Allow me to wax philosophical. I have a violin performance coming up in a couple of weeks. It’s not a big deal but my debilitating performance anxiety makes it seem so. I have had to work just as hard on performance as I have on scales and Bach. In my quest I came across a newsletter written by Jeff Nelsen, a well-known and very successful french horn player and leader of a series of workshops, articles, and audio files entitled Fearless Performance. I found this image in one of Jeff’s articles:
The Magic Line. The idea here is that you work really hard, spurred on by a healthy fear of failure that compels you to the practice room, but then during the performance you drop the fear and just share what you’ve learned so far. The line is the green room, the waiting in the wings before you walk onstage. It’s where you go from preparing to performing.
I picture the Magic Line to be at knee height, for some reason. And because my stage fright is so severe and starts so early (like now) my Magic Line is more like a wide Magic Zone. Picture a horizontal, knee-height shimmering force field like Spock might have encountered in the early days of Star Trek. When I am practicing pieces I know I will NOT be performing my Magic Zone is nowhere to be seen. When I am practicing something I WILL have to eventually play for someone, my zone hovers beside me, nudging sideways on my knee. That is, I am outside the zone but I know it is there and it feels dangerous. It feels solid and sharp. Historically, when my Zone shows up I run.
But what if I did something different? What if, instead of running away, I step INTO the zone, just along the edge? If I agree to a performance, however far away in time it might be, I have stepped into my Magic Zone. If I do that, I’ll be scared and I might jump back out. I do that a lot. But what if I don’t? What if I stand firmly in the Zone? I might find that the Zone is not solid but completely painless and, in fact, it isn’t harmful at all. In fact, I might find I can live with in the Zone quite peacefully. There’s no danger here, I might find. I don’t have to fear. In order to find this out I have to STEP IN. Take the risk. Play the concert.
We as doctors must do a similar thing. We spend many years in preparation for our performance of medicine. In fact, we continue to prepare all the time, that’s why it is called “practicing medicine”. We study and work with a healthy fear of not being able to treat our patients as they deserve. But then we stand outside the exam room door. Our Magic Line. There is always a little bit of tension before we open the door. What will we find? What will this patient need from me? Am I adequate to the task? Will the patient like me? We have to drop everything we’re afraid of, all the problems of our day, and step in to our performance space, our exam room, to share what we have learned. For some of us the Magic Line is a Zone. Maybe my anxiety over what patients I will encounter or if I will be able to help them starts when I get up in the morning, or the night before. If I’m a surgeon maybe the Zone starts when I book a patient for surgery.
We could run away. We could pretend we are somewhere else, distract ourselves with paperwork, computers, prescription pads. We could protect ourselves from the Zone by not committing to our relationships with our patients. But then we bring our fears over the Magic Line and don’t perform as well. And our patients aren’t helped as much.
Drop the fear. Step In. Share what you have learned.
Image copyright: in transition, flickr, CC-BY
Article last time updated on 25.02.2016.