Performance Anxiety

There are three scenarios where one’s performance can be assessed and graded. All of these have their pros and cons; none of them is without both self-worry and self-endorsement.

Scenario #1: The performer is being observed by a known audience. There is a preexisting connection between actor and observer(s). This formerly-established relationship provides both a familiarity and a comfort between the actor/audience of the performance. It is more likely than not that any poor performance will not be as poorly reviewed due to the underlying relationship.

Examples: Cooking a meal for your family; sharing one’s thoughts, ideas, creative works with a friend; taking to bed with a lover.

Scenario #2: The performer is not being observed by anyone. The “performance,” i.e., the “doing” is done in isolation and without the hindrance of an outside critique or the benefit of positive feedback. The only critic is the self-critic, who may (or may not) be any good at objectively reviewing the performance.

Examples: Writing a novel day in and day out in isolation; practicing yoga privately; standing in front of the refrigerator and debating between carrots and cake.

Scenario #3: The performer is likely being observed but cannot know who specifically is doing the observing/judging unless the audience (post-performance) provides feedback, which could be positive or negative. (It is more likely that any feedback given will be positive due to the ubiquitous expectation that we “like,” “retweet,” or “(heart)” this or that.)

Examples: Practicing yoga in a studio; driving on the highway; walking through a busy grocery store; standing in line at the post office; running on the side streets of a small town, writing a blog.

When you’re not sure who is watching, it’s easy to be unconcerned with any silent review you might be getting. However, when you come to understand that anyone you know/don’t know could be evaluating what you do, a self-awareness attaches to the “doing.” Concurrent with this self-awareness is the selfish wish to be regarded positively.

Those authors, thinkers, poets, performers, who have been touted as “bold” and “brave,” are the ones who — based on what they have written or done — are deemed as “radical.” What they’ve written or done is not “radical.” What is “radical” is their total disregard of their audience. They perform well under Scenario #2 and they dismiss all of Scenario #3 and, I’d argue, most of Scenario #1.

I’m not there yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be.

When I’m told I have a “beautiful” yoga practice, I feel good. (Scenario #3) When a friend says, “I really like this story,” I feel good. (Scenario #1).

Maybe the day will come when I can flourish in Scenario #2, but for now I’m stuck with the awareness of the “doing” and the accompanying anxiety.

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