Drama course in business school? Sounds weird, but wait!

Following my first blog about “stepping out of comfort zone”, this could be a great way to extend one’s repertoire.

At IÉSEG, we have a compulsory course named “Self-confidence & Relational efficiency through drama”, but all I get (for the first time I heard) about it is just “drama”, and I kept wondering “what the hell could we do in drama course, and how does it relate to our professional life?”. Even I’ve heard some good comments, but I still found myself attending the course with full of suspicions & skepticism: “Me! Acting? No way!”. And what’s good about the course anyway? I mean – being self-confident? Okay! Being able to speak and present in front of the crowd? Fine! But there should be something more than that. Something special enough to drag us out of bed at 6am in the freezing-minus-0 degree to be at school at 8am. The sun is still having his last scene of dreaming at that time. I think many of my classmates were having the same concerns.

Our professor is an actor, a real actor. That only draw to the assumption that he would wanted us to act professionally, which is, for us, impossible. But then, we were so relief to know that he wouldn’t expect us to be actors at all. All we have to do is be natural.

The course structure – I think it’s really well designed with many exercises to stretch both body and mind, release and grasp energy, and be interactive with others. This is a really important point because thanks to that, we were able and we felt safe to … be ourselves and express it naturally. Now, don’t underestimate that. We think that being ourselves is obvious, is the easiest thing to do. However, it’s not. Living in a society, most of the time, we were just a version of ourselves. Why? Because we have tendency to act and behave according to other people’s expectations, we adjust ourselves to fit in. We do it often enough so that we forgot who we really are, and even if we still remember, we dare not expose ourselves.

During the course, we were step by step lead to each and every exercises and circumstances where we have to adapt to the situation, to be creative, to improvise, and of course, in such fast-changing-unexpected-situations, we only can just be ourselves. We have no time to think or to consider otherwise, and that lead to natural. Amazing huh? I found that, after all, you don’t have to act as if you were another person, it’s all about being YOU in a different contexts

This practice is really great for one who wants to extend his comfort zone. Really! How many time can you have to do some ‘tests’ of behaving and reacting differently, being more you? Here you have the environment, you have contribute & supportive audiences, and great comments from the professor and from peers. Later on, some classmates admitted that it’s a psychological-safe and secure environment so that they can really be into it and their repertoire are really extended.

As for me, if I ever faced a question such as “Are you a flexible/adaptive person?” or “How flexible/adaptive can you be?”, I would proudly response that “I’ve been in a situation where the context is unexpected, process is unknown, result is undefined and still I be able to coordinate with others to reach to one agreeable common understanding”. And that is, I think, the most important thing when working in team, living in a society, and being human.

By Phuong H. Duong


Stepping out of comfort zone

lifebeginssmall Me, and I guest most of the Vietnamese children, have been told in our whole life that our utmost achievement in life is having a stable, comfort life. We were even given a set of milestones that we should follow in each stage: knowing how to read and write (even before primary school), being admitted to the top schools and elite university (ranking changes due to the trend at specific time), having ‘stable’ job in a governmental institute, settling down with the most agreeable man / woman, having kids… and then the new ‘stable’ routine continues.

It seems that the fact of suffering more time in war than in peace, facing a lot of changes and uncertainties had put many generations of the Vietnamese people in the urge of looking for stable status, finding their comfort zones.

Comfort zone is good! It’s where we find safe and secure (mentally) and where we can be released from worry, anxiety and stress. Our natural tendency is to pursue for such state. Then, why bother to step out of it?

Actually, even if we didn’t notice, we’ve been stepping out and in and out of our comfort zone time by time: when we learned new things, when we made big decisions…. That’s how we extend our boundary and make progresses in life. We made a big deal learning, exploring “our world” when we were a child and were eager to welcome every new challenges. Time flies. We get busy doing the routines in our comfort zone and didn’t realize that we’ve let so many opportunities slipped away. How many time have we asked ourselves “what have I learnt recently?”, “what do I want to archive and what did I do to make it happen”, “how is my progress”…

Sometime I felt stuck and lost in my own comfort zone. I had been in the nest for too long to realize that in the whole time, I made no improvement. The comfort and safe state is kind of ‘dangerous’ thing that helps us keep our “steady performance” without awareness that we could maximize it (big concern, huh?). Some researchers pointed out that a proper level of stress could boost our performance. They called it “optimal anxiety”. I found it’s true. I found myself did best when the deadline is approaching, when I have no other choice, when I couldn’t rely on anyone… Also, Marissa Mayer – former CEO of Yahoo had said “I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow”. Such a great example. Just remember to be careful, “Optimal Anxiety” could be a double-edged sword as a little stress could help but too much stress would risk our efforts. The point is to understand ourselves, keep control on our level of anxiety and to step-by-step extend our boundaries.

Back to me – being anchored in cozy and safe environment, over-slept in my own small success and totally forgot to step out. Then one day – at the age of 30, I was freaking out to the fact that I was totally lost and this was not the way I wanted it to be. Until now, I still think that I was quite lucky to get freaking out at that point of time, otherwise it would be much harder to turn. It took me quite a long time to identify my objectives. When you have nothing – it’s much easier; having enjoyed stable status for long time and have some achievements (even small) could distract you from knowing what you really want and need in the future and especially procrastinate your intention to change. I wanted to make big change with my life. I wanted new challenges. I wanted to enter a new chapter with nothing pulling me back. That’s how I decided to enroll myself in a Master program and go to France, knowing that there will be no comfort as there was at home. I stepped out of my zone to a new life without a network, without a very stable financial sources, without well understanding the language BUT with fresh eyes, with the eagerness to learn and willingness to adapt, and, of course, my previous knowledge, skills and experience are always with me.

I’ve also decided to apply some practices to make myself more adaptive and enhance the capacity to stretch my boundaries:

  • Break normal routines: try to do things differently, choose different ways to go to work / to school, organize my day-to-day works in a different order and find new way to do those, try new foods, meet new people, learn something new (language, skill…). It sounds really simple, but to a person who likes the consistence like me, it’s not always easy. So get started with small things and you’ll be encouraged and ready to apply the practice to big things
  • Make fast decision: Get yourself ready for a little of Optimal Anxiety, make quick decisions to discover yourself in the best productivity state.
  • Make slow decision: This is so contradict to the 2nd point, but yet it’s still valid. Don’t just automatically solve problems / issues right away like you normally do, sometimes it’s necessary to just pause for a little time to look through those issues, to see what could be done differently.
  • Be open-minded to controversial points of view: We have tendency to seek for arguments that support our opinion and avoid or ignore the other. However, it’s extremely a good practice to debate yourself and to have wider view on a certain problem.

Of course we always need to go back to our comfort zone to accumulate our new experiences and skills, to process & to turn those into our competencies. Just make sure we don’t fast asleep inside and to always expand our zone as we grow.

By Phuong H. Duong on a cold winter day in Paris.