Failing sucks. It really does. As a newbie to Chicago’s comedy scene, I’ve been really sensitive about failing. I feel a need to prove myself before I allow myself to fail… but the thing is, you can’t decide when and how you’re going to fail. It happens.
Living a creative life means that you’re opening yourself up to failure. The whole point of creativity is that you’re giving the world something it hasn’t seen before… and you’re not always going to get it right. When you fail, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad. Honestly, if you weren’t talented… you probably wouldn’t even notice that you’re tanking. The mere fact that you realize that you didn’t work up to your potential means that the potential is there. Be grateful for that.
I’ve learned a lot through failure. One of my improv teachers taught us how to be comfortable failing, which I definitely picked up on. However, that was in a classroom setting – where I already knew and trusted everyone. I had a harder time applying the advice to my rehearsals and shows. The other day, during rehearsal, I was in a game where I had to rhyme and I struggled a lot. I just couldn’t grasp the concept. Imagine my fear when I got the email with our running order for the show that night… and I was placed in that game. I was scared shitless… until I remembered something that my coach told us the night before. It’s not about winning the actual game we’re playing, it’s about failing in a big and memorable way. If you’re not good at rhyming, do something ridiculous instead… do a dance, sing “Memory” from Cats… do something. The audience thinks that your failure is just as entertaining as your success.
This weekend I grabbed coffee with one of my improv coaches so we could chat about something completely unrelated to our show… but of course it always circles back to improv. It’s great to have different sets of teachers and coaches… I have ones that tell me I’m great, ones who are tough & really challenge me and ones that just give me the truth… and I need all of them. I’d say she’s a combination. She makes sure we know how talented we are & gives very sincere compliments… but also makes sure we know what we need to work on and doesn’t let us get away with putting out anything less than our best. She asked me how one of my other shows was going and I told her that it has been really hard. I felt like, for about two months, I was just failing all the time. However, I finally had my breakthrough this past week and I feel really good. I feel like I’m finally ready to rock it. She just kinda laughed and was like, “I told you.” Because she did tell me. About a month ago, I chatted with her about how I wasn’t feeling like myself anymore… that no matter what I did, or where I was, I wasn’t able to perform like Annie Taylor performs. She didn’t try to boost my confidence… she simply told me that it happens. Every performer goes through transitional periods that feel like “rough patches” – it just means that they’re on a verge of a breakthrough… that you’re challenging yourself, failing constantly, and learning from it. The logical side of your brain is trying to catch up with everything that you’re learning which means the creative side needs time to catch up. Give it time and you’ll emerge as a better performer. It was hard to grasp this concept while I was going through the period, but now that I’m at the end of it, I can vouch for her.
Then, imagine my surprise when she started laughing and said that this past weekend she bombed at a show. I was taken aback… she bombed? But she’s so experienced, talented, a great coach… she doesn’t bomb. Failure is for beginners like me, right? I feel like an amateur when I do it because only inexperienced performers fail, right? Once I have more experience under my belt – I’ll never fail, right? Nope. Everyone does it. To live a creative life means that you open yourself up to failing. It’s just one part of the job that will always be there, no matter how long you’ve been doing this. So how do you deal with it? You try, revise, learn, pick yourself up, train, talk to someone about it. You do whatever it is that you have to do to keep going. Because when it comes down to it, many successful people have failed. Failure is great – it means you’re still in the game.