Improv is a strange thing.
I spend between 5 and 15 hours a week focused on improv. I don’t get paid. And in the past year, I’ve been kissed onstage by one guy (multiple times, now), licked on the arm and head by a different guy, lubed up with baby oil and lotion by complete strangers while dressed in a bathrobe, twerked more times that I can count, and in general embarrass the hell out of myself for the amusement of others.
Just for fun.
As odd as this might sound, I didn’t get started in improv for the joy of having men’s saliva applied to my person in front of an audience.
After nearly 20 years of toiling away in an I.T. career I didn’t especially like, I had developed a fair number of dispositions that didn’t suit me. Among them:
- I had become a linear thinker: X leads to Y leads to Z. It helped me be a successful tech exec, but it pretty much destroyed my creative brain.
- I had to be someone else at work. I remember telling my business coach that I wore a professional demeanor at work (where I spent 50-60 hours a week) which wasn’t at all like the authentic me.
- Risk was everywhere. Risk was something to be avoided, or mitigated. We had entire meetings on this topic, and that way of thinking naturally bled over into my personal life.
Improv changed that for me. You can read in detail about it in my (really good) guest post on Failure Factory’s blog, but here is the big take-away:
Improv is about rediscovering the joy of being unafraid, of having faith, of the confidence and pleasure that comes with jumping in to Life and getting engaged again.
To me, improv is a lot like martial arts classes. You may never, ever fight anyone or care a whit about sparring. The value of the classes is in strength, discipline, and confidence. In the same way, you may not ever care to get on the stage for a game of “Survivor” (though I would definitely encourage you to). You’ll still find improv classes can change your outlook on life.
And this all works HOW?
The Marines have a great ad running now which asks a fairly fundamental question: Are you the sort of person who runs from or TOWARD chaos?
As I sat in with a beginner class last week, I saw the instincts of those who are new to improv: when they felt things were getting chaotic, when a mistake was made, you could see the students start to back away. Because that’s what we do in Life.
Keli directed them to latch on to the chaos, to the mistakes, to what was “off” in the scene. “Because that’s where the fun is,” Keli said. And also because the scene will stagnate if you don’t.
Life is the same way. You can’t stop the chaos. You can’t avoid the mistakes. But you can be the kind of person who runs toward the sounds of chaos. It’s a heightened version of taking the road less traveled.
Which is why my motto for 2015 is:
Life is a crazy mess. Run straight at that shit.
Feel free to use it as a bumper sticker.