I had to get out of the house.
I could hardly stand to be in my own skin.
I was so scared, so incredibly nervous about what was about to happen.
So, I put on my Nikes, walked out the front door, and started walking fast up the hill near my house. I shook my arms, made funny noises, and did everything I could to let go of the anxiety filling my body.
This was 20 years ago. I’d recently started singing and performing again after 18 years of not singing so much as a radio jingle. And I had an important singing gig coming up in just two days. I was freaking out! Because I’d developed this bizarre form of stage fright where my mouth and throat would dry out so drastically I could hardly sing a complete phrase without choking on my own tongue.
It was hell.
So, as I tried to walk off my anxiety, my mind kept dropping fear bombs, taunting me with thoughts like, “What are you, nuts? This is going to be a disaster! You can’t even get through the fourth stanza of “Can’t Help Loving That Man” without drying up. You’re going to make a fool of yourself! You should try to back out now.”
The power and velocity of the fear and dread I was feeling became so fierce and mean, I couldn’t help but cry as I tried to walk it off.
But now, as I look back on that day, I do so with a massive ton of gratitude.
Because during that walk up Fredericks Road, past the fence covered in pink jasmine, past the pasture with those funny, tri-colored, unsheered sheep, I developed a little process that allowed me to get a grip, silence the relentless voice of fear and dread, try on a new perspective and reconnect with my higher (and wiser) self.
I call this process, The Interview.
When used in a timely manner, this process can save you from a drowning in a dark well of despair, fear, and self-pity, or spinning out with anxiety, or becoming paralyzed by the belief you’re doomed to fail.
Here’s how it works.
Anytime you’re freaking out, falling into fear, doubt, anxiety or darkness, don’t try to push it away or bury it in a pile of positive affirmations. Instead, grab some paper and a pen, and sit down at a table or a desk. Once you’re settled, invite that nagging, negative, doom-and-gloom Voice of fear and worry to sit down in the chair across from you. Just pull that Voice out of your head and plop it down into a chair where you can look it straight in the eye.
Then, invite that Voice to fully have its say. Give it the space and time to rant and rave, scream and whimper, whine and wig out… while you listen with complete objectivity. And take notes.
You are the Interviewer. That Voice is your Interviewee. So, lean in. Get interested. Ask questions. Be curious. And feel free to interrupt and offer a differing opinion or observation.
Get curious and ask that Voice what it really means when it says things like, “You’re going to mess this up! It’s not going to work!” Feel free to challenge the statements it makes, but do so calmly, objectively.
Here’s an example:
Voice: This is going to be a disaster! You always get so dry you can hardly sing. And you know how desperate you feel when you come to an end of a phrase and you’re sure you’re going to gag. You could gag this time! Right there. In front of everybody.”
Me: Hmmmm, yeah. I hear you. And I understand because I hate that, too. But it is getting better. And we always come out of it unscathed. In fact, last time, we were fine by the third song.
Voice: Yeah, well, this times the songs are harder. And you still haven’t nailed that one phrase in the bridge of Can’t Help Loving That Man.
Me: You know, you’re right. That section needs more work. Let’s work on it today and get it down pat.
Voice: (suddenly silent)
Me: Anything else?
Voice: Why are we doing this? It’s so nerve-wracking. And you could really embarrass the crap out of us.
Me: Really? You think so? Tell me more about that.
Voice: Well, you know. You could break in the middle of a phrase.
Me: Yeah, and..?
Voice: OMG! That would be so embarrassing! I don’t want to risk it.
Me: Right. I see. You’re scared we’ll fuck up.
Voice: Yes! Yes! What do you think I’ve been saying this whole time!
Me: Well, we could screw up. It’s true. But listen, we’re really well prepared. And no one is going to chase us from the room if I drop a phrase. Lions aren’t going to pounce out of a doorway and eat us. We’ll be okay, no matter what.
Voice: Ohhhh, no! If something goes wrong, you’ll feel like shit for 2 weeks. You’ll beat yourself up and judge yourself so harshly that we’ll be miserable. No, no, no.
Me: [sigh] I know. I do that. I can really lay it on thick when I’m disappointed. How about… I promise not to do that. What if, you and I choose a different option. One where no matter what happens, we’ll take it in stride, laugh it off, and say, “Oh, well! Better luck next time.”
Voice: I don’t know…
Me: Come on! I know you’re scared. But I really want to sing. I love it. Even with all of these difficulties, I need to do this. It’s bigger than you or me. And I believe we can do this. I know it can be a blast. I just know it. But I need you on my side. I need you backing me up. I need you with me.
Me: Just think about it.
What’s cool about this process is it brings your fear out of the darkness and onto center stage. It lets it have the spotlight, be the star, and have its say. And sometimes, that’s all it needs to quiet down and partner with your higher self.
Better yet, when you do this process, you quickly realize that that Voice has very little to say. It basically keeps repeating the same thing over and over. And all of it boils down to:
“I don’t want to.”
“Who do you think you are?”
So… the next time you find yourself “going dark” on yourself, and that Voice is screaming at you, and you’re feeling anxious, nervous, scared, or incredibly sad… or you’re certain you’re going to fail or make a fool of yourself… sit that sucker down and give it your full, objective, undivided, compassionate attention.
Listen. Take notes. Ask questions. Bring your whole heart and genuine desire to understand.
Be kind. But don’t be passive. Offer evidence to the contrary. Hold up your finger and say, “Wait a minute…” when that Voice makes blanket statements like, “You always do this!”
Equally, write down any valid points that Voice may share (like when my Voice mentioned that fourth stanza that needs more work).
The Interview is going to be your best friend anytime you’re stepping up to do something new, to become more and move closer to what you really want. Because that’s when your nervous system is freaking out! You’re venturing into new territory so that Voice is going to be screaming: “Wait a minute! This is all too much! Turn back! Danger! Danger!” simply because it doesn’t know the terrain. It’s scared for you. And it’s trying to protest in order to protect you.
By the way… I don’t get stage fright any more. Not an ounce. Sure, I get nervous and excited before performing. But I don’t get clobbered by fear or anxiety.
Maybe that’s because it’s become second nature to me now. But I think using The Interview has a lot to do with it as well.