The dates on the calendar blaze with fluorescent intensity, pulsing at the same rate as my heart, faster as the appointed times approach. Court proceedings, speaking engagements, big-mountain adventures, events that I am hosting, and all manner of public and private appearances inspire in me a level of self-consciousness that I thought that I had shed with puberty. Along my synaptic highway, my nerves are prone to shifting into overdrive.
Appearing implacable to a casual observer, my insides are in turmoil as I contemplate the (mostly) ridiculous ways that I might make a fool of myself. Will I summarily forget my years of legal training even though I am so well-prepared that I am reciting arcane caselaw in my sleep? Loquacious to a fault, I nonetheless fear that my tongue and brain will forget their long courtship and I will be rendered speechless on stage in front of a thousand people. A skier since I toddled, heading out on backcountry missions with a new crew can make me feel that I am better suited for the bunny hill.
Fortunately, these unproductive concerns do not stop me from engaging in my chosen vocation and avocations. Time, introspection, and a lot of deep breathing have lessened the impacts of overactive nerves. Yet, it is a continual work in progress. I do not use the term “work” casually. It is with sometimes great effort that I force myself into situations where my fears will be triggered. It was the same with my innate claustrophobia: I conquered it by squeezing into ancient pyramid chambers and paranoia-inducing SCUBA swim-throughs.
I have a nuanced view of my nerves. They torment and might eventually kill me. But their flutter pushes my performance to a level that I do not believe I could attain were it not for the low-level fear coursing through my veins. The goal, as I begin my slow approach to 40, is to obtain the same results without so much stress and heartache.
Confidence is a mask worn by many. With very limited exception, we harbor internal doubts that are self-defeating and self-limiting. As with the social media effect, we watch performers or speakers and assume that they are on a higher plane than we are; that they are immune to the plague of worry. However, underneath the veneer lies vulnerability endemic to our species.
Understanding that nerves and self-doubt are part of the human condition not only unites us, but should free us from the shackles that heretofore bind our actions and speech. Each of us possesses the power to inspire, to educate, to commiserate if we would only give ourselves the chance. It is not only the naturally extroverted that can stop us dead in our tracks. I imagine that there are millions, if not billions, who have the secrets to life held captive inside. Once they figure out how to unlock this manacled wisdom, the world will be a better place. Certainly, we should not be limited to commentary from the blusterers who seem to dominate discourse; those loud fools who lack the self-awareness to experience nerves.
Reaching this level of self-understanding, I try to view my calendar not as a minefield of potential ruin, but an archipelago of opportunity. The happenings that I fear the most are also those that give me the greatest joy. And, not just when they are over.