The results don't matter

I want to let you in on a little secret about improv: The results don’t matter.

I need to keep reminding myself of this one, because lately this has gotten in my way of my improvising and of teaching improvisation.

If I do an Improv Nerd and the interview does not blow people away or the improv is not hysterically funny, I feel I have failed. If teach I class and the students leave frustrated and confused, I feel I have failed. I am assigning a certain result and certain feeling to my shows and my teaching, and if I don’t live up to that expectation, I think I have failed as an improviser, a teacher, and worse, as a person.

The beautiful thing about improvisation is that it’s about process, pure process. When we do it and we stay out of the way we can end up with a wonderful product. When we bring our baggage to it and have all sorts of expectations about how it’s “supposed” to turn out, it becomes more about our self-esteem than the work. And when that happens, it sucks and it’s not worth doing.

I cannot tell you how many people I have had as guests on Improv Nerd who have said that they desperately wanted to get into Second City, and they audition multiple times and with no luck. As you soon as they gave up, they got in. I had always wanted to get into Second City myself, but I made it too important, it was too personal, it was about validation, and because I made it about my self-esteem, I ruined any chance I had for getting in.

At times with the Improv Nerd podcast and the Improv Nerd blog, I feel I’m not getting the results I think I deserve, and the funny thing is, when I started it, I had no expectations, I was just glad I was doing it. Now, that doesn’t seem to be enough. With the blog, I obsessively check how many people click on it. With the podcast, I obsessively look to see how many people have downloaded a certain episode. With the Improv Nerd Facebook page, I constantly check to see how many people have liked our page. I have gotten incredible emails from people all over the country saying how much the podcast and the blog have meant to them, and I appreciate them, every single one of them, but those emails can be like crack. I get a 20 minute high, and then I am back on the street looking for more. Why do I do this? Because I use all this to measure my self-worth.

I know it’s crazy. It’s screwed up, and I know if I want to go to the next level in my career, whatever that means, I need to let go of this. Whether I have 10 or 40, or 1,000 people read one of my blog posts, technically I am still the same kind, caring and generous person, but my brain does not work like that. Those wires have been crossed since I was two years old. I have to keep reminding myself why I am doing this, and the reason is simple: because I like it, and that should be enough. The rest of the other stuff doesn’t matter.

3 replies
  1. Sommer
    Sommer says:

    If I could give you a million hits, I would, Jimmy! You are the best! And every time I read one of your posts I feel it’s as if I’ve written it myself, it speaks so directly to me. Thanks for writing this one, it is extremely helpful, and a good reminder to artists to keep things in perspective. Love it!

    Reply
  2. Jill
    Jill says:

    Great post- my favorite one so far! I totally agree with focusing on process vs product with improv. I also produce, which can be challenging to sell a process art form and not tell the audience what the product is. When I produce shows for my company, I make sure my language is selling improvisation- and I never tell folks it will be funny, dramatic, comedy, etc. Its improvisation- I am selling the ride, the mutual journey, that is enough.

    Reply
  3. Grant
    Grant says:

    Jimmy,

    Great advice (and reminder). If we would just follow our improv training and stay in the moment, “listen” to what is happening right now, we would not be worried about the results and all be a lot more happy inside and outside of improvisation.

    Keep up the good work. You entertain and educate.

    Thanks.

    Reply

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