My freak-out happened at the hair salon. My day was going along fine – even with the flat tire, the missing T-ball glove, and the general anxiety surrounding my public-speaking debut that night. But really, I was fine up till that point.
Thanks mainly to the incredible massage I’d gotten that morning, the yoga class the previous evening, and the massive amounts of water, green tea, and positive affirmations I had been gulping up all week. Yes, it IS possible to binge on relaxation. And that’s exactly what I was attempting to do to keep my fear at bay.
But then I got to the hair salon and discovered my stylist was out sick. The place was mobbed with prom girls and bridesmaids and the clock ticked ever closer to show time. Suddenly, I was shivering and shaking, literally knock-kneed with anxiety. Deep breaths… I texted a friend to talk me off the ledge and saw a message from the show’s director: the makeup artist was a no-show. DEEPER BREATHS…
Look, hair and makeup may seem trivial, but may I remind you that I was preparing to step onstage in front of hundreds of people, bare my soul but hopefully not my bra straps, keep my lines straight, my head on straight, and stand up straight, all while having the entire experience immortalized on film and YouTube FOREVER?! No pressure!
Part of my preparations included reading advice from Susan Cain, the author and TED-talk rock star behind “Quiet: The Power of Introverts…” She says to override your body’s avoidance or “stop system,” which tends to act up when faced with something scary like giving a speech, you need to stimulate your “go system” by doing something that makes you feel “up” and excited. For me this meant going on lots of short, frenzied runs with the dog and blasting Haim in my car.
I also asked everyone I knew for advice on stage fright, nerves, and public speaking. I got some good tips, too. “Pretend you’re reading your kids a book,” said a friend’s husband. He also steered me away from doing pre-show vodka shots. “Stick to wine.” (I did – white wine, so as not to tarnish my Crest Whitestrip-enhanced smile.)
Slow down and relax, and remember that the audience doesn’t have the text in front of them, so you need to read in a way that they can follow the syntax of the sentences, advised my dad, a retired college professor, frequent public speaker, and regular reader at his church. (Most of us do this naturally when reading to our kids.)
“Remember that everyone in the audience is excited to be there and wants you to do well,” said a friend with theater experience. It’s true – this wasn’t American Idol, for Pete’s sake!
Because I’m mildly celeb-obsessed, it also helped me to learn that even famous people suffer from stage fright, like Adele and Hayden Panettiere. (I KNOW! Nashville’s little spitfire in stilettos, Juliette Barnes, afraid of performing in front of a crowd?! Give that girl an Emmy, because I’d never guess it.)
I’m pretty sure Juliette also would’ve been thrown for a loop – or thrown a hissy fit or a wineglass, more likely – if HER hair stylist called out sick. But after my short freak-out, I handled it. My hair turned out fine. I did my own makeup. I drove to the theater, I got dressed, I bonded with my fellow nervous cast mates, and the clock ticked ever closer to show time.
And that night I walked on stage, with my shaky legs and knocking knees, and performed the first reading in Baltimore’s inaugural Listen to Your Mother show. And I rocked it.
“Better than Cats,” said my smart-ass but wildly supportive husband. “Better than your grade-school tap-dance recitals,” said my irreverent but wildly supportive parents. “You were awesome!” said my totally biased but wildly supportive friends.
“Fear does not burn out, but sometimes the shadows cast by the thing you’re afraid of are larger and more frightening than the thing itself,” wrote author Elizabeth McCracken. That was certainly the case for me. And from this side of the experience, the thing I feared feels a lot like pride, strength, and gratitude.
QUOTE O’ THE DAY: My girl Lupita Nyong’o, recently named the World’s Most Beautiful Person, says she heeds the advice, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I think I’m good for 6 mos. to a year, don’t you?
THANKS O’ THE DAY: A big, heartfelt thank-you to everyone who came to see us, old friends and new, those who couldn’t be there in person but were there in spirit, and everyone who played in part in this amazing experience. I am truly grateful and honored.
Here’s a photo of some of us cast members before the show, taken by the lovely Jen Snyder, whose love of color inspired me to rock turquoise jewelry with a magenta dress: