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…

annnnd that’s a 2010 wrap

So there’s less than an hour left in 2010, and I’m not going to lie…I think that New Year’s Eve is highly overrated.  That being said, I’m sitting on my couch because I worked today and I’m working tomorrow, so that’s not totally conducive to a big party.  It is interesting to look back on this year and see how far I’ve come.  I’ll save you the torture of reading yet another “2010 in Review” post, but let’s just say that if you had asked me where I would be at the end of 2010, I certainly wouldn’t have said anything remotely close to where I am right now!

2010 started with big changes and lots of tears, as I’m not afraid to talk about how much I hated my first job and how unhappy I really was.  I used to cry on a daily basis (and I’m not a crier at all!), and I was too upset with my life to see the help that people were offering me.  All I wanted was to get out of a Pennsylvania, and after hunting for jobs for months, I finally landed a job at one of the top hospitals in the country on an amazing unit.  I still cannot believe that I live in New York City…I love it here, and my job hasn’t made me cry!

Anyone who has spent all of 2010 reading my blog knows what a year it has been related to my personal life and work, and I want to thank everyone for putting with my incessant posting about how miserable I was…your support really means a lot to me, and while I love every comment I receive, ones where readers say, “You seem SO happy!” really make me smile.  Because I really am SO.  MUCH.  HAPPIER.

Even running-wise, I’m definitely much happier!  I battled my IT band at the beginning of the year, essentially taking off three months of running!  That’s a long time when it’s your main activity.  However, it was definitely worth it and I came back to run an awesome marathon.  My mileage for the year?

All of 2010
1,311.86 miles in 170:06:39, avg pace of 7:51

I spent an entire week running!  Not too shabby for taking three months off.  :)  I love running and I cannot wait to see what I can do in 2011…big plans are to come, but you’ll have to wait to hear those since I haven’t set all my goals yet.

For my last run of 2010, I threw on some shorts since it’s 43 degrees in NYC and headed over the Central Park.  Unlike my usual post-work runs, tons of people were out as you can see part of Times Square from Central Park…and they were setting up for the midnight race that I wish I could do!  I had to avoid a lot of tourists, but it was a fabulous post-run recovery job to finish up the year.

Friday, December 31
4.16 miles in 34:33, avg pace of 8:19

Here’s to more running in 2011….I hope you all have fabulous New Year’s Eves and even better 2011’s.  :)

And just for fun, here’s the lucky, lucky guy I will be kissing at midnight:

imageDon’t pretend you’re not jealous…I know you are!

What was your favorite run in 2010?  A race?  A beer run?  No run at all?

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