Have you ever watched an improv company and wondered how they always say the right thing at the right time? They don’t. As a matter of fact if they tried to be clever, or funny every time they opened their mouth they would just stand there. Improv works because improv actors have learned to trust themselves, and present whatever line comes to mind, realizing that something is better than nothing.
One of the hardest things to teach novice improv performers is that they don’t have the time to be perfect. They have to learn to accept the first thing that comes to mind even if it’s dumb.
This is my second post based on Patricia Madson’s Improv Wisdom. Her fifth maxim is “be average.” Often what we perceive as a need to be perfect is really grounded in self doubt. We can’t accept that what we have to offer, while it seems ordinary to us may be a revelation to others. Accept that your contribution is valuable even if, or perhaps, especially since, it is from you. You are valuable and your ordinary thoughts are also valuable.
The quest for perfection can lead not only to inaction and paralysis; it can also lead to substandard performance. Madson relates the story of Trey Junkin, long snapper for the National Football League’s New York Giants. In the 2003 NFC playoff game he fumbled the snap on what could have been the winning field goal. He was quoted as saying, “I tried to make a perfect snap when all I need to do was make a good one.” If he had just snapped the ball normally, he wouldn’t have fumbled.
I often see this need for perfection in my students in the Master of Public Health Program at the University of Kansas Medical School. They delay submitting a paper until the last minute as they strive for perfection. Often they bombard me and my teaching assistant with last minute questions about minutia as they wrestle with self doubt which is labeled as a quest for perfection.
I also see this in my improv comedy company, as an actor is frozen trying to come up with something clever or creative rather than accepting that whatever she says will be at least adequate and may, in fact be very clever and creative.
Trust yourself. Accept yourself. What you consider average is certain to be better than inaction while you seek perfection.