We all knew this post was coming. Wasn’t sure when, but then I had this “moment” last night. During my Second City class, I ducked out to use the bathroom at a time where most classes, including mine, weren’t on break. On the way to the bathroom, I just heard so much joy coming from so many different rooms – laughter, applause, compliments… just ringing through the hall. I thought, damn… I’m lucky to be here. So it’s time to write a list of the many life lessons I have learned through improvisation.
Absorb every single moment life gives you
There is always the potential to learn if you pay attention to the lessons being handed to you. Absorb them like a sponge. I have learned so much about myself, the world I live in and the person I want to be through improv. I enjoy watching my teammates just as much as playing. There’s so much potential in everyone and it’s incredible to watch their growth. Lessons can be found anywhere. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to audition… regardless of whether or not I get cast. In an audition, you’re able to see people in their best light and learn from those who are killing it. There are very few places that I’m able to learn from peers as much as in an audition.
Absorb moments too. There’s this moment every now and again when I’m on the L headed to class when I realize that I’m exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I need to do. Notice that. Give yourself time to reflect on where you are and the hard work you put in to get there.
It’s okay to be scared shitless
I’ve never been more terrified in my [performance] life than a couple weeks ago. I was cast onto a team at a different theater where I knew no one… which is usually okay for me. While I was proud of this accomplishment, I soon realized that not only did I not know anyone, but everyone had much more experience than I did… and they were good. Really good. I never struggled much with confidence but I found myself desperately searching for an inch of ego to pull me through. It was an unfamiliar feeling and it scared me shitless. I realized that the only way to get through would be to open up about my insecurity and ask for help. One of my improv teachers sent me this: http://addcomedy.libsyn.com/todd-stashwick, which really spoke to me. I’m definitely still working on my confidence, but I realized that it’s okay to be scared shitless. It’s healthy. The only way you can grow as a person is to be challenged. To have someone see something in yourself that you aren’t sure existed… and to not have the option to quit.
Be your own biggest fan
Along the lines of “It’s okay to be scared shitless”, be your own biggest fan. Believe in yourself more than anyone else. I struggle with this. It’s not that I don’t think I’m good… it’s that I was raised to be really humble, to be a team player. It’s hard to balance believing in yourself and your dreams while trying to make your teammates shine. When I was in high school, my choreographer/guru read Marianne Williamson’s quote before every show. It goes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. Yeah.
Take a break
I found the magic world of improv at 16 and dove in headfirst. I did everything I could to learn, perform and even teach this wonderful art form. I was dead set on moving to Chicago to study improv so I found the only way possible to convince my mom to let me go – enrolled at DePaul University. I was finally living in Chicago & ready to pursue my dream. Then what did I do? I forgot all about comedy. I double majored, worked retail, was the treasurer of my sorority and helped start a 24-hr dance marathon. I even made fun of myself for moving here for comedy because I was so far removed from it. I took a 5 year break and lived. Then what happened? I found myself unhappy with my 9-5 life and thought a comedy class would cheer me up. Fast forward 7 months and I’m now on three teams and loving every second of it. If you really love something, it’ll eventually come back. It’s not going anywhere. Let yourself sit back and enjoy the seasons of your life. When I came back to improv, I was ready and willing to learn in a way that I wasn’t before. Let things go – they will naturally come back when you’re ready for them.
Connect with others
Pay attention to everyone around you. Check in with them – how are they feeling? What’s their story? Did something happen that made them upset today? My current teacher is big on looking at your scene partner and making a connection at the beginning of each scene. Bring that into life. Connect with everyone around you. My favorite moments came out of midnight chats just standing in Second City’s lobby finding out about my new friends. Just talking. It’s an incredible experience to connect.
A bad day doesn’t mean you have a bad life
I had one of those days last week where I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t sleep much the night before and had a really busy day. By the time I got to my rehearsal at 10:30pm, I was done. I had no energy and it showed. When I got home around midnight, I was tired, embarrassed, cranky and disappointed in myself. Then I had this realization… it has been seven months since I started studying improv and this was the first time I had a bad rehearsal or class. I was knocked off my pedestal and realized that I’m not perfect and it made me uncomfortable. But as we learn in improv – there are no failures. I’ll have my days… hell, I’ll have plenty of them. It’s okay. It’s human. There is absolutely nothing I can do to change what happened in that moment. Just let it go.
Be the party that people want to go to
This idea comes from the podcast I posted before. Be that person in the world that others want to be around. Be kind, fun, considerate, thoughtful, interesting, genuine, unique and intelligent. Shit, just be you. Think of the people in life you enjoy being around. Why do you like them? What makes them fun? Try to take on some of those traits. People will want to be a part of it.
Be yourself, not a replica of someone else
It’s great to have idols, mentors and role models. They will help you become the best version of yourself possible… let them do that. However, don’t wish to be them… strive to be you. The best mentors will see traits in your personality that are unique and work to nourish them. In the above podcast, they mentioned that “there comes a time where you can say, wait… I don’t have to be Bill Murray, I can be me.” Be you.
Some of the greatest people you’ll ever know you haven’t met yet
I’ve met some pretty great people in life. Hell, I was fortunate to be born into an incredible family. I didn’t sign up for class to make friends because I honestly didn’t need to. I have plenty of great friends. Little did I know, I was about to meet life changing people. My Thursday night class is filled with beautifully unique individuals. People who have goals and struggles. Individuals who want the best for you. Teammates who believe in you more than you believe in yourself and root for your success as much as their root for their own. They’re not jealous, they’re not vindictive and they’re sure as hell not selfish. Most of all, we love each other. The person I am today is not the person I was when I first stepped foot in Second City, and I thank them for that. You see it in the hallway before and after class. People who only went days without seeing each other are reuniting like it has been years. There are hugs, fist pumps, hallway chats and therapy sessions. Last night my class bumped into our old teacher on the escalator and started giving out high fives. He missed one person’s hand and literally ran down the upward escalator to make sure he didn’t leave him hanging. How often do you get that excited to see someone?
“Be great. Be memorable”
If I had to choose my favorite piece of advice, it’s this: “Be great. Be memorable.” My improv teacher gave us this advice on the night of our first show and I resort back to it all the time. It’s so simple, yet so true. Life is short and your ability to make a difference is fleeting. Don’t waste your time being ordinary. Every day there’s a chance to do something incredible, every day there’s a chance to change a life and every day you have no excuse to be anything less than great.
My first improv teacher told us that if everyone in the world were forced to take an improv class, it would be a better place. I couldn’t agree more.
Now go out in the world and be nice to each other.