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Plan On Being Nervous, Brilliantly

In: Finding Your Voice

Being nervous sucks.

Your pulse races. Your brain blanks. Your hands shake like little assholes. You tell yourself to take deep breaths, but the minute you do, you then worry that the entire room can see the fact that your heart is, in fact, doing the electric slide up and down your rib cage. (God help your soul if you’re wearing Spanx.)

We’ve all had these moments—we’re a nervous bunch, you know? (Yes, even the confident ones.) Whether it’s the big pitch, the client call, the bridesmaid toast, the conference speech, or that one thing you’ve been meaning to tell that special someone person you desperately want to see naked…when all eyes are on you, things can get weird. i.e. You can get weird. i.e. YOU’RE BEING TOTALLY WEIRD.

For the record, I classify most talking as public speaking, because someone smart once said that life was a stage and I believed them.

Also because anytime it's not in your head, it's public, right? So basically what I mean to say is that mostly every word that comes out of your mouth is a form of public speaking, and let’s face it: Public speaking’s reputation is grimmmmmmm.

But, it doesn’t have to be.

Just this past Saturday, we were en route to East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where I was giving the keynote speech at BlogCon 2015. There I am, bopping to the beats, enjoying the sunshine, sticking my feet out the window and taking silly selfies, when Carlos says to me:

“I admire you so much. You’re not even nervous. I would be shitting my pants right now.” (Which, for the record, is the worst visual ever, Carlos.)

And I was like:

“Oh, no. I am nervous—you’re always a little nervous—but over the years I’ve learned to use the nervous energy to pump me up—not freak me out.” (At which point he looked at me like I really was an alien.)

Actually, the past two weeks have been full of mentally demanding situations that many people might get a little pulse racy about. Over the course of fourteen days, I had an incredible book meeting in NYC at the #1 independent literary agency in the world (!!!), two 7-hour days of court depositions, several important client meetings, two weddings to attend (one of which I was in), and finally, my keynote speech this past Saturday. Coffee, you did me good, old friend, old buddy, old pal.

And sure, many of those scenarios might sound scary—after all, most people don’t pitch books, testify under oath or give keynotes everyday, let alone all in a two week period—but the truth is that the feeling is no different than any other nervous feeling you’ve had…even if the stakes are different. Which is precisely where your advantage lies.

If you know what it’s like to feel nervous about something, then you can predict how it’s going to feel, which means something very important: You can plan for it.

Plan on being nervous.

Which sounds bizarre, because that’s the opposite of what most of us are all trying to do, isn’t it? Most of us are trying like hell to NOT be nervous. Because apparently we think we should be just sooooooo good at everything. Because we think that nervousness = weakness. Because we think that only amateurs get nervous. Because we’re all a bunch of raging lunatics who hold ourselves to impossible standards and then take a big giant ax and heave it down on our own backs when we dare feel something so human as…a beating heart. How dare we get nervous! AREN’T WE BETTER THAN THAT?

The truth is that the body doesn’t care about your resume—it doesn’t care how many webinars you’ve given, or how many times you’ve briefed the president. When you care about the outcome of something, your body knows it. And as a result, you feel like you care about it. Just like you should.

So guess what? That means that you know one thing for sure: You’re going to feel like a total newbie pulse-racing hysteria patient no matter what you’re doing. So why not work with it instead of against it?

:: Instead of berating yourself for being nervous, celebrate (champagne totally optional) the fact that you’re doing something courageous / lionhearted / brave…and totally new. That racy feeling is a sexy sign. How sad would it be if you went through life without feeling anything so powerful?


:: Instead of trying to seem like an impenetrable steel fortress, let your vulnerability—and yes, your nervousness—show. People love seeing real people. (Pro tip: Humor is a great way to do this without undermining your credibility.)


:: Instead of trying to rid yourself of the nervous feeling, learn to crave it. After all, it’s the same feeling that many people pay tons of money to get. 🙂 Think: Skywalking, wind walking, zero gravity flights, …and maybe even some of that Fifty Shades of Grey action. The only difference? You’re likely furthering your career…not just tooling around. Which makes whatever you’re nervous about? A total win/win.


:: Study public speaking. But, for real. You might not be able to trust your insides, but if you can trust that the words will come out of your mouth the right way, you’ll instantly feel 150,000% more confident. And isn’t that the point?


:: And the best way to make peace with your nerves? Is to play with ‘em. Take every opportunity you can to get nervous. Shock yourself every day with your actions. Go hunting for uncomfortable situations. And then… sit with them. Let ‘em be uncomfortable. See how you do. Test yourself. Play. Life is nothing more than one big test tube—so why not get to experimenting?

Let’s face it: You're never going to rid yourself of your nerves no more than you could rid yourself of your digestion. But maybe you don’t have to. Maybe the most brilliant way to be nervous?

Is to be nervous, brilliantly.


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