I’m scared sh**tless

Alexandra Samuel
4 min readMay 19, 2024
I have committed to singing on this stage, in front of all these people. 🤮

Confession: I’m scared shitless. Here’s what I signed up for:

Sing out! This is your chance to be part of a very special TED Talk! Renowned Broadway director and TED speaker, Lear deBessonet and Broadway performer, Todd Almond will put you through the paces of a musical number in this extraordinary masterclass. You’ll learn to sing from your heart, participate in a TED rehearsal in the theater and and be part of a performance during a historic TED talk. Bring yourself, your friends and your best energy to this once-in-a-lifetime extravaganza. No experience needed.

That’s right: I’m spending the week at TED. But never mind that: I’ve committed to singing! In public! In a room with….Kesha and Al Gore?? Seriously?

But I couldn’t live with the idea of not doing it, even though I’m attending this week’s TED as a member of the press, and I’m there to write about AI and the future of work. This singing challenge is tied to one of my touchstone moments: a moment that redefined my own sense of what’s possible, and opened a new chapter in my personal and professional history.

A touchstone moment

It was early December 2022 when I put on the just-released cast album of the new production of Into the Woods. I’d read great things about director Lear deBessonet’s new production of this celebrated Sondheim musical, and the moment I heard Patina Miller singing “Stay With Me”, it ripped my heart out to think I was missing her performance. But there was only a week left in her run; there was no way for me to go.

After all, I had work and deadlines — I couldn’t just hop on a plane. My parenting logistics made travel even more complicated: Whenever I went on the road, my autistic kiddo got thrown for a loop. It took weeks of advance prep and planning to prepare our son for an absence and set up the necessary support structures for a few rocky, Mom-less days; then it took a few more weeks for our household to settle back into a routine after I returned. So a spontaneous trip was completely impossible.

Or was it? As I rolled into Act II of the ITW cast album, I found myself reflecting on how much our lives had actually changed. We were now 15 months into a carefully planned reset that had finally gotten our son out of crisis; instead of recurring meltdowns, conflicts and cop visits, our home was peaceful and our son was flourishing. Maybe we now had the resilience to absorb last-minute travel? There was only one way to find out.

One week after listening to that cast recording, I was sitting in an orchestra seat, watching some of my all-time favorite Broadway performers rollick through one of my all-time favorite shows. I wept with joy at the sheer pleasure of the performance…and also, with pride at what our family had accomplished.

We had all worked hard to help our son find his path to growth, and at last, he really was growing, and happy, and stretching more each day. Now there was room for me to grow again, too.

Real growth often sneaks up on you; there aren’t many moments in life where you see clearly how far you’ve come. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a story about your limitations, without noticing if those limitations no longer apply.

But sitting in that theater, I could see it all: the intense work of a decade, the profound ways it had transformed me as a person, and what was now possible for our son, our family and my own creative life.

I returned home with a show poster signed by the full cast so that it can offer a daily reminder: What you think is impossible just might be possible, after all.

A new horizon of possibility

That’s the power of a touchstone moment: a moment where you suddenly see limitations and possibilities in a new light. Unlike a gradual process of transformation or learning, a touchstone moment offers specific associations or reminders you can grab onto, so that you keep your vision fixed on that newly widened horizon.

Since deBessonet’s Into the Woods has become such a powerful touchstone moment in my own life, I knew I couldn’t pass up her workshop. I keep coming back to the ITW lyrics I’ve been singing to myself for more than three decades now; lyrics my kids grew up on:

The way is clear
The light is good
I have no fear
Nor no one should.

If I was brave enough to get on an airplane on three days notice — brave enough to survive a decade of turbulence, and find a path forward! — then damn it, I’m brave enough to get on that stage and SING!

Bravery is the pay-off from creating touchstone moments — moments where you move mountains, and then celebrate what you learn from the experience. They remind you that what once seemed impossible, actually wasn’t.

And that makes all other impossibilities seem possible, too.



Alexandra Samuel

Speaker on hybrid & remote work. Author, Remote Inc. Contributor to Wall Street Journal & Harvard Business Review. https://AlexandraSamuel.com/newsletter