Blog: Pj Jacokes

Thinking on the fly takes talent, but it's one that can be taught. Pj Jacokes, comedian and producer of the Go Comedy! Improv Theater and Go Improv Academy, makes a career out of showing Metro Detroiters how to be fast on their feet. His sketch this week outlines why we should care about improv and fostering those bursts of imagination.

Post 4: Learning to Fail (Because Fail Blog Was Taken)

There's a voice in the back of our head that doubts; that second-guesses; that recommends playing it safe.  As we get older the voice gets louder.  Some claim it's the voice of reason. They'd say the voice protects us from overreaching; from making a fool of ourselves; or from failing, but what good is that?

In every improv class that I teach, I encourage my students to fail – which may sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out. I teach them to fail, so that they can learn that it doesn't kill them; that they don't lose anyone's respect; and that they can always try again. When I teach any exercise, I push my students to fail boldly. I'd rather they give me 100 percent and miss the mark by a mile than be cautious and close. There aren't many chances in life to dive in headfirst with no repercussions. When you get one, you have to take it.

In fact, for all of its negative connotations, learning what failure feels like is one of the best things I've ever learned.  It's absolutely freeing.  When you're not afraid to fail, you can try anything. It's like the protagonist in movies who's "not afraid to die". No one knows what they are capable of.  People who aren't afraid to fail are similarly bad assed, because they constantly learn what they are truly capable of.

It's important to point out that not being afraid of failing and being comfortable with it are two very different things. I'm in no way suggesting that anyone accept failure. Complacency is akin to giving up in my book. My point is that when we learn not to fear failure, it's so much easier to try again. It loses any power over us. In my life, I've encountered lots of failures. Auditions I didn't land. Jobs that didn't fit. Even my marriage. This isn't to say that some of them didn't hurt - Lord knows they did. But at the end of the day, when the smoke clears and the dust settles, I'm still here. I get to try again and there is no way I'm not going to put my neck on the line again.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Gordon Parks. He said, "I think most people can do a whole awful lot more if they just try. They just don't have the confidence that they can write a novel or they can write poetry or they can take pictures or paint or whatever, and so they don't do it, and they leave the planet dissatisfied with themselves."

The only reward in playing it safe is that you don't fail, but the way I see it, if you don't fail now and again, then you were never really trying.