Failure is terrifying.
As much as we want to be #fearless and #hustle through life and say that we fail forward, we’re still afraid to fail because of all that judgment. I mean, look at GirlBoss on Netflix! People are just being terrible, and here I am (and I BET a bunch of you, after you made it past the first 1.5 episodes) having all the feels about how Sophia is taking on failures and having moments of breaking down, just to get back up with a vengeance. It’s the imperfect anthem we all deserve right now – we aren’t perfect, hell, people might dislike us, and when we make a mistake in life or ‘fail’, get back up, now, and do it again.
We get told to get up and dust off all the time. ‘It’s just a mistake! It’s not the end of the world!’ While the world (usually) doesn't end because of our failures and mistakes, it certainly feels like it might – or that our little part of it might. I still go through those moments of feeling like my little corner of the world will end because of a misstep or error, and they are fewer and farther between – and shorter. It’s gotten remarkably better by embracing the improv-thinking I teach to students with the company I’ve run for the past five years.
I started to embrace failure and fear when I moved from NYC to Winston-Salem, NC. When I left NYC, my first few months of my professional life in the south were...less than great. I spent a lot of time looking for a job, convinced my business would fail and I would be without a career and without a passion, all this without the safety net of my NYC day job.
In NYC, the business was my loving side hustle that I was too afraid to take a risk running full time. Now in a new place with new people and newfound time, I was convinced this might all be one giant mistake, and I would regret leaving the city that had endless potential.
After many frustrated moments and half-written cover letters to jobs I would be ‘fine’ in, I started paying more attention to my business, specifically the students. I watched them take risks, and over time, become better speakers, communicators, and people. When I stopped moving SO MUCH, I realized that improv based thinking really DID empower these students. My imposter syndrome was ugly, wrong and needed to be stopped.
Instead of continuing to be the biggest hypocrite ever, I started breathing the lessons I taught. Suddenly, I was taking chances and trying new things with the business - new classes, clients, initiatives. The best part? They didn't all work. Some failed, some lost me money, others lost me time and energy. And it was ok! I didn't die, I didn't lose the company and I didn't lose my life. It’s ok to not be ok all the time. When I needed to have my breakdown because of a misstep, I had it. It was much easier crying at home than on the subway, let me tell you.
I know I'm not alone - I see you out there. Maybe I've sat by you in the coffee shop or panicked quietly next to you on the subway – or you’ve panicked quietly on the subway next to me, or desperately tried to make it one more moment without bursting into tears. Are you trying to beat the fear of failure too? Take a breath and try these Improv Life Lessons:
1) Follow the Fear. In Improv, you lean into fear. You chase it, full speed, down the rabbit hole. In life, fear is often brought on by change. Changes are scary, life is so much safer doing the same thing. The problem with that is if you are constantly in one place and trying not to fail, you'll never succeed. That big thing you are afraid of doing because you might bomb? That's what you should try chasing. Most people never follow their fear - they play it nice and safe and stagnant. No good things come from stagnancy.
2) Embrace Epic Mistakes. Improv 101 – fail grandly. Life 101 – fail grandly. Don't tiptoe into something. You can't 'kinda' do things - you have to make a choice, and make it happen. If you are 'kinda' deciding to do something, the part that will hold you back is the part that isn't completely committed to the task at hand. And if you fail? Fail forward. Even slamming face first into the ground moves you forward. Make every fail a learning moment, and focus on the learning. If a mistake happens and you consider it a failure, get up and do it again. Only this time, try something a little different.
3) Show Don't Tell. Improv is magical - you can move time and space, most props are pantomimed. You want to do things, not talk about how you're going to do them. In life, activity makes things happen. If you sit, safe at home, waiting for something to happen and thinking about what might happen, nothing will happen. You have got to get out of your comfort zone and make things happen.
4) Just Say Yes. 'Yes And' is the most mainstream improv rule - I also have it tattooed on my arm because it's one to remember in all situations. You agree, you go along, you affirm your partner and you elevate. What if you took one day this week to just agree, affirm, go along with everything and elevate everyone around you? It very well might be the craziest day of your life - it also might be one of the most creative and stunningly fabulous days. 'Yes Ands' will get you out of the set of rules you've probably created for yourself to prevent failure and mistakes. And it might just be what you need. Don’t do this forever and spread yourself too thin! Test it out for a set amount of time.
If you are serious about getting past a fear of failure - try living life with these four improv lessons. If the four scare you, pick one to start, and then add another, and then another. And watch that safe little box you've created to protect you from failure get blown to smithereens by the awesomeness that is your true authentic self.
Jen | Contributor