Betsy with peas

Embrace Your Messiness

When Betsy was born, people said stupid things to me like, “You are going to learn a lot from her.” I was so annoyed by that, why, I can’t tell you, but they were right. So far she has taught me about patience and unconditional love and how to survive on a minimal amount of sleep.

But the other day, Betsy was sitting in her high chair and trying to learn how to feed herself. My little determined daughter would grab tiny handfuls of cold oatmeal mixed with little specs of prunes off the high chair tray and attempt to put them in her mouth. About 85 percent of her food landed elsewhere — the floor, her clothes, her face — so much so that she looked like she was face painting. She was having fun.

Her mother was far more annoyed than I was, but what I realized as I was watching her was if you are going to learn a new skill it’s going to be messy. At this stage in her development, she was going to miss much more than she was going to succeed. What was so fascinating to me was she didn’t seem to have any judgement about how much food landed in her mouth versus how much food landed in her hair. She was having fun with the process.

I’ve talked, and probably even written in this blog, about how messy it is to learn improv and how most people starting out, me include, want to skip this step and go right to genius-level. It does not work like that, thank God, because if it did, it would just produce more dicks, myself included. By accepting that learning and growing is going to be messy without judging ourselves for making mistakes, we become humble and infinitely more teachable.

What I learned from her is she does not beat herself up or put unrealistic expectations on herself when she can’t reach her goals; she leaves that up to her parents. Instead, she just trudges along doing the best she can. The progress I see with her feeding herself is gradual. Some days more food lands in her mouth than on her face, and sometimes it’s like we are starting over. But slowly, she is getting better.

One of the problems many improv students have is they want to get better fast, and they can’t see the incremental progress they are making along the way. All they see are the bad shows or bad moves they make in a scene — the places they messed up. But here’s the thing: If you’re out there taking classes and continuing to do shows, your most likely getting better each time and not even realizing it.

My wish for you, and myself included, is to accept that you’re going to make mistakes, to embrace your messiness, and to have as much fun no matter how much food you’re getting in your mouth or in your hair.

Want to make your two-person scenes really memorable? Sign up for Jimmy’s next Art of Slow Comedy Level 2 class, starting April 5! Pay only $259 if you register by March 22 ($289 after).

3 replies
  1. Carl Norbeck
    Carl Norbeck says:

    The same is true when learning karate. I was soooo clumsy at first that I “burned” with embarrassment and felt like I should apologize to all the more advanced students. It took me 10 years to get my black belt (at 50) but it was super special for all the hard work and bruised ribs it took to earn it.


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