Why Do I Get Nervous?

Posted: September 7, 2013

The Friendly City Files

A few weeks ago, I talked to Ashton Kutcher about his role in “Jobs,” a movie about the Apple co-founder’s life.

I was nervous before he called. When the phone rang my heart rate, already high, instantly spiked. Even though I soon calmed down, I stayed a little edgy throughout the entire call.

Afterwards, I tried to figure out why.

I wasn’t nervous because he’s smarter than I am. I’m sure he is, but I regularly meet people a lot smarter than I am. It’s not because he’s more successful. Most people are, and besides that, I occasionally talk to entrepreneurs who own 9-figure companies. And it’s not because he’s better looking; I run into people like that every time I walk out the door.

None of those folks make me nervous. So, was I nervous it because he’s a movie and TV star? Evidently so, but why does that matter to me?

It’s not just a “fame” thing. I’ve talked to CEOs and business icons who are more or less household names; I’m tickled to meet them, but in no way edgy. I’ve talked to bestselling authors; I get a kick out of it but I’ve never been anxious. I once sat down with Mike Helton, the most powerful man in NASCAR and the one guy even the drivers fear, and wasn’t nervous at all. (I was a little intimidated as he does not suffer fools gladly and I am often a fool, but I wasn’t nervous.)

And it wasn’t the “supplicant factor” that made me anxious. Granted, I wanted something from Kutcher and was definitely tickled to land the interview; he was doing network TV and major media that day, so for me to make the list was a nice little coup.

But he also wanted something from me: Reaching an audience of entrepreneurs while promoting a movie about an entrepreneur is an excellent marketing fit. So, in a way, we were oddly equal — at least for half an hour — because we both needed something the other could supply.

But I feel absolutely sure he wasn’t nervous. So, again, why was I?

I’m afraid the answer is more disturbing than the question. I like to think I’m immune to broad societal influences, but I’m aware I’m kidding myself. I fall into the trap of thinking celebrities are different than you and I. They must be special in some indefinable way. They must exist on some higher plane where achievement is assured and everyday concerns disappear.

Plus, it’s easy and — for the sake of ego protection — tempting to assume successful people have some intangible innate quality — talent, drive, skills, creativity, etc. — the rest of us simply do not. Of course, that’s rarely true. Talents typically only reveal themselves in hindsight. Success is never assured; it only looks that way once it achieved. Incredibly successful people — in whatever way we choose to define success — are just like you and me …  except they’ve worked incredibly hard to develop at least one skill to an incredible level.

Take Kutcher He was great in the interview: smooth, polished, well spoken …  until he mentioned that he tries to keep to a single purpose, a singular vision that is his “true north.” I asked, “Since you do so many different things (actor, producer, entrepreneur, investor), what is your single purpose?”

For the first time, he stumbled. He hemmed, and hawed, and finally cobbled together a decent answer that validated the sound bite-worthy cliché …  but, in those moments, the real person behind the star became real. He wasn’t perfect. Generally speaking, his best may be a lot better than my best, but like all of us, he can only do his best — and sometimes, his best is just average.

So, the next time I’m about to talk to someone famous, I will remind myself that she is no different than anyone else. She may have skills I don’t have, but I have skills she doesn’t, right? And I’ll try to remember that everyone, regardless of fame or fortune, has quirks and fears and insecurities like the rest of us.

And then I’ll still be nervous …  because hey, she’s famous!

Jeff Haden lives in Harrisonburg and is a ghostwriter and Inc. Magazine columnist. He can be reached at blackbirdinc.com.

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