Amy Poehler shares lessons learned through improv with Harvard grads

As a person who commutes to work directly through Harvard Square, I had nothing positive to say about Harvard Commencement this week. Until I saw Amy Poehler talk about her improv training and the life lessons she learned from it in her commencement address to the Harvard Class of 2011.

  1. Listen
  2. Say yes
  3. Live in the moment
  4. Play with people who have your back
  5. Make big choices early and often
  6. Don’t start a scene where 2 people talk about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene already having jumped.
  7. If you’re scared, look into your partner’s eyes. You’ll feel better.

In 2003 I joined a fledgling improv group with 5 dudes. We were clueless, but committed. Soon enough, we learned to listen, to say yes, and sometimes we even made #5 and #6 happen. And we always had each other’s backs. By 2007, our group had grown to 13 and we weren’t terrible anymore. In fact, we were pretty damn good. And then we graduated.

Amy said:

As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.

You can’t do this alone. Besides, it’s much more fun to succeed and fail with other people. You can blame them when things go wrong.

I have to say, it feels good to know that I have, for the most part, followed Amy’s advice since graduating college. (Especially since I was hungover and fell asleep at my own commencement in 2007 and missed all the worldly advice our speaker Tom Friedman had to give.)

I started college a 17 year-old late bloomer, homesick, and stuck with a crazy Russian roommate who blasted “Hey Mickey” to wake herself up for class at 7:30 am. If it wasn’t for improv, I’m not sure I would have made it through that first rough semester. And without them, college would not have been nearly as much fun.

I still do spend a lot of time with my improv family, even if we have spread out across the country. We share our lives, our successes and failures, not to mention a thread of meaningless emails about poop and/or comic book characters every single day.  Since 2007, new people have joined and enriched our group as well. And today, I am about as lucky as a girl can get to have such a tight crew of people in my life.

So, four years after my own graduation, I’m still somewhat unsure of what I’m doing or where I’m going in life. I’ve taken some risks and I know I should probably take some more. Life after college is scary and complicated, but I feel better knowing that 1) I’ve taken away some life skills from my crazy improv days and 2) I have awesome friends.

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