Performance Anxiety

Anxiety…it’s a familiar word for many people. I think most people experience it at one time or another, others are constantly plagued by it. I fall into the second category. I won’t bore you with too many details, but when it comes to being an artist anxiety is an interesting thing. On the one hand, it can serve as powerful inspiration. Some of my favorite works of art were born out of my own anxious thoughts or feelings. But on the other hand, anxiety can prevent a person from performing pretty basic tasks that most people find easy, thus making it difficult to be successful long term.

I always thought I was destined to be a successful artist. Maybe not famous, maybe not full time. But I thought I would make a name for myself at least locally, or apply my skills in some profitable way. Funny that never happened.

I think part of my problem is I can’t perform well if I’m feeling pressured to please other people. When I was in school I would occasionally get a request for a drawing or something like that and for whatever reason I just couldn’t do it. I remember being a teenager and my school bus driver asked if I would draw her a picture of a tree so she could make it into a family tree. I happily agreed. Then the anxiety set it.

What kind of tree was she looking for? How big? Using what materials? Color or black and white? Realistic or stylistic? These are some of the questions I had spinning in my mind. I could have asked her but I never did. Instead I got on that bus every day for the rest of the school year empty-handed and feeling guilty. Each time I sat down to draw that tree I decided I was doing something wrong, this couldn’t be what she wanted.

It was just a tree. And yet it defeated me.

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