Dan Levy: Goodbye Anxiety

On how testing his fears changed his life

Dan Levy: Goodbye Anxiety

Photo by Justin Broadbent

I remember quite clearly a time when I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I was six, I was worry-free and I aspired to be an actor-slash-pizza maker. To me the decision was simple; that is what would make me happy.

Little did I know that a few decades later, that optimistic, succinct professional clarity would dissipate—despite an ongoing penchant for pizza—and be replaced by confusion, anxiety and worry about what I’m doing and where I’m going. Somehow things had gotten a little more complicated and navigating my path to personal and professional happiness was not quite as easy as it was when the only real job I had to worry about was making my bed.

I’m a worrier by nature. I worry about everything, so when it came time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, it was no surprise that I was met with a debilitating amount of anxiety. Anxiety is my kryptonite. It’s the one thing that can break me down and the one thing I have the hardest time controlling. I had always been scared of the unknown and I think it had a lot to do with a lack of self-confidence (and wearing thick, dark-rimmed glasses before they were considered cool). Not being sure of myself and what I had to offer made it virtually impossible to imagine working in any position of professional power despite knowing that deep down I was more than capable.

The combination of that lack of confidence and my worry was a burden and a weight that eventually became a little too heavy to bear. It ended up manifesting itself in a physical ailment that almost left me permanently blind. Needless to say, it was not long before I realized that I had to win myself back—that the interconnection between the mind and the body was a very real thing—so I decided to test myself. I’d take the biggest step I could out of my comfort zone and move abroad. It was something I’d always wanted to do but had always been too anxious to follow through on. I ended up moving to London, England, where I got a job as an assistant at a reputable talent agency. To say that the experience was scarily similar to The Devil Wears Prada franchise would not be an overstatement.

In a flash I was answering phones and running errands and setting up meetings and taking pictures of my boss’s pet dogs for strange British pet owner magazines—all of which tried my nerves to their limit but in turn made me realize that I was capable of doing things that I always wanted to do but had never thought possible for myself. And that sense of accomplishment gave me a confidence I had never experienced before.

Those four months abroad, being on my own in a new city, brought me out of my shell in ways I had never expected. I returned home a different person. I had tested myself and passed. My inhibitions and fears were downsized, my social anxieties were in check and my aspirations were closer than ever before. So close, in fact, that I now had the confidence and self-assurance to walk into my audition at MTV merely one month after I had gotten back and land the job. Looking back, had it not been for my little test, I honestly don’t think I would have had the will to even audition for that gig, let alone get it.

So when my friend told me not too long ago that when he thinks about his future and what he wants to do in life he sees nothing but blackness, I gave him the only advice I could: Test your fears. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something that will make you happy, and you’ll be surprised how quickly all will be illuminated.

I wrapped my first film as an actor this past June. Maybe that childhood clarity wasn’t lost at all, but rather buried underneath years of unnecessary worry, just waiting for the time when I was ready to find it again.