Empty compliments don’t exist

Life Lessons

If you’ve ever worked with me in any creative capacity, you know that I can be pretty hard on myself. This goes for anything from planning the perfect Christmas gift for my mom to flipping every bedroom I’ve rented to resemble a West Elm magazine. I tend to look for every problem and try to find a way to make that disappear. Yeah, my current room looks magnificent… but you know what sucks? That my shoes scuffed the white paint on the bottom of my closet wall and now I feel horrible about what my room looks like. 

I grew up as an athlete and I have that mindset that there are always ways to improve… but somewhere along the way, I started to be a perfectionist who thinks I can only be good if I did everything right. It’s okay to mess up, everyone does it, but if you mess up then you definitely were not great.  Mistakes are for practice… talented people don’t mess up when it’s game time. 

This mindset needs to die. I recognize that… but it doesn’t make it any easier to kill. It’s like when I found out, after 10 years of playing softball, that I am no longer allowed to throw the ball with a side arm because I’ll dislocate my elbow if I keep doing it. I talked to my coach about it … “Wait, what? I realize that it hurts my arm… but throwing it side armed makes me better! I don’t care if I’m hurting myself in the process!” His response? “It’s not making you better… you’re hurting yourself and if you keep on doing this then you’re not going to have a long career in this sport.” Oh.

So lets fast forward to today. Well, actually… lets rewind to yesterday now that we’re here. Yesterday during my break, I watched my most recent improv show online. How did I feel before watching it? I thought the show was fun… I made some good choices, some mistakes and there were notes I had for myself… but overall, I was more focused on the fact that I had a blast with my favorite people to share a stage with. Then I watched the show.

What did I think after watching it? “Ok Annie, there were times that you were good… but you didn’t follow all the rules. You didn’t play to the height of your intelligence. You chose a character that makes chicks look bad. It would have been better if you came in as the girlfriend who was actually brilliant .. that would have shocked everyone. You could have listened to your partners more. Where was your object work? Why did you pause too much in your intro? When you recognized the booth, you blocked Elissa’s face. You really need a haircut.”

What. The. Fuck. Am. I. Doing. To. Myself?

I’m not making myself better by thinking this. What I’m doing is killing my career, shitting all over the people who constantly support & teach me and becoming one of those people who think that they’re always the victim… aka embodying the type of person I can’t stand to be around. How many times am I going to hear people tell me that I’m good before I believe it myself? I’m actually getting sick of the lectures, compliments and coaching sessions about my confidence. Why? Because I personally know what I have to do… it’s just that it’ll take some time before I break the habit… and it makes me feel really really bad for not being able to apply the advice I’m given.

Then, last night I woke up around 2am and just sat there thinking. I thought about my accomplishments, the notes that I get, books I’ve read and podcasts I’ve practically memorized. That’s when the simplest thought dawned on me – I’m new at this. Yeah, I’ve been “improvising” my entire life just through the type of person I am, but I just learned the rules 8 months ago. Why the fuck am I expecting myself to follow them all right away?

It took looking at someone else in my situation for me to really understand what my problem looks like to an outsider. A member of another team I’m on is brand new to improv… like, squeaky clean. And she’s fucking incredible. Seriously… this chick just gets it. She hasn’t been taught all the rules yet & somehow she just naturally knows them. From my point of view, I was floored when I found out she’s new & only saw her as that much more talented. From hers? She’s kinda freaking out. I talked with her this past week after rehearsal and told her that it’s all in her head… she’s the only one who is noticing any of her flaws… everyone else is floored by her talent. There was this “Ah hah!” moment when I realized I was talking to myself just as much as I was talking to her. 

If anything, I should be incredibly proud of where I am right now & the fact that it has only taken me 8 months to get there. I’m comparing myself to people who have been doing this for years and feeling disappointed when I’m not at their level. I should feel comforted that my natural talent and personality are already there… I just need keep on training and the rules will find a way in with time. Most of all, I need to really start listening to compliments more and notes less. Why am I able to take notes and treat them like gold but brush off every and any compliment I get? It’s good to be humble but come on Annie – this is ridiculous. Listen to your coaches – they have a lot of experience and aren’t handing out empty compliments. They wouldn’t waste their time on you if the potential wasn’t there. Listen to your ensemble – they watch you perform at least three hours every week… if they still think you’re funny after 96 hours rehearsing together, you must be entertaining. Listen to your audience – realize that laughter is coming because you earning it. You’re entertaining them. You have them in your palm and that’s what we all hope for. Most of all, stop listening to yourself… naturally, you know what to do… but don’t listen to those voices telling you otherwise.

So… yeah. It’s hard to get over a bad habit. However, it’s fucking killing me and I’m not going to get far unless I kill it first. So today I’m making a pledge… I’ll still take notes and apply them so I can grow but I won’t be so damn hard on myself. I’ll listen to the compliments and leave it up to my teachers and coaches to tell me how I’m doing, not myself. I’m talented and I’m going to make many mistakes… both can be true at the same time. Most of all… I have to stop letting others be my biggest fans… that title is reserved for me.

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