Improv Lessons: Be Willing to Fail

Let’s face it: failure stinks! Nobody likes to fail, and failure is very rarely rewarded. And yet, if you are unwilling to fail then you may never ever really succeed.

Improv comedy is an art form that is wrought with the potential for failure. Every time you take the stage, you have no idea what to expect. You don’t know what kind of suggestions the audience will give you. You don’t know what your partners are going to do or say next. Heck, if you’re doing it right, you don’t know what you are going to do or say next.

With all that uncertainty, it is easy to get stressed out and get overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Novice improvisers often let this fear get the better of them. Even experienced improvisers sometimes spend too much time being afraid of failure.

In my experience, the best improvisers are those who realize that every time they take the stage they might mess up (maybe even mess up big) but then let that fear go. They’re willing to take risks and do their best, and if they fail they simply get up, brush themselves off, and try again.

When you accept the very real possibility of failure, you release yourself from the chains that fear puts on you. Ironically, once you let go of that fear, you are able to perform much more naturally and relaxed, and your chances of success actually go up.

The same principle applies off-stage. If you are speaking, you need to let go of the fear of failure before you take the stage. If you are about to go on an important sales call, remind yourself that if it doesn’t work out it’s not the end of the world and you’ll move on. Whatever is making you nervous, simply tell yourself, “I’m going to do my best, and if I mess up I’ll figure it out and move on.”

This is not to say that failure is ok. Failure can have real consequences – financial, physical, relationship, etc. However, once you are committed to a course of action, worrying about failure will accomplish nothing other than make you more likely to fail.

There’s an old saying, “what we resist, persists.” Once you accept what you are resisting, it loses its hold over you and washes away. Whether you are about to do an improv performance, give a speech, go on a sales call, or have a difficult conversation, accept the possibility you might mess up, let it go, and then go out and do your best.