Getting out of the comfort zone–Improv comedy

All my life, I’ve been the quiet one.  The quiet twin, the quiet one in class that teachers seated next to the problem child, the quiet friend in a group of friends.  One nurse at work calls me “the burn whisperer” because I’ll have all my patients’ burn care done and no one knows when I do it.  As my college roommate once describes me to someone, “Susan’s really quiet, but once you get to know her she’s really great.”

I don’t always talk much or speak very loud (…ever), but I feel like when I talk, people listen.  Why I don’t talk much is a result of a variety of reasons.  I don’t have much self esteem or confidence in myself, so in my mind, I don’t always think people want to hear me talk.  Other times, I might have something to say, but I never interrupt people, therefore other people tend to jump in before I start to talk.  Most often, I’m just too shy, nervous that I’ll say something stupid.  Plus, I’m super introverted and have always preferred to have a few close, close friends rather than a giant group of acquaintances, so I’m not always talking to people.

For the most part, it’s worked out just fine for me.  Despite my fear of talking to people, I actually do quite well as a nurse.  (Some nurses I work with will say, “Remember that time when we thought Susan was quiet??”)  I think it’s because I’m in control and I know how the interactions generally go.  Of course, sometimes conflict arises and that’s much more difficult to deal with, but I’m learning.

Under the radar of the blog, I applied to a graduate program last year, and ultimately didn’t get in.  When I met with the admissions advisor to inquire what I could improve on, the only thing I was told about was my interview.  Nothing else on my application needed work, just the interview.  I know I didn’t portray confidence or an ability to carry myself as the program/career I was applying for needed me to.  I definitely think I’d be great for the career and enjoy it, and I hate so, so much that I basically ruined that for myself.  I practiced interviewing and such before going in, but I think I got into my head too much (“Just don’t screw this up…”), and that was that.

Sometimes, I think I just can’t quite express my thoughts vocally.  I feel like I do okay in writing – this blog has survived for almost seven years, so I must be doing something right.  I’ve thought about how to improve when talking to people or interviewing.  I’m a little better at talking to new people.  I’ve managed to give a few maid of honor speeches without convulsing on the floor.  I don’t panic when ordering coffee.  (I usually don’t speak loudly enough, so my order isn’t always right.  I’m trying to talk louder.)

However, I obviously needed some more help.  I searched for some Toastmasters programs, as I’ve heard good things about them.  Helping you learn to give speeches, work in a business environment, etc.  I would probably benefit from that, but I don’t think it’s what I truly need help with.  I feel like I mostly need help with thinking on my feet and getting thoughts out of my head and into action.  I know the right thoughts are up there, I just can’t get them out in a timely and somewhat eloquent fashion.

A couple weeks ago, I was thinking of what I could do to work on this, and the idea of improv comedy came into mind.  It’s totally thinking on your feet and reacting to what it is going on around you.  And 110% outside of my comfort zone.  Living in New York City has a few perks, so an quick Google search showed me some classes in the city.  Luckily, one comedy theater not only offers classes, but a free “Intro to Improv” class.

And that, my dear blog readers, is how I spent my Wednesday night.

Image credit to Magnet Theater.

I almost didn’t go, I was so nervous.  I’m shy.  I’m bad at talking to people.  I hate being the center of attention.  I don’t like to wear flashy colors.  But I knew it would be good for me.  The chances of me knowing someone would be slim, and if it was the worst experience of my life, it was only an hour and a half and I’d never have to see anyone again.  And it was free, so nothing to lose.

I headed into the class, meeting a super friendly guy in the elevator who was also in the class.  He immediately stuck his hand out for a handshake and started asking questions.  “I wish I was more like that,” I thought to myself.  “Don’t wish to be like other people, you’re fine the way you are,” I told myself next.  We then sat in a classroom with white walls and a few chairs, waiting for more people to trickle in, along with the teacher, Hannah.

The class had 13 people in it, and Hannah eased us into being in front of the group.  We started in a circle making noises at each other (it makes sense, I promise).  We introduced ourselves by creating a body movement to go along with our name, then we repeated everyone else in the class.  Then, we stood in the circle and took turns stepping into the circle to repeat movements and sounds of other classmates.  I was hesitant to step in, and the guy next to me kind of tapped my shoulder to push me along.  Hannah said, “No, no, let people go in at their own pace.”  That was really comforting to know that we weren’t going to be forced into anything.

Next, we did what was called “Pet Peeve Rant,” where we took turns ranting about a pet peeve.  It was the first time we had to speak by ourselves in front of the group, and it was definitely an easy topic to pick – everyone had a pet peeve!  I talked about how tourists can’t swipe their subway cards, ha.  But the key to this exercise was that improv comedy isn’t necessarily about being funny.  Being honest and relatable will make people laugh.  (And people laughed at what I said, which was a little bit of a confidence booster.)

Our last hour-ish was spent doing some work in pairs, where we focused on the “Yes, and…” idea.  We were told the only rule of improv is to agree with what else is going on in the skit and to build off of it.  (Example:  If I walk in and say I’m holding a cake, the scene gets killed if you say, “No, it’s cat.”  Instead, it’s better to say, “Yes!  Chocolate cake is my favorite!”)  In pairs, we were given a basic scenario and just told to go with it.  Examples included being at a restaurant when the check comes and both people want to pay, a boss is about to fire an employee, a guy wants to ask out his buddy’s ex, etc.  My scene was walking into a movie theater to find that there’s only one seat left – what movie is it, why do you want to see it, why do you deserve that seat.  It was off to a slow start, but it got better once we got into it.  Not the finest, but it worked.

Although I spent much of the class worrying about what I was going to have to do next in front of the class, I really did enjoy it.  It was fun to trying something new and see what comes out – even if it’s rough, doesn’t make sense, or isn’t too funny.  The harder you try in improv, the more people know you’re trying and the less funny it is.  The key is to get out of your head.  I’ll repeat that, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

That’s one of my biggest problems in life/interacting with others.  I think people don’t want to hear me talk.  I think I’m going to say something silly and people won’t like me.  I think people won’t like me.  I think no one cares what I have to say.  It’s not other people, it’s me.  (Also, I’ve old enough to realize I shouldn’t care what other people think, but I still do.  Don’t we all?  I just realize I don’t need to please everyone or be best friends with everyone.)  But I need to get out of my head, and I think learning/practicing improv is great for that.  It teaches you to think on your feet by reacting to what is going on around you.  It’s not about what you’re “supposed” to say, it’s about being truthful (because the truth is often funny…) and going with the flow.  And getting out of your head about what others might be thinking.

Going to an improv comedy class was really, really far outside of my comfort zone.  I had to talk in front of people.  I had to act out things in front of people.  I had to speak without any preparation.  It was hard, but once you get going, you realize it’s not so bad.  Of course, there was the guy who must be the funny, always has something to say person in his group of friends, so he was all into it and stepping up first for everything.  However, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to observe a little before stepping up.

I do think that taking a full class (over a few weeks) would be a good experience to help build on what I learned in this intro class.  I think it would be great for pushing me out of my comfort zone and get me more comfortable with speaking on my feet.  Reacting to what others says without having to premeditate everything.  This would be good for interviewing as well – when you have to put your best face forward and go with the flow, expressing your thoughts and ideas without necessarily knowing what you are going to say beforehand.  I’m looking around at classes that would work with my schedule, so we shall see!

I mentioned this on Twitter a bit, but if you’re interested in taking a class, I highly recommend it.  If I, the girl who likes to sit in the corner and go unnoticed, can take the class and not cry, then anyone can.  It’s definitely exposes you to something that’s a little different and promotes thinking on your feet.  You don’t have to be funny.  You just have to give a try.  (Doooooooo it!)

Have you ever taken an improv comedy class?  Any thoughts on it?  (Did it help you?)  Any tips on interviewing?  Any other struggling introverts out there?  I’ll take any tips for life, as well…

Morning running = Afternoon nap

All my life, I have never been a morning person.  Even when I was little, I don’t think I went to bed early.  (Sorry Mom and Dad!)  I remember doing the flashlight-under-the-covers thing for a long time, and then I remember sneaking downstairs in the middle of the 10pm news to watch TV (mostly Jay Leno…) with my dad.  Needless to say, I am the opposite of a morning person.

How I ever survived high school summer running at 6am every morning is beyond me, but I do remember how nice it is to run on a summer morning.  A cool summer feeling before the sun really brings the heat.  Getting out there before much of the world is yet awake (and night shifters are wrapping up their shifts…) and just getting it done.

Sounds great, right?  But I wouldn’t really know anymore.  My 12+ hour work days where lunch often doesn’t happen until 3pm don’t exactly make me want to get up earlier than my already early alarm to run.  I’ve cut back from my night shift coffee habit, and I don’t need to go back.  (Some people might call of this talk “excuses.”  I call this “I work with sick/challenging people all day.”)

Of course, a difficulty of not running on days that I work means that I basically have to run on every day that I don’t work.  Which is awesome until you’re fun friend Abbe says, “Hey!  Come to Fire Island on your day off!” and that maximizing your day at the beach means leaving your apartment at 7am.  And you have a five mile run to do.  (Instead of nine miles because you smartly moved that to Thursday.)  So you set your alarm for 5:30am, fully thinking that you’re probably going to snooze that alarm long enough that you don’t have time for the run.

For the record, I am acutely aware that this is a total first world problem.  Moving on.

The alarm goes off at 5:30am.  Nope.  NOOOOOOOPE.  5:38am is next.  Be that runner, Susan.  That runner who gets their training in without excuses.  (Despite the ones listed above.)  You’ll only sleep another twenty minutes anyway, and that’s hardly worth missing a run.  Right?  But this pillow is comfortable………………..okay, okay, OKAY, I’ll get up.

I ponder brushing my teeth while doing my lunges/squats warm-up, then I head out the door.  Contrary to how it’s been going lately, my Garmin immediately gets signal.  For the sake of time, I cut down on my usual walking warm up to about two minutes, bargaining with myself that I’ll take the first mile slow.

I suppose one reason why I like taking my time to wake up and run (a luxury I generally have on my days off) is because I haaaaaaate morning legs.  That sluggish feeling where your legs aren’t quite awake yet and moving them feels like moving mountains.  I suffered from a bad case of morning legs on Sunday morning, clocking in that first mile at 8:52.  I told myself to ignore my watch and just be proud of the fact that I actually got out of bed.

It was a pretty crisp morning (before turning into a perfect beach day), and I enjoyed the early hours with a few other runners.  My legs woke up before I did, and soon enough I was actually hitting miles in the low-8’s!  Numbers I haven’t seen much of lately while still feeling comfortable…on morning legs, no less!  This may have also been propelled by the fact that I checked the time and distance – realizing that I miscalculated the route by about half a mile, I needed to boogie a bit to get home on time.  I rolled through the hills on the west side of Central Park feeling quite on the top of the world.

Ah, that’s why people run in the morning.

Sunday, July 12 – 5.06 miles in 42:07, avg pace of 8:19

Then I PR’d in showering/getting ready and we were off to the train!  We had some Dunkin Donuts to fuel us through the train/ferry ride before we were greeted by Abbe (and the crew) on Fire Island.  We headed right the beach, applied some sunscreen, and soaked up the sun.  Other highlights included fish tacos (for lunch and dinner), some refreshing summer beverages, and a much needed afternoon nap on the beach.

Oh yes, I napped.  I napped HARD.  That early morning wake up call got to me, and I passed out to the crashing waves, oblivious to the chatting and music going on around me.  I may have drooled, I’m not so sure.  But it was glorious.  Because is the there anything better than a nap on the beach?   I think not.

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Eric and I on the ferry.  We were much tanner upon our return.

photo 1

The only beach picture I took.  Oops?

We ended the trip with a ferry ride into the sunset.  You think I’m kidding, but I am not.

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A poor, late picture of the sunset.

In case you were wondering, Fire Island is worth every second of an early wake up.  Thank you to Abbe for the invite!  I can’t wait to do it again.

Alright morning runners, let’s hear your secrets.  To my nurse readers – do you run before work?  I used to run before night shift, but I couldn’t sleep anyway…

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