Earlier this fall, I took an intro level improv comedy class at the Philly Improv Theater. I got the idea from an article I read months earlier about how badly small talk sucked. The author kept going on and on about how an improv class changed her life and helped her relax in social situations. I happen to hate small talk, just like everyone else. I’ve also been labeled an introvert by many a friend and online personality quiz, so I’ll own up to a tiny bit of social anxiety. But everyone gets that, right? Finally, in addition to all of that, I happen to have a lot of free time on my hands as a recent (and seemingly underemployable, as of late) graduate.
So, I decided to pop in on a free lesson one Monday afternoon. My instructor, Greg Maughan, basically had us play a series of games for 2 hours, but this is what I learned.
1. It’s okay to fail.
Failure is an opportunity to get creative. Without giving too much away, we were instructed to “drop the ball,” so to speak. Normally when you screw something up, it feels pretty shitty. But, if you stop to remember that everyone
fails at something, it puts the situation into perspective and softens the blow.
Additionally, if you put yourself in the mindset that you can’t fail unless you’ve stopped
trying, then your would-be failures are now detours through a more scenic route.
2. You should treat everyone around you as though they’re teammates, not
critics or competitors.
Life is collaborative. “No man is an island,” or however you’re supposed to interpret that quote. I don’t know about you, but sometimes my competitive nature tricks me into viewing others around me as potential rivals of some kind. Healthy competition is great for keeping you on your toes, but viewing others primarily as potential teammates is less limiting and creates a more inclusive environment. Tasking yourself with the mission to add onto what other people can offer you in life is mutually beneficial. It allows you to give back to them exponentially while also providing you with the opportunity to learn something new. Your ideas may seem one way in isolation, but when combined with another’s, the end result may just blow your mind. During the exercise in which I learned that lesson, I (hypothetically) wound up on my way to the mall to help a classmate pick out a dressshe could wear to her own funeral. Take an improv class and you’ll learn how we got there.
3. “Yes, and” is a lot more satisfying in the long run.
It’s so easy to say no. It’s even easier to agree with something and yet offer an alternative, because it makes you feel as though you can like an idea without having to actually commit to it. However, if you can take a situation, regardless of how unfamiliar or how scary it may seem, and improve it by adding to it, you may find the end result to be much more exciting than your alternative.
4. Weird gestures work as great mnemonic devices.
I’ve never been great with names, but in this class (and at every single college orientation event I’ve ever been to) it helped to have a personalized gesture with which I could associate another person’s name. After the class ended, I was on my way out of 500° on Sansom St. when I saw a classmate walking towards me. I think you know what comes next, but I have to say, it took everything in me not to shout his name while miming his gesture at him, right there in the street.
5. Trusting in your decisions and learning to adjust while making it work is much more gratifying than judging yourself harshly when things seem to be going wrong.
I’m not going to say how, but at some point in the class I wound up hitting someone in the stomach. I could’ve grabbed her boob for all I know, but I can’t say because I wasn’t looking (I said sorry, so s’cool). Anyway, the point is that as soon as that happened, I regretted the choice to not look where I was going altogether. Greg assured me that there were no wrong choices, and that, if anything, I should embrace unexpected events and turn them into a positive addition. Play (along). Life’s situations probably aren’t as bad as you think they are, so keep your eyes forward and take things as they come, without judgement.
Subsequent Personal Lesson:
The class also confirmed a realization I had a while back about self-acceptance. Some of my more extroverted family members were quick to pat me on the back for taking such a leap. I guess I’m known as the quiet one in the family, and so taking the time to do something so out of my comfort zone seemed to have signified to them some sort of transformation in my personality. On that note, I’d have to again say: “Yes, and…” (I’m a fast learner). Yes, I’m doing things differently than I did years before, but that doesn’t mean I’m a new person. I haven’t all of a sudden come out of a shell or become more outgoing. Such a suggestion implies there was something wrong with my previously more reserved tendencies, and now that I’ve changed, this new found adventurer spirit needs to be celebrated. I agree, more often than not I do prefer spending most of my time in my own company or in situations that are comfortable and familiar. And, if anything, in addition to those qualities, the act of embracing those desires gave me the freedom to lean into the discomfort of trying things on my own, things I probably would never have done before. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty difficult to feel confident in new situations when you have a habit of criticizing yourself for things you actually know and enjoy. And I’m done with that. There is no “shell” for me or anyone else to come out of. Idioms like that are confining, and they deny our personalities complexity and nuance. I now know from experience that embracing every inch of who you are will yield far more happiness and fulfillment than feeling like you have to adjust yourself for the sake of other people and their opinions. Take the things you may be judged for or may not like about yourself and allow them to work as advantages. Go drop an imaginary ball somewhere, and have fun with it!