A few weeks ago I got up on a stage, grabbed the microphone, and proceeded to speak. But this was not a keynote or a workshop, and I wasn’t preparing to inspire people or help them build resilience.  This was a comedy club and I was attempting to make an audience laugh, something that absolutely scared me to death!

I’m naturally funny, or so I’ve been told, and when I speak publicly I do get some laughter, but I have never quite understood the mechanics of comedy and really have just relied on my innate improv ability to engage my audience.  Stand-up comedy is much different, there are purposeful statements and body mechanics all lining up with the right timing and delivery to make people laugh.

I’ve always been in awe of a well delivered stand-up comedy show and thought maybe the skills employed by the greats could help me to be a bit more reliable with adding humor to my public speaking. I figured, if I could learn to make people laugh on cue wouldn’t that only be an asset?

So I enrolled in a 6-week stand-up comedy course designed to give students the necessary skills they need to actually perform a 5-7 minute routine. The “capstone” of the course was to actually perform comedy in front of a full-house. I was sold!

It didn’t take long, maybe five minutes into my first class, to realize that comedy done well is NOT easy and that I had a major skill gap. I took notes and practiced and attempted to translate my life experiences into something that people would find amusing. Let me tell you that there were several moments when I wanted to quit – several moments when I thought, “I can’t do this” but I had invited friends and colleagues and didn’t want to disappoint. The show must go on, even if I get no laughs.

That moment, the moment I walked up on stage and started my routine was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I’m sure you are thinking, “What? You speak for a living, why was this so scary?” And you’re right, it seemed unusual for it to be so nerve-wracking. But, the truth is, I don’t always like being outside my comfort zone and this was busting out of it in a huge way.

I wasn’t just trying to be funny, I was taking very real stories about my experiences and sharing them with the world, hoping to get a laugh. Just as if I was standing on stage naked, I was vulnerable, exposing my inner world in hopes that it would be well received. I was sharing intimate details about my life all while knowing that I had invited people who may not know all of those details. I was scared, nearly panicked, but I pushed forward.

So if you are reading this and thinking that I’m crazy, I can respect that. If you are reading this and thinking that you’d never do something like this, I get that too. Trust me, it wasn’t that many years ago that I stood on the sidelines, avoiding risk, and just moving through life in the status quo.

If you are hoping to break through a barrier, here are some questions I would like for you to consider:

How often do you take the risk to push yourself outside of your comfort zone?

  1. Never
  2. Occasionally, when pushed
  3. Regularly

If you answered (A) Never, ask yourself why not? I’m not saying you need to go perform comedy or jump out of an airplane. I am saying that to truly learn and grow you must take risks. To learn and grow you have to step outside your comfort zone and allow yourself to fail.

If you answered (B) Occasionally, when pushed, ask yourself if you like your life being pushed into a direction chosen by others, or if you want to be the captain of your own ship.

I knew that I wasn’t very good at comedy and that I may not make anyone laugh. I weighed the risk – What’s the worst that could happen here and I realized that at worst I’d get tomatoes thrown at me or booed off the stage, at best I’d prove to myself that I can push myself to get uncomfortable and walk the talk of what I teach others.

If you answered (C) Regularly, ask yourself if these risks lead to long-term growth and to goals that matter to you. Or, are they simply adrenaline rushes of escape, a way of hiding from moving your life in a direction you dream about.

In the end, for me the risk of being on stage for the comedy routine was like most times we take risks: a mixture of good and bad. I didn’t get the roaring laughter that I wished I had, but I didn’t get booed either. Some jokes worked and some didn’t. I forgot some of my lines and I rushed punchlines… but I didn’t give up.  Most importantly I took a risk and felt proud of myself afterward.

The best part is – I trained my brain. YES, I built resilience. By taking the risk I created new neuroconnections giving me more confidence and making the next scary thing just a little bit less scary. And THAT is the main reason that stepping outside our comfort zone is so important.

So the next time you are facing a decision that may seem risky and your immediate reaction is to run the other way, consider this story and give yourself permission to fail. At worst, you’ll fail then you’ll pick yourself up and move on. At best, you’ll succeed and feel great about it. And somewhere in the middle you’ll feel proud for giving it a go, you’ll learn from what worked and didn’t, and you’ll build new neuroconnections along the way.

Thanks for reading,
Ryan