“Fear Itself” Series: My Journey to Overcome Stage Fright

We were the last to arrive, the last on the list of songwriters, and the last on stage.  I thought that being last was a blessing.  I believed it would allow the tension to escape the room in time for our audition – like a party balloon slowly loosing air, its pressure changes reflecting the diminishing excitement, until finally relaxing to the ground, its skin loose.

I was wrong.

My fight-or-flight response came on strong as I counted down auditioners – six more to go, five more to go, four to go, three. . .  I seriously thought I was going to choose flight.

Somehow I managed not to run from the room.  Somehow my legs carried me to the stage.  But my legs no longer belonged to me.  Neither did my arms, my hands, my lips, my voice, my mind. . .  My heart, which had been pounding in my ears for two hours, now beat faster and harder than I knew it could.  And it was so loud.  Surely everyone in the room could hear it.

Who the hell has their finger on the button controlling my nervous, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and circulatory systems?

I managed to smile.  I managed to say everything I had practiced.  I managed to make the audience laugh.  But I didn’t manage to do the thing I had come to do.

I did not manage to sing.  Not really.  Not like I know I can.  Not even close.

I was a scared animal, and the audience was my predator.  They had turned into hungry wolves, and all I could see were bared teeth.  I had one minute – one verse and one chorus to convince them not to attack.  The shaky squeaks that came from my mouth were just enough to make them lose interest.  I was clearly not a threat, and not a big enough meal.

This was my experience of our audition at The Bluebird Café.

Hello, my name is Anita, and I have severe stage fright.

It hurts my pride to say so – I have denied and minimized it for years – and I am embarrassed by it.  But more important than my pride is my desire to once again enjoy singing in front of others.

So I am on a quest.  I am ready to open myself up and heal this thing that keeps me from being my best, most fulfilled self.  Those of you who have spent any time on my blog know that this kind of vulnerability makes me extremely uncomfortable.  So then, you must also know how great my desire to overcome this stumbling block is.

This launches my new series called, “Fear Itself.”  I will approach the subject of performance anxiety with kindness, honesty, and maybe even a little humor . . . maybe.  I will share personal stories, newfound advice, articles, books, affirmations, triumphs, and disappointments.  I will be frank about what I find helpful, what I feel makes the situation worse, and what I think is just plain nonsense.  (Sharing an unfavorable opinion is another thing that makes me extremely uncomfortable.)  And, although I can only say for sure what works for me, I hope some of you will find comfort and support through my journey.

I’ll end this first post of the series with hope – a quote from a very comforting figure indeed, the queen of positivity, Louise Hay.  “Many people come to me and say they cannot enjoy today because of something that happened in the past.  . .  Because something unpleasant happened when they did something once, they are sure it will happen again today. . .  Because I did poorly at my first audition, I will be terrified of auditions forever. . .  The past is over and done and cannot be changed.  This is the only moment we can experience.  Even when we lament about the past, we are experiencing our memory of it in this moment, and lose the real experience of this moment in the process.”

This sums up my hope – to experience new moments of performance joy!

– Anita, Noted in Nashville

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You Can Heal Your Life. (2004). Hay House, Inc. Page 69

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20 thoughts on ““Fear Itself” Series: My Journey to Overcome Stage Fright

  1. I don’t sing or play piano in front of people anymore, so it’s been decades since I experienced stage fright from that (though I still remember the panic over thinking my fingers would not work once I sat down on the piano bench or feeling like I could no longer remember the song). I’ve had to speak in front of people a lot though in my professional life, and at first it was exceedingly painful. Over time, I got better about it, just from the sheer number of times I had to do it, but I still get nervous beforehand and pray that my voice doesn’t shake. I’ve learned the secret is to be as prepared as I can. That at least cuts out the fear of worrying that I’ll make a fool of myself for not knowing the material.

    • I think you told me before that you play piano, but I don’t think I knew you sing too! How cool.

      Looking back over the years I’ve performed, I wasn’t always afraid. I remember when the nerves set in, and I think I never again conquered them – just learned to manage them. You’re so right – being on “stage” as much as possible is helpful. It’s sometimes difficult to volunteer for that kind of pain, though. 🙂

      • My mother was a music teacher, so by default, I was in chorus and band. I could sing all right, but I was better at the clarinet and piano than I was at singing. Oh, those days seem so remote now.

      • I know, I really miss performing with a group. I have a friend who sings with the Dallas Symphony Chorus, and I often envy her. I just don’t think I’m willing to commit to the rehearsals at this point in my life for something like that.

  2. Anita, I know what you’re talking about, I used to be in a choir and stage fright is not new to me, but I like the way you’re going about it, this way, you would conquer this and take control of your own destiny. Things can only get better!
    Much love my friend. 🙂

    • Thank you for the words of encouragement! I’ve lived with it for so long, I feel like it’s time for a new approach. People like yourself have come forward and shared their appreciation for what I go through. It really means a lot to me to know I’m in good company. Wish me luck! 🙂

  3. Anita, I certainly didn’t do any singing or playing, but in my professional life, I did lots of presenting. Most of my presentations were for small to medium groups, and no matter the size of the group, there was always some nerves before going on (the bigger the group and the higher up the corporate food chain I went, the more nervous I was). But I agree with Carrie, that the best I could do was to be well prepared. If I was prepared, once I got over the initial butterflies, I just went into the zone, and generally things went fine. I’m not sure how this relates to music, but it worked well for me. ~James

    • It absolutely relates! I wish I could say that I tend to get over the initial butterflies. Instead, my nervousness often ramps up during my performance. There have been exceptions, of course – long performances with several sets, or a musical – when I’ll be performing for hours. Also, when no one is paying attention, I do pretty well. 🙂 But where is this “Zone” people tell me about? Can I get directions there? 😉

      • As I read this Anita, I thought about one crucial difference in your performances and my presentations. If I forgot and left something out, or got something out of order, I could make a decision at the time to just skip it and move on, or if it was important, I could figure a way to work it in. In music, this is not an option. Music happens in real time, and there’s no going back. Ummm, maybe your fear is justified. ~James

      • LOL! So true. Although, you make another good point about forgetting something. I try to remind myself that if I miss a note, or change the words to an original song or arrangement, nobody knows but me. . . Well, and Big D. But he’ll never tell. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Fear Itself: The Play of Down | Noted in Nashville

  5. I can sympathize, as I now find myself suffering from this kind if fear more than I used to. These days, I worry more about the “what-ifs”, and second-guess my choices, since I’m now in charge of them like never before. I will be back to read your future posts on this subject. Thanks for tackling it!

    • Aren’t “what-ifs” the worst?! They’re NEVER positive. (‘Gee, what if I rock?!) That wise man I spoke of in the post also told me that I read the audience’s minds; and I never assume they’re thinking something nice. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Tina.

  6. Love this post/series idea! I, too, have experienced more stage fright than I care to admit. It has prohibited me from reading my work aloud in front of other writers. It’s like when I get up in front of a group of peers, I instantly devolve into my insecure, 7th-grade self. Although I’m a teacher and have no problem getting up in front of my students and making a fool out of myself, when it’s my colleagues, forget about it! WHY IS THAT?! Perhaps your series will help me find some answers! Looking forward to reading your future posts, and hope they help you (as well as me!) overcome these silly (but very real) fears. xo

    • I completely relate to what you said about being comfortable in front of your students. When I’m teaching a voice or piano lesson, I’m completely relaxed singing or playing for them. I’ve often thought that the difference is control. (Or the idea of control.) Being the leader makes me feel like I’m in control of the situation. When it’s not my “gig,” I feel . . . almost imposed upon. It’s weird, I know, because no one made me go to the audition/performance. . .

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