What makes you nervous?

Last week I had the unique opportunity to play golf with my wife on our dream vacation. We’ve been planning a trip to Pebble Beach for the last ten years.  If you’re not a golfer you probably can’t appreciate the significance of that but a trip to Pebble Beach for most golfers is truly a once in a lifetime event.  I’ve been playing golf since I was a young teenager.  While I’m certainly not an accomplished player I have played more rounds than I can count and I’ve hit probably hundreds of thousands of golf balls on the range. Interestingly, when I teed up on the first tee I found myself feeling nervous.  This nervousness forced me to remember for myself one of the major talking points we share with our students at every exam.

There are really only two things that make us nervous.  The first one is that we’re not prepared.  In the case of a student taking an exam, especially a beginner student, I remind them that we would never test a student unless we knew they were prepared for the exam. So they shouldn’t be nervous because they’re not prepared.  The second reason we’re nervous is because it’s important to us and we want to do well.  I think this is a good kind of nervousness.  It can help you focus better if you realize that the feeling of nervousness is there only because what you are doing matters to you.  In fact, I believe you have to learn to like that feeling.  It goes along with expanding your comfort zone.  If we stay where we’re comfortable then we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to grow.  But if we expand our comfort zone and allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that comes from being a little nervous then we’ll come closer to fulfilling our own potential while continuing to challenge ourselves.

In the case of my golf game at Pebble Beach I knew I was as prepared as I was ever going to be.  I had practiced a lot before the trip.  I had studied the layout of the course.  I knew I was nervous because I had looked forward to the opportunity for such a long time and I was excited to get started.  That nervousness went away as soon as I hit that first tee shot and began walking the course.  If I was taking a math test I’d use the same approach.  I’d study the required material and prepare as much as I could.  That might include asking questions or asking the teacher for extra help so I knew I was fully prepared.  After that I might be nervous when the test started but I’d be able to perform my best and even embrace the challenge of the test after I got started.  I’d also know that I couldn’t control the outcome at that point.  I’d just trust my preparation and do the best I could.  That’s an approach that we can use for almost any situation or challenge we might be facing.

In case you’re wondering – I shot a 90 that day at Pebble Beach and enjoyed a great day playing golf with my wife.  I’ll take that.

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