If you are like most performers, you have experienced some kind of anxiety or fear when preparing for or waiting for a performance to begin. Many of you find that this fear does not subside once the performance begins. You may have even put a name to your fear—fear of embarrassment, fear of rejection, or fear of failure. Once you discover the source of your fear, you can get busy working to counter that source. However, many performers experience an illusive fear—the fear of the unknown. This may be the most insidious fear of all.
When you were a kid, did you fear that monster in the closet? For me, it was the “thing” hiding under the bed. I can remember having my parents carry me over to the bed so that “thing” wouldn’t grab me. That “thing” began as a noise I heard in the night that I thought was coming from underneath the bed. Then, my imagination took over and well,…it was ALL over then. Once my imagination—and a child’s imagination at that—it didn’t matter that I would look under the bed and see that nothing was there. There was a “thing” under my bed. My imagination took hold and that fear became familiar and I held onto it.
That is very much the way fear works with performers—whether it’s fear of the unknown, fear of embarrassment, fear of rejection, or fear of failure. Although these fears feel very real and may begin for different and various reasons, all of them are in our imagination.
“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” —Japanese Proverb
Your imagination is very powerful. How many times have you imagined (worried about) what the audience might be thinking, what the audition panel is writing, or what a conductor is thinking of your playing or singing? When was the last time you played tentatively because you worried about potential difficulties or sang a less spectacular cadenza for fear of making a mistake or missing that high D? You may call this fear of failure or fear of rejection or fear of embarrassment, but every single one of these worries is firmly planted in your imagination because of the unknown—because you can’t predict the future and have a guarantee that everything will go exactly as you would like it to go!
Ask yourself the question: Do you really like feeling this way? Most of us don’t, but we get caught up in the fear cycle and the behaviors and thought patterns that keep it alive. It’s almost like we DO enjoy it—at least it’s not unknown—or maybe we don’t realize that there is something we can do about it! We are often so used to the fear that we are unwilling to change even when we do find a way out.
So I ask again, what is your greatest fear? Embarrassment? Rejection? Failure? The Unknown? Or is it that your greatest fear is change?
When you perform there will always be an element of uncertainty. You really don’t know exactly how your performances will go. You can have a really good idea as a result of your practice and preparation routine, but there is no guarantee. That is the beauty of public performance. We produce art. In the space of three to twenty minutes anything can happen. There is so much possibility. Why do we spend untold hours or any time, for that matter, projecting all of the negative, horrible, bad things that can happen? Spend a little time today—right now maybe—and think about five good, spontaneous, wonderful things that could happen in your next performance. Yes, you will be using your imagination, but this time in a positive way that can help rather than hinder your performing!
Next week, we’ll take a look at ways to embrace change in order to face your fears and take your performing to the highest levels.