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How Jealousy Prevents Us From Getting What We Want

As you know, jealousy and self-defeating attitudes are something that has plagued me for my entire improv career. For years, whenever someone else got something I wanted, I judged them for it, and whenever a new opportunity presented itself to me, I would immediately assume that I wasn’t good enough to get it. Oy.

Courtney Rioux, a life coach in Chicago who works exclusively with performers who want to become unstuck, is someone who truly understands the kind of negative self-talk that we improvisers and actors have that holds us back. So this week, I asked if she would be willing to write a guest blog about this, with some tips on how to start thinking more positively. Enjoy!

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Okay, I admit it. I used to be insanely jealous of other actors and improvisers who were having more success than I was. I was unhappy with my career and I thought I should be further along than I was.

The funny thing is, the more I focused on what I didn’t have and comparing myself to others, the harder it became to allow new opportunities and growth to come into my life.

Ever been there? Are you there now? It sucks, doesn’t it?

When it comes to money or opportunities, a “lack” mindset can really keep you feeling like crap. Energetically, there’s no room for growth or success in that space.

Nowadays when I catch myself in a “lack” mindset, I stop and examine the thoughts that are running through my head. You wouldn’t believe the creative (and majorly unhelpful!) ideas that I would cling to — although you might be able to relate to some of them.

Check out some of the beliefs I caught myself thinking that kept me in a mindset of lack:

  1. “There is a limited amount of success. If you are successful, I can’t be.”
  2. “If you are successful, it means that I’m not good enough.”
  3. “I’m further behind than I should be in life, and you’re not.”

Yikes! It’s amazing how powerful those phrases become when left unchecked.  We actually start to believe them, and behave accordingly. The good news is, even the simple fact that you’re reading this article speaks to your desire to move beyond those limiting thoughts (and you certainly can).

Tapping into Awareness and Truth

In Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, she shares five little words that are the secret to awareness and truth. These five words will help your brain realize that even though you’re thinking destructive thoughts, they’re not Truth with a capital “T.” They’re simply thoughts that are running through your head.

Ready to learn those five little, amazing words?

“The story I’m telling is…”

If you just add the words, “The story I’m telling is…” before you say the beliefs that are keeping you unhappy and stuck, you can shift them later.

Here’s what it might look like in practice:

  • The story that I’m telling is… you made that team and I didn’t and that means I am not funny enough and should just quit.
  • The story that I’m telling is… you got a really good agent and now there won’t be space for me at that agency so I shouldn’t even bother trying.
  • The story that I’m telling is… I should be on a TV show because every other improviser in Chicago is right now and I’m not, and that means I’m not where I should be.

When you add those five little magical words before your thoughts, you leave room for the truth. Those five magical words help remind you that there is a more empowering way to reframe your thoughts to help you succeed. Here are some ways to reframe your negative thoughts:

  • The truth is… your success proves that there is a way for an improviser like me to do what I love. If you did made that improv team, I can too. There’s plenty of success to go around. There are plenty of other improv teams to join.
  • The truth is… There are plenty of people with agents. Just because you’re with an agency doesn’t mean I can’t be. I have no idea what they’re looking for; I’m not a mind reader.
  • The truth is… Not every single improviser is on TV in Chicago right not (even though it feels that way.) I’m exactly where I need to be; there is a perfect part for me that hasn’t even been written yet.

As humans we are awesome at making up meaning for everything that happens in life. What we could do better is making up more empowering meanings.

I dare you to try this today. As you move through your day, just notice when those limiting beliefs come up. Warning: Sometimes those buggers are hard to catch! When you do catch one, identify it as a story and turn it around.

I promise you’ll feel much better once you do.

What story are you telling right now? How can you transform it and find a more empowering truth in that story? Please share in the comments below!

Courtney Rioux, The Whole Artist, coaches performers who feel stuck in their career and want more out of life. She’s here to help you shift your mindset from stuck and unhappy to empowered and joyful — all while making it feel fun and easy. It’s like therapy without the therapy. Join her for a free call every month by signing up here.

198: Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia is the writer, director and star of his latest independent film, “Don’t Think Twice,” about a popular New York improv group where one of the members gets his big break. Jimmy talks to Mike about some of the themes in his film, like jealousy, self-sabotage and fame. Mike discusses falling in love with improv and why it’s so important for him to create his own projects.

It’s ok to be jealous

As artists, improvisers and human beings we all get jealous, some of us worse than others. Saying you never get jealous is like saying you never get angry or you never get sad or afraid. It’s part of the human condition.

With jealousy, the only thing we can hope for is that the duration doesn’t last too long. There have been times when I have been free of it, but jealousy is like cancer: Just when you think you’ve beaten it and it will never come back, it mysteriously shows up in another part of your body.

That’s precisely what happened to me last month. The uber-improv group Beer Shark Mice came to Chicago to do a series of sold-out shows and workshops at iO Chicago.

I have worked with all of the members of that group back in Chicago over 20 years ago, in once capacity or another. Since then, they have all moved to LA and have done extremely well. They are all very talented people. They have all worked hard. But still, I can feel jealous of their success in Hollywood.

Jealousy is not logical, it never has been, so to trying to figure it out makes no sense, but typically, the people I started out with in improv are the ones I can get the most jealous about.

Here’s what pisses me off about jealously, besides the fact that I have it from time to time: I am often too afraid to admit that I’m feeling it. When you say you’re jealous of someone, people misinterpret it and think you’re dissing on the person. That could not be farther from the truth.

Admitting you are jealous is a good thing. If you listen to my podcast, Improv Nerd, you have heard me talk about my jealousy of Tina Fey, who started in improv here in Chicago. First of all, my jealousy of her has nothing to do with Tina Fey. It’s 100 percent about me. It’s my issue. If anything, I am dissing on myself. Secondly, I have admitted my jealousy of Tina Fey over 100 times, and guess what? It seems to have subsided for the time being.

Being jealous of someone else just means that you wish that you had something they have. It can be talent, looks, money, fame… anything that you compare yourself to someone else with and feel like you fall up short.

I denied my jealousy of others — and a lot of my other emotions — for a very long time, and I can humbly say that denying that I felt it didn’t do any good. I didn’t admit I was jealous because I was worried of what people would think of me. People think jealousy and anger are bad, so I denied that I felt those emotions and stuffed them until they reached a toxic level in my body. When you do that, I can guarantee it will come out sideways and it will harm yourself and others and ruin your shows.

I did a two-person show years ago called Naked with Stephanie Weir, one of the best improvisers I have ever gotten to work with. The show was great, but it could have been much better for all of us if I could have dealt with me jealousy better. Not only was I incredibly jealous of her talent, but I also couldn’t admit it at the time, not even to myself. So instead, I made angry and negative choices on stage, which made me difficult to work with. I am sure I was nightmare for all involved, and I still have shame about that show.

If you get anything out of this blog today, I hope that it’s that it’s ok to admit that you’re jealous of others, because if you don’t, there’s a good chance it will turn into bitterness. I’ve been down that road many of times, and if we own it and takes steps forward in our own careers, it will dissipate and we can get out of our own way on stage and in our lives.

Only 2 spots left in Jimmy’s next Arts of Slow Comedy: Level 1 class! Sign up today to secure your spot in this award-winning class, starting Sept. 23.

Accepting Other People’s Success

Accepting other people’s success is not easy. Sooner or later it will happen to all of us: One of our friends will get ahead while we are left behind. It’s always hardest with the people we are closest to.

You may start out in improv classes with people, and some of them will end up making a Harold team but you won’t. Or they will get cast in a show or be hired by a big theater before you do. They may get an agent before you, and end up doing commercials, TV and film, while you’re still taking classes.

I’ve been feeling that way lately, now that Steve Carell has been nominated for an Oscar. Back in the ’90s here in Chicago, Steve was on the Second City Mainstage. I was in the same building writing and teaching corporate workshops for Second City Communications. Even back then, Steve was someone we all aspired to be.

Recently my wife, Lauren, very seriously said to me, “Aren’t you excited for Steve Carell’s nomination? I mean, if he did it, don’t you think you could do it, too?”

(For the sake of this blog, I wish I could say yes.)

My jaw dropped and my face had that “are-you-kidding-me?” look on it as “NO” dropped out of mouth, which sounded more like a “Fuck You.” If I was doing an improv scene with my wife, it’s clear I just denied her reality.

Lauren was a bit surprised that I had such a strong reaction.

I trust Lauren because she always been brutally honest with me about my acting, improv and the size of my penis. And she was sincere, which made it even crazier for me. I guess the crazy part was that I would not allow myself to even go there, to even think for a second that if Steve Carell did it, I could do it, too. I think they call this limited thinking.

When we hear news of people’s success there are really two ways of dealing with it. One is self-pity, thinking “What am I doing wrong? Everyone else is having success except me. I will never get it.” The other is to be inspired and think, “If they can do it, I can do it, too.”

Now, I am not close to Steve Carell, and to say I am one of his peers is a stretch, but I have been fortunate to work with other great people who have gone on to do great things, and over the years, I’ve realized that if one of my friends gets a great opportunity – a chance to be on a boat with Second City, a spot on the Mainstage, a pilot on TV – that doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I am friends with the winners.

When Jay Sukow was a guest on Improv Nerd his advice for improvisers was to “play with people who are better than you.” In so many words, he was saying “Hang with the winners.”

It’s not easy to work with people who are better than you, especially if your goal is to be the funniest or the best or the audience’s favorite. When you work with people who are better than you are, you can often feel like shit and tell yourself you aren’t funny at all. But take it from me: Instead of having the goal of being the funniest person on your team, try to have the goal of just getting better. And when you play with people who are better than you are, that’s exactly what happens.

I remember getting to play with TJ Jagodowski on Carl and The Passions. TJ is Mozart. When I played with him, I first had to let go of the idea of being the best or the funniest, and once I did, I felt relief realizing I was never going to be better than he is. Your ego always wants you to be the best or the funniest, but the artist part of you is always going to want to play with the best.

When you hang with the winners, you’re bound to see many of them go on to land great opportunities. And that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you suck, it just means they’re paving the way for you.

Experience Jimmy Carrane’s unique method of the Art of Slow Comedy during a One-Day Intensive on April 25. Perfect if you’re going to be in town for the Chicago Improv Festival. Sign up today!

10 Tips for Getting Ahead in Improv — Part 2

Last week, I outlined the first five points of my ten-point plan for getting ahead in improv. Read last week’s blog here.

This week, I’m back with more of my favorite pieces of wisdom. I hope this helps you, and if you have any questions for me, please email me at jimcarrane@gmail.com.

6. Everyone says it’s important not to be a dick in the improv community. How do I stay off the Dick List?
Getting on the Dick List is like stopping payment on your student loans — it stays on your credit report for seven years. If you want to stay off of the Dick List, be respectful. Speak your truth and know that you are not always right. In any group, you will need to learn to give and take. What seems so important and worth fighting for in a group or show will seem stupid in a couple of weeks.

7. How do you get over jealousy of other people’s success?
We are all jealous, like we all breathe. So admit it. When you deny it, it comes out sideways, and you end up alienating people. When you admit it, you have a chance to get rid of it.

Jealousy hates when you start creating because creativity cuts it by an average of 54 percent. So start creating: Work on a solo show, form an improv group, write a book, teach your own workshop. And if that doesn’t make you feel less jealous, pray for the people you are jealous of to keep being successful.

Also, remember that the person you are jealousy about today may help you out in the in the future. I cannot tell you how many guests I’ve had on Improv Nerd that I was jealous of their success, and because I was not a dick and let my jealousy come out sideways, they ended up appearing on the show.

8. Why do I even need to ask people to come to my shows?
Because it’s good practice in getting bigger and getting seen, which is one of your jobs as an improviser. In fact, I believe asking people to come to your shows is as important as any class you are going to take.

Most improvisers ignore the process of asking people to come to their shows because on some level they don’t really want to get bigger. Instead, they hide behind social media or have this attitude that they “just want to show up and play.”

Fine, stay small. I still struggle with this, but at least I am not kidding myself — I know am resisting getting bigger.

9. What is the best way to get people to come to my show?
Let me start by saying that Facebook is great, I love it, but creating a Facebook event and inviting people to it is not enough to get people to come to your show. You need to do more than that.

Doing something personal – such as a personal email or actually picking up the phone and talking to your friends and family – is harder, but it’s way more valuable. When I have a show, I typically write an email to my friends and say something like this: “I need your support. I have a show this Sunday, and I am really scared because I am interviewing Judd Apatow.”

You can also try other methods, such as creating flyers and postcards and sending out press releases. But nothing is going to beat asking people individually if they would be willing to support you.  Remember, it’s not about the results necessarily, it about the asking.

10. What is the quickest way to get better faster?
Get comfortable with failing. That is why you are taking classes: to learn how to fail. Once you get good at failing, you are ready do it in front of people. There’s no better teacher out there then failing in front of an audience, many times. Those lessons stick to you like Velcro. They enter your brain in a different way. Yes, it’s painful, but there are no short cuts. The more you fail, the faster you will get better, so fail, fail, fail all the way to the top.

Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? Jimmy’s next Fundamentals Art of Slow Comedy Class begins June 28. Only $249 if you register by June 16. Sign up today!

Do you have to be the funniest?

Do You Have to Be The Funniest ON YOUR TEAM?

I have recently discovered a flaw of mine that is impacting my improvising — and not in a good way.

Since I started improvising, I have always strived to be “the best improviser.” You might think that would be a good thing, but in fact, it’s done nothing but fill me with doubt and self-hatred. To me, being the best improviser always meant being the funniest person on stage, and I always think if I’m not the funniest, then I have failed.

Of course, this started way before I got into improv. Growing up, I had two brothers who were good athletes and popular, and two sisters who were good students and popular. Me, I was 300 pounds and ate way too many Little Debbie Snack Cakes and watched way too many re-runs of Dick Van Dyke and The Andy Griffith Show. Obviously, not popular. And even though I was enormous, I was invisible.

The only way I could compete with my siblings for my parents’ attention was to develop a lighting-quick sense of humor. By the age of 12, I had cemented my role in the family as the “funny one,” and this is where I got all my validation. As I got older, into my teens, being funny became my identity. It gave me self-worth, and no one in my family was equipped enough to challenge me for the role.

All that changed when I took for my first improv class when I was a somewhat-depressed, fat 19 year old. Suddenly, I was surrounded by funny people, and though it was the first time in my life I felt I had found my tribe, I also felt threatened.

I was like that boy who was the star quarterback at a tiny high school of 300 students in a rural farming town in Illinois who goes to play football at Michigan State. Sure, he’s excited to be playing in The Big Ten, but he realizes he’s no longer the star.

So from my first class on, I have been striving to be the funniest — to get back to the top of the mountain I came from in my family. I cannot tell you how many shows I’ve done over the years where I am not only counting the laughs I am getting but the ones my teammates are getting, too. This accounting system of self-hate is what I use to determine if I have a good show or not. And on top of it, I tell myself that this is just a device to motive me, when it’s just the opposite.

After years and years comparing myself to my teammates, it has never helped me — NEVER. It’s like playing blackjack in Vegas: You think the odds are in your favor, but at the end of the night, the house still has all your money.

All that comparing myself to others does is bring me down and make me feel less than.

Yet, I can’t stop comparing myself to others and trying to be the “best.” It’s too ingrained. I am sharing this with you because I am hoping that you will have some experience in the “got-to-be-the-funniest” department. Maybe you suffer from it, too, and maybe you have had some relief from it. If so, I would love it if you’d be willing to share. I could use the help.

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

Jazz FreddyJealousy exists, especially among improvisers and actors, though no one really wants to talk about it. It’s part of the human experience, much like anger or sadness. But we think it’s too ugly of an emotion to talk about, something we’re not “supposed” to feel, so instead, we deny we feel jealous at all.

Over the years, I have had real problems with jealousy.

When I started improvising in Chicago in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we all wanted to become famous. And some of us actually did

Chris Farley played on a team at the Improv Olympic at the same time I was on a team. He then got a slot on SNL and left for New York. Mike Myers would join our team once in a while, too, before he went off to SNL. Stephanie Weir and I did a brilliant show called Naked, before she got hired for Second City’s Mainstage before going on to Mad TV. I played with Rachel Dratch in Jazz Freddy, and knew Tina Fey back when she was chunky with bad hair, before they both, you guessed it, moved to New York and got on SNL.

And every time someone got something, I wish I could say I was happy for them, but I was not. I secretly hoped they would fail. I really turned being jealous into an art form. I could turn someone else’s success into “I must be doing something wrong.”

But the worst was when my best friend and roommate, Dave Koechner, got hired to become a cast member on Saturday Night Live (years before he moved to L.A. and got parts in Anchorman and The Office). That day, I threw out our television and considered jumping on the ‘L’ tracks to have the Brown Line run me over.

As my friends left Chicago for LA and NY for bigger opportunities, I turned jealousy into bitterness.

Then somewhere in my 30s and 40s, things started to change. My first step was reading a list of all the people I was jealous of to my friend, Eric, one Saturday afternoon in his kitchen in tiny garden apartment, and after reading it, some of the horrible jealousy began to lift.

Along the way I found some other tools that helped me that I want share with you.

3 Tips for Letting Go of Jealousy

1. Admit it
Admit that you are jealous and that there’s nothing wrong with jealousy. Find people you trust — friends, therapist, support groups — where you can admit these jealous feelings without being judged. You want them just to listen to you. Not, “Hey, I am jealous of Tina Fey,” and then they say something like, “Oh, there’s no reason to be.” Or worse, going into some sort of character assassination of the person for an hour. You just want someone to listen to you so you’re not alone with it. Jealousy is energy that needs to be released. If you don’t release it, it turns into an emotional cancer of resentment and bitterness, which does nothing to help you with your creative process.

2. Remember, they might help you in the future
One way to feel less jealous of people who go on to be successful is to remember that someday they may be in a position to help you out in the future. Oh man, this was so so helpful for me because I am one of those selfish people who needs to see what I can get out of something. Improv Nerd has been great with this. I have been jealous of many of our guests at one time or another, and when I realized they not only could help me out but also were willing to help me out, the jealousy started to fade rather quickly.

3. Create, Create, Create
The best medicine I have found for curbing jealous is creating. My jealousy is at an all-time high when I am not performing, writing or improvising. When I’m not creating, I just sit around asking “Where’s my piece of the pie? Is it ever coming?” But when I am in my creative process and writing or doing a show, I lose myself and everyone else’s careers don’t seem to matter so much.