• Daniel Kephart

On the Stage: Dealing with Anxiety

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Not long ago, I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Fred Hardwicke, an oncologist and current professor at Texas Tech University. A skilled pianist capable of playing Chopin blindfolded and from memory, as well as a longtime gardener, Dr. Hardwicke embodies the refined academic man.

And, in 2004, this same man fought for survival in the mountains.

What began as a coming of age trip for Hardwicke’s ten-year-old son, Robert, quickly spiraled out of control when they became lost during their descent of Truchas Peak, the second-tallest mountain in New Mexico. Stranded without any means of communication with the wider world, Hardwicke and his son endured the plummeting temperatures of a mountain nightfall.

The next day, as exhaustion and lack of food began to take their toll on the father-son team, Hardwicke realized what was necessary. To get help, he needed to be able to travel fast. He needed to leave his son.

Hours later, a rescue team found Robert alive and well. His father had made it in time. The risk had paid off.

Reflecting on the experience, Hardwicke writes, “becoming a man means getting on the stage.” This analogy, rising out of Hardwicke’s skill as pianist, he feels accurately describes the grim acknowledgement his son gave him when he was left alone in the rocks of New Mexico. For young Robert Hardwicke, being on the stage meant facing the hidden threats of the world literally.

For many young men and women rising up out of adolescence, however, this process may be experienced less dramatically. The experience of “getting on the stage,” whether as a performer or an athlete, an entrepreneur or an artist, a laborer or a craftsman, may take many forms. The critical point, however, is that there must be a challenge which may be failed.

I am often asked, after speaking, if I find it easy to communicate my ideas to those in audience. Nothing, I reply, could be farther from the truth. I am, in many ways, unnerved by the experience of others watching me speak. Yet, simultaneously, these feelings must be put aside—at least, temporarily. If the idea is worth sharing, nothing ought to prevent its communication. True communication is the lifeblood of culture.

There are always risks implicit in this. When one endeavors to speak truly, there is always the risk that one is wrong. Others may not like this. Furthermore, there is always the risk that one is right. Others often do not like that.

But, much like sojourning in the mountains, there are risks associated with these ventures. There is always the chance of failure. Yet perhaps even that failure is not

inevitably an ill thing. At times, it seems, it is the moments in which we feel most like a failure that our inner resiliency is most developed.

Dr. Hardwicke's story of survival, A Pecos Adventure: Thoughts on Becoming A Man, is available at www.iuniverse.com/BookStore/BookDetails/138789-A-i-PECOS-i-ADVENTURE.

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