Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Performance Anxiety

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Friday night I’m being promoted to orange-stripe belt rank at karate. (FYI, the ranks at my school are white, yellow, orange, orange stripe, and on through purple, blue, green, brown, and 10 levels of black.)

Before every promotion I get nervous – extremely nervous. My hands, which are normally just hot (thanks to a sputtering thyroid), become hot and sweaty. The rest of my skin feels clammy. My legs feel wobbly, and there are tremors in my hands. I end up peeing at least twice in the half hour or so leading up to the ceremony.

Intellectually I know that being invited to attend a promotion ceremony is an indication that I know the material and am ready to assume the next belt rank.

Emotionally, however, I feel like a fraud. Who in the world do you think you are, thinks my ever-present critic, to be participating in any sort of physical activity, let alone karate? My critic is a real jerk and knows just what to say to let all my insecurities run rampant. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. You’re going to look silly or, worse, pathetic. You’re going to have a brain fart at the critical moment of the demonstration, and everyone will see what a loser you are. You’re going to be ridiculed, laughed at, and pitied.

Gotta love that critic.

I’m sure you have your own inner demon. I’ve yet to find someone who doesn’t doubt her- or himself in some aspect of life. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Are we hearing echoes of our parents’ long-ago criticisms (I know that you can do better than that.) or feeling their unspoken disappointment? Or maybe that voice is an amalgam of parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and anyone who ever judged or criticized us.

Personally, I don’t care who the voice is, I just want it to stop. So I’ve started fighting back. When I feel that I’m not going to measure up, I tell myself that I’m going to do just fine. When I hear you’re a loser, I tell myself that I work damn hard and that I’ve succeeded far beyond what most would have done had they been in my shoes. ("Life is hard. Now that we’ve acknowledged that, we can move on." Thanks for the quote, Nedward.)

We all have “issues.” We all have needs and wants. And we all need to just lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously.

I can’t guarantee that I won’t be nervous at Friday’s event. However, what I can guarantee is that I’ll be the first to laugh at myself if I look silly … and the first to cheer when I put on that crisp, new belt.

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