[Sept 2013] Under Pressure

I found some interesting contradictions about my behavior under pressure. I remember the times from my childhood when I played the accordion, and I had to play on every possible occasion and celebration in our village. Since there were not many children around who were playing on instruments, playing in an orchestra or a band were not possible. There was only me, playing in solo, sitting on a chair on the stage by myself, with my accordion in my hands. I often had to play in front of hundreds of people in the theater room of the town. I can still recall that anxious feeling that made my stomach turn, the heart palpitations, and the unbearable nervousness that accompanied me before the performances. I didn’t like it. I hated being on the stage all alone, and I was always terrified of it, sometimes more, sometimes less. I never admitted to myself for years how I felt about it, I just did it because I felt I had to. I considered it a challenge that I simply had to face over and over again.

I also remember how much I loved playing soccer from the day I had discovered it in a summer at the age of eleven. I was playing all the time. I was crazy about it. I fell in love with the ball. On the other hand, I remember how much I hated playing in the youth teams. Every single match was a torture to me. I was nervous and fearful before and during the matches, all the time. I always felt a strange tingling in my stomach that made my strength and courage go away. It made me unable to concentrate and fight. It made me unable to enjoy the game and play freely. Instead, I felt the constant pressure from my coach and the few spectators watching us, that paralyzed me. Long years had to go by until I could finally enjoy playing freely, during my university years, mostly because there was no external pressure in those matches. I have memories of important games with a significant stake, where I could gather and focus all my strength and concentration, and performed very well several times. But later on, during my studies abroad, where I played futsal at a very high level, all the bad experiences from my childhood came back and repeated themselves because of the excess expectations of my psychopath coach. I used to have nightmares for years about having to play football at an unrealistically high level where I felt horrible because of the fear of failure and getting exposed. I remember the feeling that my body didn’t obey my intentions and I couldn’t execute moves I wanted to make.

But in intellectual areas, I have never felt such anxieties before that made me crush under pressure. I actually loved it, I loved expectations because those made me even more motivated. It made me perform on an even higher level. I loved to outperform the expectations, and most of the time I succeeded at it. I enjoyed the live situations, the tension they provided, and the motivation and energy they gave me to perform even better than when I was practicing at home. And I always performed much better than any time before. Exams, school competitions, presentations, customer meetings, I loved them all. It made me feel alive and important. I was always confident, sharp, focused, and successful.

Until about a year ago, when everything started to change, on that work conference where I had sort of a panic attack before a presentation, and I had to escape the scene. Since then, performances and presentations like that make me anxious and terrified. I hate visiting customers, I can’t handle pressure and expectations, even everyday social interactions can make me nervous. Just like the soccer matches in my childhood. Every expectation and responsibility stress me out, a deadline, a simple task to do, talking to a stranger where I have to suit certain norms, a date, a meeting with a customer, let alone presentations in front of dozens of people.

So then, how is my relationship with pressure and expectations? I don’t really know…

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