Stop trying so damn hard

I had the craziest day a couple of weeks ago that I've been meaning to tell you about.

For a long time, I've been wanting to do stand-up comedy. I took a workshop last year and it totally sucked. I also took some classes in improv, but it wasn't quite the same. People have told me that stand-up comedy was a very specific discipline, and that it takes something very special, and that there's a lot of technique and that I should basically forget about it. Blah blah blah.

For even longer, I've been wanting to do more with music. I'm a pianist, I play a bit of drums, and a bit of guitar, but most of all, I've always wanted to sing. However, I was convinced I couldn't, my pitch was off, I sounded so awful it was going to be a pain for people to listen to me. Me singing was like raping people's ears. That was my self-image.

Both of those stories got busted on the same day. Big time.

First I went to have a lesson with voice coach Lorraine Ferro. She helped me see that (a) I have an amazing voice, a great ear, and an incredible aptitude for singing. And she helped me (b) see just how I'm messing it up for myself by trying too hard.

Turns out, trying too hard is pretty much exactly how I've approached just about everything in life. I don't think I'm enough, so I try really hard to be something better or more or just different, and - who would've thunk! - that strategy doesn't work.

Then later that same day I did my first ever stand-up routine. I'd prepared a little over 5 minutes of material. Went up there, performed it, and it went really really well. I had a blast, people were laughing, and afterwards everyone told me how great it was, especially for a first time, and I was invited to perform at another show. Yay! Success!

Afterwards, at the bar, I was chatting with one of the other comedians, someone who's been in the business for over a decade, and I started to tell some of the crazy stories that I have in my arsenal, things I've actually experienced in my life, and that I like to share because they're entertaining. And suddenly he looks at me and he says: "You should tell that story from the stage".

Boom. That's when I realized. I don't have to work hard at this. I don't have to sit down with an empty piece of paper and think really hard to come up with neat make-up jokes with a setup and a punchline. I don't even find that stuff funny myself. It feels stale, it feels dated. All I have to do is tell about shit that actually happened in my life, and do it in an engaging and funny way, which I do naturally. Done!

It totally blew away my mental ceiling about what I could do. But more importantly, it helped me realize that I'm already enough, I don't have to change myself, I don't have to make myself into anything other than what I am in order to do the things I most want to do. 

Sure, I can always get better, practice mastery, grow as a performer and a human being. But I'm not starting from a place of deficiency. I'm starting from a place of sufficiency. Of being so full of good stuff, all I have to do is let my cup overflow, to the joy and benefit of others. That's a very very different place.

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