Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Game Day Nerves at My Job

Tomorrow at work, I have a project to do that is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. The work itself isn't the challenge. What's hard for me is that it brings back memories of my old job, and the three-plus years I spent living in a stress bubble, to put it mildly.

At my last job, I was the script coordinator on an animated movie. Much of my role involved managing recording sessions with the voice actors. At its best, I got to travel on the company's dime and watch some amazingly talented actors perform. At its worst, I'd spend really early mornings and really late nights at the office preparing for these sessions - I got very intimate with a whole host of office supplies.

The meticulousness with which I had to operate - write up the sequences, comb through pages, find typos, format and reformat and reformat again, assemble the 'sides' gather misc. materials - still makes my head hurt. A damning voice in my head would lambast me for any mistake I found during a third or fourth proofread. And the voice screamed louder when - once a year - a typo would slip through to the actor's or director's or producer's binder. The atmosphere of the sessions - for someone like me, a Hollywood minion not a big fishy - was tense. The challenge was to be on-point at all times. Run around and get done whatever was needed. Be able to react to last-minute demands and changes smoothly. Grace under fire. Pressure cooker central.

Inevitably after the records, when my supervisor and I would drive back to our studio, I'd finally uncrank my shoulders and back and relax my brain. The physical and mental stress was a lot to handle. And while I'm a person who likes to push limits and face obstacles, I never felt that the sense of accomplishment superseded all those very uncomfortable feelings.

I spent three and a half years in that role. After the film wrapped, I was offered a similar opportunity on another show at the studio. I did not have another job lined up, so it was a very risky move to make when I declined it. I knew, for the sake of my sanity, I needed something new.
“When you have come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of the two will happen to you
Either you'll find something solid to stand on
Or you'll be taught how to fly" - Patrick Overton
That "something new" is my current position. Not that new anymore - I've been here for 18 months - but markedly different in many positive ways. The leap of faith landed me in a very good work situation, and I'm grateful every day for it. Okay, some days more than others. But I try to show some appreciation daily.

I still work in animation, but in my position, recording sessions scarce. In fact, I never thought I'd handle one again. However, life likes to laugh at you when you think in absolutes like "always" and "never". Life is laughing at me now, because tomorrow I've got to go run a session. And irony of ironies (laugh at me, Life!) it's with an actor I worked with at that previous job. Small-ywood, huh?

So how to combat the 'performance anxiety' about this work? Well, I remind myself that I'm an athlete. And I go and re-read one of my favorite articles, Why Runners Usually Make Great Employees by Olivier Blanchard. Because I don't have a work coach, sometimes I need to find my own cheerleader (this article) to tell me that I'm capable of doing a good job. It's calming to be reminded that my involvement in sports over the last 24 years has shaped my brain to be able to handle almost anything. Deal with the pressure, grit my teeth, stay focused, be okay being uncomfortable, and get the job done well.

An excerpt:
You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.

Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bullshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.

That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.
So I will go to the session tomorrow reminding myself that the stress and the pressure and the demands are nothing I haven't seen before. They're nothing compared to what I put myself through on a bike or a run or a swim. And the same brain I bring to my workouts and races is the same brain I can bring to the studio.

But just for good luck, maybe I'll wear one of my race finisher shirt underneath my work clothes.

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