Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. ― Brené Brown
Dear Readers: I’m taking a hiatus from writing new blog posts for a bit, so I’ll be sharing some of my most popular past posts over the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy this one – please share your thoughts in the Comments box below!
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?
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