• Melissa Koons

I Urge You To Be Nervous

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

Ignore the advice that tells you being nervous is an awful thing you have to repress. Instead, I urge you to be nervous. Being nervous means that you care. You should care.

I Urge You to Be Nervous.

When I make a networking connection, I’m nervous. When I get up to speak at a panel, I’m nervous. When I read my work aloud, I’m nervous. When I talk to new clients or prospective ones, I’m nervous. I used to be ashamed or embarrassed to admit I was nervous. When I would go into job interviews, I hoped that they wouldn’t notice the slight shake in my voice. When I got my first classroom and had to introduce myself to my students for the first time when they were already 4 weeks into the semester, I hoped they couldn’t see my uncertainty about what to do next. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I was nervous, but what’s so bad about being nervous?

Being nervous shows that I care. I care about doing a good job. I care about how I present myself. I care that I provide accurate and correct information. I care that I make a positive impression. I care that I make a connection. I care about what I do and the people I meet in my life. I care a lot. Why should I be embarrassed or ashamed of caring?

For some reason, we are conditioned to think that showing our nervousness, or admitting it to others openly, is a sign of weakness. We are told that no one will take us seriously or care about what we have to say if we are shaky or fidgety. We are made to believe that everyone will judge us negatively and move on to the next candidate if we show even the slightest bit of nerves or hesitation. To a degree, this is true but being nervous is not a weakness—thinking that, is.

Despite what elaborate fears we have crafted around the stigma of being nervous, I have never had someone notice my shaking hands or the quiver in my voice only to leap up, point at me and shout to the world “She’s nervous! What an idiot! Don’t listen to her!” That just doesn’t happen. If it ever did, well, you can bet that person has some deep emotional problems and should probably seek professional help. After arriving at this realization that there is no “nervous person” witch hunt, I relaxed and started to really think about my nerves critically.

To help overcome my nervousness, I started admitting that I was nervous. First, I admitted it to myself. I would feel my hands get shaky and my throat would become dry; that’s when I would admit to myself, “I’m nervous.” Denying what was happening didn’t make it go away because I still cared very much about what I was doing. I wasn’t going to suddenly stop caring about my career or the person I was sitting in front of. That would be horrible if I did and I would seriously need to reconsider my life choices if it was that easy to turn off my ability to care.

I had feared that admitting my nervousness would amplify it. As if suddenly accepting it would send a signal to my body to freak out more. It was just the code phrase my sweat glands were waiting for in order to kick into gear and pit out my shirt. But, instead of making things worse, admitting it made it better. Admitting to myself that I was nervous allowed me to ask the question: why? Why was I nervous? After the dramatic flashes of being dragged out of the conference rooms by a touch-bearing mob, logic kicked in and answering the question was easier than I anticipated: “I’m nervous because I want this job,” “I’m nervous because I want my students to respect me,” “I’m nervous because I want to do my writing justice,” “I’m nervous because I want to provide a good service to this client,” “I’m nervous because I want to provide helpful information to the attendees of this panel,” etc. With my answers, I was able to come up with solutions that actually helped to calm my nerves (not just scenarios to escape a McCarthy-style trial.)

My solutions started with figuring out: what would be the worst thing that could happen? Typically, my nerves were a product of fearing the worst-case scenario. I didn’t want to mess up—I cared very much, after all. After weeding through the dramatic imaginings of natural disasters, alien invasions, and flash mobs, I would think through the logical worst-case scenarios. “I won’t get the job,” “I will have a bad day and need to crack down on my classroom management,” “I will lose the client,” “I will need to answer questions and elaborate.”

It basically came down to: “I will need to try again.”

None of the worst-case scenarios were as awful as I feared, and all of them could be remedied in one way or another. If I didn’t get the job? No problem, there are more jobs and I can apply to another one that will be a better fit. If my students didn’t immediately respect me? I would still teach them and crack down on my classroom management to ensure that my procedures were learned and that education took place in my classroom. If I didn’t provide the service to the client’s standards? I would revise it until I did, or thank the client for the learning opportunity. If I didn’t provide the best information at a panel? I’d answer questions and provide the opportunity for others to reach out so that I can clarify or give more pertinent information.

Knowing that there was more I could do to correct the worst-case scenario made my nerves dissipate. I didn’t have to just ride the waves of inevitability. I cared, and there was something I could do about it.

Being able to admit it to myself was the first step. Most of the time, this was enough. I problem solved what I could do in case the situation got the best of me and I was unable to perform to the best of my standards. Being able to say those words, “I’m nervous,” was almost relaxing because I was able to accept, “this is what it is, and here we go.”

The next step was a little harder: I had to admit I was nervous out loud. I chose to first admit it to friends, family, and my support system. They would offer advice or words of encouragement. They would talk it out with me if I felt stuck in my processing and help me reach a productive conclusion. It was amazing the weight that dropped from my shoulders with such a simple action. Admitting it out loud to the people I care about showed me that I didn’t need to be ashamed or embarrassed. I felt loved, encouraged, and empowered to take on the task at hand.

Even with all that love and encouragement backing me, even with the ultimate plan and solution for the logical worst-case scenario (because you just can’t plan for an asteroid or a robot uprising) sometimes my nerves were still there. I still cared too much, darn it!

That’s when I mustered all my strength and did the final step: I admitted it to my audience. In a job interview, if I was a little shaky I would admit, “I’m a little nervous,” with a smile and a follow up about what I thought of the position and why I wanted it. In my classroom, I would admit to my principal or coworkers “I’m a little nervous, what methods work best for these students?” In a panel I would admit to my co-panelists, “I’m a little nervous, may I speak second/last?”

When I admitted to these people that I was nervous, I never had a bad reaction. I never had someone laugh in my face or a mob suddenly form to call me an imposter and forcefully remove me. I never had them judge me negatively, or think that I was weak. The reason? Because I admitted my nervousness in a positive way. I didn’t treat it as a weakness, I used it to show that I cared and asked them for advice or to be patient with me. I turned my nervousness into an opportunity to self-advocate and to empower myself. Caring is a strength, and I will not be ashamed of that.

If I apologized for it, if I told the interviewer “I’m so sorry, I’m really nervous,” that does have a negative connotation to it and did not work so well in my favor. That’s because by apologizing for it, I’m viewing my nervousness and caring as a bad thing and am then projecting that to my audience. I did not get those jobs, but that’s okay. I learned to embrace my nervousness and to show what really mattered: not that I was afraid, but that I cared. If you think that this is silly, that’s okay. Think of it this way, though, don’t you want people to care? Don’t you want your candidate to care about the job? Don’t you want your teacher to care about educating you and ensuring that you learn? Don’t you want the person you hired to care about the work they do for your project? Don’t you care that they care? I do.

I don’t know why a large part of our society wants to deny the fact that we care or have attachments and feelings for things. Isn’t that kind of the whole point of living? I mean, I find it much more fulfilling that way but that could be just me. Caring is a strength. It’s what keeps us fighting for what we want. It’s what keeps us going and trying time after time to succeed. That’s why I urge you to be nervous. Give a damn and own that you do.


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