Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. ― Brené Brown
This winter, I signed up for an improv class.
Taking an improv class had been on my short list for on-going professional skills development for years, as a way to hone and improve my facilitation and presentation chops.
And it sounded like fun, a great way to burn off a Minnesota winter’s cabin fever. I’d enjoyed playing improv games before in my coach and leadership trainings and even taught a few in my own classes, so why not?
My improv confession
Instead, after the first two initial weeks of class, every Tuesday afternoon, like clockwork, a gnawing dread would start to rise up, nipping at my insides.
My teacher was fun, experienced and insightful; my classmates were generous, funny and smart; and I was…. terrified.
And so very Tuesday, as I drove the 20 minutes to class, I found myself crying in my car for the entire twenty minute drive. Uncontrollable tears of fear flowing down my cheeks.
While I was crying and driving, I also started doing something else unusual for me: praying for divine intervention on my behalf.
Not typically the overt praying type, in between the tears, I found myself talking out loud, asking for help: that class could be ‘easy’, that I could be less hard on myself, that I could have fun and just relax.
True confession: an old and well-worn habit of mine is when I don’t do as well at something as I think I should, I can get very harsh with myself, and turn my disappointment into shame, wearing it like a heavy metal shawl around my shoulders.
Left unchecked, my habit of self-judgment can weigh me down and isn’t my most compelling way of being in the world.
Can you relate?
What happened next
And so while I could have very easily gone down that familiar path of shame and self-judgement, this time I took a different route: awareness, acceptance, and action.
So that every week during my tearful drive, three things always happened:
1) Relief – by naming and accepting my old fears as they are;
2) Gratitude and compassion – for the many gifts and good things in my life, as well as for the messy nature of being a human;
And 3) driving into the parking lot, blowing my nose, adjusting my big girl pants, and going to my class. And having a good time and learning a lot with amazing people.
Did I become a comedic genius or amazing improviser? No.
But for those 10 weeks, despite my familiar old limiting fears of not being good enough, being clueless or not “getting it”, every week I showed up, fully. I kept crying and talking to myself in my car, and showing up at improv class. I jumped in, swam around, and played well with others, despite my persistent fears and self-doubts.
More important than looking good or having people like me or appearing competent, I chose to stretch, learn, commit, experiment, and recover from my mistakes.
And while I work on many of these exact issues with my coaching clients, and teach many of these concepts myself, it was very humbling to once again come face to face with my own unique flavor of self-doubt as I tried something new and challenging for me.
What vulnerability can teach us
Of course, we will have doubts and fears as we step into something new: expect it.
But we don’t have to run our lives or careers by our fears, or allow them to stop us from bringing our best efforts out into the world. Instead as we get to know more about our fears and doubts, we can welcome them: they can serve us in reminding us what is most important.
By knowing our patterns, both the skillful and unskillful ones, by acknowledging and befriending them, and bringing compassion and understanding to ourselves, we can learn, grow and change through taking action. We can embrace, as Brene Brown says, that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
So that whether we’re improvising a scene, or leading an organization, or living our life, we can be conscious and intentional of what we’re producing or creating.
And I think that’s pretty courageous.
What helps you when take on something new, and your fears and doubts grab you by the collar?
How do you find your courage when you feel vulnerable?
Leave a comment below, join in the discussion!
And if you want help tapping into your own version of courage, schedule a complementary consultation with me!
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Kris Risley says
Thanks Hanna for sharing your story!! It’s really helpful to hear another person’s story of taking a risk, learning from it, and sharing it with us. It’s inspiring! I would say getting support and creating a plan help me when I am feeling afraid or when I want to be courageous. Also, being patient and showing self-compassion when I don’t act as fast as I would like or hope! Lately, through my yoga training, I’ve been experimenting with the concept of using my mind to get beyond my mind (or basically to get out of my own way). It’s a process of really checking myself to see just how true my thoughts and beliefs are. I hope you are well!! Kris
Hanna Cooper says
Love those, Kris – getting support, making a plan, being patient, practicing self compassion, checking out thoughts & beliefs! So great to hear from you – hope you are doing great too!
Beautiful post, Hanna. I can definitely relate to doing things I’m really scared to do — like host a live call for the first time yesterday. 🙂 I also want to take acting classes! I’m waiting for my local center to start them up again.
Hanna Cooper says
Thanks, Stephanie, for stopping by & commenting! Hope your live call went great – it’s only through taking action that we can work through our fears! I’d love to hear how it went!
Linda Anderson says
Inspiring post, Hanna, thank you for sharing. I really admire your courage in moving forward through the fear, not just once but repeatedly.
I’m learning to recognise those fears are often a sign I’m on the right track, on a path to growth, and so then can be welcomed in – as in here’s another little piece of me that’s stepping forward for healing.
For me, giving acknowledgement and full voice to the fears is always the first step – then I add in a little EFT Tapping (a kind of acupressure for the emotions) to start processing and releasing.
I also like Kris’ idea of ‘checking myself to see just how true my thoughts and beliefs are’. Generally they’re based on meanings I gave to things that happened when I was very small – and are now in need of an up-date 🙂
Hanna Cooper says
Great points, Linda – thanks for adding your voice and wisdom into the mix here! I like how you said it – fears as another piece of us that’s stepping forward and is ready for healing. Beautiful way of putting it! Great point as well to think about fears as beliefs that just need an update. Thanks for stopping by!
Lisa McLoughlin says
Oh thank you for sharing your story. I have many similar in my closet… I was struck by this sentence
“True confession: an old and well-worn habit of mine is when I don’t do as well at something as I think I should, I can get very harsh with myself, and turn my disappointment into shame, wearing it like a heavy metal shawl around my shoulders.”
This was my Aha moment in my own life…the magic link to help me discern if I was doing something I think I should or that I desire to do….when I realise I had a desire but was not quite as good as I want to be…I keep going. If I feel I am dreading and judging yet only doing because I should…then I try to stop asap… Very thoughtful blog. Thank you
Hanna Cooper says
Always glad to hear from a fellow traveler! That sounds like a magic link indeed! Love how you made that distinction between desires and “shoulds” – that’s a fantastic ‘aha’! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comment!
Hazel Owens says
I think it’s great that you were able to overcome your fears to some extent and attend the improv class! I probably would have cried in the car just like you if I had done something like that, since I have a huge fear of public speaking. However, as you learned, working through your self doubts and doing something out of your comfort zone can really help you become a better person. Thanks for sharing!
Hanna Cooper says
Thanks, Hazel! It was a great learning experience for me for sure! Thanks for chiming in!
This is very good sharing, thanks you very much.