How I Cultivated Self-love with Vulnerability and Comedy

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I just wrapped up my 28th year on planet Earth and my first year as an aspiring comedian. With immense gratitude I can honestly say without a doubt it was the best year of my life (so far). Not every part of it was happiness and bliss. Some of my darkest days also occurred in that same year but the bright light of the good days erased the shadows. The keys to this breakout year for me was embracing vulnerability, exploring my inner-goofball, and willing to love my authentic self. I’ve always had an inner-goofball but I suppressed it for most of my life. I can’t say I had the happiest childhood despite growing up in Naperville, a place that paints the illusion of blissful upper-middle class suburbia. As an unhappy child who was told by the media, my church, my school, my friends, and my parents that I should be happy, I felt the need to hide my misery. I carried a lot of shame because part of me bought the narrative that having plenty of material things should have made me happy. Out of fear of not wanting people to see my unhappiness I rarely displayed any emotion at all. It became an ingrained defense mechanism. When I was torn up inside, I looked neutral. When I was ecstatic and beaming on the inside, I looked like an emotionless android from Blade Runner. It took me almost three decades to finally release my inner-goofball and pave the road towards becoming a comedian.

This journey of becoming my authentic self began a couple years ago after reading Brené Brown’s incredibly successful book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead." The book was recommended to me by Loveumentary Contributor, Amber Rae. Brené’s research describes the power of vulnerability. She teaches that vulnerability is actually a strength, not a weakness. The title “Daring Greatly” comes from a quote by Teddy Roosevelt that inspired Brené. His famous “Man in the Arena” speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I get chills every time I read this quote. Critics can destroy you. Whether they are random strangers or peers, they can be vicious. Sometimes we are our own worst critic. When we are vulnerable and we allow the venom of unqualified critics into our psyche, we feel massive shame. This shame is what keeps us from wanting to be vulnerable. Brené says shame is, “the fear of disconnection”. Why should we fear disconnection from people we are not connected to? In Brown’s talk at the 99u Conference last year she said, “If you aren’t in the arena getting your ass kicked with me, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

After internalizing and embracing the strength that can come from vulnerability, it was time to practice what I started preaching and do something I'd always wanted to do... I decided to take a risk and give live comedy a shot.

In the spring of 2013 I began to seek out venues to perform a comedy bit I had been thinking about for a while. My idea was to talk about how Chipotle Mexican Grill could save the world from this terrible condition called Chipotle Deficiency Syndrome (CDS). CDS is responsible for practically every problem the world faces and if there were enough Chipotles across the globe, we would have a happy and peaceful planet. I applied to speak at Ignite Chicago. Within a few weeks of applying, I received notice that I was accepted. I would perform a 5 minute TED talk parody at Chicago’s coolest venue, the tech hub known as 1871. My talk was going to take place on my 28th birthday. I thought of this as the best present I could give to myself.

Too many times I had terrorized myself by imagining what it would feel like to be on stage, alone, trying to make people laugh. Public performances of any kind make most people frightened, but in my mind, live comedy takes it to a whole different level. I can’t imagine anything more awkward than trying to be funny on stage and absolutely bombing. Performing at Ignite Chicago was supposed to be a one-and-done, scratch-it-off-my-bucket-list event. The problem is, it went really well. I dared greatly. I entered the arena. I didn’t get my ass kicked. I kicked ass. My comfort zone expanded to levels I never thought possible. The rush I experienced after performing was something I will never forget. It’s the type of high that hooks people to come back for more. Satisfying my appetite for the comedic high wasn’t going to be easy. I had to be willing to be vulnerable again and put myself at risk to possible unwarranted shame. This time I was going to try a different form of comedy. It was now time for me to enter the improv arena.

In January of this year I participated in Fear Experiment. For 3 months, me and 16 other amateurs studied improv and then performed in front of 600 people at Park West, in Lincoln Park. Prior to starting our classes, I was terrified. I thought of improv as the ability to constantly be super witty at all times. My improv teacher Pete Aiello cooled my nerves a bit at the beginning of our first class when he said improv isn’t about trying to be funny. It’s about being in the moment and learning not to judge yourself. It’s about saying “Yes and”. No matter what you say is happening, you go with it. Even if it seems totally ridiculous, don’t judge it, just own it. The most important rule is, “If it feels stupid, do it harder.”

Suddenly I wasn’t scared of improv, at least while I was performing in class. I had permission to do whatever I want, to not be judged for it, and I could never be wrong. As weeks of improv class went by, I noticed that the improv mentality of not judging myself and being in the moment had spilled over into the rest of my life. I was having better conversations with people. I was less afraid to speak my mind in the face of controversy and I generally became more playful. I really started to enjoy this new side of me.

As the countdown to our big day came closer, I was still a little bit intimidated by the fact that I was going to be on stage in front of hundreds of people. Before I started Fear Experiment, I felt that the big show would be one of the most important days of my life. It would be a launching point for me to not be a different person, but to be the person I have always kept hidden. A big part of me was not happy with who I was and have been disappointed that I had not been my authentic self. It is often said, you need to love yourself before you can love someone else, and I want to be happily married with kids someday. In the few weeks before the show, I began to think of the big show as a wedding. There is a ton of preparation before the big day, including a rehearsal. Friends and family were going to be there to watch all of us have the time of our lives. This was going to be a wedding to myself. I feel partially embarrassed to say that because it sounds super cheesy, but screw it, I’m willing to be vulnerable!

When the big show arrived, I was pumped. I had never been so excited in my life. Being on stage with a huge audience staring at me with stage lights shining down didn’t phase me a bit. Each time we went off stage I couldn’t wait to go back on for our next segment. It was such a bizarre feeling. Less than a year before that, I was dreading being on stage and now I felt it was going to be hard to get me to leave. My wedding day didn’t end with an “I do” or big kiss, but an “I am”. I am me and no one else. The whole experience was without a doubt the greatest moment of my life (so far).

As months have passed since Fear Experiment ended, I’ve continued taking more improv classes and even experimented with a new form of comedy. I began writing Onion-style satirical articles. On the last day before I turned 29-years-old, I had my first piece published at the Libertarian Republic. I sent my publisher a short bio to include at the bottom of my article, which read:

“Ryan Lazarus is an entrepreneur, future Oscar/Emmy winner, writer, and a great connector of people, ideas, and talent. A libertarian. Chipotletarian. Comedian?”

My publisher dropped the “?” and left “Comedian.” I’m no Louis CK but I feel like I can actually call myself a comedian now. You don’t have to be Elton John to call yourself a musician or be Bobby Flay to call yourself a chef. If Carlos Mencia can call himself a comedian, so can I.

My article did better than I expected. I can’t think of a better way to wrap up my year of comedy. After such an amazing year I couldn’t be more grateful. So many people have helped me, encouraged me, and inspired me to pursue my passion. I take nothing for granted. Having an attitude of gratitude has allowed me to fully appreciate how good life can be and how many wonderful people are now in my life.

A year or two ago I would have been terrified to write this piece, let alone share it on the Internet where an infinite amount of eyes have the potential to see it. That was the old me, or actually, the lesser version of me. I’m now my authentic self and I love that. I’m now seeking a woman who also loves herself and who can love me back. No more waiting. I’m ready for love and it feels great!

[jbox title="About the author:" border="5" radius="15"] Ryan is a film school dropout turned entrepreneur. He is a Co-Founder of Effioa Capital. His company focuses on infrastructure development in underserved areas of India. Effioa also utilizes its strong network and experience to assist companies that wish to expand into India.

He is a Contributor to The Libertarian Republic where he focuses on satirical writing and political commentary. Ryan is also currently writing a screenplay for a satirical hip-hop musical about the war on drugs. Do you make hip-hop beats or want to help? You can reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out his new obscurely named blog, “The There There Optimist”.[/jbox]

Don't Be Afraid To Be The One Who Loves The Most

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Today I'm grateful to announce that I am officially a published author! My friend, Tyler Ward, author of Marriage Rebranded, has been collecting marriage advice for Millennials, and asked me to contribute. I happily obliged, and now my work is being published alongside some of my heroes, in his book called Marriage Hacks. The following is my contribution. I wanted to share it with you. If you like it, you'll love the rest of the book. Check it out here:

How I Discovered Love Is Not Weakness

On December 11th, 2013 I found myself in a car driving through the back roads of Georgia with a stiff back and weary eyes. I had spent the last two months of my life sleeping on couches, driving from city to city with my friend, Melissa, as we searched the United States for the most passionately in-love couples we could find.

We were nearing the end of our journey, and as always, I had no idea what to expect from the couple we were about to meet. I had no way of knowing I would receive the most important love advice of my life.

When we arrived at Joseph and Anne Gaston’s home, we were treated with 60+ years worth of stories and experiences. They told us how they met and how they fell in love. They recounted the struggles that came with working in the medical field while raising a family, how they had to sacrifice important things so the other could pursue their dreams.

Conversations like this are what I live for—rich in stories, personality, and practical advice. These are the reason I started recording these stories in the first place.

As we were winding down the conversation, we asked the Gastons if they could leave the world with one bit of love advice, what would it be?

Without missing a beat, Anne said,

“Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.”

I felt the air get sucked from my lungs as the power of her words sank in.

I had always been taught that “the person who cares the least always has the most power.” We tell ourselves that not caring—not loving—means we get to dictate the pace of the relationship and the level of commitment. We believe the person who cares the least worries the least, stresses the least, and has the most freedom to do as they please.

We say that loving makes you weak and vulnerable. It makes you a captive in your own relationship, subject to the feelings, moods, and desires of the one you love.

One simple sentence by an 80-year-old woman changed a lifetime of belief for me.

I suddenly realized that love is not weakness. It’s power.

Love is the fuel that makes relationships work. Loving someone more than they love you is not stupid or crazy or foolish. It’s the bravest thing you can do in this life.

True love is given without conditions or expectation of reciprocation. We can love others even when they are imperfect and flawed. We can cherish them, serve them, and forgive them even when they break promises, say unintentionally hurtful things, fall short, or forget.

Love is unfair… and that’s what makes it so amazing and beautiful.

When we aren’t afraid to be the one who loves the most, and we find a partner who is also committed to loving big, we get the experience of receiving love even (and especially) in the moments we least deserve it.

That is what true love is all about. Don’t miss out on true, deep, meaningful, connected love.

Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.

Don't forget to check out the book Marriage Hacks with contributions from Gary Chapman, Danny Silk, Gary Thomas, your's truly, and many others.

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Faith vs. Fear - Which Will You Choose?

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I talk to people about relationships and love every single day. Recently, I noticed a theme emerging from these conversations over and over again. This theme is at the very heart of what prevents most people (including myself) from allowing ourselves to truly, deeply love and be loved. The issue faith... or rather the absence of faith.

The faith I'm referring to doesn't necessarily need to be rooted in religion. Rather, I'm referring to a more broad, yet deeply profound confidence, belief, and trust in someone or something that is completely uncertain.

Our fear-mongering society has beaten faith out of us.

The hope in humanity that this nation was built on has been chased out of us. We're scared of terrorists, tyrannical government, and trans-fats. We're scared of the hyper-religious, and atheists. We're scared of kidnappers, cancer, and pit bulls. We're scared of global warming, Hollywood, rapists, child molesters, and we're scared of love.

We're terrified that love won't last. We doubt whether we can remain faithful for a lifetime. We fear that our loving relationships will slowly turn into a passive aggressive grudge match, and arguments over taking out the trash, leaving dishes in the sink, and toenail clippings. We fear that things will change... and not for the best.

Every day someone asks me the question, "Is it worth the risk to give someone your whole heart? What if they leave/change/become abusive/take advantage of me/hurt me/cheat on me?

"Isn't it easier to play it safe? I mean, you don't have risk getting burned if you stay single. You can't be emotionally destroyed if you hold back just a enough, and don't fully open your heart.

"The person with the most power in a relationship is always the person who cares the least, right? I'd rather have control, safety, and certainty than be the one who gets burned."

It's conversations like this that make me realize how faithless our society has become. We have been trained not to have faith in each other. We know how easy it is for us to change our mind, and knowing that the love of your life can change their mind makes it easy to doubt love.

The interesting thing about faith is that it cannot exist without doubt (faith without doubt is certainty), but if we allow that doubt to get a hold of our hearts, it can twist our uncertain reality into something it's not. It will mutate into fear. Then we are faced with a choice, do we allow fear to take over and our faith to go right out the window? Or do we dispel the fear with a heavy dose of love and faith in others and in the world?

Fear and faith cannot coexist. One will always dispel the other.

You must choose between certainty and love, emotional safety and deep connection, complete control and vulnerability.

You must have the courage to make the more difficult choice to experience the greater reward. Faith in the face of uncertainty is at the very core of love.

What do you think? Has fear eradicated faith? Do you need faith to have a healthy relationship? What are ways you can cultivate more trust in others? Let me know in the comments section!

And don't forget to share this post if you liked it!