Skip to main content
The M Dash

Live with purpose.

Skylar Brandt, Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre

How to Prep for Important Career Moments, According to a Singer, Dancer, Athlete, and Movie Stand-In

Ever wondered how a ballerina gets ready backstage? How a singer gears up to perform at Coachella? Four women share their tactics for getting in the zone.

By Rachel Simon

While some people are born with innate confidence that lets them walk into practically any situation with ease, most of us suffer from nerves every now and then—especially before high-stakes career moments. Whether you’re asking for a raise, giving a presentation, or speaking to an audience, these moments can be seriously stressful, which is why it’s important to get mentally prepared beforehand. 

Of course, that’s often easier said than done. To help you get ready for your next big work situation, we spoke to four women with high-pressure jobs, like performing and competing, who shared their advice on getting in the zone for these major moments. Here’s what they had to say.

Gracie Lawrence, 25, New York City

Co-lead singer/songwriter of the band Lawrence

“Even after performing for so many years, I still get nervous before every show. To get ready, I do my own makeup and hair, which is really calming to me. We’re about to do something so loud and with so much energy, and I derive a lot of the power to do that from having quiet beforehand. The band and I have a rule that at a certain point, we’re the only people in the green room. Even when we have friends and family backstage, everyone eventually leaves so we can have that quiet moment.

I’ve felt pressure for a lot of performances; I definitely felt that way at Coachella. But I’ve learned that you have to feel good about the way you’re presenting yourself [before you go on]. It’s not about looking good, it’s about feeling good in your body and your mindset.

Performing is so personal, and you can get tripped up by thinking that what works for other people will work for you. Once you get on stage, you realize, ‘Oh man, I wish I’d just listened to my instincts on how I like to warm up, or do my makeup, or have my moment before the show.’ You’re the person who knows what’s best for you. For me, getting comfortable and confident in those choices is the best thing I’ve gained over the years.”

Gracie Lawrence

Lauren Feeney

Lauren Feeney, 28, Boston

Movie stand-in and background actor

“As a stand-in, I’m part of the crew and help assist the camera department with blocking and maintaining the shots for each scene while the actors prepare their lines or receive touch-ups. I have to be constantly alert and aware of my surroundings. If I’m not doing my job correctly, that slows down the production, which, when you’re already clocking 10-15 hour work days, no one wants.

While I filmed The Gilded Age for HBO MAX, I played a Red Cross patron attending Clara Barton’s meeting. The look of apprehension on my face that you see in the scene depicts how I normally feel inside before my set days begin. I get nervous, because I have no idea what I’m walking into. There are so many what-ifs, and the lack of control dims my confidence.

However, I’ve learned that direct focus helps me get into the zone. Once the camera turns on, my inner fears turn off. Also, meditating for 15 minutes a day and listening to pump-up music shakes down my nerves and allows me to have fun.

Even with the film and TV set hierarchies, we’re all people. We’re all there to work toward one common goal: to film the movie or TV show to the best of our ability, and to have fun doing it.”

Skylar Brandt, 29, New York City

Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre

“Live theater is unlike other forms of performance, because it’s truly in the moment. You practice until everything is as perfect as it can be, but anything could happen.

I used to be a lot more nervous before I went on stage, but in the last couple years, I’ve been doing mental work to stay as present as I can, so that I don’t have debilitating nerves or a lot of stress. Now, I don’t do anything differently before a performance than in a rehearsal. I don’t like to think, ‘Oh, if I don’t eat a certain food, or if I don’t kiss the ground three times before I go out on stage, then something will go wrong.’ I like to treat performance days like any other day.

Engaging in things that make me feel better prior to the big moment is also helpful. I find it really meditative to do puzzles, so on the day of a show, I’ll do puzzles in my apartment while I watch TV, and it helps to keep my head in the moment.

I also make sure to give myself a lot of preparation time before high-stress moments. Being able to practice my role to a point where I feel like, ‘Okay, this is familiar, this is comfortable’ is huge, especially in the dance world, because we don’t always have that luxury. The number of times I’ve been thrown on stage without any rehearsal time have been more numerous than the times I’ve had to prepare. But when I trust in the work I put in during rehearsals, I feel more confident going on stage.

Still, nerves are only natural. I definitely felt pressure before my first major performance after the pandemic; it was so highly anticipated, because we were deprived of the arts for so long. In those moments, it helps to remind myself, ‘You started dancing because it’s fun, so just go out and have fun.’ Just because you’re nervous doesn’t mean it’s not going to go well.”

Skylar Brandt

Maddie Toren

Maddie Toren, 18, Phoenix

Competitive pickleball player and tournament referee

“As a pro pickleball tournament referee, it’s my job to keep the match moving smoothly for the players and spectators, keep track of the score and servers, and watch for any faults—so the stakes are very high. I typically referee the days before and after I compete as a player, so it’s crucial that I change my mindset from professional to competitive and vice versa.

The way I mentally prepare for reffing includes hydrating like crazy and getting in good, restful sleep. Reffing is a very physical activity—you’re standing for nine plus hours per day, for four days straight. I like to practice yoga and relax my muscles prior to the tournament.

When I’m getting ready to play, I use positive affirmations to pump myself up and remind myself that I have more time than I think when serving, returning, or really hitting any shot. I love to do a little bit of strategizing and hype up with my partner, too. These pre-tournament rituals get my mind and body in the right groove and ready to go. I can get frustrated with myself when I hit a bad shot or get stuck in a funk, but when I go back to my affirmations and take a breath, I’m reminded that no matter what the score is, I can still have a good game and show up as my best self on the court.”

Written By

Rachel Simon

Rachel Simon has written for the New York Times, Vulture, Glamour, NBC News, and more, and she is the author of the 2022 book Pickleball for All: Everything But the "Kitchen" Sink. Previously, she was an editor at Bustle, HelloGiggles, and Mic. She also teaches writing with Gotham Writers Workshop and Redbud Writing Project and creates custom crossword puzzles through her Etsy business YourCrossword. Follow her on Twitter (@rachel_simon) and Instagram (@rsimon113).

See more of Rachel's articles

Read on.

Back to Top