Beating Performance Anxiety: A Personal Anecdote


For four days each year, Camp Wildwood tumbles inward into civil war.  Split into two teams, blue versus grey, campers devote their every last breath to sports and competition to earn points for their teams.  We learn to overcome fatigue and never to give up.  This is Color War.  On the final night of the games, each team chants fight songs written by captains for big points that often decide the victor.  My third year at Wildwood, my captains wanted to make the Grey McCoy team fight song special with a live guitar performance.  

At Color War’s midnight onset, leaders of team McCoy juggled fight song ideas as they searched for a guitarist for the final night.  Young and inexperienced with the instrument, I could not summon the courage to volunteer myself after all the stories I had heard about the emotional night.  I could only imagine pressure-induced stage fright that would petrify me mid-performance.  But, soon, in the desperate clamor, I suppressed my self-preservation instinct, mindlessly blurting, “I’ll play it, if you want.”


After hours of practice in between sweaty games, Song and Cheer night finally arrived.  My hands trembled uncontrollably, as I had convinced myself that the fate of the Grey McCoy rested on my guitar piece.  But, five minutes and hundreds of anxious heartbeats later, everything went smoothly.  In a 120 point split, 90 for McCoy, 30 for Hatfield, the grey team won the song and the Color War.


In retrospect, I understood that I created my fears in my head.  In the face of a new hurdle, I fabricated irrational scenarios that fogged my perception of the situation.  I realized that I only shrunk back when McCoy captains called for guitarists because of the frightening notion that I would bear the blame if McCoy lost the fight song.  Unrealistically, I feared that the team would expect me to learn the entire song perfectly in the four days.  These illusions blocked the reality that the team was just happy that they would sing to live music, rather than a recording.  Even if I made a mistake, a few, or even many, false notes wouldn’t affect the show.


The experience has resonated with me ever since.  When I was chosen to chant the haftarah at my synagogue High Holiday services, in front of 2000 people, I could coolly break down my fears to control unreasonable worries.  I realized that I achieved a significant feat merely in accepting the challenge.  Without taking risks, I cannot prepare myself to face challenges in the future.  Each time I step out of my comfort zone to engage in some new activity, I gain new insights into my abilities and goals.  I can learn, for instance, that I actually love performing music to an audience.  If I had not offered to play in Color War, I might never have started a band with my three best friends, an integral part of my social life.


What We ThinkJ Swirsky