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by Darren Held

I can hardly walk today. Oh, stop it. Get your minds out of the gutter, people.

I realized over the weekend that I don’t really put 100% effort into… well, much of anything, really. I know how hard I have to work to accomplish certain standards that matter to me, and that’s how hard I work. I’m guessing I average around 70% effort, if effort can be quantified in that way. It’s not exactly that I’m lazy, although I’m sure there’s an element of that involved. But it has more to do with fear than anything else.

Doesn’t everything?

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a perfectionist. And a pleaser. Not being a complete idiot, I understand that “perfect” is unattainable… and yet, since I have the drive to achieve perfection anyway, sometimes the only way to not make myself crazy is to just do stuff half-assed. Because when I CHOOSE to do a less than perfect job, I haven’t failed in my attempt.

The pleaser thing compounds the mediocrity that perfectionism gives rise to. Giving people what they want is half of being a pleaser; the other half is becoming adept at figuring out what they want, so you can give it to them. Most people have absurd but specific expectations – parents, teachers, bosses, the mailman – and so I can skate by doing a mediocre job and still managing to satisfy most of the people most of the time… and those I can’t please, I eventually “choose” not to try (see the procrastination thing, above).

Yes, I have a point, and yes, it has to do with improv. I’ve been reading all these books lately that have to do with fear and how insidious it is. I’m starting to think that every negative attribute a person can have boils down to fear, in one way or another. Perfectionism = fear of failing. Pleaser = fear of not being loved. And in coming to these conclusions, I realize that, as hard as I work at improv, I still don’t give it EVERYTHING, because part of me still wants to be perfect at it, and part of me still wants to please people (teachers, the audience, my classmates) with it. As long as fear is part of the equation, I will always be acting to avoid it. I won’t try things that I know I can’t succeed at (the first time around), because I don’t want to fail. I won’t try weird things because I don’t want to displease people.

Part of giving 100%, in my estimation, is pushing until failure no longer applies. Because you DID fail, and you didn’t give up. Or because you pushed and pushed and you DIDN’T fail. Or because you learned something about yourself in the process that made the eventual outcome irrelevant. Or because, in pushing that hard, you learned to say “Fuck you, fear. I’m magic.”

So I can’t walk very well today because I actually pushed myself 100% at the gym yesterday. Not that I have anything to prove there; Nate has already seen me at my most spastic anyway. But I want to get in the habit of seeing what I really CAN do, after so many years of just doing what I HAVE to do to get by, so I’m practicing this 100% effort thing in as many areas of my life as I can – improv being at the top of the list, naturally.

Care to join me?

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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