Posts Tagged ‘growth’


Photo Credit: isthisrevolutionary.com

Sitting on my couch on this Christmas Eve in the home where I was raised, I can’t help but reflect upon the holiday season. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year. I revel in the Christmas cliches: presents, decorations, kids running around, family photo shoots, feasts at the dinner table, the whole nine yards. But as I’ve matured I find that just as I’m about to enter holiday ecstasy my brain puts on the emotional brakes.

Part of this impulse come from the memory of those holiday highs of my youth quickly turning to bouts of depression when the presents were opened, relatives left, and the Christmas lights turned off. But I also find a healthy dose of perspective is both essential in recognizing the true value of our blessings and a tool to building a stronger, more compassionate community. Several years ago at my sister’s wedding, the residing priest encouraged us to pray for those seeking love, hoping to repair broken relationships, an eloquent yet stern reminder that the most joyful of celebrations can be excruciating for those witnesses on the outside. The insight to recognize and address such silent suffering amid such joy must be tremendously profound.

This time around, my perspective-building logical side asked: “Will the holidays joyful for everyone?” Considering the news of the past week, that’s an emphatic no. Of course, the holidays never are. Even if the horrors at Sandy Hook never occurred, there are thousands still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, others grieving for lost loved ones, more without a home to return to, or worse, without a family.

I find simply recognizing those struggles alone bring a greater gratitude and meaning to the gifts of Christmas. This year I want to take it a step further. I’ve made it my mission to find a place to volunteer a few hours on Christmas Day. In previous years I would merely contemplate the idea of volunteering before retreating, but this year I’m following through, calling up a few of the homeless shelters and breakfast programs in Oakland and Berkeley. A few hours won’t solve all the challenging circumstances of those in need, but I hope that, at the very least, I can turn a few witnesses into participants in my celebration, if only for a few moments. In return, I’m hoping to gain some perspective. Now that would be a great gift.


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For almost a year now, I’ve been studying improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Hollywood. I can honestly say there are few things more satisfying than stepping onto a stage with nothing scripted, nothing preconceived, nothing rehearsed, only you and the support of your teammates, and creating something immensely entertaining. I admit it doesn’t ALWAYS happen when I perform, but lightning strikes every now and then.

The main form of improv we study at UCB is called the Harold. The basic Harold consists of 6-8 people on stage and based on a random one word suggestion, the group creates three base scenes featuring two people each, continuations inspired by those base scenes, and two group games that all members play. Now when a Harold is done really well (or any great improv), all members’ actions are accepted and supported by the entire group. This acceptance is necessary to create patterns that the group then develops and expands. Great Harolds reach their climax when multiple patterns are juggled simultaneously. Hilarity ensues. Simple…

…but not easy. Over the past year, I’ve ran into countless moments where nothing seems to mesh. We can’t seem to find a pattern, so my partner and I will just throw details in, hoping something will stick, only complicating the mess, until our craptacular scene comes to a merciful end. This is one of those moments.

About six weeks ago in improv class, I was one of eight practicing our Harold as we entered our 2nd group game. We made a back line, and one of the guys stepped out to initiate the group game by skipping around the stage, shooting invisible arrows into the audience. One of the girls stepped off the back line and joined him. Now as an improv member, you want to identify the pattern or “game” so you can build upon it. We just faced one problem: the other six of us had no idea what they were doing.

It’s really tough to play a game when you don’t know what you’re playing. So while the two were shooting invisible arrows into the audience, the six of us in the back were trying to figure out how the heck we were going to support them. Eventually two more came out from the back line and established that they were a disorganized attack party representing the 99%, and I ended up as an aide to Mitt Romney shielding him from some very primitive attacks. I assure you, it was not as funny as you’d imagine it to be.

So after we finished our Harold, our teacher gave us our notes. Now I’m paraphrasing so his name will remain anonymous, but all you need to know is that he is a VERY supportive teacher, and I would recommend anyone to take his class, but he’s also brutally honest. So when notes for 2nd group game came up, he grimaced, pausing as he thought about how to put this nicely:


OK, guys, I get it. You’re on stage and you don’t know what’s going on. You’re trying to think about making the right move. We’ve all been there. But understand that the fact that you’re thinking about it means you’re not really in the scene. You’re trying to think of a better idea to bring out there then the one you’re seeing, but guess what? They’re not. Because that guy took action on his idea and you didn’t. The best idea is the one acted upon right now.  So embrace that idea, run with it, and just see where it takes you. – Fictional UCB Teacher

On the surface, I felt bad for leaving my teammates out there on their own. I wasn’t trying to leave them out there; I thought reflecting upon the situation was the best choice. But they were struggling, so I should’ve just gone out there and joined them. If the scene went bad, at least we were there together.

But this critique penetrated more deeply than that. Too many times I’ve had inspirations languish as I waited for the perfect moment to spring them, only to let them die when those perfect moments never came. That chance to study abroad. That girl with the dimples across the room. Saying “I love you” the night before my grandfather died. All chances I let die. I lived a life of hesitation because of my desire to grow was outweighed by my misplaced obsession for self-preservation.

I know letting go the desire for self-preservation seems unnatural. To some extent, it is. Evolution purposely makes the fear of injury especially strong. If I went to a party and a lion was mauling party-goers, I’d hope my desire to avoid mutilation would be stronger than my enjoyment of good hors d’oeuvres.

But under different circumstances, this instinct that saves us from harm also impedes us from necessary growth. Acquiring the power for greater achievement requires self-transformation, a process that at first feels like losing one’s self, but in reality, we’re simply releasing our self-imposed limitations in order for our true selves to expand and grow. It’s exactly what children do. No wonder we find them so remarkable when they “grow up so fast.” It’s also no wonder why they cry.

So the best ideas really are inspired right in front of me. Maybe I will ask out that cute girl across the room. I hope she’s into improv.

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