows up?
It was the night of my sixteenth birthday. I was throwing myself a party. And I was terrified that nobody would show up.
I was a quiet, painfully shy teenager. During lunchtime at school, I’d make a beeline for the computer lab or the library rather than chatting with my classmates. Kids at school would often ask, “You’re new, right? When did you transfer here?” And then I would awkwardly explain, “No, actually, I’ve been at this school for two years just like you.” The part I wouldn’t say aloud: “It’s just that I’m really good at making myself invisible.”
But right before my sixteenth birthday, I became determined to make some new friends. I had recently taken a big leap out of my comfort zone—signing up for a theater class at school—so I invited a few of the “drama kids” to attend my birthday party.
I checked out a book from the library (written in the 1970s) with a title that was something like, How To Entertain Your Friends & Be The Hostess With The Mostess! Second Edition. The book suggested making three types of fondue—cheese, chocolate, and then, to really blow people’s minds, Japanese sukiyaki with slivers of meat—and that is exactly what I did. I labored for hours, creating an elaborate table with fondue, bread chunks, apple slices, baby tomatoes, raw meat and raw eggs for the sukiyaki, toothpicks, bubbling vats, and little handwritten signs indicating all the gourmet pleasures that awaited your tastebuds.
And then, as my various fondues simmered expectantly, I perched myself at the edge of my parents’ couch and I waited stiffly…staring at the doorway…hoping that someone would show up.
This was the pre-cellphone era, so nobody could text me to say, “I’m on my way” or “See you in five” or “Heart – shooting star – birthday cake emoji.” I had no idea if anyone would come. So I just sat there, in that empty room, listening to the clock tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. Each tick, a little needle-jab in my heart.
Fiiiiiiiiiiinally, there it was—the blessed sound of a car pulling into the driveway. Feet on the gravel. The doorbell. I leapt to my feet.
The first person to arrive was Heléne, an incredible singer, like a tiny blonde Aretha Franklin. She took one look at my fondue table, laughed hysterically, and then hugged me. “You made all that? You are adorable,” she declared. (She would soon become one of my closest friends.)
Gradually, a few more people arrived. Ethan. Kendall. Dylan from down the road. To my great surprise, there was very little interest in my international fondue table, but people found a bag of potato chips in the kitchen and plopped onto the ground, forming a semi-circle on the rug. Pretty soon, a rousing game of Truth or Dare was in progress.
And then it happened.
My secret crush, Gus—the real reason I’d wanted to throw this party in the first place—arrived. He had curly brown hair and was wearing a colorful Hawaiian shirt, a leather jacket, and cargo shorts, which may sound like a strange combination but let me tell you, this look was working for me. He smiled and said “happy birthday,” and I melted into a puddle of fondue-goo. Gus joined the game of Truth or Dare. The next several hours passed in a happy blur.
Later, as things were winding down for the night, Gus asked if we could go somewhere “a little more private.” We went into the spare room that my dad used as his office, and then—right by my dad’s combination fax + Xerox machine—Gus said:
“I was kinda disappointed that nobody dared me to kiss you.”
(Me, internal dialogue: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
And then he said, “Is it okay if I do that…now?”
(Me, again: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
I got my first kiss on the night of my sixteenth birthday.
It was sweet and precious and perfect in every way—one of my favorite memories of all time.
The whole moment almost didn’t happen…because I almost didn’t throw that party…because I was so nervous that nobody would show up.
“But what if nobody shows up?” is an intensely paralyzing fear. It grips your throat and tightens your stomach and blocks you from sending important emails and starting new projects and taking new risks. It’s a fear I’ve felt so many times throughout my life, in various ways.
“What if nobody hires me?”
“What if nobody buys my book?”
“What if nobody registers for my workshop?”
“What if people do register, but then everyone flakes out at the last second and no one actually comes to the event?”
“What if, even worse, only one person shows up—and then it’s one solitary person and me, looking like a pathetic loser?”
“What if I spend all this money buying various types of cheese and then nobody shows up for my party?”
The underlying fear is: “What if I take a risk and it doesn’t immediately ‘pay off’ in the way that I envision?”
Let’s assume nobody shows up. So what? What does that actually mean? What’s the absolute worst that could happen?
The worst that could happen is you eat some cheese by yourself, alone in a quiet room, and you read your favorite book, and have a nice peaceful evening. Is that really so awful?
The worst that could happen is people don’t hire you and then you re-write the program description on your website and later, you try again. Is that so horrendous?
The worst that could happen is you run short on money and you have to get a part-time job to help fund your dream, or apply for a loan or a scholarship or a grant…or you wind up with extra tickets that you can give away to friends and family…or you find yourself with extra copies of your book that nobody bought so you donate them to libraries and schools…or you wind up with some extra cake that nobody ate so you share it with your neighbors. None of these situations are fatal.
The worst case scenario is usually not that bad.
The best case scenario is you get to make art, make money, make new friends, make memories, or even make-out with your crush by the Xerox machine.
Throw the party.
People might show up, or not. Things might go exactly as planned, or not.
Either way, you’re going to survive. Either way, it’s going to be a beautiful night. Either way, you can feel proud of yourself for taking a brave step. Either way, it’s a move in the right direction.
Either way, you win.