Recently I’ve been thinking about the dialectic of control and surrender. It is at the centre of our lives and helps us to navigate our way through each day. Every activity has an element that we can seemingly control, as well as an element of compulsory surrender. There are many examples; one that I’m enjoying using in an academic article I’m writing is the experience of having elective surgery. I’ve recently had an operation and I’ve found it useful to write about notions of control and surrender in a situation such as that.
An interesting point for me has been thinking control and surrender in relation to anxiety and performance. I have been dealing with anxiety & panic for a long time. One of my coping mechanisms is to feel like I have as much control over the situation as possible. Performance is an activity where there is a balance of reasonable control & compulsory surrender. It is not unusual for individuals to suffer crippling anxiety and experience panic attacks related to the elements of performance that they just cannot control. For many, performance entails a compulsory surrender which feels unbearable: to open yourself up to criticism and judgement from others about your personal creative expression. As a result, many people avoid performance altogether.
I don’t avoid it, in fact I’ve made various choices in my life so that my opportunities to perform are many and often. Why would a person like me, someone prone to anxiety and panic attacks, revolve their life around performing? Why not become an accountant? Is it that there is something attractive in the risk, in the surrender, in the possibility of praise as well as criticism? Is it that those of us who perform try to manipulate our sense of control so that the surrender doesn’t feel so absolute? We criticise ourselves, we nit-pick and correct, we practice and polish, we work hard to make pieces which we feel are likely to be well received. We try to predict audience response and manipulate the performance to work in our favour. Maybe a bit of anxiety isn’t so bad for the performer? Perhaps it works as a kind of filter; a risk assessment process that allows better work to emerge. Or perhaps not better work, but at least more popular work.