“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ― William G.T. Shedd
How much uncertainty can you live with? A lot, at least I thought so until I started a new course in improvisation. Improv is a bit like acting without a script. Scary? Here’s how this new experience helped me to lighten up my life.
“Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” – J. A. Paulos
Before the improv course, precaution was my modus operandi. I was prepared, over-prepared and hyper-prepared for anything and everything. Like many other people, over-preparation was my way of coping with the uncertainty of life. I learned that careful preparation improved my performance and outcomes. This improvement, however, had limits and I couldn’t do better regardless of how much time I spent with preparation.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – J Lennon
|Figure 1 Neil Curran (R) photo credit: lowerthetone.com
| The Improv course with NeilCurran re-defined perfection for me. Over-preparation can often lead to a stilted impression. As if the spirit of doing things evaporated the moment you get in front of your audience, committee, boss or panel – you replace the addressee. Furthermore, you can only prepare for things you can foresee. But there are always unforeseen events. Improvisation helps you react to those challenges. Like any other art, it gives you the freedom of being here and now and reacting to whatever comes your way. It’s a way of being. An other paradigm. Some critics may say improvisation is lousiness, lack of knowledge or skill, neglect or laziness – something that should be avoided. The opposite is truth; improv skills allow you to respond when you run out of your prepared responses – to transcend yourself.
Improv and medical profession
The role of improv in medical profession is bigger than you might think. Although there are strict procedures and guidelines for most medical procedures, there’s still a lot that we don’t know and therefore – cannot regulate. Clinical intuition is invaluable in unregulated or over-regulated situations. Similar to improv, intuiting is reacting to the situation based on previous knowledge, experience and trust in the process. Atul Gawande, in his book The Checklist Manifesto, advocates using checklist to make sure the basics are done. This creates room for clinical wisdom and intuition to deal with unforeseen events. Instead of making rigid orders to doctors and thereby stripping their responsibility and clinical judgment away, the Checklist helps people make sure they do the basic and essential things, leaving enough space for intuition and … you’ve guessed it – for improvisation.
For the third year now, a charity project in Dublin 8 (www.swicn.ie) provides free English conversational classes to people from various countries. The project’s backbones are volunteers from the Failte Isteach programme. One day, the project recruited a very interesting man for the voluntary teacher position. He is a Social welfare officer, who deals with people in difficult life situations every day. Many of them are not from Ireland. One would think that he has enough of commendable work at his day job. What astounded me most about this story is that this man is willing to volunteer after work to improve the lives of people he deals with in his day job. How much charity is too much?
What are the free English classes?
On 29 September 2011, a popular RTE television reporter Anne Cassin visited some unusual projects in Dublin and met volunteers. Capital D programme went behind the scenes of Dublin community projects; to find out more about the show — watch this video from minute 20:00 here.
What are Third Age and Fáilte Isteach?
Fáilte Isteach is a programme of the Third Age agency in Dublin. “There are many sectors of Irish society in need of welcoming, nurturing and support, particularly our migrants who may struggle with proficiency in English. To tackle this, volunteers throughout the country provide English conversational classes to people of varying national backgrounds, many of whom may be floundering as they try to communicate with the indigenous population” Read more at
More info on SWICN projects: