Performing Without Fear: Be Self-Less

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Performing, at some point in life, is simply unavoidable -- whether it's speaking in public, performing in a play, competing in a sport, taking a test, or getting a performance review at work. Many people allow themselves to be paralyzed by the fear of performing, which is probably why public speaking is people's number one fear. Others just get nervous. And some absolutely love performing.

How do we learn to love performing? Or, at least, how do we overcome the pressures, fears, and concerns that seem to accompany any performance-related activity? For the next couple of months, we're going to look at practical and spiritual ideas and strategies that will help us overcome our fears and make us feel comfortable performing.

  1. Realize that fear about performing is usually selfishness in disguise.

Selfishness? How is this possible? Well, what are we afraid of when we perform? Why are we afraid?

  • We're afraid of what other people might think of us -- of what we're doing or saying.
  • We're afraid that we'll mess up, that we'll look foolish, or that people will laugh at us.
  • We're afraid that we won't live up to others' expectations or our own expectations.

In essence, we're afraid because we're thinking about our own image. Our fear comes from thoughts centered on ourselves. When we think solely of ourselves, we're being self-centered, or selfish. Do we really want to be selfish, and therefore fearful? No.

Others of us may get caught up in the more usual concept of selfishness -- ego. We really want to impress others -- friends, family, teachers, bosses, athletic scouts -- with how awesome we are. But we really can't control other's opinions of us. So, we become nervous because:

  • We're looking for praise or compliments.
  • We're looking to glorify ourselves.
  1. "Express, don't impress."

How do we glorify God? We express God, which means that we stop worrying about making mistakes, stop trying to impress others, stop trying to control the reactions of the audience, stop thinking about ourselves. One of the best explanations of how to express God is found in an anonymous poem which my high school drama students always made sure I shared at "Circle" (before the curtain rose) during the run of every theatrical production I directed. It goes like this:

Others may be art glass of rainbow hue.
I would be a pane of glass for the sun to shine through -- A clear pane, a clean pane is what I would be, Unconcerned with temperament or personality. I would have Love shine through me, So that friends of me would say Not, "What a lovely pane of glass!" But, "What a lovely day!"

If we're trying to impress others, we're trying to be the colorful art glass whose beauty is only in itself, and therefore, is limited and static. But if we're focusing on expressing God, we're being the clear, clean panes of glass not concerned about opinions, not caught up in nerves, not hampered by personality, not driven by ego to impress others. Instead:

  • We're simply letting "Love shine through" each one of us.
  • We realize that the beauty and excellence of the performance comes from Love, from God; therefore, it's limitless and infinitely diverse.
  • We stop worrying about others and actually enjoy being a transparency for all the beautiful qualities God is -- strength, dominion, intelligence, poise, balance, ease, excellence, and much more.

When we realize that all we have to do is express God, we gain a greater sense of confidence. We eliminate fear because we know that God is doing the work: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it" (Phil 1:6). It's God who succeeds, God who impresses upon others just how awesome God is. By expressing God, we realize that the real reason why we perform is to give.

  1. Perform to give. Focus on others.

Our performance is a gift. Sharing the gift of performance is vitally important to our own and others' lives. Once again, it requires us to take our thoughts off ourselves. We eliminate selfishness (and fear) by focusing on others, on what we're giving to the audience, to the other team members, to those in our company, on the stage, etc.

  • If you're giving a speech, making a sales pitch:
    • Think more about how you can meet the needs of your audience or client than how you can prove your point, get the "A," make the sale.
    • Think of public speaking less as a performance and more as a conversation. Conversations don't have the same type of pressure.
    • Make it your goal to put the audience at ease so they can listen to your message. If you're not thinking about yourself, this is easy to do.
  • If you're in a play:
    • Think about your character and his or her emotions, characteristics, qualities. That way you're not caught up in your own nervousness.
    • Focus on what the other characters are saying (not what you expect them to say or do) so you can respond and react appropriately with real emotions and actions that are not robotic (and may not work if something unplanned happens).
  • If you're in a team competition or involved in a group project at work:
    • Think about how you can work together, rather than seek individual glory.
    • Support, encourage, and applaud the other members of the team.
  • If you're involved in an individual competition, task, or test:
    • Focus on the qualities you are expressing -- such as grace, agility, intelligence, timing, etc.
    • Practice doing and being your best. That's all anyone can ever ask of you.

No matter what type of performance we're doing, when we stop focusing on ourselves, start focusing on God by expressing God's qualities, and give to others, we conquer our fears. We find that we're relaxed because we've turned to God.

We read in the Bible, "Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God's words…. That way, God's bright presence will be evident in everything" (The Message, I Pet 4: 10, 11). Why is it so important to make God's presence evident in our performance? Because performance isn't about us; it's about God. God is the Performer. And next month, we'll be exploring that topic.