finding a more authentic, playful life --- finding your story

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lesson from a Russian Tennis Player

I recently found myself a new tennis partner.  My new partner is blind in one eye --- a one-eyed Russian. Really. A one-eyed Russian tennis player. Life is strange.

I was practicing tennis against a wall in my neighborhood park. He was too. I noticed him watch me, but living in NYC, I ignored him. After all, he could be a crazy one-eyed, Russian tennis player! After a few moments he walked over to me, studied me and finally said (imagine heavy Ukrainian accent), “Come. We play.” 

Sooo as an improviser, naturally I said yes. Apparently, we were going to play tennis. After walking a few steps and feeling that introductions were in order, I said politely, “My name is Kim”. Nothing. Silence. Awkward. Why won’t he tell me his name? Helloooo? 

After a too-long pause, he says, “If you must know, my name is Val.”  If I must know?  Well, well! “Now. I believe I am better tennis player than you,” he says, “But…I will adjust.”  Well, then. Talk about speaking your truth….So, I let that one pass and we played tennis -- me and my name-hiding, Wimbledon-claiming, mono-eyed Russian.

When was the last time you laid it on the line like that? Or rather, how often have you found yourself trying to hide your truth or hide “who you are” in a given moment? Maybe you don’t want your employees to know that you don’t actually know everything. Maybe you hide your true self from a group you’re speaking to at a conference because you’re afraid they won’t like who you really are or what you really have to offer. Maybe you’re hiding in an unhappy relationship, afraid to speak your truth—afraid of what that might do. But to not bring who you are to each moment of your day is to cheat others of what you have to offer, and to cheat yourself.

Maybe by our cultural standards what Val said to me on the court that day was rude, but for him it was merely his “truth” — who he was. He was better than me and would adjust. End of story.

I teach improv. Improv training teaches us to declare our truth and be more of who we are. Is that sometimes scary? Yes. Off-putting? Sometimes. Rewarding? Always.

Improv teaches all of us how to live better, more impulsive, more honest lives. Improv teaches us to be in the moment (that’s the only way to make all that crazy stuff up). Improv teaches us to listen to each other and take what is said as a gift (that’s the only way it becomes funny). Improv teaches us to say YES (that’s the only way anything gets done or moves forward---someone says YES!) And improv teaches us to play (all good things—inventions, careers, relationships – all start with fun). And improv teaches us to say yes to crazy one-eyed Russian men who come up and ask us to be their tennis partner. (He is better by the way and kicks my butt every time we play)

Where are you withholding? Where are you not being your true self? What are you not saying? Be a one-eyed Russian tennis star! (Or... just be who you are. Maybe that's easier...)

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