In this week’s episode of the Creative Introvert podcast I talk to Jessica Serran, Visual Artist and the leader of the Becoming Artist Movement.
Born in Ontario, Canada, Jessica holds an MA in Transformative Art from JFK University and a BFA in Illustration from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI. When not in her studio, she helps visual artists discover their Creative Calling and become leaders of an International Creative Movement through the power of community.
You can leave a rating and review on iTunes (here's how to do that) and I will be as happy as a panda pounding bamboo (or sob into my pillow, depending on what you write.)
In theory, we improvise every day or at least the days when we talk to people. We listen, sometimes better than others, and respond accordingly.
So why on earth is improv - or improvisation theatre - so bloody terrifying?
I know people like to throw around statistical nuggets like ‘fear of death is second only to public speaking’ to highlight how common this fear is and how extreme a fear it is.
And I consider myself to be a fairly rational person - sometimes to a fault - but standing in front of more than 2-3 people and speaking at them, not in a dialogue, is… bloody terrifying, despite the fact that I know I’m perfectly safe.
It helps to understand the evolutionary explanation. This is the theory that if we were standing in front of our tribe back in the day, that we weren’t doing it for theatrical entertainment.
We were likely defending ourselves from being attacked because we probably did something wrong, like stole more than our share of woolly mammoth meat - and our tribes people were ready to kick us out - or worse.
So… there’s a possibility that the oldest part of our brain, the amygdala, is still triggered when we get on stage in front of an audience.
Rational or not, it doesn’t really help my fear.
I first started overcoming this fear back in 2016, I began attending Toastmasters, which is a very popular non-profit organisation that sets up clubs worldwide to help its members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.
And this definitely helped me break the ice. Literally, I did my Icebreaker speech, and I think one other, before deciding it was not for me, for various reasons mostly because of the authoritative vibe and the bureaucratic elements - but it definitely set me on this path to more and more public speaking, fear facing and getting my message out in person.
I won’t pretend I’ve overcome my fear of public speaking in two years - far from it - but it’s definitely lessened.
My one saving grace has been the preparation I can do before hand. I know I can craft my words in advance, often refer to cue cards or use a slideshow as a memory trigger - and an audience distraction - and above all I do my best to prepare myself to soothe my fear.
But then there’s Improv. The whole concept is removing the barriers we put up through our distracting slides, props and memorised speeches.
This was a whole new level of fear: and for whatever reason, it became my dragon to slay.
And trust me: I’ve delayed this for months and months now.
But then, speaking to a friend, and knowing I couldn’t choose another ‘easy’ activity from the jar of fun, I figured: let’s just bloody do it.
And we did.
Again, I used my ninja skill of accountability to get me to go: naturally if my friend bailed, I would certainly have bailed. Thank you Rachel for not bailing!
The next barrier of entry for me would have been distance: I’ve learned travelling somewhere too out of the way is going to reduce my likelihood of showing up. The one I went to was close, it’s in Hove and it’s called Iron Duke Improv for those in the area who might want to check it out.
It also had the added benefit of being in the back of a pub: which meant I could get some Dutch courage in before we began.
So… the big reveal… how was it?
Firstly, the people, as we learned from the Charleston mishap, make all the difference. These folk were lovely: warm, welcoming, encouraging - and bloody funny too.
So that helped.
The next best bit was how optional everything felt. Most of the exercises we did were voluntary, though not all - that said I strongly believe if I had been picked for an exercises I just didn’t want to do, I could probably have said ‘not meeee!’ and they would have been cool with it.
There were a few sweat inducing moments, as well as moments of pure genius: at least, I thought my shark attack was funny…
And even though there isn’t a massive emphasis on being funny - this seemed to be more improv theatre not improv comedy - I’m not sure if theres’ a real difference but it wasn’t like laughter was the goal - regardless, I found it super funny and spent a lot of the time giggling, which is always good.
Yeah - that’s a high one.
I think there’s the added satisfaction - and OH how satisfying it is - to know I’ve done something that was so high on my fear list, and of course, like all of our biggest fears: is never as bad as we imagine.
In the words of Seneca, great Stoic philosopher: “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”
Oh and another win: I finished my crochet bunny from last week!
Fun rating: 6/10
Next week's fun activity is...
This is something I LOVED to do as a kid. Will reveal all next week!
Let me tell you a story...
One year ago today I was at a place very close to rock bottom.
l'm not a full-time anything: my wall consists of multiple hats I don and I enjoy the variety. But last year a few of these hats were gone.
To clarify, when I took myself out of the London scene, I left clients and contacts there. In moving to the seaside, I sacrificed higher paying clients and sheer number of opportunities.
Sure, I could commute... but that wasn't part of the plan. The plan was to rely more on my income coming from The Creative Introvert - the LCI, online courses and coaching and less on freelance design or consulting.
But in making that shift, I learned I wasn't quite ready. l still needed the contract work and my old tactics of relying on word of mouth weren't going to fly: if all my old clients were 50 miles away from my new ones.
So... I started pitching. This was something I historically dreaded, and assumed I was terrible at. For one, it I'm doing a repetitive task like writing a lot of emails, at some point, I make some terrible mistakes. Design experience aside, I'm not one for attention to detail.
And yes, I was rusty at first-it had been a while-but before long I started seeing some real results.
I think this was partly due to my increased experience : I knew a bit more about targeting a niche audience, but I also learned I had some innate skills that I believe all introverts have that can give us a real edge when it comes to pitching to get clients or work.
But, in order to hone those skills and use email as a secret weapon: you first need to know what they are... hence what I'm doing in this podcast.
Today, we're going to talk about the skills, strengths and tactics introverts can excel at... and use to their advantage in their career.
In this week’s episode of the Creative Introvert podcast I talk to Douglas Eby; writer, researcher and online publisher who focuses on psychology and personal growth especially in relation to creativity.
We talk about being a multitalented creative, Douglas shares his advice for procrastination and creative block, and we talk about the traits of high sensitivity and what it means to be an empath.
I’ll admit I am a bit of a stereotype in certain ways when it comes to the typical laptop lifestyle entrepreneur/freelancer creative type. In that… I am all about COFFEE!
I start my day with coffee, and if I don’t, then I turn into feral Cat: which you would not want to be around. I then have another cup at a cafe for a change of scene or to meet a friend, and that’s usually me for the day.
And when I watch those baristas perform their dark art, I can’t help but be captivated by the mystery of it all. I’m always blown away by the difference in a perfect coffee shop cappuccino versus my home-made run of the mill supermarket Americano.
Granted, I’m not a total coffee luddite. I do buy fancy fresh coffee, I sometimes grind the beans myself, and I use an Aeropress which delivers a damn good - and speedy - cuppa.
But my fascination has remained. Learning how to wield a professional espresso maker, steam milk jussst right and may be even one day create some latte art all on my own… has been on my bucket list for quite some time.
Finally. This Year of Fun has given me the excuse to splurge on a barista skills training workshop, and finally the time came, last weekend.
Now if you’re not familiar with my neck of the woods, the seaside town of Brighton here in the south of the UK, I should tell you that coffee is kind of a big deal here. There are some world class roasters and a ludicrous number of places to get your caffeine fix. Many of them offer barista training too.
I went for a 3 hour workshop at Wheat and Beans, a lovely, family run Argentinian style cafe in Kemptown, the funky end of town.
I had the luxury of being the only one on the workshop, which the introvert in me delighted in, and the shy kid in me was very relieved to find my teacher and pro barista Fabricio to be super friendly and welcoming.
We started with a bit of theory, and I naturally went into geek mode. I did that thing where I asked questions to sound intelligent and tried to make it clear that I was a real coffee connoisseur - saying things like Yirgacheffe and crema and extraction time.
Ugh. I feel bad for Fabricio having to sit through that.
Anyway, I settled down soon enough and we made our way to the practical side: uh oh. Now I’m staring at this shiny, complex monster of a coffee machine with buttons and levers and hot parts you really shouldn’t touch.
Fortunately, Fabricio was a great teacher and I got the theory down pretty quick. Oh but I learned how much skill and practise goes into getting the perfect foam of my beloved cappuccino or the delicate balance of foam and texture of a latte and don’t even get me started on a flat white.
I have come away with a whole new level of appreciation for what my baristas are doing behind the scenes, at least in the independent coffee shops.
So, am I now a pro barista?
Hah! Heck no. I barely got away with a passable cuppa. But… I reckon with a bit of practise, I could certainly get my chops up and I don’t know, if the Creative Introvert goes south may be I could become a barista in some hip cafe… Er, I’d probably have to get a lot cooler for that, may be some tattoos and a nose piercing…
Anyway, I walked away happy, caffeinated to the gills, and with a certificate which proves my participation. Yay.
My fun rating for barista training: 8.5/10
Really good. Think that’s the highest so far.
Anyway, if you’re interested in indulging your coffee geekery, I do recommend Wheat and Beans of Brighton.
Recently back an episode #44 we talked about the importance of accountability - as in, having someone to keep you in check, offering their support and encouragement when you have something you want to do - but are struggling to do it.
Now, I'd like to add one more piece to the puzzle, and that is... collaboration.
Much like accountability, this was something I assumed I didn't need or want. For one, I'm an introvert!
I do things by myself, I work best alone and other people - god love 'em - drain me.
But. when I reflected on the past year I realised that the #1 thing which had brought me the most success had been... Yes, collaboration.
Which naturally took me by surprise.
l hated when we had to work in groups at school, I was not a team sports fan. I also remember once at uni when we had to work on a project in pairs. The dude I was paired up with was a total slacker. And because I resented carrying all the weight, I slacked too.
In fact, I was pulled aside by our head of department who was concerned about my sh*tty performance.
It wasn't until we got to do the solo part of the project that I turned things around and excelled because I was in my element again: working solo.
But there is something to be said for collaboration: in fact, I attribute 99% of my success in 2017 to this very thing. Hopefully, by the end of this episode you'll be willing to give it a try too.
This past weekend's fun was actually pre-planned, it did not come from the almighty Jar of Fun...
It was a trip to Oviedo, a city in Northwest Spain.
You might wonder, why not Madrid or Barcelona? A more stereotypical choice for the weekend escapist Brit?
Well, here's a fun fact for you: I love obscure places.
I love that tourists are a novelty there.
I love that you're forced to speak the local tongue.
I love that the flights & Airbnb are dirt cheap.
So, my thoughts on Oviedo?
First thing I noticed was how super-duper clean it was... almost German in it's tidiness.
It was also the friendliest city I've been to, and not just in Spain... possibly anywhere ever.
Japan comes a close second, but the formality tended to put me on edge. Here, these Spaniards treated me like a curious cousin; not a local but not a scumbag tourist without a word of Spanish (which I was.)
The Airbnb was pleasant enough - and I even got the local delicacy each morning for breakfast.
Apparently cake for breakfast is a quite typical Spanish custom. Which also happens to rank VERY highly on my idea of FUN.
And when you think about it, eating sugar and refined carbs for breakfast is still what the majority of the UK does - just in the form of toast and jam or cereal, rather than delicious homemade cinnamon cake...
I was also conveniently located next to the best coffee shop in town, (Noor coffee, if you're ever in the neighbourhood) where I found the only fluent English speaker in town too.
Oh and I love love LOVE how everyone serves a snack with your drink: from mini-croissants to churros to a tuna empanada. All that for €1.50... crazy when I come back to Brighton and pay £3.50 for a coffee that comes with no side snack.
Oh and this area of Spain is also very famous for its cider.
I'm not usually a big solo boozer, but I had to go to a local Sideria just to do as locals do.
I found a particularly bustling one where I plonked myself next to an older couple. I ordered my cider, and was fairly surprised to say the least, that it came in a bottle the size of a wine-bottle, and at 6% I knew this wasn't your typical Magners we get over here.
Then the fun began. There is, apparently, a very particular way this cider is served. I can't demonstrate it without gesturing, so I'll point to a visual demonstration:
The other fun part was the custom for consuming the drink. Ideally, you down it. Yep, each time your waiter/personal barman serves you from your giant bottle, you down what he gives you - all in one.
At least that's what I think the couple next to me were trying to tell me. Otherwise, I just looked like another Brit trying to get as pissed as possible, in the name of tradition.
Needless to say I didn't get much done after that.
Other fun activities were sightseeing. I'll admit there wasn't that much in terms of breathtaking sights - Gaudi didn't make it to Asturias I guess - but there were some great little statues dotted around, including one of Woody Allen, because Oviedo is said to be his favourite Spanish city.
Obscure Spanish city adventure day #1! Things got interesting when I went to explore the local bevy of choice: cider. And got told about the precise way it's served and consumed... Will explain it all in Thursdays podcast! 😅🍻
A post shared by Cat Rose (@creativeintro) on Jan 27, 2018 at 8:25am PST
I did a fair bit of walking: I hiked up a mountain, which again is very much my idea of fun.
I also went on a long bus ride to see a basilica & chapel that's been built into a mountain. I do like a good religious monument, so that pleased me.
Weirdly, I discovered how much I like bus journeys. Like on trains, I do my best thinking on these forms of transport. It doesn't work so well for airplanes: I just get a bit sleepy on them.
Something else that might surprise you, but is becoming a bit of a pattern for me, is: I got lonely on day 3.
One thing I've learned from years of solo travel adventures, is that as introvert as I am... on the third day of speaking to no one except my journal, and ordering some food and coffee, I get really quite lonely.
Plus, I went to another city a half hour away on day 3: Gijon (pronounced 'hee-hon'... seriously).
Gijon, I'm sorry if any locals ever listen, was just a bit disappointing.
It was nice to see the sea, a particularly blue looking sea, and I did have some bloody good churros, but other than that it lacked the spirit and charm of Oviedo.
Anyway, I left the next morning and returned to my own seaside town.
A final thing I noticed was how my routine falls away on holiday - at least in terms of yoga & meditation.
But I did manage to keep up my coffee sipping along side drawing a mandala and listening to uplifting Youtube videos. It's a very portable part of my routine, and one I find instantly gratifying.
Now I know when I consistently miss other parts of my routine, it doesn't take long before I start feeling like crap. Really: I've done the off and on experimentation enough to know what I have to do to maintain happy cat.
But I know I can skip a few days here and there, without falling off the wagon entirely.
I'd be interested to know what your take is on routine: whether abroad or in day-to-day life. What habits stick like glue? Which are nice to have but could be left at home with your to-do list?
Back to Spain. Would I recommend a trip to Oviedo?
Yes. Don't expect a lot of action, but get stuck in with the delicious - if somewhat deadly - cider & lovely locals.
Next week: barista training (I hope - if it's not cancelled again!) if not, I'll tell you about a recent experience with Zumba...