“I was quiet / you were reckless / and the boys liked you better / and in truth I did mind”

I forget who pointed me towards this New York Times article on how different students handle the pressure of competition differently, on the different ways we all handle stress in general, and on how stress can both benefit and hinder us, but it has implications for those of us building creative careers:

Studies that compare professionals with amateur competitors — whether concert pianists, male rugby or female volleyball players — show that professionals feel just as much anxiety as amateurs. The difference is in how they interpret their anxiety. The amateurs view it as detrimental, while the professionals tend to view stress as energizing. It gets them to focus.

I remember that one of the single things that helped put me most at ease about public speaking was learning when listening to a con panel of professional singers that people who perform don’t have some magical gift for not worrying … they just accept the worry as something that will always be there, and somehow flow with it.

It may be that many people who do things–any sort of things–don’t have a gift for confidence so much as practice-earned experience pushing through their lack of confidence. A useful thing to be reminded of.

Also–no surprise–standardized tests really aren’t a good measure of how we handle stress and competition, among other things because they lack the benefits of many other forms of competition:

Taking a standardized test is a competition in which the only thing anyone cares about is the final score. No one says, “I didn’t do that well, but it was still worth doing, because I learned so much math from all the months of studying.” Nobody has ever come out of an SAT test saying, “Well, I won’t get into the college I wanted, but that’s O.K. because I made a lot of new friends at the Kaplan center.” Standardized tests lack the side benefits of competing that normally buffer children’s anxiety. When you sign your child up for the swim team, he may really want to finish first, but there are many other reasons to be in the pool, even if he finishes last.

2 thoughts on ““I was quiet / you were reckless / and the boys liked you better / and in truth I did mind””

  1. I am the children’s librarian at Douglas Public Library in Douglas Arizona. I am the beginning phases of planning the summer reading program for 2013. Would you be interested coming into the library and speaking? I know that you did it in previous years.

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