Transcript EP 320 – It is No JOKE: How You Can Combat Fear with Improv with Judi Holler
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Judi Holler: It’s a sense of urgency. Improv gave me such a sense of urgency, which has helped me run reps fast, like I move faster because of that. It’s okay to have problems, and it’s okay to feel and process the problems. It’s just not okay to stay in it. Don’t be a victim in it. Give yourself time to heal, but we have got to pull ourselves out of that and keep moving.
Dr. Taz: Hi everyone, and welcome to Super Woman Wellness. I’m Dr. Taz. I’ve made it my mission throughout my career in integrative medicine to support women in restoring their health using a blend of Eastern medical wisdom with modern science. In this show, I will guide you through different practices to find your power type and fully embody the healthiest and most passionate version of you. I’m here for you, and I can’t wait to get started. This is a Soulfire production.
Welcome back, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Super Woman Wellness, where I am determined to bring you back to your superpowered self and hopefully, make you laugh a little bit. You’ve seen all my goofy TikToks and Instagram reels. Well, I have something better, so don’t go away. I have with me here Judi Holler. She’s a bestselling author, creative entrepreneur, and a professionally-trained improviser. As an alum of Second City Conservatory in Chicago, she uses her improv theater training to help you celebrate fear, smash comfort zones, and navigate the unscripted stage of everyday life. I definitely need you. Welcome to the show, Judi. I am thrilled to have you here. How in the world did you get into improv? And here’s the title of your book, Fear is My Homeboy. So why is Fear your homeboy when the rest of us are playing crouch over here?
Judi Holler: Okay, I love this. Well, first of all, thank you for that awesome introduction. And listen, when I get asked the question like, “Tell me something that no one would ever guess about you,” one of my responses to that question as the author of a book called Fear is My Homeboy is that I’m one of the biggest fraidy-cats you’ll ever meet. There is the epiphany. So courage, true courage, bravery, isn’t the absence of fear. It’s the doing it afraid. It’s the going scared. It’s in those reps that we sharpen our swords, polish our crown, and build our tolerance for pain, pain being anxiety, self-doubt, overwhelm, imposter syndrome, all this mental health stuff that we go through that really blocks us from the mental wealth we deserve. So I learned all that in an improv classroom, if you can believe it.
To back you into it, I think what’s important for your listeners to understand is I took improv for the first time at the age of 30. I was living in Chicago, and had a big sales and marketing career. I was working for Omni Hotels at the time in a global role, regional role, specifically focusing my efforts on opening the Omni Dallas. I had a big, old sales career. By day I’m in the boardroom and traveling and doing all this stuff. But I’m single. I had just moved to Chicago. I’m 30, and I’m like, you know what? I’m going to take some improv classes and try improv at night. So I went to my first class at the age of 30 and I quit. I paid the fee, the full fee, the non, I tell the story in my book and in my keynotes, the non-refundable fee because Second City doesn’t give you your money back.
So I get all the way there and I don’t even go in. I lie when people… Because I’m sure I looked like I was lost, like, “Little girl, could we help you?” I don’t know what I said. I just lied. I lied, I lied. I ran out of there. I was so afraid. I wonder if you or any of your listeners can relate, my big fear at the time was that I was too old. 30, can you imagine? I thought I was too old at 30. Now, to be 30 I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” But I thought at the time in the comedy world, like, “Oh my God. I’m like grandma. I’m like an old fossil over here. Everyone’s going to make fun of me. I’m not even funny. Who am I? Did I mention I’m an ancient fossil?” So I quit, and it took me two years to go back. I was 32 when I went back to Second City and re-signed up for the class and walked into that classroom despite my doubt, despite my age, despite my fear. And Dr. Taz, it changed everything.
Dr. Taz: I got to tell you a story, and then I’m going to let you pick right back up. I actually signed up for an improv class, when was it? Four years ago? I just turned 50 this year, so I would’ve been, what, 46?
Judi Holler: Girl.
Dr. Taz: Say what? Don’t get so excited. I went in there. I’m 46 of the time, two children, my whole show, whatever. I’m looking around and everyone looks like they’re 12. I mean, they’re probably really young college kids, 20, 21, 22. They pair us up. We have to do this stuff that first day. Then there was all this homework to do, all these assignments to do. And I’m like, “I don’t have time for this. And I’m too old.” And I quit! I also lost whatever I paid for it. I never went back. So kudos to you. That takes so much guts, because after you show up, it’s one thing to have the bravery to be like, “Oh, I’m going to go do this.” It’s another thing to show up and be like, “Oh, shit, what am I doing here?” So continue with your story, because that’s much more important. But I’m just laughing to myself listening, like, “Yeah, I did the first part of that, for sure.” But anyhow, obviously, you ran with it.
Judi Holler: You walked in and I think so many of us, we walk past doors, we walk by doors. Whatever the proverbial door is in your life, there’s so many doors we walk by every day. So many thresholds we don’t walk into. Now listen, sometimes we’re going to walk into that door and the season of our life that we’re in, or the space in our careers that we’re in, or what we’re currently facing in our family environment could alter the choice we need to make, so of course, but I think the key is opening the door and then making that decision. But walking through the threshold is the big point. I think there’s so many things we miss, because we count ourselves out before we even walk in. At least you walked in and said, “Oh, okay, cool. I did it. Eh, probably not for me. Check it off my list.”
But I didn’t even walk in. I literally was like, “Lie. I lied.” I left. And those are the gaps we want to tighten. So I go back and I’m 32, and here’s the flashpoint, because by day in corporate America, I’m hearing very different things in my corporate career, boss-babe, life 9:00 to 5:00. Well, more like 7:00 to 10:00. We’re working really hard, but whatever. In my career, I was hearing very different things than I was hearing in the improv classroom. I’ll give you an example. You walk into a boardroom or any other corporate environments, it’s great, be yourself, but will you make sure you copy me first or run it by me first, let me know what you’re going to do. Be yourself in the presentation, but make sure you wear the pantyhose. I come from the hotel industry, back with the pantyhose. Y’all going to have the pantyhose on, right?
But in improv the first thing we’re hearing is, “All right, tonight I’m going to need you to fail. I’m going to need you to fail so hard and so big. I’m going to need you to mess this up on epic levels.” And I’m sitting here going, “What? You want me to fail? You want me to get it wrong?” So what ended up happening is that I would take risks, and I’d make moves, and I’d bet on myself, and I wouldn’t overthink as much. All of that bled over into my professional life. It bled into the boardroom. It bled into just my personal life. I would speak up. I’d ask for what I’d want. I’d leave situations that didn’t feel right. I’d go on a blind date. I’d leave the blind date. I’d ask for the money. I’d quit a job, start a job, move to a new city. I started to increase this tolerance for pain. Again, pain being imposter syndrome, and self-doubt, and procrastination, and all that stuff that shows up to stop us.
So that’s my story with it. It changed everything. I ended up quitting that corporate job and starting a business and writing a book. I have a podcast on my own and all the things, and that began with a bet on myself and then just showing up every day on the other side of that.
Dr. Taz: I love that. So what did improv in particular, what are the skills that they may have handed you for you to be able to be this person now, outside of the theater?
Judi Holler: Yes. Well, I think there’s a couple. There’s so many, but the couple that stick out are number one, no mistakes, only gifts. We learn really quickly that we are going to try something and we’re going to win, or we’re going to try something and we’re going to learn. But we don’t leave in the improv theater. So embracing failure, which is important in entrepreneurship and in business and in life. We got to move. We have to have a tolerance for disappointment, and pain, and embarrassment, and getting it wrong so that we can get it right. So that was big. Sharing the spotlight.
Dr. Taz: Okay, hang on. You just skimmed over one of the most critical issues for women in business. We treat everything our own children, so we never want anything to hurt, especially something we’re nurturing, or something we’re building, or something that we’re working towards. That tolerance for pain is something that I’ve had to learn. But as I’m getting older, looking at younger women, it’s something that many women don’t have that men I feel like do a little bit better with. And I don’t know why. I don’t know if you agree or not. But I feel like we have less of a risk tolerance. We have less of a pain tolerance. We’re also not prepped. We want to make everybody happy. We take things really to heart. How do we break that?
How do we break that? Because that to me has been a personal challenge. It’s also been what I continue to see as the biggest challenge for the women that work for me, or the women that I come into contact with. Just thinking about the female aspect of this, what can we do?
Judi Holler: Oh my gosh. Well, first of all, live into the mantra, no mistakes, only gifts, and recognize that the big problem is that we think we shouldn’t have problems.
Dr. Taz: That is so true.
Judi Holler: That was an awakening for me. I think it was Tony Robbins or maybe Ed Mylett, who I heard say that. I had to pull over my car and take a breath. I had just had a very prominent team member quit the day I heard it. I was like, “Oh, here I am thinking I shouldn’t have problems. Of course, but the problems are it. It’s how I become her, it, what I want to be in this world. If I don’t have problems, how am I building a tolerance for anything in this world?”
And the other problem is we think we need to be a martyr. We think that in doing it all, like if I say no, and I think this is the big thing for women to really hear, because you’re right, men don’t do this. And us women, we get so caught up in, “Oh my God, if I do this thing, or if I make this choice, or if I chase what it is that I really want, or do what it is that I want to really do, or set the boundary, or say no, or decline the appointment, what will they say? People will judge me, not like me, make fun of me.” The cold hard truth is this. We get so obsessed with other people judging us that we forget they already are. They’re already judging. They’re already making fun. They’re already not liking you. So the question is, who are you living your life for? You or everybody else? And that has set me free too, because I realized the clock is ticking. It is ticking.
We can wait for someday. There is a major symptom, I could call it an epidemic, in the world and I think it’s this someday syndrome epidemic. I think women are really guilty of it. We are constantly waiting for someday. I’ll do it someday when I retire, someday when my kids graduate, someday when I have the money, someday when I have this spouse or a spouse, someday when I lose the weight, someday when I have the money, or my favorite someday, when I have the time. The cold hard truth is, what if you don’t get someday? Today, this moment is your legacy. I am always encouraging women, use the china, wear the good jeans, put on the good perfume today, wear it today. What’s your favorite top? I have sequin right behind me here. All the sequin. Look at all the sequin. Wear the sequin jacket today. Why is New Year’s the special occasion? Today’s the special occasion. It’s a sense of urgency.
Improv gave me such a sense of urgency, which has helped me run reps fast. I moved faster because of that. So maybe that’s the answer to your question. It’s okay to have problems, and it’s okay to feel and process the problems. It’s just not okay to stay in it. Don’t be a victim in it. Give yourself time to feel. But we got to pull ourselves out of that and keep moving. That is completely inspired by the improv theater. So no mistakes, only gifts. Sharing the spotlight is another big lesson. That would be lesson number two. When I shine, you shine. You shine, I shine. I think my only job as an improviser is to make the other person look better than me. A lot of times as leaders, it’s me, me, me, ego, ego, ego. And the ensemble is a big part of how we create writer’s rooms and all this stuff. And that’s big.
And then I think last and most importantly, it’s the yes-and mindset. It is the first thing we learn in the improv theater. We say, for those that don’t know what improv is, let’s just make sure everybody understands it’s not standup comedy. It is live theater without a script. We create our scenes using suggestions from the audience, and we use our training tools like yes-and to do this. So someone comes out on stage and offers up a scene, a suggestion. Dr. Taz you’d walk out on stage and say, “Oh my God, I am so excited to be in Cancun.” You would make that declaration. My job would then, because I have no script, so what do you do? We use yes-and to begin. So I would say, “Yes, Taz, and I cannot wait. We are going to run a cabana.” You would say, “Yes, and that cabana is going to have champagne all day long.” And I would say, “Yes, and it’s going to come with all-you-can-eat tacos.”
Then we go down this rabbit hole. We play until we get comfortable. Now, if you were to say, you come out on stage. Now, feel the difference. You come out on stage and you make the declaration, “I am so excited to be here in Cancun, Judi,” and I say, “We’re not in Cancun.” Brick wall. You have just denied me, shut me down, blocked me and now where do we go? And you would go, “But we are, Judi. This is weird. No, we’re not. What are you talking about?” Now, we have nowhere to go. We know these people. We have them on our team. We have them in our life. We have them in our office. It doesn’t mean we need yes-people around us. Of course, we need people to poke holes in things to keep us safe, but what’s the intention behind it? If there is fear behind your no, if there is control, if the intent is to micromanage, then we got to be mindful of that energy, especially when we’re in a meeting where we don’t need that energy.
What we’re doing in my company and what I have done to use yes-and in a practical application is to say, “All right guys, I’m going to ask everybody to have a yes-and mindset in this meeting. We can poke holes in it later, but I need my yes-and players in the room. I need the yes-and mindset in the room for the first 15 minutes and hear me out, and then see the other side.” Or keep your no-people, the people that are paid to poke holes in things to keep you safe, out of the visionary work until you’re ready for them to come in and help you apply it or get into the tactics. But I think a lot of times we try to make those two things work and we wonder why there’s friction. So yes-and is a game changer. It keeps you moving.
Dr. Taz: I love that tool. So will you do your yes-meeting separately from your no-meetings?
Judi Holler: Usually, yeah. Dr. Taz, if I’m beginning a relationship, a conversation, a creative project, I always begin it with a yes-and team and my yes-and meeting agenda. I need those people in that room. Then when we’re ready to get into the how and the who’s going to help me do it, I might want to put some of my yes-noers in the room to help protect the process and maybe help us look at things we might not see. But we don’t want them in too early. I think sometimes we lose those people because they get frustrated when they’re around too many visionaries. It’s a way to take care of both.
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I love that tool. Is there another improv tool you could share with us? Because I’m thinking I could use that one right away. That’s a great one.
Judi Holler: I think it is building on ideas. We have yes-and meetings and yes-and agendas and yes-and people on our team, but it’s a reminder to build upon, so just to make sure everyone here is heard. I think a lot of people misunderstand the yes-and tactic, because it doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything. What we’re doing is keeping it moving forward. Even if we’re in conversations with a teenager or a toddler, people want to feel seen and they want to feel heard, and they want to feel psychologically safe. This is a big conversation everyone’s having these days. Oprah famously said, she goes, “I’ve interviewed everyone from presidents to sheiks, to princess, to famous celebrities, and everyone backstage after the interview, doesn’t matter if it’s Tom Cruise or the King of the Taj Mahal,” always pulls her aside and says, “Oh my God, how did I do? Did I do okay? But did I do okay?”
People just want to feel seen and yes-and is an emotional response to saying, “Yeah, and…” So let me give you an example. Let me tell you how this may play out. These two things are going to feel very different. “Yes, I love your presentation.” “I loved your presentation today, but you used way too many slides.” It feels very different than, “I loved your presentation. And you know what? Next time, let’s use less slides.” That feels different. Or, “Yes, I realize you want this promotion, but you’re not ready yet,” feels very different than, “Yes, I realize you want this promotion and here’s what we’re going to do to get you ready for it.”
“I love you and” feels very different than, “I love you, but.” Somebody comes at me and goes, “I love you, but…” Okay, well the but has just literally told me everything I need to know. “I love you, but you’re on your phone too much.” Now, I’m ready to come back, “Give me my gloves. I’m going to fight you.” “I love you, and maybe, honey, let’s put our phones down at dinner this week,” is a little softer. So it’s a little bit of a Jedi mind trick we can use not just in meetings, but in individual conversations. That is the mantra.
Then of course, just failure, reframing failure. One of the things we did in the improv theater really well, and I do in my company these days, is we celebrate failure. We throw what I call mistake parties or failure parties, because we love to get everybody in a room and talk about the numbers we missed, and the revenue growth that weren’t hit, and the stuff that’s broken in those defeating meetings. We need to talk about it. But why can’t we flip it and do what fear doesn’t expect and celebrate the courage it takes to try something new and just celebrate the fact that we tried and what did we learn? So I’ll straight up get cake pops and confetti and put on a vibey playlist, and be like, “Great, here’s our failure. Awesome. How are we smarter, stronger, faster, better, braver, all of it?” That is empowering, instead of defeating and deflating.
Dr. Taz: Right. Oh my gosh. So many leadership lessons, family lessons in all of this. I love it. So you’ve written a book, correct?
Judi Holler: Yeah.
Dr. Taz: Tell us about your book. Tell us what we can find in there and what is really the message of that book.
Judi Holler: The core, the essence of the book, Fear is My Homeboy, is to do just that, to reframe our relationship with fear. That was my very personal and playful way to explain my relationship with fear, is that it is my ride-or-die. It is my best friend. It is my biggest ally. I think the awakening for me happened when I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, a book called Big Magic. She’s written a lot, so let me clarify Big Magic specifically. She wrote in that book this line, and it’s when I coined the term fear is my homeboy, because she said, “Listen, think about the word fearless.” I really hate that word. I hate it, because I think it messes us up. We think we need to be fearless, and if we’re not fearless, we’re not worthy.
And so she goes, “Think about it. If you were really fearless, you would do crazy stuff. You would never go to a doctor, you’d never pay your taxes and all this stuff.” And then she goes, “The only fearless people I know are five-year-olds and sociopaths.” So the path shouldn’t be pain free. The path shouldn’t be painless. The goal isn’t fearless, it’s brave. So the essence of the book is really being brave enough to show up as yourself and to keep moving despite doubt and to have a little less overthinking every day and a little bit more movement, because it’s in the reps that we build the muscle. And courage really is a muscle.
Dr. Taz: Is there a daily habit we should be putting in place?
Judi Holler: Yes.
Dr. Taz: I love the yes-and. That’s definitely a tool. But is there something we can do on a daily basis to develop more pain tolerance, to be able to accept fear and celebrate fear to a certain extent? What are other things that we could do?
Judi Holler: If I could write one prescription for your listeners today it would be to conduct, and we talk about this in the book, in my keynotes. The number one thing I talk about is to conduct every day, and if you don’t get it every day, try to make sure you’re 80% of your week doing something every day to conduct a daily experiment. They’re like fear experiments. So the goal every day-
Dr. Taz: Experiment! I hope you guys caught that, experiment.
Judi Holler: It’s a little pun, hashtag experiment. This is you experimenting with your fear every day a little bit on purpose. Let me explain. It is you wearing a sequin blazer when everyone else is in suits. It is you wearing a color you’re not used to. It is you going on Zoom, if you’re not used to going on camera. It is you calling your boss and saying, “Hey, can I take you for coffee?” It is you going to talk to the new guy at the company. It is you sitting in the front row of a meeting. It is all these little daily games. It is you looking at your to-do list and going, “Okay, what is one thing on my to-do list that I could take outside of the box, outside of the comfort zone today? Could I go eat lunch alone and not bring my phone? Could I take a different drive to the grocery store, maybe discover something new?” I am every day on a mission to play these games with myself and it keeps me in the gym. It’s me working out.
Dr. Taz: It’s like the fear master.
Judi Holler: Fear scientist.
Dr. Taz: I’m sorry!
Judi Holler: The fear scientist. The fear boss. We are in control, and the only way I can sharpen that sword is I have to use it. We don’t play with it, so then we wonder why when the moment comes where we need to be brave, we don’t feel it. We have to work at it.
Dr. Taz: This is what builds confidence. Confidence is not, well, mantras help, and all that helps confidence. Whether you’re 4 or 80, confidence comes from doing stuff. It’s not an abstract concept out here. When I’m thinking about this and I have a 15-year-old daughter, I always end up applying a lot of what I learn to her and thinking about her as a young woman and going on her path as she gets older, we talk about, “Well, how do we build confidence in teenagers? How do we build resilience in our youth?” And stuff like that. Well, we have to teach them that failure’s okay, that fear is okay and that they’re going to feel better on the other side of trying things than they do on the safe side of not doing anything. I think that that’s where confidence comes from. I wish we would talk a little bit more about that when we talk about self-esteem, and confidence, and mental health, and all this other stuff.
Judi Holler: Yes. You’ve nailed it. I couldn’t agree more. It’s reps. I think a lot of us assume we need to be confident to go do scary things, but it’s actually in the doing of scary things and prevailing that makes you more confident, because you go to yourself, “Oh, now I have data.” Think about your first day at school. Say for your 15-year-old, the first day at school feels very scary. Last day at school? At your graduation, “Woooo hooo! Baby, we’ve run the reps.” Your first speech, your first procedure, your first date is very different than your last, your most recent one. So we have to get out. We got to get out onto the field and into the arena. That’s the only way.
Dr. Taz: I love it. So we need to do scary things.
Judi Holler: Yes. Every day.
Dr. Taz: We need to make fear our homeboy and do I even have… I see, oh, then we need to do the yes-and. I’m sitting here thinking if I had a sequin jacket or not, may not.
Judi Holler: We got to get you one.
Dr. Taz: I’m sure I have something that’ll make me uncomfortable, for sure. But I think being uncomfortable is the key. Since I never finished that improv class, what I did do recently and I’ve stuck to it, I picked up the guitar. I’m trying to learn how to play guitar. Never made it back into improv class, but-
Judi Holler: There’s your experiment!
Dr. Taz: I know, there we go! Both my children have been playing instruments for a while now. So they now get to listen to me as I once listened to them, like “yee-ow.” They get to hear all that stuff now.
Judi Holler: Oh, good. I’m proud of you. That’s incredible.
Dr. Taz: I don’t want to be afraid to do things. I don’t want anyone out there listening to be afraid to do things, because I have that sense of urgency that we only have so much time, so why not get out there?
Judi Holler: Why not now? Use the china, spray the fancy perfume, put on your favorite lipstick, stop saving it for a better day, because today’s the day. What if today’s the last day? You’ll be so mad if you didn’t eat the cheeseburger, or that you didn’t call your best friend, or that you didn’t use the fancy wine glass. Use it. Do it today.
Dr. Taz: Totally. Use it. I love it. Oh my gosh, such a fun conversation. Tell us how can people connect with you and learn more about your work and all that other good stuff?
Judi Holler: Well, the best place is always my website, Judi, J-U-D-i, Holler, H-O-L-L-E-R.com. My favorite place on social media is @JudiHoller on Instagram. I have a podcast as well, which is how we met. It is called, Yes, And with Judi Holler. And I forgot to mention this at the beginning when we were off-air, I do have a resource. I think so many women just don’t know where to start. Specifically when we’re trying to balance all the stuff we do in our day, but also where mental health comes into play, I created a goal-focused planning system. There is a digital download that someone could get completely for free if you went to JudiHoller.com/starthere, you get an instant download of my beautiful, goal-focused planning system if you’re looking for a way to get yourself together, get some boundaries, get some mental health prompts to just get you moving forward and out of the box. It certainly has helped me. It’s been a game changer.
Dr. Taz: I love that. Well, thank you so much for taking time out today to join us. We really appreciate it. I hope you all are now willing to try something new and different. And if you are, tell me your story. Email me. It’s email@example.com. And if you ever want to come on the podcast and share your story, there’s an opportunity for that as well. So thank you again for watching and listening to this episode of Super Woman Wellness. I will see you guys next time.