I sat in my bed, staring at the “Add To Cart” button for a good five minutes.
“Am I finally going to do this?” I asked myself.
Holding my breath, I clicked the button.
A few minutes later, I received an email, making everything official. I had just registered for my first class at The Second City.
For those who don’t know, The Second City is one of Chicago’s premiere schools for improvisational comedy. Amateurs and professionals alike take classes at The Second City to learn the principles of scenic improvisation.
I first learned of The Second City during my sophomore year of high school while doing some research for speech class. My speech was on Saturday Night Live, the world-famous sketch comedy show produced by Lorne Michaels. I have always loved Saturday Night Live and what it represents.
At the time, the cast was filled with legends, including Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon. Those players were a big influence in my decision to try theater in my last two years of high school.
While I went on to pursue a degree in music performance, I have always had an appreciation for theater, especially improvisational, sketch, and stand-up comedy. Since high school, I have wanted to try my hand at those styles but have never taken action until now.
Instead, I found myself confronting a number of barriers, most of which were psychological.
The truth is that, if I truly wanted to try comedy of any kind in the past 31 years, I would have found a way to do so. Instead, I made excuses to justify my inaction.
I said that I lived too far away from a program like The Second City. I said that I was too busy to write sketches. I said that I had no material for stand-up. All bullshit.
I chose to blame everything except myself. The reality was that I had to overcome some deep-seated insecurities. I still do.
In this particular case, I have to overcome insecurities about being funny, which stem from lifetime of using a faulty mental model that I created to understand human emotions.
You see, I have never been the best at understanding emotions. So I have found ways to understand emotions in more tangible ways, like laughter. For me, laughter is a tangible symbol of social acceptance.
All my life, I have loved making people laugh because I interpreted their laughter as social acceptance. However, problems arise when people don’t laugh or when the situation in which I find myself makes jokes and laughter socially inappropriate. What am I supposed to do in those cases?
What am I supposed to do if I try improv, sketch, or stand-up comedy and no one laughs? After all, the audience paid money to laugh. They expect to laugh; they expect you to be funny. You don’t want to let them down, right?
By turning laughter into a zero-sum game, I’ve created a fixed mindset about laughter where laughter means I win and no laughter means I lose. While I have worked hard over the years to move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset about laughter and other things, I still struggle with my fixed mindset on a daily basis.
People are creatures of habit, and habits are one of the hardest things to change, in my experience anyway. Because I have used the “laughter equals acceptance” framework for my entire life, I find it extremely difficult to disassociate the two concepts. I have formed a bad mental habit, which has created a barrier between me and my goals, like studying improv at The Second City.
So why did I finally decide to pursue my high school dream of studying improv at The Second City? Because I have finally realized that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. More importantly, I’ve also realized that pursuing your dreams does not require you to go “all in.”
There is a common misconception that to follow your dreams you must throw caution to the wind, quit your job, and pursue some risky endeavor like starting a business, traveling the world, etc.
However, you do not need to do something dramatic or grandiose to follow your dreams. You simply need to move in the direction of those dreams, one step at a time.
So follow your dreams, even if you do it part-time.
For example, I am not a professional writer, but I still write. I am not a professional chef, but I still cook. I am not a professional martial artist, but I still train, albeit inconsistently.
Now, I have embraced the fact that I am not a professional comedian. Still, I want to study improv. So I took the first step; I registered for a class. While I may never be a professional comedian (I’d have to be funny first), it’s too important to me not to try.
I will leave you with this challenge from Mindset by Carol S. Dweck:
Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid you weren’t good at it? Make a plan to do it.
Remember that you do not need to be a “professional X” to try X. So go ahead and give it a shot. No matter what happens, you still win because you challenged yourself to learn and grow.
What childhood dream have you avoided out of fear? What is the first step that you can take to pursue that dream? Leave a comment and share your answers.