I’ve always been blessed with the ability to make others laugh. So I just assumed I’d be a natural when I signed up for an improvisational class at Improv Olympic in Chicago. I was pretty young and felt fearless. Now my brother Armando is well known in the improv world and owns a theater in N.Y. At that time he had already made a name as a Director and teacher of improv in Chicago. He actually trained at Improv Olympic. Who knew that this fact would work against me?
There were 35 students in my class and they all seemed to have an intimate relationship with Armando. Habitually they’d torment me mentioning a casual party where they had met my hilarious brother or how they had taken one of his unbelievably stimulating and life changing improv classes. As each week passed, the taunting continued. I began to imagine that they would be meeting at an abandoned warehouse, like all good villains, equipped with lists of my personal flaws and insecurities, plotting on how best to slowly shatter what was left of my confidence. Their motive…they must have anticipated my potential, but well hidden talents, and so blossomed the plan to take me down! It couldn’t possibly be that they really admired my brother and just wanted to share it with me. Ha! Rather unlikely!!
That’s how crazy our illusions become when we smell our own fear. Each time I stepped on stage it felt like someone was holding a gun to my head and was screaming “be funny or I’ll give you something to be funny about!” That doesn’t sound right but I’m pretty sure it was my mom’s voice pressuring me. Regardless, under these circumstances all I could do was bomb big!
As I was out for a drink one night with Armando and his friend Kevin, who was touring with second city at the time, I mentioned how incredibly uncomfortable I was each time I failed. Kevin’s response was “so get up there and make a complete fool of yourself next time. Do the most embarrassing thing you can possibly do to get over your fear and then just move on!” It was great advice. I wish I could say at the time I was courageous and now I am a regular guest on 30 Rock, but no. I allowed fear to step up a notch and quit the class.
By the way Tina Fey is my hero as she stands in her truth without an ounce of dignity but with such ease. She makes uncomfortable so acceptable. She’s fearless as the queen of vulnerability as she pulls a 2 day old half eaten pop tart out of her couch, sniffs it and then takes a bite; you just feel that she must have done this in her personal life. Not that I can relate. Of course there was that time I ate white castle burgers left out on my sister’s coffee table for 5 hours, after a late night, but I digress.
Fear can be overwhelming if we perceive it to be. It’s an illusion like control. Pema Chodron writes “we’re always looking for a permanent reference point, and it doesn’t exist. Everything is impermanent. Everything is always changing-fluid, unfixed, and open. This is not actually bad news, but we all seem to be programmed for denial. We have absolutely no tolerance for uncertainty. Instead we stay caught in a fearful, narrow holding pattern of avoiding any pain and continually seeking comfort. This is the universal dilemma”
Sometimes I think we all need to sit in uncomfortable situations and practice not fixing but embracing it through love. You can’t feel fear when you are feeling love. It’s not possible.
Writer Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love says “any situation that pushes our buttons is a situation where we don’t yet have the capacity to unconditionally love. Our comfort zones are the limited areas in which we find it easy to love. As uncomfortable as our life might be, as painful or even desperate at times, the life we’re living is the life we know, and we cling to the old rather than try something new. Most of us are so sick of ourselves, in one way or another. It’s unbelievable how tenaciously we cling to what we’ve prayed to be released from.”
As much as I wanted to succeed, I clung to fear and my old safe way of being. If I could have just loved myself without judgment, and embraced the unknown, who knows what would have been possible. Take the advice from Deepak Chopra. He says “when you experience uncertainty, you are on the right path. Uncertainty is the fertile ground of pure creativity and freedom. If you hold onto your attachment of a specific result, then you shut out a whole range of possibilities. You might find a higher ideal or something more exciting in the process. When you step into the field of all possibilities, you experience all the fun, adventure, magic and mystery of life.”
Recently I delivered a speech in front of 1200 people and although my significant other at the time insisted one line in it wasn’t funny, I tried it anyway. It didn’t get the reaction I wanted but I noticed no one booed or threw rotten fruit. I certainly didn’t have the moment I had feared, but it was just sort of an uncomfortable empty silence. My greater benefit, as Deepak would say, is that I learned to be open to my experience without holding onto the outcome, and I will do it again. I had grown creatively and will continue to practice living in that freedom especially when it’s uncomfortable because who knows where it ultimately will lead. I feel closer to Tina Fey already.