Hello Dear Danglers! I’m writing in hopes that you may recognize a bit of this in your own pre-show musings, and realize that everyone – everyone – has moments of doubt,
paralyzing terror fear, and despair when it comes to doing what we love in front of Other People.
I’m currently in Chicago, preparing to compete in German Wheel national trials. If I don’t fall on my head (you laugh, but this is an alarmingly real possibility), I may do well enough to join Team USA in Italy in June to compete against top German wheelers from around the world – the thought makes me want to guffaw and barf all at the same time. See, this time, my performance has real consequences. Usually, the worst thing that happens with a crummy run is that my ego is bruised, but here – OMG – I WILL ACTUALLY, LITERALLY BE JUDGED BY PEOPLE SITTING BEHIND A TABLE SCORING MY WORK WITH POINTS! POINTS!!!!! Is that not the most horrifying thing you’ve ever heard? (#hyperbole) To say that this is producing a bit of anxiety in me is like saying that the Pope is a bit Catholic, or that my students are a bit sassy. It is the most astonishing amount of very real, very tangible fear. So, how will I make it through without crying copious quantities of hiccup-y tears? …. I don’t know.
What I DO Know
Different things work for different people at different times, and I don’t know what will be most useful in the coming days, but I DO have a little grab-bag of coping strategies! Here are a few that have kept me sane thus far.
- Everyone wants you to succeed. Really. Your audience wants you to succeed! Even if you’re in competition with others, your competition does not really wish you ill (they just want to do better than you – it’s not the same thing). Imagine them all cheering you on, and watch for all the little “thumbs up” you find yourself seeing all over the place.
- Staaaaaay present. I am the worst – the worst – at this. Anxiety is all about “futurizing” – projecting your fears into an imagined future. It’s not real. Remember – while this kind of thinking is encoded in your DNA (it was veeeeery helpful if you were a caveman on the savanna), it’s not going to help you now. Go google “how to stay present” and do all the things. All of ’em. Whatever it takes. 😉
- Focus on others. It’s really hard to wind yourself up too much if you’re focused on others. How can you help? The more you can get your mind off yourself and onto serving, the less time you have to rev your engines and flood your body with more stress hormones!
- Rally the troops! Call your people! Huddle with your show partner, post about your fear on social media, call your mom, whatever. People want to be there for you, so let them! Feel the love.
- What’s the worst that could happen? Sometimes, this question has sobering answers (“You could land on your head”), but more often than not, the answers are more benign (“I will look like an idiot”). Try to really talk this through. “I will look like an idiot. OK, maybe people won’t look at me and go “she’s such an idiot”. It’s more likely that they will feel bad for me that I missed my trick – they know how that feels. I will be disappointed, but that’s treatable with ice cream. And, in five years, will this matter in my life in any real, meaningful way? Probably not. I will look back and be proud of myself for competing and doing my best.”
- Try not to ruminate. Go – do whatever you have to do to break the cycle of winding yourself up. Go help someone, go jog, listen to music, watch “Real Housewives, etc.
- Get spiritual. Pray, meditate, chant, twirl – whatever floats your spirit boat.
- Everyone is feeling this way. Look around. See your fellow cast mates? Your competitors? Yeah – they’re right there with you. You are not alone.
- Speak kindly to yourself. Fear is natural and healthy, and can clue you in to things you need to pay attention to, but don’t use this as a time to abuse yourself. Even as I write this, I hear, “You are going to humiliate yourself in front of so many people” We can be astonishingly cruel to ourselves! And, we can choose differently (note: it’s hard, and can feel like you’re lying. Takes practice, start now). I can change that to “I’ve trained hard, and I’m among friends. I choose to have an uplifting, amazing experience of competition.”
- Be proud – you chose life. You chose to do the hard thing. You chose a big risk, with a big pay off. Just by choosing action – performance – over fear, you are winning big.
Pre-show “jitters” – doesn’t that sound innocuous? Almost like a candy (“One large bag of popcorn and a box of Jitters, please!”). But oh – when you’re in the throes of anxiety, you know there’s nothing cute or sweet about it – it tastes like pure misery.
What must we remember when we find ourselves here, staring wide-eyed into an unknowable future? You are not alone. In fact, you are now part of a remarkable tradition of courageous people, going back thousands of years. Think of the millions who have stood where you are, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same smallness, hearing the rush of blood in their ears and wondering how they will survive the next ten minutes. We are a part of a legacy – part of a long tradition of People Who Chose to Really Live. Welcome to the tribe! Welcome home. Love and pull-ups, Laura
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