Am I nervous or excited?Apr 12, 2022
To perform in front of a crowd can bring on a mix of emotions from terror and nerves to elation and exhilaration. Recently, our 6-year-old made her debut marching in Rainbow Families at Sydney's Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. One morning, she remembered the squishy earplugs that have lived under the bathroom sink and was thrilled when she realised that finally, she would be able to open and use them for Mardi Gras. We sat on the bathroom floor while she squished them. "I'm nervous," she told me quietly. "That's normal to feel nervous," I reassured her. "I know," she said. At 6 she knows everything. I tried another approach. "What does 'nervous' feel like in your body?" Her eyes flashed up at me, remembering something. "Like butterflies!" "Yes!" I said tickling her tummy. "But did you know that those butterflies are exactly the same feeling we feel when we're nervous or when we're excited? So how do we know which is which?" Her eyes widen as she contemplates this idea. "Maybe it's whatever you say it is." Then she has a flash of inspiration and runs off to show Chris her squishies. Attention span long enough for that conversation? I'm counting that as a victory!
Which interpretation empowers you before you get on stage or do something important? Nervous or excited?
'Nervous' creates a state of heightened awareness in the body. Our eyes can start to dart around. Maybe adrenaline starts pumping to the brain. Our palms might start to feel sweaty. 'Nervous' can be good for being aware - but if our focus is on the future or we are ruminating on the past, then 'nervous' can be exhausting.
'Excited' can also be a state of heightened awareness. It's the anticipation of something soon to happen. It can fill us with a buzz and make us want to jump around. In physics, an excited atom is in an energy state that is higher than normal. It can be good for increasing energy - as long as we channel that energy where we want it to go and not pilfer it on other distractions.
Ultimately, before performing or doing something important, it can be useful to soothe our nervous system so that it calms enough to allow our authentic self and presence through. One of the things that can get in the way is how we relate to the audience. If we are unknowingly expecting criticism or judgment, then our performance will be shaped by that expectation. And our experience of being on stage will also be impacted.
Here's how to deal powerfully with this natural occurrence. Right before you go on stage, check in with yourself about who the audience as a mass group is for you. Do they occur as friend or foe? As ready to judge or ready to celebrate? Acknowledge whatever is there for you. Then set it aside. Now invent who the audience is and how you'd like to relate to them. Here are some examples of what you could invent:
- A room full of friends.
- People who want me to win.
- Human beings, just like me.
- We are already connected.
Your job is to show up. You could even say that how the audience receives you is not any of your business. Whoever's ears are open is between that audience member and the universe. None of our business.
Ultimately, walking into a stadium filled with thousands of people or a theatre full of people, knowing you have everything you need within you is when to give yourself permission to express yourself fully.
As saxophonist Charlie Parker famously said,
“You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”
Photo credit: Sarah Malone @sierramalevich David Blowie fans in the audience at the Kings of Joy VI I Believe in A Thing Called Love debut at Queers of Joy. Spot some previous Kings of Joy? Hey Slaychuan Peppa and Zaddy B Cool...
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