The One Question That Will Resolve Performance Anxiety


You can’t see it, but I get performance anxiety. My stomach knots, my palms sweat, my nerves fray, my breath is uneven and my thoughts are scattered. In the past week, I got it to some degree or another for: a meeting with our company, a big lunch meeting with a client and a networking event. Each time, the comparison to or reaction from other people was at stake.

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Have you been there?

A recent difficult situation for me was speaking on leadership and customer service to managers for the Minnesota Vikings and USBank Stadium. It’s a brand new stadium and an undefeated team playing my favorite sport. My good friend who works for the Vikings invited a colleague and me to speak, and I didn’t want to let my friend down.

The dimly purple-lit room was filled with people eating dinner when we arrived. My two third-grader boys and two of their friends were with me (because, Vikings), and getting them through the buffet line in the dark room didn’t help my nerves.

With five minutes to show time, two things happened. First, the screen wouldn’t display our slides, so the concepts we were going to explain wouldn’t have the visual support. Second, we were introduced to John (not his real name), their “customer service consultant from the Disney Institute”—only one of the best customer service programs in the world! John sat down directly in front of us, folded his arms and gave us a look of Show me what you got, brother.

I assumed that everyone in the room was asking themselves questions about me like, Who is this guy? Why should I listen to him? Why didn’t he prepare better and bring supporting visual aids? Why are his kids not paying attention like focused soldiers?

I went to sleep that night with stomach cramps and woke up the next morning with stomach cramps.

Have you been there?

When I’m there, I ask myself this question to release the cramps in my head and my body: Where does my value really come from?

Sports psychologists and mental health counselors provide very helpful coaching and insight to mitigate performance anxiety, and at the heart of the remedy is this question: Where does your value really come from? Is it your performance? Or does it come from somewhere else?

It’s such a profound question because it challenges the source of performance anxiety: comparison to or reaction from other people. Does your value come from how you compare to other people? Does it come from how other people react to you? It’s an identity question. It pushes you to determine what really defines you.

We all have to answer the question for ourselves. And it’s central to our ability to perform and engage, to show up well. Research affirms it. A study from Dale Carnegie suggests that the driving factor of employee engagement is feeling valuable for who you are as person, not just for what you do.

Where does your value come from? Are you a human being or a human doing?

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