Dear Finest City Improv Community,
You and I have some things in common. For starters, we have dreams and goals and the drive to make them into our realities. But we don’t stop there. We not only want to live up to our high expectations, we want to accomplish them all with grace and courage and strength.
And I want you to know, I believe it is possible. And learning improv can help you.
When I set out to accomplish my life’s dreams, I had my plan and my course of action. But, spoiler alert, my plans changed.
When I graduated, I put my degree in Library and Information Science into action. I worked with organizations to improve their information management and information research methods. Ever since I was young, I knew I had an analytical brain. I was always learning, always asking questions, and I was only satisfied with answers backed up by research and data. I was a perfectionist. I enjoyed having control and I hated making a mistake. In fact, when I did make a mistake, it would haunt me for weeks. I would pour over my research and bury myself in my work to ensure a mistake would not happen again. The degree I had, and the career I had, made perfect sense for me. And the result? I was very good at my job. But, like so many of us, I knew there was more I could do. There was more waiting for me.
One day, I took an improv class at Second City in Hollywood. What is improv, you ask? Well, improv is defined by the dictionary as: “to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; to compose, play, recite or sing on the spur of the moment; or to make provide or arrange from whatever materials are readily available.”
It was a little out of the ordinary for me. Why would I take an improv class? Improv is the exact opposite of having control. (Something I valued very much.) Improv fully embraces a thinking-on-your-feet mentality, and not necessarily the methodical and calculated method I enjoyed so much in my day job. And more importantly, why would I drive the two-plus hours up to Los Angeles to do this??
All of those are valid questions. And my very best answer for you is … I learned more about life through improv than all my education combined. Seriously.
I absolutely loved what I was learning in the improv classroom. Here I was with this group of strangers with no plan, no pre-determined outcome, making magic on stage. I was fascinated by the fact that all of us were working together so seamlessly. We were connecting with each other, listening to every offer, and saying “yes” to anything and everything that came our way. We as a group had worked better together than most of my teams in a corporate setting.
I remember wondering why everything was going so well. I wanted answers. So, I started doing my research. And what I found out; I was learning a way of life. I had boiled it down to three things: Be present. Listen. Say yes. It sounds so simple, right? Wrong.
How many times have we sat in on a meeting or been at a party talking to someone, and our mind wanders off to other topics. “Did I respond to that email?” “Did I forget to lock the back door?” “I need to pick up a card for my friend’s birthday tomorrow.” Sound familiar? I am guessing this happens quite often to almost all of us. But, what we don’t realize that by not being present, we are missing opportunities. We are missing a chance to authentically connect with the person standing right in front of us. Improv has proved to me that when we are present with the people around us, we learn more. We see more opportunity and feel connected with our community of friends and family.
The same goes for listening. Our brains move quickly, dissecting information and categorizing as needed. I often found myself finishing a story or sentence for others, because my brain (I thought) had connected the dots and I knew the answer. I liked knowing the answers. But, improv turned my bad habit on its head. What I thought was listening, was not. While I was quickly connecting the dots, I was missing out on an authentic connection with the storyteller. Improv taught me to let go of any answer I thought the conversation was headed towards. By doing this (and it was not easy) I was able to look at things differently, through another person’s eyes. I even applied my listening skills at the office. I would find new opportunities for solving problems, I was able to focus on the details my “non listening brain” would have otherwise missed. And through that experience, I was challenged. I was forced to let go of control. This was epic for me. I based my career off of control! But what I learned was, I was able to adapt to anything. People would recognize that when they spoke, I listened. They trusted me, and I became a better team member, a better manager, and a better employee. By listening and letting go of control, I became even more confident in my ability as a leader.
And finally, learning to say “YES.” Again, another tough lesson. We say “no” all the time in life. But why? Because it is easy? Because we are scared? Because we want control? Maybe it’s all of those things. In improv, it is a golden rule to only say YES. Saying “yes” is not only an exercise of releasing any and all control, but it is a means for opening up opportunity. I found that by saying yes, I was continuously surprised by the effect it had on my life. I’ve met more clients, I’ve had more adventures, I’ve laughed more than ever before and I feel like I am squashing that “what if?” question, that haunts so many of us when we reflect on our lives. Saying yes made me feel fearless and bold. In this improv class, I had found an outlet that valued those attributes. I was able to stretch those skills and leave feeling empowered. Which feels pretty awesome.
But, the ability to do these three simple things is not easy. You have to work at it. Practice it, daily. I can honestly say that practicing these things has made my life better. I’m not as hard on myself when I make a mistake, mistakes are opportunities for growth. I listen and connect more with clients, friends, and family. I felt confident in my ability to adapt to any situation and face it head on. I know I am not perfect, but I am learning more about myself through these experiences than ever before.
So, I continued on with improv. Many years of training later I’ve never once thought about quitting. The personal growth and the friendships I’ve formed through this experience is something I won’t ever give up.
When, one day, while driving up to Los Angeles I asked myself a question … “What is stopping me from opening up an improv theater in San Diego?” I thought about this long and hard. I was driving up to Los Angeles for training that I could have in my own back yard. I knew I wanted to share these improv experiences and lessons with so many of the creative, talented, amazing people of San Diego. I wanted to help people reach their full potential, change their way of thinking, and get out of their own way on the path to success. I knew I could do it. I knew I could say yes, be bold, fearless, and go for it. I was ready.
In 2011, I started Finest City Improv.
At first, I ran improv classes out of a temporary space, I partnered with teachers, coaches, and directors of improv to bring high quality training to the people of San Diego. I had improv teams performing to audiences on a regular basis, and I’d developed a corporate training program designed to teach these improv fundamentals to businesses. I was proud of these accomplishments. But, I knew if we were to be the hub of Improv here in San Diego, we needed more.
The Finest City Theater opened in December of 2013 in North Park. We currently have over 70 students enrolled in classes, we have improv shows every Thursday through Sunday, and our corporate clients include GoPro, Kaiser, Seer Interactive, and The Komen Foundation.
I sometimes look back at where I came from and I think about the person I was before improv changed my life. I’m still an analytical thinker and a perfectionist. I’m still an inquisitive and eager learner. But I am thankful every day I decided to say “yes” to something outside of my comfort zone. I’m happy I’ve learned to become fearless and bold. Every day is different and has its own ups and downs, but I know I can handle it. If I didn’t say yes and give up control to what I thought my life should be … I would not be living my dream. I would not be the person I am today. I still practice being present, listening, and saying yes. (Especially on the weekends when I have an audience watching!)
But what makes me most proud is when I meet people who tell me the skills Finest City Improv teaches has helped them in their relationships, their businesses, and brought them back to having fun, connecting with people, and staying creative.
So I ask you, “Are you living in the present? Are you really listening? Are you saying ‘yes’?”
I invite you to come see a show at Finest City Improv. Come see people living boldly and fearlessly with no agenda, no plan – just connecting with one another, letting go of all control, and living to talk about it. (Then doing it all again the next weekend with no reservations.)
We all have high expectations we want to live up to. I believe reaching those are possible, and improv will without a doubt help you, just as it did for me.