Nervous Is Good

I’ve experienced some major changes over the last few weeks. After struggling for years to maintain a job because of some severe anxiety issues, I’ve found myself comfortable with the reality that I now have two jobs.

In addition to my paying gigs, I have started volunteering once a week as a literacy tutor for an adult student in my community. It’s very rewarding work and something I take seriously. So seriously, in fact, that just hours before my first session, I started showing signs of anxiety.

A good friend of mine, a Russian-born scientist and professor who’s lived in America for over ten years, sensed my nerves. Martin reminded me that anxiety can be an asset, especially for a teacher. Even after twenty-five years of lecturing, he got anxious before class. Ten or so minutes into his talk, he felt fine.

“Nervous is good. Teacher is no good without nervous.”

A desire to do well, to be an effective tutor—my anxiety was not weakness but strength. It would make me a better tutor because I cared so much about doing a good job.

My friend’s insight helped me navigate some rough emotional seas that day. Returning home from my first night of tutoring, I remembered how just a few years ago Martin was my student. For about a month, we studied English (his fourth or fifth language) and American history. In getting him to say and then write, “George Washington was the first president of the United States of America,” I was accomplishing no easy task.

When I learned Martin had passed his exam on his first attempt and was officially a US citizen, I was thrilled for him and proud of myself. Now I realize there’s no sense in letting a little anxiety prevent me from helping more students accomplish their goals.