(also called: nightmares coming true, or stepping into fear and out the other side.)
I’ve been freelance graphic recording for about six years now. The first few years were honestly terrifying. Lots of sweaty palms, butterflies, mistakes, a few tiny wins, but mostly moments where I slammed up against my shortcomings. Of course in the long run this helped me see where I wanted to grow and improve, which was great.
That said, despite many years of experience, I still get nervous and excited before each gig. Every job and client is different. You never know how things will pan out. I like to think these tummy butterflies help me do my best work for clients, to be vigilant with my preparation, and make sure that clients and I are on the same page.
I’m always gripped by pre-event dread about all the things that could possibly go wrong, and how to mitigate them. Luckily, the worst of them never eventuate. Sure, with big events, things pretty much always go off course and get messy, but they never fuck up in the ways that I fear most.
Until a couple of weeks ago.
The pressure built from the outset — I would be a key focus on the stage under lights and cameras, in front of 100’s of people, important delegates and ministers. Upcoming clients came and chatted with me, remarking how they couldn’t “wait to see me in action today”.
The client wanted pre-made templates for the presentations, which I pre-drew in advance. But while on stage, I realised to my horror that the content being presented did not fit the templates. The session plan had changed, and I had not been informed. My blood went cold. I attempted to correct my scribe on the fly but the structure was completely wrong. I attempted to start afresh with a new sheet of paper but it fell down and ripped in half on stage. Additionally I couldn’t hear the speakers because of people rehearsing behind my board. Then someone ‘borrowed’ my tubs of markers. All I had left to work with were a stack of post-it notes and the marker in my hand.
For anyone watching I looked like a fumbling newbie trashing sheets of paper and scrawling tiny notes on post-its. They must have wondered what I was doing up there. At the end of the session, all I had to show for myself were a scattering of post-its on a whiteboard.
Afterwards, I was quickly shuffled out of the conference room for an awards ceremony. I carried a bundle of ripped paper and post-it notes home and over six hours, with some shots of tequila to calm my nerves, I attempted to recreate the scribes into something I could give to my client. At the end of the day they were happy and repeatedly apologised for giving me the wrong information.
In hindsight, I did my best given the situation, which I feel proud of. It was an unsettling experience but on reflection I learnt two important things:
- Stepping into your worst fear or a nightmare scenario, and coming out the other side has the powerful effect of expanding your comfort zone. Yes it is like being winded at the time, but if you can re-frame the experience in the right way you certainly feel stronger.
- At the time I was so stressed by this experience, that I reached out to friends and graphic recording peers. Through being open about my experience I was able to receive their love and support, and learn about some of their nightmare experiences and tips for developing resilience.
Sign up to my monthly newsletter for fresh thoughts, art, writing, and an invigorating hit of keeping it real.