"I don't like testing my one rep max. It makes me nervous."
Coach: [exasperated look] "You're a performer."
"True. And so I get enough of that shit."
But then, I kept thinking about it, and my response was just one of 7am-roll-out-of-bed crankiness*. It wasn't really true, because it's actually a completely different issue.
When I'm playing the flute (ahem: when I'm playing music), performing isn't a problem. It's fun. But, that's because I'm confident in my abilities on the flute. I don't have to be the best, but in almost all cases, I know what I'm doing, and I know what I'm going to sound like. I'm consistent, and I feel like I'm expressing myself. Really, the only time I'm insufferably nervous is when I'm unprepared. (Not that that ever happens, of course.)
But with weight lifting, I never know what the hell is going to happen. Sometimes it feels natural, and almost easy... and then other times the stark reality of my klutzdom smacks me in the face over and over again.
So, when testing a one rep max, I get nervous. I don't like to fail. (Who does, right?) So, I avoid it. I can tell myself that it doesn't matter and to just get a grip, but somehow, that doesn't work. It makes it worse, actually. And that makes sense; consciously or subconsciously, no one likes to think that something they're doing doesn't matter. I don't think that way of thinking really ever takes pressure off of a situation. It's the defeatist way around a problem, and leads to a comical and uncomfortable version of nihilism.
If a flute student came to me saying something similar [If I had a nickel for every time I heard... "I can't play at the flute recital this semester. I don't like to play in front of other people."...], I'd tell them to be more self-aware. I'd tell them to figure out exactly what it feels like when things sound good, because that's what needs to be recalled when things don't sound good. It won't be the same problem each time, of course, but the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more issues you'll be able to solve in the moment - when in a practice room, at a lesson, or on stage,... and that's actually one of the most fun and interesting things about music and performing.
And so of course, the advice would be similar when lifting weights, but the question I'm left with is this: Do I care enough about lifting to put that type of energy and self-reflection into it? I'm not sure. Not everything has to be done to 1000%; the most extreme version of yourself is not necessarily the best version.
I could easily continue to go to the gym and slowly get stronger (or plateau) and stay in healthy shape... and shouldn't that be enough? I'm never going to be a remarkable athlete, so why bother with all the semi-crazed intensity?
I suppose as I write this I'm realizing something else: I enjoy pushing myself. I can be mediocre in the grand scheme, but I want to feel like I'm gaining something as I'm doing it. I want to learn (about myself, sure, but also about so many other things...), and right now weight lifting is fun, challenging, and empowering. It doesn't have to last forever, but right now I love it.
So, there we go. Nothing solved; I'll still get nervous sometimes at the gym, and to some extent I'll probably still avoid one rep maxes. But, at least now I kind of know what's going on... and self-reflection is the first step toward solving a problem, right?
*You know you need more sleep when the entirely well-meaning coach says "Head through the window at the top of the thruster," and your internal reaction is "It's not a fucking window."