Deer in Headlights

I’m just going to come out and say this: I have terrible stage fright. There’s just something about the way all those eyeballs are focused on me when I’m up on stage that turns me into a deer in headlights — frozen still as a statue as the 10-wheeler of shame bears down on me.

I think I’ve always been like this. When I was three years old, my church had a Christmas pageant and each Sunday School class had to present a special number. My class was supposed to do a dance routine to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Unfortunately, I didn’t know we were going to present something; while I mastered the steps, I treated our rehearsals as just another Sunday School game. On that fateful Sunday, I got dolled up in a frilly white shirt, red skirt, black Mary Janes. When we got to church, they put antlers on me and colored my nose red, just like the other kids. I still didn’t quite have a clue even as my class filed out onto the stage and we took our positions. Then the music started.

The rest of it is a complete blank in my memory, which is pretty much close to what I did anyway: I just stood there on stage, my eyes as big as saucers, frozen in front of that sea of eyeballs. (It didn’t help that I was smack in the center of the formation.) The shame of it came later, when I saw the photos my parents had taken of that performance. The other kids were captured giving their all on the stage, while I just looked lost and forlorn. It was embarrassing.

Stage fright has dogged me for the rest of my life. During elocution contests and class reports, despite knowing my material back to front I still get butterflies in my stomach, my voice shakes, and my muscles go rigid. Sure, stage fright is warranted in such situations because you’re being evaluated. However, I’m prone to getting stage fright while ordering at a McDonald’s.

To psychoanalyze myself: I’m trying to make up for that first on-stage failure. The perfectionist in me wants a flawless performance in everything, but it’s self-defeating because I tense up even more. Maybe if I pretend it’s all just a game (and you’re allowed to make mistakes in games), I can get over it.


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