Stage Fright

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We all get nervous sometimes.

Recently, I did a few speaking engagements and I was really f-ing nervous.

What if I sound like an idiot? What if I fumble like I did that one time when I was tired and unprepared and thought I could wing it but didn’t? (Success in winging it is never guaranteed by random past success, I learned.)

What if I say the wrong thing?

What if there’s dead silence.

“Just stop worrying! You’ll be fine!”

Oh, ok! Got it. All I have to do is stop worrying, since I’ll be fine.

In reality, the What Ifs really do come true sometimes (or a lot of the time).

I really could forget my lines, get unsubscribes, mess up this interview, launch a product that no one wants — like I really did, more times than would be interesting to list out. (PS, speaking of launching products…)

And then?

And then I’m still here. What else can I do but keep showing up — fears, anxieties, hopes and all?

But, being an optimizer, I now have a toolkit (more below).

CANDY CRUSH

A recent Friday on the metro in Madrid, I saw a middle aged Spanish man playing Candy Crush Saga on his phone.

I was on my way to meet someone for the first time, and I was nervous.

I watched him watching the game, moving gems around with an agile right thumb, a tiny smile on his face.

Dude, I fucking love that game, I thought at him.

Somehow, this comforted me. A reminder of our shared silliness and tiny humiliations, all this loss of face that we endure each day despite our best efforts to mask our vulnerabilities.

In that moment, it eased my nerves, like imagining your audience naked (which I think would be super distracting and not helpful, don’t you?), and brought me back to this reality —

— that at some point or another, we are all a balding, paunchy 50-something man delighting in a private Candy Crush moment, not giving a fuck if we are cool, if we are sexy, if we are right, if we are liked.

THE BIGGEST MISTAKE

I wrote to my friend Gillian.

Gillian, I wrote, I think I might be making the biggest mistake of my life (this was a few weeks ago).

She looked me straight in the eye — through all that space and distance and those multiple inboxes — and she said to me:

Fear not mistakes, because there are none.

There’s only experience, and you get to choose the experience that you want, Susan.

We grew up in a generation that taught sacrifice, perseverance and endurance as virtues we should aspire to. But these are only words that describe qualities of experience, not absolute right or wrong, not mistakes or non-mistakes.

Try what you’ve never done before. Try the new for you, and you’ll know the true difference between one way and the other.

PARACHUTE

Public speaking makes me nervous.

Some people are great at it and can do it hungover, half asleep, distracted by whatever.

But these people have other stuff that takes them into their discomfort zone — maybe it’s facing an emotional conversation, maybe it’s being with an aging parent or family member, maybe it’s colliding with someone else’s suffering or anger or desire.

No matter where the edge of ease is located inside of us, we all have one — that drop-off into the unpleasant and unfamiliar.

I get nervous easily — it’s not just public speaking but all of the tough TO-DOs we have to face: delivering disappointment to someone we love, sticking our necks out / names onto a totally untested, fully unoptimized endeavor, being honest inside yourself so that you can be truthful to the world outside.

In my life, a lot of random stuff brings me right to that edge. So, I’ve really had to work on how to deal.

Remember that thing about imagining your audience naked? For me it works better the other way around: Take off all that you’re wearing, let go of all that you’re carrying.

Here’s my 3-step guide to leaping naked, in front of a crowd, with a parachute:

1. Be in your body. 

2. Remember who you are.

3. Fill up all the space, all of it.

That’s it!

Till next time and with love,

Susan

One Comment on “Stage Fright”

  1. I think everyone gets stage fright, and some people can just hide it better than others (not me!). Thanks for sharing your stories and how to better cope with stage fright – it’s one refreshing idea that I should try next time I’m put on the spotlight of a huge crowd. ;)

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