I’ve got this tendency that’s absolutely crippling at the wrong moments.
I can perform (give talks, speak coherently about my research-subject-of interest) pretty well in front of a friendly or friendliness-status-unknown audience. But, I have huge trouble with the big-shot audience- if I KNOW they are a big-shot audience, or performing (either on a test or in one of the above situations) in situations that I’ve built up a bunch of internal pressure about.
I first realized this when I was in college I took a class I really loved, I mean REALLY loved- it was called comparative vertebrate anatomy or something like that- taught by a very well known professor. I loved the class, I found the evolution of vertebrates and seeing how structures changed from stage to stage quite fascinating. And it was the first time I took a course that taught embryology, anatomy, and palentology,… so it really opened my eyes to an integrated view of biology. The professor was awesome- and I think it safe to say that that class is big part of what put me on a path to where I am in my career and interests today. It should be clear by now that I loved this course, and I was very motivated to do well. But God- did I choke on the tests. Not because I didn’t study for them, I studied like mad, I worshipped the professor- I just put a ton of internal pressure on myself and totally flipped myself out at the wrong moments.
This same thing happens to me when I’ve got (for example) a national academy member in my office. I just choke, I can not make a sentence that is even moderately intelligent. Or maybe I can, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. All of the outgoing, self-confident parts of me just seem to melt away. This is NOT what you want to happen when you are chatting with a national academy member!! If I don’t look at their CV first, and I don’t let their CV intimidate me- I’m ok.
I know all of you that know me in person can’t believe that I’m saying this right now, but it is true- even I get stage big-shot fright.