Sideline Self-Doubt

There have been a handful of lessons in improv that have profoundly impacted me. Six years ago…I think it was six years ago….time flies…I was fortunate to take an improv from Joe Bill at the Seattle Festival of Improv Theater (SFIT! Love it! Go to Seattle and enjoy the festival. It’s this weekend! They’re in their 14th year!). He admitted something, which I thought up until that point improv could fix. The wave of doubt. The second guessing. The self doubt!

“We can’t get rid of self-doubt. You will feel the doubt. It’s always there,” he began.
Wait a second! We can’t rid ourselves of this thing? No amount of “yes, anding,” or supporting will smother that bastard? I’m forever going to have self-doubt.

[closeup to a wide shot] Nooooo!

But, he continued, (Thank goodness. I was about to pack it up. “Well, improv. It’s been a hoot! I’m outta here.”), “We always have doubt, but we need to tell it to shut the fuck up, and we’ll deal with it after the show.”

Oh Joe! I was both relieved and confused. Self doubt is with me, but I can tell it to leave me alone for awhile? I didn’t quite understand, but I knew it was an important lesson. I felt like I was in a movie, receiving an important moment of foreshadowing. I didn’t know how to process it, but I was confident it would take shape over time.

And, it has! Over the past six years, over the course of hundreds of scenes, his wisdom has only become more wisdom-y-er. It’s clear there are only two options in a show. Option number one: Ignore the fear, suddenly notice the fear, and then judge yourself for having fear. Option number two: acknowledge the fear, notice the fear, and agree to deal with it later.

We can’t judge ourselves for feeling something during a show. When we do that, prepare for an emotional spiral (“Why can’t I stop?! Professionals probably can stop this feeling! I guess I’m not good. I’ll never be good!” Walk offstage and eat a pint of ice cream). It’s not realistic to shut off the feelings. The best we can do, as Joe Bill said, admit upfront we’re going to feel it. This will help us keep from being rattled when it appears. The feeling exists, you can’t overcome an instinctual feeling. You’re normal for having self-doubt. It’s always sitting on the sidelines after every choice, waiting to strike. Just try and tell your doubt to stay on the sidelines, until after the show.

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