Updated: Dec 4, 2018
I love performing. I was part of the drama club and music programs all throughout school. I'd audition for coveted saxophone seats in band, competing against my own classmates and kids all throughout the region. I loved the adrenaline rush I felt when I got up on stage in front of people, from my own family listening to me play new pieces on the piano at home to the thousands of people watching me up from the bleachers in MetLife Stadium. It was a form of artistic expression for me, a way to connect with others at a safe distance. I didn't have to be up, close, and personal--I didn't have to be myself.
When it came to presentations and public speaking, however, I no longer felt the thrill of performing but instead felt immobilized by fear and anxiety. My knees would often buckle, and even though I'd try to hide the trembling in my hands, I couldn't hide the shakiness in my voice when I spoke. My family and friends would often be confused when I told them that I felt so nervous. They'd ask, "But you perform in front of so many people on a regular basis. Isn't that the same kind of stage fright when you have to present in front of the class?" Back then, I never really reflected on why public speaking made me terrified, but I've realized it's because I'm forced to be myself, not anyone else.
Being uncomfortable in my own skin for many reasons made it difficult to stand up in front of people without hiding behind a character or an instrument. Expressing the emotions that I preferred to lock away in a box and swallowing pride without using music as a chaser was scary. It made me not only afraid of how people would perceive me, but also how I would view myself. I think that's why it was also difficult for me to have heart-to-heart talks with people, especially those who I cared about most. I was forced to accept my faults, my negative emotions, and my wrongdoings and admit to my family or friends how much I really cared about them. It forced me to break down the walls that prevented me from being too vulnerable and close the distances that I felt comfortable living in between everyone else and myself. I was afraid of getting hurt, but it also hurt me knowing that I had hurt the people that love me most in this world.
I'm still learning to be the character that is myself, declaring the lines that don't come from a script given to me but from my own mind and heart. I'm still learning to be vulnerable. The wonderful difference between playing a character and being myself is that there's no deadline. There's no big performance that I have to prepare for, nor is there a right way to play this part. I can take my time learning about who I am, and I hope that I will continue doing so all throughout my life.