One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt:
I don't get there every day, but I do try to keep it in mind and approach life in that spirit. I also take it as the highest of compliments when I am described as brave. (Though I'm not so sure that's very accurate. I think in my case it might be more a matter of fools rushing in. Hee!)
But I try, and I surely admire bravery when I see it. And lately, I have been so privileged to see it at a level I've maybe never seen before.
As many of you know, I have developed a real passion for improv in the last few years, and having to leave that behind, at least for now, has been a bit of a hardship. I was also just getting ready to start teaching BizProv (applied improv for business), when all this nonsense began.
So it was an honor and a thrill to be asked and able to teach a new improv class: applied improv centered around social skills for those challenged by high-spectrum autism, Asperger's, ADHD, a/o social anxiety. It was also a bit daunting. I have taught a fair number of subjects to adults over the years, in things I have varying levels of expertise from high to low.
Sometimes very low. One of my first and most memorable real teaching gigs, I would get up and read the text every morning, then walk around Green Lake muttering to myself and committing it to memory, before going in and teaching it in the afternoon. That was trial by fire, I can tell you. Yikes. Again - perhaps not so much brave as foolhardy. There's a pattern here, and we don't have to look too hard to find it. But I digress.
This, however, was a whole new kettle of fish. So I did my research on all of the above conditions, and I talked to someone who had been part of leading a similar class, and I was fortunate to get a copy of a out-of-print text to work from, but still. I'm not an expert in these populations and their needs. (Though I did spend years working with engineers, which some would suggest has some commonality. HA!)
However, still not an expert. But linear time being what it is, eventually research had to end, because the class was starting. Nine students enrolled, so on the first night, there were 10 of us in that room at varying levels of fear ranging from trepidation (me) to pure terror.
Not only was I a bit concerned about what the class would be like when a totally random gathering of all these potentials came together in a high-stress situation, but names, and the learning and retention of said, are truly my bête noire in this life. I have been known to totally lose the name of close friends when trying to introduce them. It's a horrible feeling, and really sucks when you're a teacher. (Many students prefer to be referred to as something more personal than, "Hey, you in the blue shirt." Go figure.) So I was awash in my own terrors.
Still the job of the instructor is to be completely confident, and be an energy source and cheerleader for the group as necessary, so I put on my game face and just dealt, even when I screwed up a name. Which I did. Twice, I believe. Maybe more. And yes, utterly ghastly.
But you know what? In a room full of people this brave - what are you going to do? Quit? No. You just keep going, and I think in a way my sharing with them that this was one of my fears, and them then getting to see me fail at it in big living color, probably actually helped things in a weird way. (Plus a great reason to practice the improv Bow of Failure and show that we all give and get it cheerfully and gleefully. But still.)
Watching and interacting with these students is a Master Class in courage, I can tell you that. One young man came up to me before class started on that first night, and in a situation where there was no way around others being able to hear him, told me candidly and gravely that he was having a high level of anxiousness about being there.
In front of people he did not know, who were at least a large part of the reason for his anxiousness. Did I mention brave?
The class spans a full range of the populations we were hoping to serve, and the sheer and utter fortitude it takes for these individuals to not only be in that room at all, but to participate in games and activities that put them on the spot, in front of people they don't know, is beyond inspirational. (Heck, even peeps who may be masters of everything social and who love interacting with groups of strangers can find improv intimidating at first.)
So you can only imagine my reaction when as I brought things to a close at the end of the first class session, fully three or more of them chorused something along the order of, "It's over already?! That was fun!"
Providing not only a new definition of bravery, but also a new level of gratification for me to get to experience as a human being. My heart was full to bursting, and I confess that a bit of moisture might have leaked out of my eyes as I walked to my car.
Each session as I work with them and push them out of their comfort zones and see them valiantly - and I don't use the word lightly - rise to the challenge, I am inspired, humbled, and grateful, and I doff my cap to each and every one of these most brave of hearts. Many thanks to each of them, and to all of my improv family who have been with me along the way, sharing the path that led to this incredible experience.