Life Lessons Learned Through Improv

A couple of months ago I went on an awful first date. There’s not much of a story there except that I found him too much of an intellectual elitist. I hate wasting my time and always enter every experience (especially the bad ones) with searching eyes. Looking for treasure in the guise of a new hobby or lesson learned or a good story. As I was sitting over coffee with this pompous man, I tried to learn something. Anything. It was such a difficult endeavor since I was so turned off. Finally, he mentioned that he was a serious comedian and also dedicated a lot of his time to improv. He said anyone could take a free introduction class at any of the clubs in town. Ding, ding, ding! Treasure! After we parted ways, I shook off the icky feeling he gave me and went home and signed up for a free two hour introductory class. I went to the class and loved every minute of it.

I walked away from this class with a new conviction. Everyone should take a free improv class. Even if you have no interest in pursuing it further than just one free class. Not only will there be fits of laughter as you play, there are skills in improv that are useful in everyday life. Let me share three of them.

Failure Bows

During the intro levels of improv, we are encouraged to yell out, “I failed!” and then take a bow every time we failed to come up with the perfect line, let the ball drop, tripped either figuratively or literally, broke the rules of a game, zoned out, or do anything that made us feel like we failed. When someone yells out “I failed!” and takes a bow, the rest of us are to applaud them. The life lesson of the Failure Bow is two-fold. We should be proud for taking chances that lead us to our failures. We should react with admiration when we see people take chances and fall short. Our failures are our badges of courage.

Yes, And…

Improv is a live collaboration. Connecting with the audience and making them laugh hinges on how you work as a team. Enter the “Yes, And…” rule. When someone suggests something to you or invites you to play along with something, for the scene to stand a chance, you have to not only validate what your partner is saying to you but add to it. “We should get in this boat” should be met with an enthusiastic “Yes, and we should pack a snack!” There’s a beautiful openness and acceptance in the interactions during improv that could enrich our everyday life.

Be Present

To have a really great improv session, you have to be present. To really validate your teammates, you have to see and hear what they’re doing instead of withdrawing into your own mind and planning out your lines. The only way you can naturally and seamlessly move forward a scene is to be completely present. This means no live tweeting or instagramming. I’m the queen of preserving my moments live through my social feeds and yet that night I published nothing. I was too busy listening.

And there you have it. Three life lessons I gleaned from a bad first date.

Questions: What’s the best thing you have happened because of a bad date? Have you ever tried improv?