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Mortified: Tapping Into the Transformative Nature of Nervous Energy Mortified: Tapping Into the Transformative Nature of Nervous Energy

Mortified: Tapping Into the Transformative Nature of Nervous Energy

by David Nadelberg
February 17, 2013

I make a living off of nervous energy. As the creator of a stage show, Mortified, where people share their most embarrassing childhood writings in front of total strangers, this topic has gradually become my unusual area of expertise. 
 
In the 10 years since I began shepherding the project, I have had the unique opportunity to witness people's two biggest terrors collide: their fear of public speaking and their memory of their teenage self. This combination has created a petri dish for people's innermost anxieties to flourish. It's been exciting watching their nerves rattle over the years, and I don't say that due to any perverse sense of schadenfreude. I say that because it's simply exciting to watch someone confront something that terrifies them, and transform because of it. 
 
From my vantage point, as a guy standing next to them backstage in the moments before they walk to the mic, I can see the panic set into their eyes. I hear the shortness of breath. I witness the pacing. The anticipation makes them as delirious as it does nauseous, and there's something infectious about that. Thrilling, even. 
 
They range in professions. Some of them are teachers. Others work at law firms or tech startups. Interestingly, the ones who do come from performance backgrounds—singers, stand ups, actors—are often the most freaked out by the process. Ultimately though, none of that ever matters. Because in the minutes before they're finally ready to "share the shame" with an audience of several hundred strangers, their resume inevitably dissolves. All they bring to the mic is their personality and energy. When they walk off stage after their first time, they usually can't recall what just happened. "It was a bit of blur," they say, somewhat intoxicated. "But I think they liked it." 
 
I can't say that these moments have an impact beyond one night for them. But for me, the aggregate of watching this pattern happen all these years has been hugely transformative. I get nervous for them and feel exhilarated when those nerves are rewarded with applause. It's a rush that energizes me, and keeps me fueled for the next.
 

 

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