In the summer of 2001, I was 16 years old. My family was visiting New York City before the school year started. We were in front of the MTV studios in Times Square about an hour before the taping of Total Request Live, a popular live television show that featured the top-requested music videos of the day.  Before the show started taping, the producers came outside and talked to the people standing in front of the studio.  They approached my family and asked me if I wanted to attend the live taping inside of the studio, and of course I said, “yes!”  

Excited and nervous, I went upstairs, expecting only to watch the show and clap when cued by the producers.  During the taping, the producers announced that one of my favorite artists, Janet Jackson, was one of TRL’s special guests that day. I was elated.

A few minutes before Janet came on stage, a producer asked the audience who wanted to ask Janet a question.  I didn’t hesitate; I immediately stood up (literally got out of my seat!) and told the producer that I wanted to ask Janet a question. I’m still unsure of how I was able to come up with the question on the spot, but somehow, I told the producer the question that I would ask, and the producer approved, letting me know that I would be asking Janet a question momentarily.  In that moment, my heart was palpitating.  I was both excited and absolutely terrified. I began to question myself, asking “why did I volunteer for this?” and “am I going to freeze on national television?”  

[See the video for what happened next, or skip the video and continue reading.]

Thankfully, I didn’t freeze. I asked Janet my question, gave her a hug, and went back to school with an interesting summer vacation story to tell my classmates.  More importantly, I learned an important life lesson from that experience that I have never forgotten. 

LESSONExhibit unwavering courage in the face of fear. At 16 years old, I was TERRIFIED to go on live television to ask a superstar a personal question. But, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  It was now or never. 

In life, we are presented with so many “now or never” moments. Over the years, I have learned that fear is often the greatest threat to experiencing the most rewarding moments. 

Therefore, we must act bravely in the face of fear. I thank Brené Brown for her outstanding scholarship on the topic of courage, and I highly recommend her books Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead for anyone who needs encouragement on facing their fears. I have learned that if the prospect of something makes me nervous, I’m on the right path. That discomfort is usually my sign to lean in further. A great experience could be on the other side of the fear. 


  • Ms. Childress is the managing attorney and founder of the Childress Firm PLLC, an employment law firm based in Washington, D.C. Ms. Childress holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government and African American Studies from the University of Virginia and a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law. Ms. Childress graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with High Distinction from the University of Virginia in 2007. After law school, Ms. Childress served as a federal judicial law clerk in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. Ms. Childress has served as an associate at two global law firms and as an attorney for the United States Department of Justice. Ms. Childress represents clients in all aspects of employment law. Ms. Childress has litigated retaliation, discrimination, sexual harassment, non-competition, trade secret, unfair labor practice, and whistleblower cases before various tribunals. In addition to being an attorney, Ms. Childress is the creator and author of the Juris P. Prudence children's book collection, featuring fictional 11-year-old lawyer, Juris P. Prudence. Ms. Childress has held leadership roles in the National Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division and the Washington Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division. She has been the recipient of several honors, including the National Bar Association’s 2018 Young Lawyer of the Year Award, the Washington Bar Association’s 2017-2018 Young Lawyer of the Year Award, the National Bar Association’s 40 under 40 Best Advocates Award, the Kim Keenan Leadership & Advocacy Award, the Greater Washington Area Chapter of the National Bar Association’s Rising Star Award, and recognition by the National Black Lawyers as one of the top 100 black attorneys. Ms. Childress has been featured in numerous publications, including Forbes, Essence, the Huffington Post, Success, and Entrepreneur.