All my life, I’ve had a tendency to only try to do things that I feel fairly confident I will be good at. As a kid, somewhere along the way, I started realizing that there were things that I was not good at, and all the kids around me would reinforce those realizations.
For example, Little League. I never once had a coach tell me “Good job” unless it was telling the whole team at once, and my teammates liked to let me know how much I sucked. This pattern was pretty closely repeated when I played soccer, ran track, tried basketball… pretty much anything athletic, the other kids my age went out of their way to tell me that I sucked.
So I stopped trying to do athletic things, and I focused on areas where I had received praise.
This is not to say that my confidence was always well-placed. There have been a few things I’ve tried and failed, but I always went into them thinking that I was absolutely going to be able to do those things.
For me, confidence came before an attempt. This meant that I never really put myself “out there” with the potential to really fail. I was not taking risks.
In improv, a lot rides on taking risks, but I have generally still wanted to play it safe — not knowing how far I could take things with my scene partners, and remembering the terror of feeling completely stumped by the seemingly weird things some of my early scene partners would do gave me the idea that I should always try to hold scenes together.
Over the past several months (my baby-induced hiatus notwithstanding), I have been attempting to slowly push myself into riskier areas… but I still haven’t felt like I really got “out there” at any point.
Quick point of business — by “out there,” I don’t mean doing something that the audience finds weird. You never know what the audience will find weird. I mean “out there” as in trusting my teammates to have my back if I do something that they have no reason to expect. One of my favorite examples of this was from the ComedySportz World Championship in Portland, Oregon a few years ago… in the middle of a scene where I was playing a hit man trying to get my victim to turn his back so I could shoot him, I pointed out to the middle of the “lake” our characters were visiting. A teammate, Mookie, suddenly appeared from beyond the lip of the stage as a lake-dwelling dolphin leaping out of the water. I had no idea that he was there; I thought he was still on the sidelines behind me. It worked perfectly, because Mookie took a huge risk that paid off. Had it not paid off, it wouldn’t have ruined the scene, but it would have been… well… quirky. I want to take those kinds of risks.
…so this last week, a job came open at work. I asked a couple questions of a friend in that department about what the job really entailed, and it turned out that it was potentially way more intense than I had anticipated. It’s not a job a lot of people want, and it carries the potential for high stress.
If I were to be given that job, and fail… well, it would be unfortunate, but a lot of good people have struggled with the job and have tried to avoid it. But if I were to be given that job, and succeed… well, I could practically write my own career arc from there. Big responsibility in a department in which I have no direct experience. The odds are, realistically, slightly in favor of my not even getting an interview.
No guarantee of success even if I did get the interview; and no guarantee of success if I got the job. Real reason to doubt. Real reason to be uncertain.
Big, big risk.
I put in an application.
I give myself a 4% chance of getting this job, and if I do, hoo boy will I be scrambling at first. But I’m proud of myself for even taking the risk of putting in the application. I may not get where I’m trying to go, but I’m not letting uncertainty hold me back.
Just another way that my time in improv has helped me grow in real life.