In the dark of the theater tech-room, I had command of all the gear. All the blinky lights and faders and knobs. I love to tinker and to play with tech, figuring it out as a I go along. I can get pleasantly lost in analysing their layouts and imagining the grand spectacles that can be coordinated with them.
But I was not a pro. And in fact none of us were. I just happened to be at the command center of this thing. This thing that was put together by 8 students with somewhat inflated egos and ambitions (myself included).
Today was not a rehearsal. Today was the day that Callie Shell (Obama’s Photographer), Richard St. John (8 to be Great), and a handful of CEOs and other leaders would come to inspire 800 fellow students. We had invited them, and for some reason, they accepted, and soon it would be time to bring them on stage to tell their stories.
Slowly my awareness drifted away from the gear and out into the slight chaos below. People walking on the stage, pointing and gesticulating as things were carried and arranged. The last minute whirlwind of preparations. And the buzzing of voices in my earpiece.
“1 hour till doors open, is everything ready to go?”
My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t know how to answer that question.
I’ve never actually done this before. True, I know which button starts the music, and which button fades the lights… but what if someone comes on stage before the music is done, should I fade the music out? Nobody has really told me what to do in response to every possible scenario.
“When do we turn off the lights and start the music?” I asked back over the radio with noticible panic in my voice. “And how will you know it’s time to get on the stage and start the introduction?”
I had another 10 questions ready to burst out of my brain… I had no business being up here I thought to myself. We haven’t rehearsed enough! And who was I to call the shots? The audience is gonna laugh at our mistakes, and it’ll be all my fault.
As I was having my personal mental breakdown, I leaned over the balcony and looked for a familiar face below to save me.
I locked eyes with him and began to transfer my anxiety to him in the form of panicky and poorly considered questions.
I still remember what he did. Instead of getting overwhelmed or coming to my rescue, he paused what he was doing for a second, looked at me calmly and said:
“Hey Oliver, You decide. You got this!”
He actually stopped what he was doing, amidst all the last minute chaos to face me and to make sure his message arrived.
“You got this.”
The noise around me quieted by his calm statement of permission and trust. Nobody had actually explcitily given me permission to decide before. I was always waiting for someone else to take the lead, and looking for someone else to take the responsibility.
I realised that in that moment I had a choice to make, to step up and do my job, or to fall apart and crumble under the self imposed pressure.
I radio’d back “We’re good to go here!" and I knew I’d be able to go with the flow and make things work.
The show went off without a hitch. And of course nobody noticed (or cared) that I faded the lights out a bit too soon, or started the song for that segment half a second later than I actually wanted to.
Looking back, it’s clear to me now that something about those words snapped me out of my downward spiral.
So now I try to notice when someone else is in a self imposed downward spiral, when it’s clear that they have everything they need to succeed, but just aren’t rising to the occasion.
That’s when I try to summon a bit of that same calm and encouraging tone that said to me “You got this”.