BY: BRAEDEN ETIENNE
The other day I was sitting down and having a conversation with a life coach I’ve been working with. My coach said he “noticed my energy” had changed in a big way recently.
Oh wow! How vague and intangibly awesome, I thought.
He said I seemed to be walking around the world with my chin held high, I seemed more open, and willing to have conversations. In short, I was behaving like a confident adult person.
When he asked what I could attribute my new confidence to, my mind immediately shot to improv. It had been one year since I started taking classes, and seemingly, the improv-tastic benefits have started seeping into my energy in a noticeable way.
It Was Confidence, Not Cockiness
I started playing guitar when I was 12, so by the time I was a 16 year-old, my confidence in my skill had grown. So much so, I quickly became the Wonderwall guy at parties. You know exactly who I’m talking about: the one who scours any guitar within a 100-yard radius for the mere purpose of showing off the ability to play (an even then) out of date pop-rock song.
A Wonderwall guy is cocky. This mentality doesn’t work in improv. It’s done for the mere purpose of going, “hey look at me do this thing that others can’t do, sit and watch me sucka.”
On the other hand, improv is a team sport. Those who show off won’t be celebrated in the same way. It’s all about working together to be awesome. Being confident not only in your own abilities, but the ability of your team, as well as the structure and tools of improv.
People ask me how you can confidently go on stage without knowing what’s going to happen. And it’s easy, you trust the people and tools you’ve learned are going to make the magic happen. You believe in your own abilities to listen, and those around you helping you out.
It’s not a big step to say you can trust others and your own abilities off stage too. This trust is called confidence.
Failing Like You Mean It
When you don’t give a hoot about failing, it’s really easy to be confident. Improv audiences are very forgiving. They think, “This improv thing looks tough. These performers are making everything up off the top of their heads, if they have a misstep, or say something wrong, we’ll forgive them and laugh along.”
My most useful realization as an improviser was recognizing the audience thinks this way. It allowed be to be more bold and forgiving of my choices. When I “mess up,” things are always okay and forgiven.
But newsflash: you make stuff up off the top of your head every day. The people in the real world are the exact same people in an improv audience. People in life are also making it up as they go along. This life thing is also tough, much tougher than improv, so we can all forgive real life mistakes too.
If you treat life like you treat an improv stage, you’ll quickly find it easy to accept failure when it happens. You’re certainly going to mess up in life, and people will forgive you. And there’s a lot of confidence in the knowledge things will ultimately be okay.
That Person on Stage is Also That Person Off Stage
I find being confident is a lot easier when I’m playing a confident character. I can puff my chest out, throw my chin up and speak in a deep assured voice. The other day, I did a scene where I was a confident Magician leading a street brawl against a rival Magician gang. I don’t know any magic tricks, I don’t often get into street fights, but I stood there confidently, sure of my abilities.
Where did that confidence come from? If I can be confident on stage, it must mean I have confidence somewhere inside. Improv taught me confidence isn’t some intangible or unlearnable thing. In fact, confidence is the red sparkly Dorothy shoes of your life, you’ve had the power all along - you just have to tap your heels and learn how to use it.
There’s a reason the anxious and sometimes unconfident like me love improv. The unprepared scenarios you go through are your worst nightmares. But so far, I’ve survived every single one.