Category Archives: Unexpected

Improv Classes and Vulnerability

Vulnerability is hard to embrace but when you do, you get to know yourself better. I found a way to safely confront it: improvisational comedy. I took a six-week training and left with some unexpected insights. The stage is a social equalizer that exposes everyone’s personality in a fair and brutal manner, quickly exposing how people really feeling. I learned that the best way to confront vulnerability is through boldness. Finally, I realized that being vulnerable is a way to quickly feel comfortable with people.  Improv is a seemingly therapeutic environment where people can be vulnerable without suffering social ridicule.

Here’s how improv works: people play a series of games with around four people who invent a story or jokes based on the rules of the game, what the other actors say, and audience prompts. My class was a diverse group of about fifteen; one guy owned a construction company, there was a psychologist, a pediatrician, two guys were podcasters, and a bunch of others. Throughout the six weeks, everyone was overwhelmed on stage, had their minds freeze, broke character, and felt extremely embarrassed. A Ph.D doesn’t save you from stage fright. Everyone was forced to reveal a sensitive part of themselves to strangers, something that most people never do.

Most are desperate to avoid confrontation and be socially accepted by others.  They mask vulnerability behind an arsenal of words and actions. Improv forces people to leave that armor backstage. One improv constant became clear within the first few minutes: feel embarrassed and make people laugh by being bold and energetic, or feel embarrassed, act embarrassed, and people will feel bad for you.  The inner voice that is always suppressed is forced into the spot light, and when the spotlight hits it, parts of yourself you never knew were there come alive on stage. In my case, I usually think of sexual jokes, or my first reaction to things has some kind of sexual undertone. It’s weird, whatever. That combined with a higher than average aversion to social confrontation means that I tend to keep that part of me quiet. In improv, even though I am embarrassed and my mind tells me a thousand different ways that people think I am weird, if you’re bold and come out guns-a-blazing, you can pull it off, it feels amazing because you’re being yourself, and the audience laughs.

I did not think that I would relate to any of my classmates on the first day. I was the youngest by at least 8 years, but surprisingly the entire class became really close to each other on the first two hours. Much more so than say, a defensive driving course could have brought people.  After the second class, I joined everyone at the bar next door to the theater. Even before we got our glasses, everyone started honestly sharing and relating to each other about how the stage made them feel and act. We felt comfortable being open because all the awkwardness came out during class. We all shared a hidden part of ourselves on stage, so it was fun to talk about it afterwards. We were proud of each other for allowing ourselves to be judged.

Improv brings people to the cutting edge of reality that makes people feel vulnerable, but it’s an environment where you can feel safe too. It helps you get to know yourself and others in a way that would not be possible in a coffee shop or a bar. It’s a great beta-test for embracing boldness in other parts of your life. Because of improv, I am more comfortable being myself.

Going Harder

When you’re comfortable, feeling good about what you’re doing, laughing to yourself at how lucky and amazing your life is, that’s awesome. It also means you need to work harder. When you’re stressed, pressed for something, and feel like you’ve slipped up or failed, you can get the fire burning  under you and easily to get back on track. When you’re on your game and feeling good, that’s when you’ll start to slip. Your ego tells you that you’re smart, you’re doing it right, you made it! But it’s wrong, that’s The Resistance. Push harder now, because you’re going to fall again, and if you’re not always moving forward, you’ll fall harder.

This is how I feel now. I moved to San Diego six weeks ago (more on why later) and it’s not easy place to do hard work. It’s 75 and sunny everyday and I’m always within 20 minutes of the beach.  I just start laughing to myself at how ridiculous it all is. It was my plan to come to California after I graduated college. But it’s so much better than I expected. I know the east coast is starting to bundle up for winter, and it was an unseasonable 85 today. I am laughing at how crazy the ways things have worked out. I am working in the exact environment (more on that later) I wanted with an all-star team, and we’re working for a mission that I actually believe it. I am emotionally attached moral fibers of the company. Even as I’m typing this I am fucking laughing at how ridiculous it is. Still, I know the hard shit will come soon. But I’ll just surf off the stress on the weekends.

Good News

I just found out I will be studying at Cornell University this Fall.  Even better, I was selected as a “Cornell Tradition Fellow” meaning that I’ll have, in exchange for campus and community service, a $3,500 budget to use for things like “Alternative Break Trips.”

Needless to say, this is very cool, and reassuring, as I couldn’t help but feel anxious waiting for news of my acceptance/rejection.  It’s especially exciting because of the good feelings it gives em for my trip to Peru!

After reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts, I’ve decided to spend the least amount of time traveling from place to place as possible, opting instead to enjoy my three weeks perusing as slowly as possible three cities: Lima, Chilca, and Cusco. Lima is the capital city, Chilca is a small beach town known for its salubrious mud bathes and frequent UFO sitings, and Cusco is the ancient city closest to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Since I’ve been more than lazy with my posts, I’m eager to use this change of environment to sew my blog into part of my every day routine.  In the spirit of experimenting and exploring the unexpected, I’ll be running at least one experiment a day, and posting my thoughts here.