"The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates

- - scatterings of ideas sent to my younger self, a sensitive girl who was fooled into believing she was a boy because of anatomy - -

Monday, 29 May 2017

Handling the Pressure

I will start this post with a warning for all my transgender friends: do not put yourself in danger. Know your audience. Be safe and do what you need to do to stay that way. 

This post is a reflection on thriving in situations when others would be distracted and fearful. I am going to use analogies with sports and performance to think about living authentically. 

As regulars here will recall, I enjoy the game of golf - a lot. I used to watch golf on television for hours, but really the best part of golf for me is not watching somebody hit great, sometimes amazing shots. What impresses me has to do with the bigger picture. There are golfers who can dominate in competition. Pressure doesn't seem to phase them. When asked about how they do this, it is clear that their focus stays in the moment. One shot at a time. They aren't paying attention to what others are doing , or thinking about what others might think, or how important this next shot is. They know where the ball needs to end up. They have the skills to get it there. They are oblivious to everything else. 

Similarly, I love playing music. I look forward to performing in front of an audience; it really is the point of all that work after all. As with a sport like golf, one works very hard to develop the skills needed to be able to rely on your body to accomplish your goals. The big picture is the ability to rely on those; to trust them to be there, as you perform for others. I've been asked many times what my secret is. How does one stand in front of others and play, sing, or speak without seeming nervous? Mostly, it has to do with being as totally immersed in the details of the activity as possible. It seems to me that being nervous has mostly to do with two things: feeling unprepared, and letting your mind wander to thoughts of what might happen if ....  In other words, getting distracted. 

If you know you are going to be out in public doing something where others might pay attention to you, get as prepared as you can. Like the old joke says: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice."  Then trust yourself when it is time to head out into the public eye. Self doubt is the great destroyer, whether you are trying to play a sport, or play a sonata, or walk down the street as your authentic self for the very first time. 

Believe in yourself. Be confident. Stay in the moment. 


  1. Hi Halle,
    All true and good advice except you may have left out one ingredient – nervous energy well controlled can also be a boon, just as learning how best to handle the situation when things inevitably sadly go astray. Even the legendary Jack Nicklaus is prone to that, as he was once at our club for an exhibition match and on his very first stroke he hit a hideous hook way out into the lake to everyone’s hushed amazement. He then proceeded to block out his second tee shot, which was another “shocker” of an over -correcting slice which landed on the next fairway. Eventually he settled down, to handle the situation in the way he always does being the great sportsman and person he is. So I would say by all means believe in yourself, be confident, stay in the moment but as added point don’t be afraid of a few nerves or mishaps which can all be harnessed or recovered for good effect.

    And with golf have you noticed all the best players have a knack of usually playing within themselves and only occasionally attempting the riskier shots? As far as I can see they are all drawers or faders – as it’s easier than trying to hit it straight unless a short pitch. You might be interested to know the best round of golf I ever played was one where I became more relaxed as the round progressed. So that I started playing for the middle of the greens and hitting irons short just to play safe. By the time I reached the 17th I had such a good best score ever I elected on the 17th Par 3 (which was with a long water carry with thick fiendish rough behind) to deliberately hit into the front bunker for safety first, to surprisingly hole out for a birdie. On the last par 5 with just a 3 wood off the tee to avoid out of bounds, played the other fairway all the way up the hole to be through the green for 3. Only to hole out for another birdie. Next week with too high an expectation I shot 16 shots worse for the 18.
    That seems to sum up all you say doesn’t it? Enjoy the moment but play within yourself.

    Best wishes

    1. Such great advice. When things don't work out (and inevitably that will happen, no matter how well prepared you are), being able to accept that and move on is essential. I've never played a piece of music in public without having many things not go quite as I wanted.
      As to the golf, my game improved immensely when I developed a swing that gives me a slight fade each time. I can confidently play down the left side knowing I won't get into trouble there. Having said that, now and then a shot gets wild and as with Nicklaus, all you can do is tee it up again and trust that eventually your training will give you a good result.

      Every woman can relate to a wardrobe failure that can't be fixed until you are home. You do your best, knowing that the world isn't going to end.

      What a great experience that golf round was for you. Congratulations on staying with the game plan.

      All the best to you too Lindsay.

  2. I am in total agreement with what you say. I would add, from my experience of giving lectures on science research, that it always helps to hold something in reserve. Do what needs to be done, but don't let the ego show off its full capacity.

    I wonder if it is only the 'flawed' ones amongst us that sees the truth you have spoken of, for we know only too well the need to 'be safe'. Strength through weakness!

    1. Golfers call the holding in reserve "playing within yourself". To me that is part of having confidence. When the ego gets into the picture, disaster cannot be far away, truly.
      "Know thyself" comes into the 'be safe' part too. Taking some partly developed idea, or skill into the public eye creates too much stress and that means distraction. Some years ago I was playing a show and thought it was pretty easy until we got to the exit music, where, just for fun, the composer decided to change the key on a piece that was featured in the show earlier. It felt horrendously difficult in this new key. I went home that night and played scales and arpeggios in that unfamiliar key until it was as familiar as any other. It became and still is part of my comfort zone.

      temet nosce

  3. The more I have focused on making myself comfortable the more I have been able to drown out the world and it's fickleness. What they see I don't care but I trust that it is someone comfortable in their own skin which is all you want

    1. I couldn't agree more. You have said it very succinctly Joanna. I have to say that in my own case, I have seen so much less of fickleness than I ever would have dreamed.