When trying to do something new or hard, especially when people are watching and waiting for you to perform, it’s common to find yourself lacking in confidence and courage. I know I often do. That feeling of trepidation and nervousness can either make you flee from the scene, in the worst case, or else make you tighten up, impairing the quality of whatever you’re doing. Rather than giving a free-flowing, self-assured effort, you second guess yourself, inhibit your output, for fear of criticism and generally have a miserable old time of it.
Sometimes, you can feel very alone and isolated, when trying to do something that requires fast and deep learning, or which is difficult to do well. You feel like the eyes of the world are upon you and that if you don’t measure up, you’re through. Somehow, you feel you’re performing a high wire act, without a net. Even when nobody is looking and the struggle is entirely with yourself, to push forward and try something way outside of your comfort zone, for purely personal accomplishment reasons, that freezing feeling that we all sometimes feel makes it difficult to push on and try.
This feeling has a lot in common with stage fright, so it’s useful to get some tips and hints from actors, in order to overcome that dread and loathing which can accompany doing new things, or doing them for a new audience.
Actors use visualisation techniques to get in touch with their inner confidence, before performing. My friend, a superb and experienced actress, says, “Before I go onstage I assume an inhalation of light which inhabits. I envisage myself glowing. It’s always worked.”
What a fantastic way to envisage yourself! Rather than feeling inadequate, ordinary and like an impostor, you instead breathe in light and allow it to infuse your body and soul, settling comfortably, as if back home, until you feel radiant. She assumes it, like a birthright, if I understand her correctly. There is no asking or begging. Instead, it’s a gift from the universe, to which she is entitled, that she simply receives. This visualisation is a metaphor, of course, but what a powerful way to ready yourself for what you are about to do. Simply breathe. Let the light reach every part of your being and then go on.
The Australian actor, Aaron Pedersen, who has native aboriginal ancestry, has a similar thought in mind. He says, “I’ve always believed, when I walk into a room or do my work, that I’ve got all the men, all those ancestors past, standing right behind me. A million men are here with me right now in this room. That’s how I think men should always think, always carry themselves. They should never feel like they are walking down a street alone. I’ve always felt that I have a world of warriors right behind me, hovering at my shoulders.”
I take great comfort in that idea. You’re never alone. The survivors that are your ancestors, who overcame immense difficulties just so that you could be born, are right there with you in spirit, willing you on and protecting you. With their strength and solidarity, you cannot fail. Their strength augments your own. Brave warriors, who persevered and survived, are with you.
This idea particularly appeals to me, because my ancestry includes marauding Mongols, actual Cossacks, hardy mountain men and Vikings. It should be a surprise to nobody that I rebel most against being subjugated or micromanaged. What else should anyone expect? These people, all of them, are the reason why I exist at all. Facing my own challenges and difficulties is easier to bear, when I imagine all of those people enduring the many privations of their lives, just so that I could be here.
Another friend of mine, a keen singer and chorister, said, “Someone told me that when you sing to an audience you are pouring love into their souls via their ears.” That’s another lovely way to envisage what you are doing. You’re not performing for critics at all. What you are doing is one of the most generous and selfless things it is possible to do – you are filling another soul with your love.
Courage and self-assurance are very necessary, but sometimes elusive. When you feel daunted, afraid, discouraged, inadequate or lacking in what you think it takes, just remember these very useful visualisations.
You are not alone. You are radiant. You are loving.
As an artist, or even just as an ordinary human being, those are wondrous things to be.