My last blog talked about the comfort of knowing who you are and how you can make better decisions when you have a strong sense of self.  I talked about how being comfortable with who you are is important but staying in your comfort zone is NOT such a good thing. In that blog I threatened to tell you about my foray into stand-up comedy – a key part of my 2017 comfort zone expanding activity. So here it is. I hope it inspires you to try something new in 2018.

“The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun”  – Benedict Cumberbatch

The fun is in the not knowing

No one really knows how a joke is going to land with an audience, if they can be truly funny on demand, the kind of comedian they could be, the sort of heckles they might face, how the nerves will hold up.  I didn’t certainly know any of these things but I was curious.  I had always fancied having a go at comedy and the opportunity came up at the right time to join Sarah Archer’s Titter course.

I did know that I could be funny amongst friends, that I enjoyed creative writing and I wasn’t frightened of standing in front of an audience. Most importantly, earlier in the year I had spent 10 intensive weekends training in NLP which transformed my learning preference from a theorist to an experiential learner. I went from “let me think about that and try it later” to getting stuck in and then figuring out what it means.  This felt fine so long as I remembered that I was learning and not expected to be the expert.  It was ok for something not to work first time, or second time…or never! I also learned to trust myself to remember what I had done. Assessed coaching sessions as part of the qualification were like pieces of theatre where everyone in the audience is a critic.  I had to believe that I had the knowledge and that the right question will come to me in the moment so I could give the client a positive and valuable experience, show my learning to the full, and keep it together!

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to go down the chute”—Tina Fey

Having the experience of coming through previous tough challenges is a great source of courage and a reference point when facing a new one.  How often we forget or dismiss these experiences, but they all count.  Given my recent NLP experiences, it was therefore relatively easy for me to get stuck into learning microphone craft and improvising from Day 1 of the comedy course in front of a group of mostly strangers. I didn’t reveal myself to be an undiscovered comic genius, far from it, but that was ok. I didn’t have to be…I was learning! With each exercise and each week, I became increasingly confident that an idea would come to me when I needed it, that I would think of something and I would get through the exercise. After a little while, I felt able to embrace the feedback from the group rather than be anxious about their reaction. My own style began to develop and started to trust my judgement on what would be funny to others and what wouldn’t.

A helpful question: what is the worse that can happen?

Every time I remembered that the comedy course culminated in a performance in front of an audience of 75 people, waiting for me to make them laugh, my stomach would somersault, and I would suddenly be consumed by nerves. I would take a deep breath and ask myself “what is the worst that can happen?” The answer to that question was; 5 minutes of tumble weed, silence, a great deal of awkwardness for me and the audience ….and then I’d leave the stage and it is all over! No one will die and I would never have to do it again! I would still have the bragging rights even if I wasn’t funny.

“Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart” – Steve Jobs

It went really well and people laughed. At the start of the process, I wanted to be a quick-witted, razor-sharp Jimmy Carr or a biting social commentator like Mark Steel or Stuart Lee. Turns out I am more of a ranting Victoria Wood type!  I still wasn’t a comic genius but my material was aimed at an audience who happened to be well represented on the night and very receptive. I felt very comfortable on stage with a microphone.  Friends and family were in awe at my bravery.

“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific”  – Lily Tomlin

An experience but what now?

If you are expecting me to tell you that I have now launched my stand-up career, you’ll be disappointed! I haven’t done any more comedy spots though I would love to do more creative writing of a humorous kind when I have the time.  What I can say is that since the comedy, I have loosened up; in networking meetings, chatting to strangers and dealing with unfamiliar situations. I am more inclined to be myself. I have volunteered to do a couple of speaking slots in networking groups without knowing what I am going to say. I don’t worry about being judged now that I have stood in front of 75 people for the comedy show. Consequently, I found myself doing a Christmas Day dip in the sea in my swimsuit.  I  ran across the beach with all my wobbly bits on display and it was only afterwards that I realised that I had lost my swimsuit inhibitions in my enthusiasm to try something new.

I also joined a singing class for a one-off acapella session; learning how to sing Christmas songs in harmonies and then give a videoed performance. I hadn’t sung in public since the Junior School choir and wasn’t sure that I could sing but this was a good way to find out. I learned that I can just about hold a tune, if I don’t think about it too much, and that singing in a group can be fun with a great sense of achievement.

The longer term benefits of putting myself out there will be that I will look forward to the discomfort and uncertainty of the unfamiliar. The more I do it, the easier it will be.  I will become more flexible and have greater resilience when things don’t go according to plan. I will have a greater sense of what I am truly capable of.

“The pain of yesterday is the strength of today” – Paulo Coelho

Thanks to a significant birthday last year, my friends and family have already funded some new comfort zone expanding activities for 2018; F1 driving and an introduction to pottery. I feel anxious about the driving but I know that this will be fun and I will learn something – even if it is just that I am not F1 driver material! These activities are a start, but they are not critical to my business. So I will also be doing some comfort zone expanding in my work as well; such as getting over my disinterest in technology to write and launch online training and developing social media savviness.

So what are you going to do this year that will teach you something about yourself, expand the range of possibilities open to you in your business or career and nudge the boundaries of your comfort zone? Call me to found out how I can help you make that leap.