This I Believe: I Believe In Feeling Nervous

May 21, 2020

Essayist Sierra Astle

I believe in feeling nervous.

I love every sensation. From the way my heart trembles deep in my chest, to the twisting dance my stomach does inside my body, and even the unsteady wobble of my legs underneath me. In a way, it’s comforting. It’s the purest form of living. You’re narrowly focused but see your entire environment in stunning clarity. In every breath you inhale all the world’s oxygen, and yet it’s never enough. You’re driven toward the completion of one goal, one task. Nervousness is a unique state of being, one that I’ve learned to appreciate.

I’m a musician. I play the horn, and get nervous before auditions; I always have, and I always will. And to be honest, I used to hate it—I mean, why wouldn’t I? In the past, I pushed those feelings aside. I would try to settle my rampant heartbeat or still my trembling fingers. In time, I was successful; I could convince myself that I wasn’t nervous. But it only worked if I told myself that what I was auditioning for didn’t matter. So, for a while, that’s what I did. I would tell myself that it wouldn’t matter if I failed. I blew through mistakes with apathy; I pretended that repertoire I had poured so much effort into didn’t matter. I still made it into bands—that didn’t change. But I was always last chair, and I couldn’t figure out why. I practiced; I went into auditions calm. I thought I was doing everything right.

This changed for me the day of my first real high-stakes audition. I was going through my motions of apathy, telling myself that this didn’t matter. My teacher saw me trying to calm myself and came to sit down beside me. He asked if I was nervous. I responded that I was trying not to be; after all, my life would go on if I didn’t make the audition. What he responded with has stuck with me since. He said, “It’s alright to be nervous. It means you care about what you’re doing.” He then gave me a pat on the shoulder and left.

I thought about what he said and, for the first time in a while, I walked into an audition room terrified, and just...accepted it. It was alright. I couldn’t hold my horn still and I cracked notes that I usually nailed in practice. But suddenly the piece I played came alive, brimming with energy, even with the mistakes. My phrases had emotion. My notes and rhythms transformed; organized sound had become music. I finally cared about what I was doing, and it showed.

I got first chair for that audition, despite the nausea that threatened to overcome me while I played. Now, when I feel nervous, I lean into that feeling. I let it envelope me; it means I’m passionate, it means that I care. It means that whatever I’m doing, I love, and love is worth being nervous about.

I believe in feeling nervous.

Sierra Astle is a sophomore at Penn State majoring in energy engineering.