Improv class began again this week. Though I’ve watched a lot of Improv lately, I haven’t done much Improv since my last class ended two months ago. In the interim, it had started to seem a little foreign and bizarre.
What's it all about, again? I would wonder. I remembered liking Improv...remembered being energized by it. But lately, the very idea of standing in front of people without a script just sounded strange and weird and...impossible. Fear of failure loomed large.
I’m sure this was partly attributable to that two-month hiatus: I was out of practice. Like an Olympic figure skater coming back after an injury, I just needed to get out onto the ice and feel my skates beneath me again.1
But some of my apprehension also had to do with starting a Level 2 class. Level 2 implies that I made it through Level 1. Which I did, of course, but that means I’m no longer an absolute beginner. I was comfortable with the idea of failure in Level 1, because – hey, I was a beginner! Totally natural and normal if I failed. People weren’t expecting greatness from me, and I didn’t expect it from myself.
But you see - Level 2 is another ballgame. I am supposed to have learned something in Level 1. I am supposed to have a certain amount of skills, I am supposed to be able to do this Improv thing. At least a little bit. At least a little bit well.
And that frightened me. I am comfortable being a beginner, with no expectations for success. But advancing, moving forward – and the subsequent fear of failure – not so comfortable with that.
Improv Life Lesson #74: Learning to manage expectations.
Expectations can be such a kill-joy, no? I’m sure we’ve all been burned by expectations in some area of life. We put such pressure for excellence on ourselves, on our surroundings, on our situations. And instead of being able to take life as it comes, accept it as-is and learn from it, we inevitably end up struggling with disappointment.
This cycle of build-ups followed by let-downs tends to hinder happiness. Did you know the happiest people in the world are the good people of Denmark? And that their happiness is directly attributed to their low expectations? It’s true (or so I hear).
Well, here’s the deal, as I see it: If I go into Level 2 with unreasonable and unnecessary expectations for myself, I’m not going to enjoy it as much as I could. Plus, I’d be opening the door to fear. Fear of not being good enough, fear of not being able to meet those expectations. And that would ultimately be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it’s hard to do good Improv if you’re fearful. I’d venture it’s hard to do any art when you’re operating out of fear.
Julia Cameron said that “in order to recover as an artist, you must be willing to be a bad artist. Give yourself the permission to be a beginner.” So I’m going to try to extend the same grace I extended to myself in Level 1 – the freedom to fail. The freedom to (still) be a beginner, to do bad Improv. To trust that any failure is not a measure of self-worth, but rather just a stepping stone on a path, something to learn from in the moment, and laugh about later.
Because expectations and fear can choke us. And hold us back from really trying, from beginning and failing and beginning again.
So here’s hoping this beginner will have the boldness to fail big in Level 2, and have fun while doing it.
1 No, I do NOT know when the figure skating talk/analogies/obsessing will end. Probably never, or maybe next week.