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  • Jan Rybeck

Improv

Anxiety is a sign I am getting ahead of myself.


That was my mantra for many years. It helped me to slow down and to pay attention to when I forfeit the moment for the illusion that I could know (and control) what was happening next.

But old habits die hard.


Actually, I don’t know that they really die, more like go into retirement until they are called up for reserve duty to protect and defend against the onslaught of uncertainty, scarcity, and fear.

So it was a great gift when our youngest, just home from school for the summer, invited (forced) us to join her for an improv class.


For a number of reasons too boring to even think about writing here, I recently found myself swimming in a shallow pool of anxieties. This was not a bad sort of angst, more like the kind that can be motivating and energizing when framed the right way. What will I do with my life now? What is uniquely mine to offer this world?


These are great questions that I help others with all the time. So you’d think I would have some facility with them…but the truth is, until the questions are formed thus so, and I can trust the answers will come when I am ready, there is a rumbling in my gut that feels a lot like anxiety.

And that revving up, like a car not yet in gear, can be unsettling.


So yes anxiety is indeed a sign I am getting ahead of myself by trying to be where I am not yet.

And it is only in being where I am, that things can become clear.


Which brings me back to our improv adventure.


I have done improv a bunch, brought it into many leadership programs I have led, played around with friends, etc. So it was nothing new, except that, if you have ever done improv, you know this, the magic of improv is it is ALWAYS new. You never know with whom you are going to interact, with what you will be presented, and how you will respond.


And it is impossible to fail….unless, of course, you get ahead of yourself.

If you plan it doesn’t work.

If you try too hard it doesn’t work.

If you work at being funny, smart, or brilliant, it doesn’t work.

If however, as our lively and gracious Improv teacher Isabelle, reminded us, you are authentic in your response, it very well might work…but more importantly, you will show up more fully as yourself, which has more power than you can know.


What happened in that class was magic. We were a group of 20 beautiful strangers, all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. I can’t recall exact moments or interactions that made it happen, only that in being asked to respond authentically in the moment, there was a palpable aliveness that grew. By the end of our two hours together, I sensed a lightness and ease we each seemed to share, in our own unique versions, as well as a sense of light cast on us, illuminating new ways of seeing one another and ourselves.


I do think it is funny that every time I type improv, it autocorrects to improve. I can’t think of any way to better myself than to bring myself fully in response to what the moment is asking of me.


Just as spark ignites a flame, perhaps the light of possibility comes with learning to trust in the moment, that leads to the next, and then the next.


Think about it. How often do you hold back, or try to be how you think you should be because of some ideas you hold about a situation, a relationship, yourself, life?


How do you get ahead of yourself by trying to plan, figure out, or try too hard to be someone or somehow different than how you are right then in the moment?


How do you dim your own sense of self and possibility by thinking ahead and trying too hard to be other than how you are? And at what cost?



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