This is a guest post by Desiree Barr, who is one of those people you feel like you’ve known forever but in reality, it’s only been a little over a year. She recently penned an end of year Friends & Family update that I loved hard because it has everyday people sharing and overcoming everyday struggles which you know is my jam — both the vulnerability of voicing that life isn’t perfect and the example of ‘life isn’t perfect but if you surround yourself with positive people and if you are out there truly LIVING, you’ll be come a magnet for goodness.’
Because I thought it would resonate with Cheese-Its, especially this time of year as we reflect, take stock, want to ‘do better’, ‘feel better,’ ‘be better,’ I asked Desiree if I could share. And thus, with her enthusiastic thumbs-up, an excerpt from Ms. Desiree.
Tepikopiko – a Maori phrase, referring to the delicate, new unfurling shoots of a fern frond. Symbolically, it represents eternal growth and repeated new beginnings.
After ending 2013 on a bit of a down note, (Husband) Ricky and I were eager to start anew in 2014. We were thrilled to kick off the New Year in Chicago (blizzard and all) with one of my best friends and her husband, who were visiting the US from the Netherlands.
Just mere days after the NYE “blizzard,” I braved a second blizzard and polar vortex to attend my first Fear Experiment session (which I will explain in greater detail later). First a note on the weather (because you know I must): I now fully confess that every complaint I ever made in previous holiday letters regarding the horrid, terrible, absolutely wretched Chicago winters was completely unfounded. Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I am now quite certain that our first two winters here could have been comfortably spent wearing culottes and drinking pina coladas on our roof. As you no doubt heard and perhaps even experienced yourself, 2013-14 was one of the meanest winters in Chicago’s recorded history. Not only did we experience the coldest four month period in Chicago’s recorded history, we also sustained record amounts of snow. In fact, by mid-February I came to refer to the precipitation we received EVERY day as “The Daily Snow.” It is no exaggeration when I say that I wore my snow boots EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. during the month of February. And it is even less of an exaggeration to say that I was beyond ecstatic when I could finally don REAL shoes again sometime near the end of March. But I must admit that not everything about the weather was bad – sometimes we received an especially pretty snow, in which we could see each individual snowflake (as evidenced on my friend’s jacket in the picture below). The winter weather also gave me a great excuse to try ice-skating, which I had never before been brave enough to try.
Now back to Fear Experiment (warning: this part is long). You might be asking, “What exactly is it?”
Here’s the premise: one signs up to learn an art form outside his comfort zone (hence the fear part), with total strangers (hence the even more fear part). In fact, not one single participant knows another prior to “experimenting” together. Oh –and the three months of twice-weekly rehearsals culminates in a performance on-stage in front of hundreds of people. Talk about FEAR!
The art forms vary each session and include Dance, Step, A Capella, and more. I applied for Improv due to my (perceived) crippling inability to think on my feet. Especially in cases of professional meetings or interactions, I frequently found myself “rehearsing” ad nauseam and preparing (i.e., role-playing) for every possible contingency. Needless to say, this level of preparation was stressful and exhausting. I hoped Improv could help me learn to better speak off the cuff. And I also hoped to meet a few nice people along the way.
What I got out of Improv was way more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. The first few rehearsals were tough, and I often came home worked up over what (I later convinced myself) I should have done or said. What must my classmates (all these strangers who seemed so Improv-competent) think of me and my inability to improvise? I seriously contemplated quitting a few times. But our amazing teacher quickly helped us build a strong level of trust amongst the group members. And equally important, he stressed a few essential concepts: 1) just have fun, 2) something is only a mistake if you allow it to be, and 3) whatever happens, commit to it like you intended for it to happen that way all along. Once I followed Pete’s principles and just relaxed, I really did start to have fun. I even realized that although I wasn’t the most quick-witted performer, my physicality was an area of relative strength and I could often use it to offset my verbal weaknesses and enhance a scene in a different way. It didn’t take long before I was making friends, having a blast, and looking forward to each rehearsal (even though it usually meant battling the elements to get there). Through Improv, I rediscovered how to be playful and mentally flexible. And it also didn’t take long before I could apply these Improv Lessons to real life. Ultimately, I reclaimed a confidence in myself and in my abilities that I hadn’t experienced in years.
On the day of the show in late March, all reason should have caused me to be nervous. After all, I would be performing in front of 600+ people. But even as I went on stage, I never experienced an ounce of nervousness. I had worked hard and was proud of myself, and I was also determined to have fun and put on a good show for my loved ones who came to support me. And that is exactly what I did. I count that night as one of the best nights in my life, and even now my memories of everything that happened are extremely vivid. I now also count Fear Experiment as one of the best experiences of my entire adult life. The effects have been lasting and have, in fact, gotten better with time. I still take weekly improv classes with my teacher and other Fear Experiment alum and enjoy laughing myself silly each class. My confidence and mental flexibility remain high. And more important, many of the budding friendships that emerged during those three months are now in full-bloom. I couldn’t imagine life in Chicago without my Fear Experiment friends, and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t see at least one of them. We even celebrated Thanksgiving this year with a few of those friends, and I must admit I was particularly moved when Ricky indicated he was thankful for the fact that Chicago finally feels like home. Ditto, Ricky. Ditto.
Obviously, Fear Experiment means something different to every person who participates, but for me, it has quite simply been life-altering. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived the winter without it. And, in fact, I’m not really sure how I survived life without it prior to 2014.
In closing, I am happy to say that 2014 has been a much better year for us. In looking at our Holiday letter from last year, I was reminded of how difficult 2013 was. But we each persevered, and though hard at times, we met the challenges head on with optimism and determination. As is often the case, we can both say that although the journey to this point was often hard, we now realize we are exactly where we need to be. When things were particularly difficult, it was tempting to look outside ourselves in an effort to meet the challenges. What we can now see and appreciate is that everything we needed was actually already inside us – we just needed the courage and commitment to believe in ourselves and unleash our potential. It is our hope for you that 2015 will be a year in which you, too, discover the gifts you already possess.
Desiree and her Improv Experiment mates perform in front of 600+. Desiree’s debut starts at 3:22. She’s the one sitting in the chair.