Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Performance Anxiety

The phrase "performance anxiety" is most often associated with men and sexual performance. I can't really imagine what that version feels like, either physically or emotionally, yet I realize that I have my own version of the phenomenon. And I suspect that I am not the only woman with it. Mine, alas, often gets mixed up with what I wear.

Just last week, I was unexpectedly invited to join a friend for a weekend in Boston. Not long after I accepted, I began to go into a performance anxiety mode: What if I couldn't look good enough for the weekend; would I be OK, good enough, worthy of the invitation, living up to imagined expectations? I realized that my favorite, sexiest clothes were back in San Francisco, where I couldn't get them in time for the weekend; my new hot shoes for the season were, indeed, back there, too. When I found myself thinking that I needed to run out and try to buy something so I could look good enough (for what?!?) on this trip, I stepped back to notice this reaction. Had I really been invited for the weekend so I could perform as a fashion accessory? Who did I think was judging me and against whom did I think I was performing? Why was I so concerned about my appearance - is that why I thought I had been invited along, to be eye candy?

This kind of anticipatory anxiety was certainly exhausting and preoccupying. I imagine it is not so different from what men go through when they begin worrying about whether they can perform well enough as lovers. Once I let go of the impossible expectations I was imposing on myself, I found I was able to relax into the weekend and just plain enjoy myself. I showed up for the day in a tunic and leggings that always make me feel good, and for dinner on Saturday night in a dress I had with me in Madison, and guess what? I had a great time - just being me, not trying to perform up to anyone's expectations of style icon.

I'm not saying I don't love dressing up, dressing for an occasion, expressing myself through what I wear. But letting go of the anxiety about how I might be judged based on my sartorial choices and being in the moment was a breakthrough. Hey guys, are you listening? There might be a lesson here!

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