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How blaming other people keeps you stuck

Have you ever gotten off stage after a so-called bad show and immediately started blaming your teammates in your head for what went wrong?

Even if you don’t tell them you’re blaming them, when you start to focus on other people as the problem, you run the risk of alienating them. Not a good move in an art form that is dependent on the trust and support of other people.

Blaming the audience doesn’t really help either.

We have all done this when the show doesn’t go the way we want it to go.

Unfortunately, I sometimes still do it, and when I do, here are three things that I’ve realized about it:

  1. I am usually filled with shame and just don’t realize it.
  2. I have cut myself off from an opportunity of learning and getting better.
  3. When I am blaming others, I am really blaming myself

With all my years of group therapy, reading self-help books and improvising, I’m well aware that when I’m blaming other people for my problems, that makes me the victim. But that doesn’t stop me.

Yes, I fully understand that you cannot get better and blame others at the same time, because you have no room to look at what your part might be.

For example, instead of blaming your teammates for having a bad show, maybe it went wrong because of something you did on stage. But it could also be more subtle — like maybe you were running around doing a hundred things before the show so you weren’t very present on stage, or maybe you stayed out at the bar until 3 a.m. the night before so you were tired, or any other version of not taking care of yourself.

And often, when a show didn’t go as well as I would have liked, it’s because I had expectations for how others should behave. The audience didn’t respond the way I would have liked them to or my teammate didn’t play the way I wanted him to play.

No matter what, if don’t use this time to look at myself, I am going to be stuck. My improv will hit a self-made plateau.

At this point, you can probably relate to the whole blaming nonsense, but you may be asking yourself: How can I stop it?

You can’t.

I am certainly not dumb enough to say, “Just stop blaming others.”

For me, when I am in my blame period, I try to be really nice to myself, go to the gym, work out, sit in the sauna, mediate, or call a friend. It is no different than when I have the flu. I let it run its course and when I am feeling better, I can gently look at my part.

Sometimes it will take me a couple of hours, sometimes days to let go of the blaming, and when I am ready, I can look at what I learned from that show. I will discuss my part with my therapist, my other improv friends or my wife, Lauren.

I am a fragile, over-sensitive artist with a slightly big ego. I can take improv and my life way too seriously at times. Yes, I need to get over myself – it’s improv for God’s sake. I am fully aware of this, and I am making progress and in my life and an improv. And that’s really all that matters.

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What a Toddler Taught Me About Rejection

As actors and improvisers, we deal with rejection on a regular basis. And even though I’ve been improvising and auditioning for a really long time, it’s still hard to not to take rejection personally, because I am still looking for outside things to put a big stamp of approval on my forehead.

When I audition for something and I don’t get it, I say to myself that I am loser and I want to blame the script; the director; the reader; the casting director; my wife, Lauren; our cat, Coco; the traffic; the economy; the state of Illinois; and the state of the world for me not getting the part. Really, I am angry and full of shame, but I mask it as blame. Blame is drug I use to medicate my real feelings, which are hurt and sadness.

Last week my daughter, Betsy, turned two years old. She is now in the “I only want Mommy for everything” stage. I only want Mama to put me in my high chair, get me my yogurt, change my diaper. “No Dada, only Mama.” The other day she got so angry at me in the kitchen when I tried to pick her up that she started physically pushing my legs and saying “No, Mama! No, Mama!”

If I am honest about my feelings, I felt a little angry, but mostly hurt and sad. I talked about how I was feeling with Lauren, some of my friends, in group therapy and in every 12-step program in the state of Illinois.

But no matter how much I talked about it, it still stung, and what I found interesting is that I did not blame her for “making” me feel angry and hurt. And even more surprising, I had compassion for myself, unlike how I typically feel after I fail an audition. Oh believe me, I still had my feelings. In fact, I still have some left over from a week ago, but I realize Betsy has nothing to with my feelings, and I also realize I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s really hard to take rejection personally coming from a toddler.

What I finally realized was that my feelings were not about Betsy. They were about the rejection I have experienced in the past. For me, it was rejection lite, all the taste of rejection without the shame.

This was something totally something new for me. Could I have my feelings of hurt, sadness and anger and not make it anyone’s fault, especially mine? Could my two-year-old daughter actually be teaching me something about rejection in my career? That if I don’t get something, there is a 99 percent chance it is not about me or my talent. And that I don’t have to take rejection personally and use it to berate myself for living.

If I’m right about this, my daughter is lucky, because I won’t have to waste so much time blaming others when things don’t go right, and that means she’s going to have a lot more time to play with her Dad.

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I Want to Quit Improv

If you are anything like me and you suffer any kind of disappointment in your improv career, you want to quit. Immediately. Change your phone number. Move out of state. Go into the witness protection program.

I am there right now. I suffered a big blow to my ego last week, and now I am struggling to keep it together — teetering between shame and wanting to sleep. I want to completely give up on improv: stop performing, stop teaching, stop doing Improv Nerd, stop writing this stupid blog because all I can think is “What is the point?”

And there is nothing more that I’d rather do right now than to blame — blame a person, a place, an institution or whomever for my problems and make them the reason that I throw it all away.

I see this happen all the time with improvisers here in Chicago, really talented improvisers who don’t get hired at Second City or don’t make a team, or their team gets broken up at iO and they end up quitting. And when you run into them a few years later at Starbucks they have a vacant look in their eyes and tell you the same sad story: “Second City didn’t hire me” or “Charna broke up our team.”

And the story always ends the same: They don’t improvise anymore, and instead they now sell copiers or work for a commercial real estate office out by O’Hare Airport. They’re miserable because they quit their dreams, and worst of all, they’re still bitter because all this time they’ve been blaming it on someone else.

I have been doing this my whole life. If a theater wasn’t going to reject me, I would do it myself. I quit doing my one-man show I’m 27 and I Still Live At Home and Sell Office Supplies because they weren’t treating me with the respect I thought I deserved. I quit doing godshow at Second City’s e.t.c. because I thought they weren’t treating me with the respect I deserved. And I left the Annoyance for the same reason.

It was always the same. I quit with a resentment because I would rather be a victim than be a success.

I didn’t realize it, but by quitting, I could stay small, and by blaming others, I could avoid taking responsibility for my own life.

Today, I’m beginning to realize that all of the times I quit something, it was never someone else’s fault. Same thing when I didn’t get hired or my team got broken up. It was me who was stopping myself, not any person, place or institution. There is a lot of rejection in this business, and we need to learn how to accept rejection and get back up again. That being said I am still struggling with moving forward after my big blow to my ego.

God willing, I am bottoming out on this because I am tired of blaming the Charnas or the Second Cities or anyone else that I can conveniently use as an excuse to call it quits. I am the only person standing in my own way.

I wish I could tell you that knowing this makes it easier to keep going or makes the feelings of wanting to quit less intense, but they’re not. But there is hope.

This morning I yelled at my wonderful and supportive wife, Lauren: “I DO want to push forward, I am just having a hard time!”

And I am, but in the moment I was willing to fight for myself, and it surprised me. I don’t know how I am going to push forward, I really don’t, but I know one thing: I cannot do it alone, and as you know, I will keep you updated on my progress. Thanks for all your support.

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