2016 – Rich’s Greatest Hits

Was 2016 a particularly cruel year compared to other years of the past? For many of us, the answer is unequivocally ‘yes.’ However, I believe we can mine shiny pretty things from even the muckiest of mucks.

So, I choose gratitude and positivity. And in the spirit of such, I will tell you the highlights of my 2016. I don’t have the best of memories, so this won’t be completely comprehensive, but that’s okay. Let’s begin

1. I met the love of my life

Her name is Ryan. We met when one of my closest friends and comedy partner Rolland Lopez turned to me in the car after looking on OKCupid and saying, ‘Rich, this girl’s perfect for you.’ He wasn’t looking for a girl for me, but he recognized that it was the right call to tell me. I can never thank him enough. Ryan and I have been together nearly seven months and it’s by far the best relationship I’ve ever had. So thankful for her.

2. I travelled a lot

Between touring with Mission Improvable and Rollin’ In Riches I got to perform for and meet a number of amazing people all across the country.

3. I Taught Many People

I’ve been a teacher for many years and seeing a student leave my class feeling better about themselves because they have learned a bit more never gets old. I coached improv teams, individual actors and improvisers. I directed a sketch team, taught people how to rap, how to write and how to perform. In total it was easily more than 500 students across the country. I love my job.

4. I moved

My ex and I had broken up last October, but stayed living together til June. We said it was because of money, but it was mostly because of fear. I give her all the credit for catalyzing the actual move. She came in from out of town in May and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I agreed and finally made myself look for a new place. And we have both been much healthier for it.

5. I went home

Just got back from a seven day trip home to Texas where I introduced my girlfriend to much of my family and friends. Had a great time. Love it when I get to go home. Loved it even more since I got to show someone I love such a big part of my life.

6. I grew a brand

Rollin’ In Riches had a huge year of shows. We toured 13 cities and played a number of cool shows around L.A. I had a blast spending so much time with my partner Rolland. And it was so awesome to begin to see the emergence of a reputation in the kick ass improv community in this country.

7. I made stuff!

I released my first web series The Pastor John Heavens Show, created my YouTube Channel Wealthy Pastry Productions, shot four original scenes/sketches (one hasn’t been released yet), was the voice of a viral video called Gym Wildlife, performed in a sketch by the Hambone Group, was a co-writer and voice actor for a web series called WTFK with my good friend Akello, wrote a full rough draft of my first original pilot, played a major role in a feature film by Hollywood Shakespeare, released a bunch of podcast episodes for ‘Lost & Confounded,’ wrote and hosted a bunch of trivia shows with Nerdology and recently shot something I came up with that’s in post production right now that I’m really proud of.

I filled out most of my credits on IMDB and contributed several times to this blog. I sometimes fall prey to the habit of beating myself up for not being productive enough, but looking at this list I can see definitively that I did good this past year. And I’m probably missing a few things from that list that didn’t come to mind. Can’t wait to do even better next year!

8. I Grew New Healthy Habits

I workout more consistently. I meditate every morning (for over six weeks so far!). I read regularly. I eat at home a lot more. I say ‘no’ more. I consciously breathe more. I’m probably missing a few, but just based on this list, I’m super proud of myself.

9. I Changed My Mindset

I am prone to depression, anxiety, worry, feeling defeated, feeling unmotivated, etc. But in the last two years I’ve begun to work on all those. I still struggle with lots of things, but I have vastly improved. I understand I can only accomplish so much. I know there are times I need to do stuff and times I need to ask for help. I don’t have to say ‘yes’ to something juts because it’s offered. I don’t have to be scared of failure. Finishing something is now way more important to me than perfecting something. Nothing is perfect. I can control myself a lot more than I realized. I need to love & forgive myself like crazy, because I have to live with me. At 35, I feel way better about life than I have since I was a small child. And I can help myself thru the hard times and in some cases even change them.

10. I had fun

In addition to everything above, I also played with my dog a lot. I played board games, volleyball, tennis. I shared laughs over stupid bits, attended parties filled with fun people. I played music, sang karaoke, played video games and even just chilled out and relaxed.

Again, I’m sure there’s lots to 2016 that was good that I didn’t write, but it was a pretty good year. I did a lot of amazing stuff. Were there bad times? Oh yeah. Panic attacks, very strapped finances, arguments, cancellations, cruelty, celebrity deaths, Trump, etc. But I choose not to focus on those. I tried my best to learn from them and move on.

If you feel like 2016 just wasn’t your year, I encourage you to take the time to remember the stuff you are proud of. The stuff that makes you happy to remember. Dig the shiny pretty thing out of the mud and admire its beauty.

Here’s to an amazing 2017!

Happy NYE!

Thanks, y’all!

You Don’t Have to Win So Dare to Fail Happy

In certain scenarios I secretly hate it when people say things like ‘you’re gonna do it!’ I know they mean well, but it often tempts me to put a lot of pressure on myself.

For example, when someone says, “I know you’ll be famous some day” I hear that and instantly think: ‘I have to be famous. Crap. What if it doesn’t happen. I’ll have failed this person.’

It takes something I’d like to do for myself and makes it something I have to do for others. And I’m not always the best at that. Even as a kid, I didn’t like doing things other people told me to. Even when those things were good for me. The fact that someone told me to do it, turned me off the idea entirely.

To a certain extent, that went away with maturity, but a powerful sliver remains that mutated into something more psychologically damaging. Rather than rebel against doing what someone tells me to, it becomes part of a narrative in my mind where I simply must do something no matter how impossible it seems. And that makes me anxious and depressed.

As a kid, I would often clean my room when no one told me to. I would look around the room, see it’s a mess and decide to put things away. It was immensely satisfying to look around and realize I accomplished all that. And it only happened because I felt like doing it. Not because someone told me to.

In the past few years I have put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to succeed in life. And when I think about it it feels like there’s a metaphorical gun being held to my head by someone. However, that someone can only be me. It’s all in my mind. So, why does the pressure feel so real if it’s only in my head?

This mostly has to do with my own expectations of me, but a small part of it comes from other people’s expectations of me. When people – who have the best intentions – say something like ‘you’ll totally become a professional writer’ or ‘there’s no reason Hollywood shouldn’t cast you,” that fuels the intensity of the imaginary man who holds the gun. It exacerbates him.

Tonight I came to an epiphany. A way to potentially rid myself of the feelings of anxiety and depression caused by this man with the gun scenario. I’m going to start telling myself that I don’t have to win.

I’m not saying I’m not going to win. I’m not saying I’m not going to try. I’m saying it’s not a choice of ‘win or die.’ Rather its a choice of succeed or fail. And failure is an option. It’s by no means my favorite option – quite the opposite. But it’s not the equivalent of being shot in the head.

It’s just failure. Failure is not something to fear. It’s something to embrace. I have failed before. It didn’t crush me. Didn’t end me. Didn’t make me miserable.

I failed at sports growing up. I played football for one year. I was terrible. Played basketball two years in high school. I sucked.

I got fired from my only real civilian full time job. I had lost interest in it. And I failed.

I failed to get a spot on the touring company with Second City.

I failed at being engaged. Usually engagements end in marriage. This one just ended.

I failed to show up on time to set once and everyone was waiting on me.

I have failed at many things. I used to think of these things as black marks on my permanent record. But that’s not true. They’re simply events. Maybe they hold in them some great life lessons, but they didn’t break me. I’m still here.

I toured with M.I. instead of Second City. I still worked for Second City on their cruise ships and I still work for them as a teacher. And I’m a damn great one too.

I’m currently in the best relationship of my life.

I have made my living as a performer ever since that day job fired me.

My friend’s web series still got made. Me being late didn’t screw up the whole production.

So, maybe I’ll fail at a lot more things. Bring it on. I’m not afraid of failure.

In fact, I’m going to start using a phrase that I often use in my classes to tell to myself. ‘Dare to fail.’ When I say this to my students it’s to take the pressure off of themselves to succeed at improv exercises. I tell them that every great improviser has failed at thousands of improv scenes and games. The only way to get great is to fail a whole bunch, learn from it, get better and fail less frequently.

Now, I’m saying it to myself. But I mean something slightly different.

Here’s the deal: There’s no way to know for certain if you’ll succeed or fail at anything. You cannot guarantee success. If that’s true, then you cannot put the demand on yourself to do it. Because the demand is meaningless. It’s just a bunch of pressure and intensity with no guarantee of helping. It’s not helpful.

So, if I might fail no matter what, then I dare myself to fail with a smile on my face. This won’t guarantee I’ll fail. As far as I can tell it won’t significantly (if at all) decrease my odds of success. But what it will do is take the pressure off myself from myself.

If I ‘dare to fail’ then I’ll still pursue my dreams, but I’m going to make sure I”m happy while I do it. I have put so many things on hold trying to chase my dreams. I haven’t vacationed very much. I haven’t played sports a lot in the last few years even though that used to be one of my favorite things. I haven’t played a lot of video games or my guitar.

There’s so many things that I love to do, but whenever I take too much time for the fun stuff then I scold myself for not spending my time working on my career. And that sucks, because that means my goal of being a successful writer/actor has become the thing stopping me from having fun.

Now, I do believe that those who succeed do sacrifice things for that, but they also find a system to balance it all out. That’s where ‘dare to fail’ comes in. When it’s time to work, I’m not going to worry about being perfect or even good. I’m just going to do it. I’m going to work on something (an audition, a screenplay, whatever) for an allotted amount of time. And even if I don’t feel I was as productive as I wanted to be I’m going to move on. And have some guilt free down time.

I dare myself to fail at life. And I dare myself to have fun while doing it.

Thanks, y’all

‘Know Thyself’ or ‘Bigger/Better’

Who are you? Who really are you?

Who am I? Well, I can answer that question a lot more clearly and in depth than I ever could before. And it’s helped me to be happier and a better version of me. But this isn’t about who I am. It’s about me realizing that getting in touch with who I am is super important for my overall well being. And I think it might be for everyone else also.

I don’t know much of anything in the grand scheme of things. I’ve lived for 35 years and had a sporadically successful life sometimes. So, who am I to tell anyone how to do anything?

That said, I think I have a knack for pattern recognition. At least that’s what the I.Q. test said. Wish I could exchange some of that ‘prestigious’ I.Q. for a lot more tenacity and grit. Two qualities that would serve me better than being ‘smart,’ but we don’t get to choose the hands we’re dealt.

And this pattern I believe is in just about every wise person’s repertoire. They seem to all get one concept universally. Some may come to it a bit more by nature, but each and every one of them had to earn this in some real and likely painful way.

The pattern is the knowledge and confidence in the self.

‘Know thyself’ is a very old phrase.The Greeks said it (Gnothi Seauton). And I believe it’s just as relevant today as it ever was.

It’s so simple and short too. It reminds me of Einstein’s famous equation, e=mc^2. A super simple short formula that explains some of the most powerful phenomena in all of the universe.

How can you be the best version of you if you don’t know who you are?

Don’t take my word for it. The message is everywhere. I just saw it displayed beautifully in the Disney film Moana. It’s clearly the thesis of other great works of fiction of Casablanca, The Name of the Wind, E.T., and a number of amazing songs just to name a very small few examples.

Why is it so important? I’m not sure. But I think it has something to do with the seemingly true fact that the greatest power we as individuals have comes into being best when it is manufactured in us.

In other words, our best resource is ourselves.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be willing to ask help from others. That’s important, but before you can achieve greatness, your best course of action is to spend some time getting to know yourself.

If you are great, you must know that before you can believe it. We can’t simply choose to believe in something. Belief is inspired by knowledge. When someone displays a trustworthy act we can use the knowledge of that experience to fuel our belief in their abilities.

The same works with you. How can you believe in your abilities when you don’t really know who you are?

I can’t tell you who you are. No one can truly. If I or someone else told you that you were great that might make you smile but it won’t change how you view you until you look at yourself thru new eyes. See all of you. Forgive yourselves of any past mistakes or screw ups. Encourage yourself. Tell yourself what you have done. What you will do.

Give yourself the gift of accomplishments. If you really believe you’re not worthy of anything, prove yourself wrong. Do something. It can be super small. But do it. It could be something as ‘small’ as making your bed or taking out the trash. Anything you do you are allowed to use as an excuse to shower yourself in flattery and pride. Bring it to your harshly opinionated judges in your heads as evidence that you’re not worthless.

Work your way up bit by bit.

There is a game I have played before called Bigger Better. Get five or six teams of 3-5 people each. Give each team a penny and send them off. Give them a time limit (say 2 hours) to return to base. During those two hours they are going to trade their penny for something ‘bigger or better.’

Usually a rule in the game is that you can only exchange what you have to a stranger. You ask a stranger, “I have a penny. I’ll trade for something of yours that’s bigger or better.” Then whatever they get from that stranger they take to a different stranger and repeat the process. They do this as many times as they can in the time they have.

I have played this twice with two different groups. The second time I played it, one of the groups came back with a car. An actual car that sometimes even worked.

The game is a bunch of fun all the way thru, but the end is particularly great, because it’s essentially a game of show and tell. Everyone tells the fun stories of how they ended up with whatever they ended up with.

And all they started with was a penny.

If you don’t have faith in yourself, I challenge you to an alternate version of this game. Take whatever amount of will power you have and force yourself to complete one task. Make it super simple. Make it ‘to small to fail.’

For example, if you don’t meditate, maybe challenge yourself to attempt to meditate tomorrow for one minute. And try to repeat that the next day. Just one little minute. Sixty seconds of your day. It’s such a small amount of time. Surely you can do it, right?

After you do one day, do two. After two, three and so on. After a number of days in a row (the specific number is individual for all of us, so feel it out) challenge yourself to 90 seconds instead of 60 seconds. After a while up it to two minutes.

Bit by bit, get slightly better and slightly better. Six months from now you might wake up every morning and meditate for five minutes. That’s how I did it. I began so small. And after a while I got used to doing it daily. So, I could increase the time bit by bit over time.

Now, I can honestly say I have the discipline to meditate for five minutes a day. That may sound like a small amount, but I’m proud as hell. And I show no signs of slowing. By my birthday in July I might be up to ten minutes a day. Just a little bigger or better every day adds up over time.

So, who are you? Are you someone who does the things you want to do? If not, become that person. You can do it. It’s not a super power. It’s built into your DNA. You’re a survivor whose ancestors were survivors. Go be amazing. Know yourself as someone who crushes it daily.

A good first step to this process is to start disecting yourself. Take one minute and write about you. Write about a happy memory or a dream or a goal. Anything. Just write about you. Do this once a day. Start getting to know yourself. Fill the page with words that are in some way all about you. The more you get to know yourself, likely the more confident you’ll become.

It’s advice that was given to so many people in an early season of The Simpsons (clip below) that I’m just now really understanding for the first time.

Thanks, y’all!