One morning, a little before 8:30, in a brightly lit room, I got nervous.
Mouth went dry, voice got louder, jaw got good and tight – fear can have such a physical grasp, can’t it?
In a handful of minutes, 40 people would walk into this brightly lit room, sit down, and wait for me to speak.
There are a million and one tips on nerves and fear. Breathe deep, Yo-Yo Ma says. You’ve got to just walk out on stage night after night, Aretha Franklin says. Drop your shoulders, slow your speech, visualize nailing it, say the experts.
I like these. More than liking them, I like knowing that even the top dogs get grasped by fear.
But the thing that helps me most in the thick of those dry-mouth, loud-voice, tight-jaw moments is some old John Wayne cowboy wisdom from who-knows-when:
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.
I’ll tell you, it doesn’t make those nerves go away. But it is a reminder – an, “Oh, right, yes” – that there’re more parts to me than fear. And I’ve got to choose which part I’ll answer to.
So, 8:30 hit. Forty chairs filled with forty people waiting for me to speak.
And the thing I told myself as I walked to the front of the brightly lit room, the thing I tell myself every time I walk to the front of any room, is just some old cowboy wisdom:
Nothing to do now but saddle up.