This is no way, shape or form a political post. This was posted today by Preet Bharara, former US District Attorney in NY.
I am re-posting this here because it is a brilliant essay on the great equalizer - nervousness - which bonds us in the human condition. Enjoy the read!
Early Monday evening I was sitting in the back seat of an immaculate Cadillac sedan, storm clouds overhead, crossing Manhattan at 53rd Street in the middle of rush hour. I was headed to the Ed Sullivan Theater, at a creeping pace. That’s where the Beatles on February 9, 1964, made their American debut. Countless other artists, from Eminem to the Rolling Stones, have played there. These days the theater is home to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I was on my way to that storied site because, for the first time, I was appearing as a guest on Colbert’s show to talk about current events and my book.
I had been invited to be on before but had never accepted. One time was right after I was fired by the President, an invitation I declined because it seemed that my first television interview post-termination should not be on a late-night comedy program.
As I sat in the car, now inching along at 53rd and Fifth, the network’s driver looked in his rear-view mirror and spoke to me for the first time. “Nervous?”
“Yes, I am,” I said.
He appeared startled, and I was not clear if he was surprised that I was nervous or surprised that I had admitted it. Probably a bit of both. Then he said, “Didn’t you used to prosecute mobsters?”
I smiled and said, “Yes, I did.” And that had not made me nervous. So was Stephen Colbert more scary than the Gambino crime family? In a way, yes, though it may sound preposterous to say so. Prosecuting mobsters had been my job; it was second nature; it was eminently in my domain and wheelhouse. Appearing on a late-night talk show was not.
But what on earth was I nervous about? Was Stephen Colbert going to stump me with a question about Constitutional law? No. The Mueller report? No. Was he going to render me speechless or tongue-tied over a question about my book? No. Was TV scary? No. I have done many, many television interviews. One of my actual jobs is Senior Legal Analyst for CNN.
And yet, there I was, nervous. And a bit uneasy. I’ve been a fan and admirer of Colbert for years, dating back to his bits on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Maybe that was a part of it, but more than that, with Colbert, there just seemed a special pressure to be witty and clever. Also pithy. The interview would be just a few minutes. And the whole thing is a bit unpredictable, with a boisterous live audience.
It turns out that even a seasoned prosecutor and podcast host can worry about appearing tedious or lawyerly or dull. About flubbing a question in front of a late-night audience with a particular expectation and sensibility. Up until the moment that Colbert came to shake my hand and welcome me backstage and even as I strolled out onto the stage, I had a case of the nerves. If I could confess that to my driver, I can confess it to you.
I am not sure how well the interview turned out, and I am not fishing for compliments or approval. My family thought it went great, for what it’s worth. What I do know is the following:
Once I was in my seat, you wouldn’t have guessed there was a single butterfly in my stomach that day. My gaze and voice and body language were all steady. I may even have looked relaxed, though I was far from it.
Everyone gets nervous, especially the first time doing something new. Everyone. If you meet people who claim otherwise, they are lying to you.
It is important to be able to control your nerves and conceal your sweaty palms to get the job done, whatever that job may be.
Why am I telling you all this? To me all of this seems so very obvious, but it is apparently not. My driver was surprised. But I was surprised, quite frankly, at his surprise. And so I think it’s important for people to know that, in this respect, all human beings are the same. Or at least most human beings. The ones I know, no matter how accomplished, don’t have ice water in their veins. Before my first press conference as U.S. Attorney I thought I would throw up. Same for my first opening statement. Same for my first deposition. Same for my first speech in high school. And so on.
Next week, 20 Democratic hopefuls will take center stage over two nights, in the first primary debates of the 2020 election. They are all impressive and accomplished people in their own ways. They all have the audacity to seek to be leader of the free world, commander-in-chief, holder of the nuclear codes. Many are excellent debaters and orators.
And I am willing to bet every single one of them will be nervous on debate night. How many would admit it, if asked? Would they view it as a mark of weakness? And over the next months in the campaign, how many will ever deign to admit error, offer apology, concede a gap in knowledge.
That is one thing I will be watching for – proof of life, evidence of humanity and also humility. We have had enough arrogant and unapologetic self-love at the apex of power lately.