Stage Nerves Because We Care?

Part 2 of Really Such Things as Stakes?

“Being nervous is a good thing! It means you care.” I hear that statement thrown around a lot. You?

Some people even say we should feel nervous when we perform, because if we aren’t, it means we don’t care enough! I can see how that refrain might feel warm and fuzzy and comfort our judgments about being nervous. “See, nothing’s wrong with me for feeling nervous! I care!”

To be clear: that first part’s right. There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with feeling nervousBut is it True that it means we care?

I don’t know about you, but I do many things every day I care about. I don’t feel nervous doing them. Does that mean I actually don’t care?

And what about you? How many things do you do every day that you care about? Do you feel nervous doing them? I’m guessing not.

So, if feeling nervous means we care, why don’t we feel nervous when doing everything we care about?

And not to mention, if feeling horrible was a prerequisite to doing things we care about, why would we even want to do them in the first place? That doesn’t sound like an enjoyable life to me!

Here’s my theory: Feeling nervous when performing or auditioning does mean we care. It means we care too much. Specifically, about the outcome. We think it better go perfectly OR ELSE. We fear who we are is in some way riding on how it goes.


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But if you’re familiar with my work, you know I don’t think there really is such thing as “stakes”. Sure, we might not book a job. People might not like us. We might even feel bummed for a bit. Or a while. Or is that just me? 

But what happens to us – good or bad – has no impact on the wholeness and perfection that are our true nature. Who we are at our core, underneath all our thoughts and conditioning, is never at stake.

So for me, feeling anxious is just a welcome alert that I’m caught in that old trick of the mind again. “Oh, there I go, thinking I’m at risk again! 😂” And since I know that can never be true, I just think, “Whatever”, I show up, and do my thing.

It seems to me then that this popular refrain, while well-meaning, is a curious and somewhat backwards one. It’s like a bulletproof vest we put on to protect ourselves from the bullets of “stakes” and judgment.

But the ENTIRE game changes once you realize the gun is shooting nothing but blanks. Blanks might make loud noises, flash muzzle fire, and even startle you. But they can’t actually hurt you. And no outcome, no matter how much it might look otherwise, can ever hurt who you truly are.

No vests necessary. Isn’t that a relief?

Nicholas Pallesen

Nicholas Pallesen is a transformational coach and mental performance expert who has performed internationally at companies such as the Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera, and many others. He specializes in helping performers get out of their head and into their life. In addition to working with individual clients, he regularly speaks at conservatories around the U.S. and U.K. and is on the faculty of Wolf Trap Opera and the New World Symphony. To learn more, visit www.nicholaspallesen.com.