Jennifer is a professional violinist and is in one of my women’s circles. She taught me a powerful lesson. She realized that the fear of looking foolish was holding her back. So, she created a situation that had the potential to do just that.


Grand halls and ballrooms are the usual venues for her classical and contemporary performances. This time it would be a street corner. She placed her unfolded violin case on a busy sidewalk and began to play. Her plan: she would play until the passersby had offered a total of  $12. Why that amount? It just popped into her head.


At first, she was uncomfortable. But she kept playing. People started to request songs and toss money into the case.


They smiled and chatted.


One woman asked if Jennifer could play Bach. That request could have returned Jennifer into her professional persona. In an inspired response, she smiled and replied, “This violin doesn’t know Bach.” They both chuckled. Jennifer played past the $12.


A funny thing happened. Her dread had turned into joy. This is what she had hoped would happen.


Something surprising also occurred.


Jennifer's Street Gig

As Jennifer looked at the people around her, she saw them in a unique way. “Suddenly I felt profoundly connected to everyone.” Looking good was no longer her focus. Her heart opened. Jennifer learned an unexpected truth: When we connect to our core, we connect to others.


Fear of appearing foolish wreaks havoc on our desire to fully take part in life. Our focus becomes other people’s judgments. Does this loop sound familiar to you? To avoid looking idiotic, we try to figure out how to behave. That merry-go-round leaves us feeling wobbly. It disconnects us from who we truly are.


I get dizzy even thinking about that.


Jennifer created an experiment to explore her fear of looking foolish. What did she discover? Stepping towards her discomfort exposed a paper tiger. “Zhilaohu” is a Chinese word for “paper tiger.” It indicates something that only appears threatening. Push against it  and it will fold. Fears are frequently based on faulty data. Childhood experiences are often their source. To use computer jargon, we have not updated our software. We are operating on outdated information.


Understandably, we do not want to relive past negative experiences. That is true for me. I hate looking stupid. I can trace it back to not having the right answer in sixth grade. I moved to Michigan in the middle of the school year. I knew no one. A sinking feeling washed over me when I offered my wrong answer. Classmates laughed. The teacher gave me a disapproving look. It is still a vivid memory.


To dodge those feelings, I sometimes hide behind a puffed-up persona. Like Jennifer, at those times my connection to my core disappears. Showing up without the protection of position, degrees, and acclaim is more satisfying. It also feels riskier. My life is an experiment to discover how real I can become.


Discovering our paper tigers can be liberating.


Can you image creating an experiment that makes you feel uncomfortable? Like Jennifer, would you discover something valuable hidden under your avoidance?


Ready to look?


Jennifer Lowe is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Cover Girls Violin Show. She created The Cover Girls eleven months after her experiment. Did she sow the seeds for her new direction in those moments?  I bet she did.



Photo Credits:

Jennifer Busking in 2009

by Geoffrey Lowe


Cover Girls Recent Photo 

by 5CG pic: Cindy Fandl


Blog Illustration By Sarah and Catherine Satrun

From the 2022 awarding-winning documentary Showing Up: Dare to Live from Your Heart   Produced by Daremore Studios