How RNZ’s Matinee Idle taught me not to let fear hold me back

Radio competitions are won by impulsive decision-makers. A giveaway on RNZ taught one woman to never hesitate.

About a decade ago, on a lazy hot afternoon in early January, I was at home listening to Matinee Idle, Radio NZ’s summer programme. I was a big fan of the programme. That afternoon they were running a contest to win a Matinee Idle t-shirt. I very much wanted that t-shirt.

The contest involved the host playing short extracts from three songs, and listeners had to text in saying what the three songs had in common, along with their name. You could enter as many times as you liked. First correct entry wins the t-shirt.

I grabbed my phone, started a text message to 2101 with my name in it, and sat, thumbs poised above the keypad, ready to predictively-text at lightning speed.

The first song began to play. It was “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon. Immediately I thought, whistling! That song has whistling in it. That is quite distinctive. It might be that. I typed “Whistling?” into the text message screen. But I did not hit “Send”. What if I’d got it wrong? What if?

I didn’t recognise the next song. I waited.

The third song began. It was “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, another whistling classic. Confident now of my answer, I sent my message – but was I in time? No, I wasn’t. The programme hosts came back on. They confirmed the answer was “whistling” and named the lucky winner, whose name I have mercifully forgotten.

They then read out some of the other suggestions they’d received. Most were plausible but wrong suggestions based on the first song, like “songs with names in the title” or “songs about crimes”. But my favourite response was someone who’d texted in “No idea lol”. This person, whose name I’ve also forgotten, had not only not known the answer; they had texted the radio show to let them know that they didn’t know the answer. If I’d had a few more ounces of that person’s carefree attitude to the judgement of others, I thought to myself, I’d own that t-shirt.

Regret is worse than embarrassment. You’ve probably heard or read the phrase and you might be able to think of anecdotes from your own life that demonstrate its truth – times when you sacrificed something of real value for the sake of avoiding transient self-consciousness or embarrassment. The Matinee Idle Whistling T-Shirt Story is one from my life, and it still stings. Since then, when I’ve hesitated to make an invitation or proffer an uncertain suggestion for fear of its reception, I’ve reminded myself that somewhere out there there’s someone who texted “No idea lol” and was not ashamed.

I’m very grateful that I’ve never been too afraid of others’ judgement in a romantic context. I was always happy to ask someone out and be turned down; consequently I have very few regrets pertaining to my love life. I have friends who harbour a lot of regrets in this department, who fancied people and never said anything, less for fear of rejection than for fear of what the other person might think of them. The “what-ifs” in their imaginary romantic lives are legion. At least I don’t have to contend with that on a daily basis.

My regrets are often about times when I feared being judged for being wrong about something, and so kept silent when I should have piped up. I’m working on it. Helpfully, I’ve noticed that when I do get something wrong in a public setting, I don’t actually mind very much. I don’t feel humiliated and I don’t dwell on it. I like learning new stuff, and finding out I’m wrong always means I’ve just learned something new. I also sometimes fear being judged for the less orthodox of my personal choices – but again, when it actually happens, I find it pretty easy to let it go.

Acting promptly also helps. If I want to do or say something but I delay or procrastinate because I’m afraid, the fear doesn’t gradually fade away; more often, it intensifies. It’s as if the postponement sends my subconscious the message that the action is truly something to be feared, a high-stakes decision, a Big Deal – I get neurotic about it, and it’s harder to screw my courage to the sticking-place.

I don’t use this knowledge to reprimand myself with thoughts like “You really should have acted on this when you first thought of it, you know; it would have been a lot easier.” I mean, I’m not a jerk. But I do tell myself, “of all the time available to you to do this, the easiest one is right now. Be kind to yourself and do it now.” Or, sometimes, “Oh for heaven’s sake, just close your eyes and jump!”

It feels good to pursue my desires without regard to my occasional fear of embarrassment or condemnation. I’m learning to treat that fear as a false signal of danger. I’m gradually replacing the “what if?” with a nonchalant (or sometimes slightly truculent) “so what?”. When I feel myself wavering, the words “No idea lol” are all I need to get back on track.

Regret is worse than embarrassment; the fear is worse than the reality; and the best time is now. Press “send” and win yourself that t-shirt.

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