This is the fourth post in a series spotlighting top Gen Y’s who are rocking the corporate world.
Funny Business: Building Soft Skills Through Comedy
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” Do you know where that nugget of wisdom comes from? If you guessed Miss Frizzle of The Magic School Bus, Generation-Y’s de facto substitute teacher, you’d be correct. My path to success has been unconventional, and I have made plenty of mistakes, but that is why I am so satisfied with it and with the direction I am heading. By day, I am a marketer and branding expert. By night, I am an improv comedian. For a long time I considered both endeavors to be mutually exclusive from one another. Until suddenly, they weren’t. Let me explain.
I’ve always suffered from an infliction known as “unrealized potential.” That is, I have a very hard time relaxing, always feeling like I should be doing more to succeed. When I graduated college in 2010, and no longer had a built-in set of extracurricular activities, my urge to do something different was particularly strong. I was fortunate to have landed a marketing internship with a Customer Engagement Agency known as Quaero, which turned into a full-time job offer after the summer. As wonderful as the opportunity was, I knew that I needed something to do outside of work. I needed a hobby. So I tried my hand at a slew of unusual activities, such as hip-hop dancing and modeling. Unsurprisingly, though they were very fun, I gave up on both of those pursuits sooner rather than later.
Additionally, I missed the structured learning process that comes with being a student. While I was learning on the job, it wasn’t the same as being in school. To make up for it I started researching personal branding and workplace trends, picking up consulting gigs on the side to help build my credibility and skillset. When other young professionals were playing video games and hanging out with friends in their spare time, I was doing branding plans and writing articles. Well, I was also playing video games and hanging out with friends, but in addition to those more productive activities. Dan was a great mentor for me during that time, not only providing a knowledge base to draw from, but setting a clear example of how to become successful. Still, I lacked clarity on what my own path should be.
In July of 2011, a friend of mine asked me if I would be interested in taking an improv comedy class. He had heard about how improvisation can help you to become a better presenter, and wanted to try it out. Being the perennial “yes man” that I am, I agreed.
Fast forward two years, and I consider that moment to be a defining inflection point in my life. After a year of training, I began performing regularly at Improv Asylum, a premier comedy club in Boston. Recently, I was hired for my first professional revue in their NXT cast. Most importantly, I have made some exceptionally funny and genuine friends in the process.
Then something else happened. I realized that my comedic training was making me a better business person. I was able to network with others and communicate more effectively. As I tell people, once you bomb in front of 100 people on stage, approaching someone at a conference isn’t at all intimidating anymore! Conversely, my professional experience was making me a better comedian. I could promote myself and my group to obtain new opportunities because I understood marketing. It turns out that comedy is a fantastic skill to have in the workplace. Improv has made me a better communicator, leader, and person. To be sure, it has vastly improved my soft skills.
Now, I am sharing my newfound knowledge with others. This summer, my first book, entitled Funny Business: Build Your Soft Skills Through Comedy, is set to publish, featuring case studies from several other people who have successfully combined comedy and business. Turns out that my story isn’t as unique as I thought, in fact, there is even a PR company in New York that has all employees take comedy classes as part of orientation!
And remember that job I had at Quaero? Well, I still have it, and very much enjoy it. I have been promoted twice, and am a Marketing Manager working with amazingly talented people. A lot of people say you should make your passion your job, but what if you have two passions? If I’ve done anything well, it’s that I have interwoven marketing and comedy so that none of it really feels like work anymore.
The more I am around ultra-successful people, the more I learn that the key to their success is pretty simple. They do stuff. Like they don’t just talk about doing stuff, they actually do it. Everyone has a good idea, few people actually execute on those ideas. I started succeeding not because I knew exactly what I had to do, but because I didn’t know, and I didn’t let that stop me. Remember, as Miss Frizzle said, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” I wish you all a very messy, and rewarding future!
To connect with me further, or to hear more about my forthcoming book, follow me on Twitter, or visit my website!
Pre-order Dan Schawbel’s highly anticipated new book,
Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.
Nash Vega Ryker says
Hey William, great perspective bro! I had never thought about parlaying into comedy or improv to improve my business and networking skills, but I can definitely see how it would help. I’ll definitely be checking out your book too!
One of the best things you said above was “I started succeeding not because I knew exactly what I had to do, but because I didn’t know, and I didn’t let that stop me.” THAT right there is what so many people need to hear. I know because I was one of those who used to just talk all the time instead of actually doing! My whole life and business changed when I decided to just take action first, and tweak along the way as I gain experience and learn more about myself.
Thanks for sharing.
I really appreciate the support 🙂 That realization of “just doing it” was the best thing to ever happen to me, and it sounds like you can relate. I hope you enjoy the book – would love to hear your thoughts on it if you get a chance to read it – it will be available in a couple of weeks on Amazon!