Believe it or not, but I was in the theater both in high school and college. During high school, I played a country mechanic, a cynic, a nerd where I won “Best Supporting Actor” at my school (Yea, I know. It might not have been too far from reality!), and a corrupt preacher (insert your own joke here). During college, I took classes than performances. Regardless of the level, one of my greatest lessons in life I owe is because of the theater. The lesson: “No one knows you’ve made a mistake unless you let them know!”
My drama teacher, Mrs. Kathy Bettler, who I had in multiple situations, repeated this advice over-and-over. Be it at high school, Upward Bound summer camp, or community theater; she always said the phrase. Her point was that the audience rarely knew the exact script for a play. Therefore, if one messed up and was skilled, they could improve their way back into the script’s flow due to their familiarity with the drama they were performing.
Mrs. Bettler knew what she was talking about because one of the Backstreet Boys also had her for drama lessons. Seriously, find an old album and look up the acknowledgments. In one of their earlier albums, her name is present. She knew the theater, and she was right on this piece of advice, both in the theater and in life.
Now, she never advocated for a “fake it until you make it approach.” No, her point within the theater was that since an actor knows the play so well, they should know how to pivot their error (unknown to the crowd) back towards the script’s flow, allowing the audience to enjoy the show regardless of folly. One who is “faking it” does not know how to correct because they never knew the script to start. No, Mrs. Bettler’s approach is to correct what one knows from what they never knew. Again, the same is valid for life too!
Throughout my life, I have found her advice to be valid. Most people don’t know you’ve made a mistake unless you let them know! Be it speaking, preaching, or relating to others, the art of improvisation is a particular skill worth learning. One I’m glad Mrs. Bettler taught me over 20 years ago.
Your experience might not be in the theater growing up, but no matter your discipline, you can probably find some principle to apply to all of life. Perhaps you have learned a musical instrument? There you learned how to develop a skill. Maybe you took martial arts? Then you know the art of discipline. The list goes on-and-on!
Then again, maybe you feel your upbringing didn’t let you learn any formal skills; if so, then start with Mrs. Bettler’s advice. No, not that you have to learn improvisation, but that you have the freedom to create and maybe correct when you know your subject better than most. That’s what she taught me both as an amateur actor, but more importantly, as an adult. It’s a lesson you can learn too. Just start by knowing your area better than most!