This is a small interlude from my current writing about AEIOU. I’ll get back to that… but this was important.
I have a problem and I suspect most improvisers have the same problem as me. I want to be liked by everyone. I don’t mean a want to be “popular” – no I gave up that dream when I entered the ninth grade weighing a scrawny 105 lbs and liking D&D. I mean I genuinely and seriously want everyone to like me: audiences, teammates, coworkers, strangers… I have known this for years. In fact, it’s been kind of a joke for me between my friends. And when someone once said to me during an argument, “You know, you don’t have to be liked by everyone.” I thought, “Yes I do. What the hell is she talking about?”
No, it was only recently, like today actually, that I realized this is a problem.
Because, let’s face it, I’ve done some pretty stupid things in order to be liked. No, I haven’t done keg handstands (not my style) or allowed strangers to borrow cash (although, I have considered it). No, the things I am talking about are much more subconscious and pervasive in my life. I have:
- Conformed to what others think I should be/do
- Compromised my beliefs/values to please others
- Second guessed myself and doubted my intuition because of other’s beliefs
- Allowed myself to be swept along by other people’s ideas even when I suspected they were wrong
- Not been honest
- Not stuck to my guns
- Blamed myself for other people’s problems
- Lost my sense of self
Each time I have made these choices, it has felt like a virtue. I have spent my life cultivating the persona of the humble, empathetic, easy-going guy. It was only today that I looked at where that has gotten me: uncertain, confused, angry, and lost. I have allowed the winds of other’s ideas blow me here and there in the ocean of life.
What I thought was humble was actually egotistical. What I thought was empathetic was actually co-dependent. What I thought was easy-going was actually wishy-washy. Don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty damn good life. But it is disconcerting to look up at this point and wonder if I really know my own mind.
Today I encountered the concept of differentiation. In psychology differentiation is defined as how much a person is able to manage their own thoughts, feelings, and individuality without forcing estrangement from others. This doesn’t mean you have to be an opinionated ass, it just means you are comfortable with knowing your own mind.
As a theater person I am very familiar with Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes in the play Hamlet: To thine own self be true. Yeah, Polonius, but what the hell does that mean? Apparently it means differentiation, a lifelong process of emotional maturity.
As a teacher I have seen many kids with poor differentiation. Those are the ones who do stupid, stupid things in order to be liked by others, or are so timid they don’t know how to make choices for themselves. As an improv teacher and performer, have noticed these same tendencies in many improvisers as well: stupid choices… or overly timid. I just never really understood what I was looking at.
Now I have a name for where I need to go (grow) next and something new to teach my daughter even though I find it pretty scary. Give up my need for others to like me?… But then people might not like me.
Scary. Cool, but scary.
Today’s Improvmantra: Explore differentiation.