How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone and Try Your Best - Erika's Story
“As long as you try your best no one can blame you, not even yourself .”
confesses the overly friendly and slightly sleepy Dane sitting next to me as I rest my tired head against the Øresund train’s cool window. I was returning from my evening shift as a housekeeping assistant and ended up missing my stop.
The added travel time was more than worth it. This piece of wisdom has become a mantra in my professional life and an unmatched antidote to my wallflower anxieties.
Two years later the same words echo in my head, both while plugging away at my pharma nine to five or performing in an improvised comedy troupe.
Follow the Fear
It was the morning of a sunny fall day in 2014, and the whole class is buzzing with excitement. We have just received the results to our Myers Briggs type indicator test, and everyone feels exposed, yet weirdly understood.
The MBTI is a questionnaire that scores people on four different scales:
• Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
• Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
• Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
• Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
The result is one of 16 personalities, with different percentages of inclination towards each dimension determining your lucky combination of flavors.
My result was INTJ, with a particularly strong inclination towards introversion - 100%, to be precise. This means that my extroversion meter is on a constant 0, my engine does not work on outside stimulation, and my energy stems from the world within. Consequently, a room full of people is bad news, spontaneity is scary and reading is the best pass time activity. Exposed, yet weirdly understood was exactly how I was feeling. However, I bet these are not the traits that come to your mind when describing an innovation and entrepreneurship student, are they?
In fact, study programs at my former business academy, Cphbusiness, are notoriously aimed at exposing their students to real life business problems and hands-on skills in preparation for the job market. The PBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the poster child for their approach.
Our study program started out with some obligatory learning objectives (OLAs) all achieved by carrying out project based work. We were sent out with maps to look for business opportunities in the cozy town of Lyngby, we were tasked to interview business owners about their leadership styles, and we created a business model around chocolate, to name a few.
The product for the pitch OLA was a recording of ourselves, pitching the business idea we had been working on. You’d think it’s easy to talk about chocolate, but the moment the camera went on, my arms turned into penguin wings and I started shifting my weight from one leg to the other.
I ended up catching the last train home with a cringeworthy video on the memory card and shaky knees under my trench coat. Unsurprisingly, this is not the OLA for which I got the best feedback.
Fast forward one year, and I am known as the school’s pitching expert, having taught pitching workshops on several occasions to students and musicians, having won the first ever Awesome Foundation pitch contest and a DKK 5.000 grant for a startup I had founded with two other classmates as our internship project.
The road from anxious presenter to compelling storyteller winds to the sound of a racing heart. It helps to take small steps and to be guided along the way.
I will not tell you about every sleepless pre-workshop night, but I will tell you this: if you are engaged, the audience is engaged. You give them queues for how to feel. And you know what? That thing they say is true – people will remember the way you made them feel.
When a teacher (or extremely awesome fellow student) sees something in you, let them mold you. Your gut will confirm that they mean good.
Follow the Fun
Come February 2016, and I am an unemployed Professional Bachelor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Just as I had found my place in the school!
My weeks consist of compulsively checking job seeking platforms and tailoring cover letters to hotels, consultancy companies, marketing firms and municipalities indiscriminately.
Evenings are often heavy with rejection or – yet worse – complete oblivion to my job searching efforts. But once a week evenings are magical – on Monday, of all days. This is when I make my way to Nørrebro station, where just under the bridge, in a former train station, a bunch of weirdos gather to tank up on laughs and positive energy for a week.
Like most good things in my life, Improv happened to me.
A Facebook event poked at my bored eyeballs one weekend. It was advertised as a workshop with the focus on basic improv concepts: listen, accept, build upon, communicate, collaborate, play and present. These areas of focus will help improve your body language, your listening skills, and ultimately your improvisation skills.
By the end of the workshop, your laughing muscles will hurt, and you will even be able to get involved in conversations on topics you are not familiar with. This was the business pitch, but they failed to mention the abundance of positivity, confidence, wonderful people, honesty and truthfulness that come with improv.
That workshop was one of the most terrifying things I had ever tried: talking in front of people with absolutely no preparation. I kept turning to my friend, needing to say out loud “I'm still here.” I was there the following day as well. And the following day again. Nearly two years later, I'm still there, but now as a performer.
We started learning how to open up and be truthful in a former train station, now turned cultural venue with a tall ceiling and faulty heating. When it was time to move on, we took over a deserted café with no electricity or heating.
Then we played scenes in the storage room of another café, between bottles and boxes filled with apples, to the sound of about seven industrial refrigerators.
When we graduated from the storage room, we took turns practicing in teacher and student apartments, finally scoring our own theater - the theatre in Denmark dedicated solely to improv. It was a basement with low ceilings, and we ended up having to move due to noise complaints from the office turned family home upstairs.
Who'd think laughter can get you in trouble?
Little over a year from our last move, I am part of the core 15 performers who brought the place to the best stage in Copenhagen. I had to be persuaded into signing up for an audition and got the good news of being part of two performing teams on my 24th birthday.
My job, too, happened to me.
Job hunting is for the brave. The rejection can be heavy and the lack of response even more so.
Just as I was losing hope, one of the people who guided my steps from penguin-winged presenter to communication professional wrote me an email. It was a job opening, and he was convinced I fit the profile – communication student assistant in a healthcare company.
Today I work with sustainable procurement in that same healthcare company, and I perform improvised comedy theatre at what has become the best stage in Copenhagen in its less than 12 months.
It is a full life with ups and downs, rewards, and fears. I used to freak out about turning 25. I had heard that the person you are by the time you turn 25 is more or less the person you can expect to be for the rest of your life, so you'd better make friends. I feel like my 20s have been a run from constancy.
I am far from perfect, but as long as I am trying my best, there is nothing I can blame myself for.
A new home, a new school, a new job were the things I wanted from 2016. These were my rough guidelines for the year and the closest I ever got to having a medium-term plan in life. I think I did pretty well.