In honor of all things spooky this Halloween week, I wanted to cover a topic that many of you have been asking me about: Dealing with STAGE FRIGHT! MUWAHAHAHA!
No but really. It’s something pretty much every person who has ever had to get up in front of other people has experienced. The sweaty palms. The light headed-ness. The forgetting everything, including your own given name, even though you prepared and practiced for days. The choking, stumbling over words, talking too quickly or too loudly or too softly like that one girl on Pitch Perfect. Joyous. All of it.
Fear has followed me around my whole life, like a little gremlin that preys on my deepest insecurities, whispers lies to my mind about all of the terrible things that are going to happen to me, and how I’m not good enough, a failure, unprepared and inadequate.
When I was 8 years old, my mom put together a musical production for our church called “Women At the Well”, which depicted stories of women in the bible who were healed or ministered to by Jesus. Guess who she asked to play Jairus’s daughter, the young girl Jesus raised from the dead? Little ol’ me.
The thought of getting up in front of a lot of people and singing a SOLO ALL BY MYSELF just about made my knees buckle out from under me. I was beyond scared.
I remember on the night of our first performance, I had to wait until several other women had sung their songs before I was up, so I sat backstage by myself, in the dark, listening. My heart was pounding so loudly in my ears that it was all I could hear. When the time came, I remember stepping out onto the stage into the lights and not being able to see anyone in the audience, which was actually oddly comforting.
I started singing, hesitantly and quietly at first, but as I sang, I felt the most wonderful, warm feeling come over me. That comforting warmth helped my heart stop racing, helped me feel calm and remember all of the words to the song.
It was like Jesus himself was there beside me, wrapping his arm around my tiny shoulders and helping me share a story about Him and His miraculous mercy that he showed to that little girl just like me thousands of years ago. What a powerful experience that was!
Several years late when I was twelve, I sang that same song again at a church talent show and felt the same beautiful reassurance of God’s love for me. I learned from a young age that fear can be overcome and cast aside completely by love. Love for God, love for the people I’m singing for or with, love for music.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.”John 4:18
In more recent years, it has become very difficult for me to sing when I’m filled with fear because my vocal chords literally stop functioning, my heart races like I’m running full sprint, and I forget how to do simple things like BREATHE! Ha!
I hope you know that if you experience a paralyzing fear of performing, being in front of people, singing, speaking, or sharing your heart with others, you are not alone. Our bodies and minds go into fight or flight mode when we feel threatened, stressed, under pressure or vulnerable, so it’s ok and normal to feel scared, anxious, nervous or afraid.
But I want to encourage you to accept and embrace fear as part of being a performer, because for most people, it’s not something that will ever go away completely. Stage fright is something that you can learn to cope with and embrace, not necessarily triumph over, so be gentle with yourself as you learn how to push through it in ways that work for you.
Here are some practices that have helped me deal with stage fright, anxiety, and fear when it comes to performing:
Practice does not make perfect, but practice does make you prepared.
I lost sight of the value of practice in recent years because usually I was able to pull off pretty good performances without doing much work beforehand. But I have since learned that practice and preparation are absolutely essential to growth and to helping maintain a sense of inner peace and calm.
Do the necessary work! Practice! A little bit every day goes a long way. When it’s your time in the spotlight, you can have peace knowing that you’re ready and capable because you’ve done it before and you can do it again.
And then when the show’s over you can feel peace in your heart knowing that you did the very best you can do, and that’s all that matters.
Enjoy your process.
By choosing to stay present every step of the way leading up to a performance, you can feel fulfilled and happy knowing that even if everything goes south once you set foot on stage, at least you had fun during your practice!
Enjoy every practice session and really find joy in your process, so there’s not as much pressure if things don’t go perfectly (they never do) and you make mistakes or mess up on on stage.
If you’re stressed and choose to be fearful and miserable during your practices and rehearsals and think you’re suddenly going to feel joyful when the show’s over, you’re sadly mistaken. You will feel the same inadequacy and doubt after your show that you felt beforehand. Try to let go of your perfect expectations in the middle of your performance and really enjoy yourself!
If you’re not experiencing joy in the process, you’ve missed the whole point of using and sharing your talents and gifts.
I can’t tell you how many times a heartfelt prayer has strengthened and enabled me to do something I’m super scared of.
We are human.
We are weak.
We need to draw on a higher source of power to give us the strength, confidence, and peace we need to be able do what we are asked to.
This applies to all areas of life, but I find great comfort and assurance in knowing that I did my part and though it might not have been enough, God can help make up the difference for me when I sing or perform. He can carry the spirit and message of the song into the hearts of others in more powerful ways than any of us can on our own.
Allow failure to be your tutor, not a tragedy.
I think fear of failure is the biggest reason we experience stage fright.
I’m absolutely terrified of making mistakes (which I inevitably always do), making a fool of myself or disappointing others. But guess what? I’ve done all of those things repeatedly, countless times, and still lived to tell the tale.
The audience didn’t stand up and leave when I forgot my lyrics or played the wrong chords on the guitar. No one threw tomatoes, booed, or pointed and laughed at me when my voice cracked or I sang a little off key. In fact, sometimes those mistakes became great opportunities to laugh, acknowledge my humanity and make the audience feel more at ease.
On our last tour, I went into every show hoping and praying that nothing would go wrong, that I’d hit every note and nail every song and just bring the house DOWN!
Without fail, every single night multiple things would go wrong. I’d mess up. Our mics would stop working. Our in-ear monitors would have the wrong mix or not work at all. We’d forget things or stumble over our words or have to push through the awkward vibes from a crowd that just wasn’t feeling it.
We’d get hit with curve balls every single show and would have to just roll with it and keep going!
Fear is not going to kill you unless you allow it to.
Even if the absolute worst case scenario happens, you are going to survive. And you’re going to learn a whole lot and become a better performer and person as a result! So welcome and embrace failure, because it’s the best tutor you’re ever going to have.
Keep things in perspective.
Each performance is just that, one single performance.
One tiny, almost insignificant moment in the grand scheme of your life.
One brush stroke on the canvas of your experiences as a human being.
I know it can sometimes feel like the world is crashing down around us when we make a mistake, but keeping things in perspective can help us realize that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28).
Every moment builds on the last one, helping you grow into who you are meant to become. Be present. Keep things in perspective
Remember, you are so loved.
I have been saying this to myself every single day both in my mind and out loud:
“I am so loved.”
Remembering how incredibly loved you are can diffuse your fear like nothing else can.
When I am filled with love, there is no room for fear. Fear cowers at the sight of love. When you live a life full of love, fear no longer has power over you. Fill your heart with love.
Love those who support and love you and your music.
Love the Lord.
Love your family.
Do all things with love so that fear does not dictate your decisions and actions, both on stage and off. Be gentle with yourself. Speak kindly to yourself and others.
Always remember that you are so loved.