Impostor syndrome. The feeling that you’re a fraud, that everyone is going to ‘find you out’ and that you don’t deserve to be here. Hands up who’s experienced this? I know I have. I’ve had a lot of it the last couple of years. Passing my driving test, buying a house, having babies; these are all things a real adult does, and I’m convinced that’s not me, though my date of birth would strongly suggest I should know what I’m doing by now.
This, my first blog for AndAlso, is giving me impostor syndrome. ‘But Jules always writes blogs, Jules is the eloquent one who reads books, I am just the charming clown’ says the voice in my head. Hey, at least the voice in my head thinks I’m charming.
Isn’t it funny the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves?
I think this is why I fell in love with improvisation. I was studying physical theatre and I was terrible at it (let’s rephrase that – I wasn’t a natural. I struggled and had much to learn). When we had a guest tutor, Kevin Tomlinson, come in and open up the world of Improvisation for us, I was giddy with the liberation of not being able to get it wrong. In fact, a step further than that – getting it wrong was in fact suddenly right. Mistakes were opportunities and messing things up was in fact hilarious.
It’s the best feeling in the world and the reason I love teaching improvisation. However, like all good drugs, the feeling wears off over time and the very thing that attracted you to improv in the first place comes back to bite you. Your inner critic is louder than ever.
I think one reason for this is the conscious incompetence part of learning anything.
‘In conscious incompetence, the learner is aware of a skill or knowledge gap and understands the importance of acquiring the new skill.’
Suddenly it goes from ‘just making up any old thing’ to understanding some of the tools and techniques of the art form and wanting it to be good. Alas, wanting your improvisation to be good can be the kiss of death. Have you ever wanted to have a clear mind during a meditation session on a peaceful day or beat your personal best on a run when you’re at your peak fitness? Sometimes, it just ain’t happening.
However, the good news is that if you can embrace improvising for the process not the product, for the sheer joy of it, you can keep that pesky inner critic at bay.
Like any kind of regular exercise, sometimes going back to the basics is a great way to focus the mind. So here are my 3 tips to keep that beginner’s mind when improvising:
1. Get rid of the question mark
I notice a lot when teaching that people present their ideas with a great big question mark at the end of their sentence. Signalling to themselves and others that anything they are doing is terrible. It’s almost always brilliant, it’s just the conviction that’s missing. So try to love your ideas like the helpless new puppies they are, and get rid of the question mark.
2. Focus outward
If loving your own ideas takes a while then never fear, just try loving someone else’s. Treating each other as geniuses, artists and poets is central to the ethos of theatrical improvisation (thank you, Del Close). Stop, listen and ‘yes and’ your partner with everything you’ve got.
3. Accept failure
You are a fraud, you’re an impostor, You have no idea what you’re doing.
Of course you are! You’re literally making this stuff up. But guess what? So is everyone else. I hope there’s a comfort in that.