I once had to stop and go to the bathroom twice on a fairly short van ride to a cross country meet. I was well-acquainted with the port-a-potty line at every high school meet. Why? Pre-race nerves. I was that kid. The one who gets so nervous before events her bladder goes into overdrive and inconveniences the heck out of everyone. I was almost always more nervous than the situation called for.
I used to shake on the starting line. I'm from south Texas, so it was rarely cold enough for this to be shivering. Sometimes I felt like I was going to throw up. And I always, always, had to pee.
Fast forward ten or so years, and I'm still a nervous person. Especially when I have to speak in front of people, but even before minor 5K races. But there is a difference now, and the difference is how I let those nerves affect me.
I realized this last week in Sunday school. Our class was practicing something called storying: one person memorizes a Bible story (not necessarily word-for-word), and tells it to the class. The class then goes around the room, each person saying one part of it. Then one person volunteers to try and tell the whole story. By the end, the whole class will be familiar with story in a different way than from simply reading it over and over again.
I volunteered to lead last week, along with a friend. We memorized the story of the Transfiguration, in Luke 9:28-36. I thought I would be nervous about it all week. And I was. But not in the way I was expecting. Every time I thought about it, I just practiced it to myself and envisioned saying it successfully in front of the class, and I was fine.
On Sunday morning, I was a little more nervous, but I kept imagining (and also praying for) success in telling the story. And it went well. I didn't leave anything out. I'm always critical of how nervous I sound when I speak in front of people, but I'm going to go ahead and call this a victory, because (1) I didn't have to pee; and (2) I did it!
On the drive home, I reflected on what brought about this change, realizing I am much less nervous in general than I used to be, and that I'm at a point where I can be really nervous without letting it negatively impact my performance.
Part of it, I think, is growing up. Becoming an adult means learning to do things you don't like and to do things without letting your feelings get in the way. But I think being exposed over and over to situations where I was really nervous is also part of it. And that's why I'm grateful for high school races: they were opportunities to face, over and over again, the nerves I couldn't stop myself from having, and learn how to work around them.
I don't think I will ever step up to the starting line of a race I've invested myself in, or stand in front of a gathering of people to speak, without feeling those jitters. And I'm okay with that: they're part of who I am. Now I know how to use them and how to get past them to do a good job. And I don't think I would be there yet if it wasn't for all of those teenage racing nerves.