by Julia Sterne
September 26, 2019
6 min read
We live in a world of performance. Whether it is children singing at the talent show, professional athletes running the field, a worker getting a quarterly performance review, a student taking an exam, or the ladies and gents dressing up for a night out; we live in a world of performing.
Some people love it. They come alive on stage or that sense of competing helps them tackle the last hurdle. Some people do not. I fall into this category.
As a kid, I was incredibly, morbidly shy. More than a wallflower, I would have camouflaged myself into the wallpaper, wishing to disappear from all eyes, if I had the chance. My mom, in some act of unintentionally cruel wisdom, decided the best way for me to come out of my shell would be a modelling class. I was probably 3. The story basically involves me being a better statue than model. Frozen, I sat quietly in a chair fully believing no one actually noticed my lack of participation.
Luckily, my mom caught on and there were no more modelling classes. But as a kid, almost everything at some point involved sharing what I had learned with others. In Tae Kwon Do we had to present our forms to be judged. Terrifying, my mind always went blank. In ballet or piano, we had recitals. Dancing while having heart palpitations isn’t recommended. Oh, and taking tests? Forget it. It starts shaking with self-doubt and ends with a Scantron covered in eraser marks, and tears.
If you are feeling triggered: step away and take some deep breaths. In, and out. In, and out.
If we analyze this reality of performance anxiety for many human beings it is easy to see some fear of being judged negatively, rejected, or shamed publicly. And those are actually very scary things because we crave connection. We are creatures who need love, affection and belonging.
This may be the very tricky part. Our society often says that performing well is one of the best ways to receive love, affection or belonging. Look at how our culture presents superstar athletes, movie stars and pop stars. Stars. Shining bright, so beloved and liked and wanted and in that they glow.
I know that I often turned to performance as a way to meet those needs. I would dance hoping for praise, to be good enough, chosen by the teachers for a special role, loved. I auditioned for the school play hoping to build friends and feel part of the group, to belong. I worked so hard for good grades longing for the knowledge my work had paid off not only in my schooling but in the approval and affection of my parents, teachers and friends.
All this performing drained me (remember: I wish my superpower was invisibility). But those longings for love, affection and belonging were stronger than my desire to be comfortably hidden. So, I would be brave and courageous and tremor and feel nauseous the whole way through my solo. “If I get this right, maybe he will notice me.” “If I do this well, maybe she will like me more.” “I hate this”
Now I would like to say, “Then I did this one thing that made it all better and now I am awesome at performing!” But I still get a little sinking feeling in my chest even when I read scripture from the front on Sunday mornings. If I have to take a test, I still have to take deep breaths and practice mindfulness and self-compassion. Honestly, even now putting these moments in words has produced some anxious energy in my body.
There is One who delights in me, in you. There is One that wants tosee us and embrace us every time we show up.
In spite of the anxiety, I still try mostly because performing, whether we like it or not is part of the human experience. Sharing what we have with others through work or on a stage, is part of this life. While it might be preferential for me to share via a blog or from my small counselling office, there is still an element of offering what I have to others and awaiting their response, hoping for love, affection or belonging rather than shaming, judgements or rejection. This is vulnerable. Performance is vulnerable. And according to Brene Brown, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take to experience connection.” Again, we are looking for connection but … a risk. “How will they respond?” Hence, the anxiety. Blergh.
I have good news. There is a place where this gaping hole of vulnerability, fear and courage intersect with a power of love that swells to overflowing the abyss. To quote Os Guinness, “I live before the audience of One—before others, I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.”
There is One who delights in me, in you. There is One that wants to see us and embrace us every time we show up. The father running to bear hug the prodigal child. We do not need to fear rejection with him.
There is One who wants to review our work and place a crown on our heads, raising us to a place of honour. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ We do not need to fear ridicule or shame with him.
There is One who longs to hear your voice because even in the groans he understands and answers our call with compassion and care. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” We do not need to fear negative judgements or lack of response from him.
Above all people, there is One, that if we turn to him his perfect love casts out all fear. In Christ, we are accepted, loved and even adored. His work on earth made a way for us to experience this perfect connection with God.
If you are longing for connection and tired of performing, maybe it is time to open yourself up to the One who is eagerly awaiting to give you a standing ovation?