The Benefits of Anxiety
It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I signed up for it anyway: to read some of my writing in front of an audience. I was so anxious about it, so afraid that I might freeze while in front of everybody, that I might panic and cut my reading short so I could be anxious in solitude, that I practiced immensely. I read and reread my piece aloud to myself. I cut words I stumbled on. I shortened the superfluous. I practiced some more. And when it came time for me to get up in front of a big group of people to read my own writing — I didn’t trip up on a single word. Not for three minutes.
It took until I sat back down in my chair afterward, hands shaking, adrenaline still coursing through my veins, thick like syrup, that I realized I had done it without messing up at all.
How could I have done this well on something I was so anxious about?
The answer lies within the question. My anxiety made me prepare to nearly a point of excess. I practiced until it would be harder to fail than to succeed. And then I did it: I delivered. I read my secret writings, my vulnerable words, and I did it in front of writers and teachers and academics. A nightmare if you ask an anxious person.
One might argue that the reason I did well was because I practiced. And one would be right to say that. But the reason I practiced to the extent I did was because of my anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t a blanket affliction, covering everybody in exactly the same way, but it seems to me that those with a propensity to feel anxious operate just a little differently. They tend to think things through before doing them. In the example of reading in front of an audience, an anxious person might think about all the things that can go wrong: losing your spot in your piece; locking your knees and fainting (this was a sincere fear of mine); panicking during your reading and needing to leave halfway through.