Performance Anxiety

At times it helps to know that even Steve
Martin gets performance jitters. But what
Do we do with that knowledge? Believe
We can’t control our nerves that undercut
Our capability to lend our voice
To values, visions or the fictive dream
That inspire souls to explore a choice
They’d not known they had? Nerves in the bloodstream
Will knock on your door. Give your nerves a job:
To push all towards the most loving vision
Of flourishing that you can muster up.
Want love for those who listen. Provision
And care for those in the audience.
It can make your body a lot less tense.
-Allegra Jordan, 2019.

I took Steve Martin’s Master Class online and appreciated that he said he would get performance anxiety. I spoke with poet, preacher and rock ‘n roller Malcolm Guite who said the same. These are great performers. And so I realized and accepted there’s a bundle of energy that hits right before you go on.

One challenge is when there is a lot of time between when you get the anxiety and when you can do something about it (i.e. actually take action by speaking, singing, etc.)

I’ve found giving my nerves a job is important. It can’t be any job. It needs to be a job that develops good habits in me. What we do often, we become.

One day I realized I wanted to get closer and closer to pure love. Why? It’s how I operate best and I suppose many others do to. We refine ourselves to become our best selves by moving towards positivity and love. (This does not mean we put up with abuse – to deal with abuse we practice courage; we do not degrade love by calling fatalism, lack of courage, and despair “love.” OK, there have been times I’ve done that. It never turned out well.)

So, when I have performance anxiety I give my nerves a job that I know is meaningful to me. “Love those who may listen. Love those who are helping me get the audio right. Love those who are ushers. Love the two people who actually put aside what they were doing to come.”

This only works if I’ve carefully prepared. I deserve performance anxiety if I have not taken the steps to present my best case before the audience. But if I have, I still have some flurry of energy come up in my chest before going on.

My best path for getting through that flurry of nerves and on the right track to a good performance, is “give my nerves a job.”