Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Can we normalize fucking up? One of my goals as a creative and coach is to do just that. The fear of failure paralyzes many of us out of creating and doing what we really want. So let me spend a few paragraphs normalizing failure by telling you about the most epic and eviscerating creative fail I have ever experienced. Buckle up!
As alluded to in a previous post, I was kicked out of an improv group in the late aughts. The funny thing about being kicked out of this particular group is that they actually forgot to tell me. (I swear I am not making this up.) I was hanging out at a Chicago improv theater bothering a pal who was bartending when I mentioned I hadn’t heard from any members of the group for a while. This was very odd indeed, because one of the group’s members happened to be a close personal friend. The Bartender’s face changed. “They should have told you.” TOLD ME WHAT?!?! My body seized the way it does when you know you’re about to receive some really shitty shame filled news. My limbs went cold, my stomach dropped. I braced myself for impact. “They kicked you out of the group.”, she said. My head began to spin. I wish I hadn’t had that third mandarin vodka and soda. “Are you sure?”, I asked. The Bartender texted another comedy kid to confirm. Who responded with: “Yeah, they kicked her out and submitted to the Del Close Marathon without her.”
What. The. Fuck? Everyone KNEW but ME. I was stunned. I had been ghosted by an improv troupe!!!! And that improv troupe submitted a video of us performing to one of the biggest improv festivals in the world. The kicker? We-I mean THEY, got in.
That improv troupe most definitely did not want to keep me.
I ordered another mandarin and soda. I literally had no other coping skills at the time so alcohol was the best I could do to numb the massive shame wave that was threatening to drown me. I got drunker and started making calls on the sidewalk because that seemed like a really good idea. I called my best friend at the time, and hold onto your butts guys, cause guess what? She knew too. I KNOW! My horror grew. I started calling the other members. I don’t remember much of the conversations. I’m five foot two so four vodka sodas really makes things happen for me. But I do remember how the calls felt. I remember how alone I felt talking to each of them. How my identity as a performer felt obliterated and fraudulent. How worthless it made me feel that no one, not even my closest friend, was brave enough to sit me down and tell me the truth. I cried. A lot. What’s nice about that though, is that after a huge cry I become dead calm. Think Norman Bates calm. Once I was calm (and sober) I started to take action, and that action led me to making my way through The Artist’s Way.
By doing The Artist’s Way I realized my deepest desire wasn’t to be on an improv team. My deepest desire was to write and perform a one woman show. Which I did. *hair flip* After several months of typing on the train to and from work, Skinny Dipping-Not Your Mama’s One Woman Show! was born. I then produced and performed a Chicago run, which created the momentum I needed to leave my truly terrible career in Commercial Property Management and live a life that felt more honest and aligned. A life I wouldn’t have enjoyed had I not failed so fucking miserably and been booted from that group.
At the time I thought I would never get over the shame of that failure. I truly believed I would carry the embarrassment with me forever. The reality is, I go several months, maybe even a year without thinking about it. And when I do, I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. I laugh. I mean, I was ghosted by an improv troupe you guys. The comedy literally writes itself. Yeah they went on and performed without me at The Del Close Marathon, but that was probably the last time they performed together before disbanding. Turns out I was on a sinking ship. They just chucked me overboard a little early.
And now? I’m grateful it happened. What felt so colossally awful at the time became the inciting incident for me to tap into who I was, what I really wanted, and then give it to myself. Now this isn't a "everything has been pumpkin spice latte perfect ever since" story. I have failed many MANY times since. And each time feels fucking TERRIBLE. Yet, each time I learn something new. So much so that I feel confident in calling myself an expert at failing. I’m so good at it that once I finish my failure sob and become Norman Bates Calm, I start looking for the lesson or new path failing inevitably provides. Now, failure feels normal. It's to be expected. And I like it that way.