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Performing Under Pressure


“Pressure isn’t supposed to break us. It’s designed to make us.”

When I was a little girl, I was an amazingly good speller. So much so that my fellow students  would call out my name when the teacher asked who wanted to participate when we competed in a spelling bee against a rival class. There were, in fact, many times when I spelled the final word that brought victory to our class and earned me the respect of my peers.

But there was one teensy little problem: the pressure of standing up in front of everyone and spelling a word that I might miss was unbearable. I mean sick to my stomach, need to stay home from school, I think I’m gonna throw up, please don’t make me participate, unbearable. Never mind that nine times out of ten I spelled the word correctly, the pressure I put on myself kept me from participating in something I was actually good at doing. And what’s worse, the fear of not being as good as I thought I should be — or as good as I thought others needed me to be — oftentimes kept me from doing anything at all.

50 years later, I’m not paralyzed by the pressure of performing, but it still occasionally rears its ugly head. Like when it’s time to handstand — in front of someone, on camera, or in front of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime scenic opportunity. I know good and well I can do a handstand, but somehow I get all in my head and start thinking what if I can’t do it? What are people going to think? What if I keep kicking up in front of this statue and can never hold it? Would it be better to simply walk away and feign illness/fatigue/disinterest so I don’t chance making a fool of myself due to lack of a perfect performance? (I’m perspiring right now just thinking about it.) And I find myself doubting my success before I even begin, saying things like, “I can’t always do it,” or, “It may take me a while.”

But it’s the pressure, and pushing past it that makes us stronger. If I never put pressure on myself to perform under pressure, would I in essence be allowing myself to be mediocre and never push myself to work harder? Is it the pressure we experience while attempting to perform (or kick up into a handstand) that in fact makes us stronger? Do we need a certain amount of pressure in order to grow, improve, and experience the exhilarating feeling of success?

I suppose the alternative is giving up and telling myself it’s OK to avoid the unnecessary pressure of performance. I mean, I am 58, why pressure myself into doing a stupid handstand in front of a mural? The answer is because it’s important to me and because I want to do it. As a little girl, I let pressure hold me back, not yet understanding the idea of regret and the learning that comes with occasional failures. As a woman, however, I know what it’s like to beat myself up for not making the attempt, and understand that an occasional embarrassment won’t follow me for the rest of my life. Even more important, I recognize that time is fleeting, and if it’s important, you find a way to push past that fear of performing, and make yourself do it no matter what.

I still fall out of handstands sometimes, and it still takes me a few times to kick up — especially when I’m performing under pressure. But I can now say with confidence that the pressure didn’t break me; it helped make me.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share with others if you like what I wrote.

Pretty sure it took me 92 tries and whole lot of pressure to kick up in front of this mural. But I did it!



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