Stretching Beyond Your Comfort Zone Delivers Delightful Surprises: How Improvising Helped Me Grow During Time of Crisis

I started Impactful Improv without any real improv experience. Outside of an orientation program in graduate school which focused on team building, I had taken one improv class.  I blended my limited improv exposure with my professional background and expertise to design my pilot workshop. That first workshop served as the proof of concept for Impactful Improv and started an amazing journey for me. To gain more insight into improv, I took a few 101 level classes at all the Pittsburgh improv theaters. Little did I know that my research would become a hobby that I would not only enjoy but one that would better prepare me to ride the wave of the current situation.

When I left Corporate America to focus on Impactful Improv full time, I couldn’t make the time commitment to an improv team. While in quarantine I have been able to participate in some online improv classes with Arcade Comedy Theater and The Second City. After class one night, I realized how much improvising really stretched me beyond my comfort zone and how I consciously and unconsciously utilize it every day.

In March, I wrote a blog about how I used improv principles to navigate the unknown. This month, I went a little deeper in my reflection on my performance experience. Here is what I realized:

Virtual Engagement

While on stage, I have trained my mind to suspend belief. If my scene partner says we are on the moon, then I am on the moon with them in that scene. Instead of feeling trapped at home, I had virtual adventures to London to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Show Must Go On,” to my first magic show at Liberty Magic and to numerous networking events. Sure, I miss the laughter, applause, and energy of in person events, but I was able to create wonderful experiences while donating to charities to help those in need

Appreciative Listening

In improv performance, it is critical to listen to your partner. As people became more and more frustrated with the limitations of quarantine, I found myself listening not only to what they said, but genuinely asking questions to understand why. Being open to the thoughts and perspectives of others helped me to really understand the other person’s point of view and provide additional input form my own point of view. By listening, I got to the heart of many debates to understand the underlying concern. Combining this understanding with the curiosity described in last month’s guest blog contributed by Dave Bindewald, I started finding delightful new solutions to share with friends and colleagues

Kindness

Prior to going on stage, performers tap each other on the back and say, “got your back.” I write about this topic often because to me it is one of the greatest things about improv.  We need to trust each other to create something unique and fun together. I need to rely on them to help me turn my mistakes (and I still make many) into something that the audience can enjoy. To me this translates into the importance of kindness and respect for one another. I feel it is important for us all to have each other’s backs, even when we may disagree. I recently heard the statement that we have all been impacted by this virus, we are just not all impacted equally. I am not sure how much people feel it, but every day, I try to do something positive for another person or in a social media post. I hope my everyday actions can help to make the world just a little bit better.

I was delighted by these realizations and look forward to the day when I can once again audition and be part of an improv group. Until then, I am grateful that I had the courage to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I hope you can take a step beyond your comfort zone and that you will be delightfully surprised with the growth and benefits that come with it.

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