winding road

Improv 2020

Has anyone else been feeling the weight of fatigue lately?

Have you asked yourself, perhaps a bit judgmentally, why am I so exhausted? As if there’s no good reason?

Yes, we set the clocks back, the seasons are changing, there’s reverberations from an unprecedented election, a global pandemic has completely and abruptly altered our daily routines, civil unrest is at a high…hold on. Can we just stop and acknowledge that all of the above, and more, have been happening simultaneously for almost a year now with little end in sight?

Three years ago, I joined the West Hartford Toastmasters Club to practice and overcome my fear of public speaking. Even though it’s been three years, I still have a physical reaction to the improv portion of our meeting. Here’s how it works: Each meeting has a Topics Master role. The Topics Master calls upon an individual and challenges them to speak for 1-2 minutes on a topic they disclose after the individual agrees to the challenge. The atmosphere is supportive; designed as a safe place to practice, fall down, and start over. Yet, it feels so risky every time!

The 15 seconds when the Topics Master is deciding who they will call upon is the longest 15 seconds of the meeting. I’m amazed as I observe the way my heart races, my stomach drops, and I avoid eye contact while doing my best to appear distracted (all of this happens whether or not they even call on me). But, when I am called upon, the physical experience is amplified as I anticipate the topic and how I will come up with a response on the spot. When it’s over, it’s as if I’ve completed an advanced obstacle course! I’m completely worn out, dazed, and dehydrated. Preparing and delivering a 5-7 minute planned speech is not easy, but energetically it feels light in comparison to those moments when I have no idea what to expect.

May I suggest that 2020 has been an extended improvisation?

We have all been improv-ing. In any given season, there is a relationship between the known and the unknown, the expected and unexpected; relationships are shaken, our health is compromised, we may lose our job. Usually, there is stability in one or two areas of our lives that anchor us during times of chaos and disruption.

This year, everything that could be shaken has been. From being forced to confront ourselves in quarantine to facing numerous horrors affecting our families, friends, professions, and nation. We have been shaken to our core. Being resilient as we are, most of us began survival gymnastics: reacting spontaneously, processing new information on the fly, inventing solutions to the unknown, bracing ourselves, falling, reassessing, stumbling, reimagining, all as we go…improv.

Similar to a bootcamp training experience, I believe we are ultimately growing stronger. 

But, right now, it’s only natural that most of us are just feeling sore. So, if you feel fatigued, remember we’ve been exercising new muscles on demand while treading unknown waters, and that requires tapping into energy reserves we didn’t know existed. The best trainers will agree that recovery is a critical component to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.

The next time you question why in the world you feel exhausted, flip that critique into grace and applaud your perseverance.


  1. Dave Fearon on December 19, 2020 at 11:56 AM

    I like this payoff. If we are pooped but still here pumping our mental legs, we are doing well. In this kind if he’ll. I suspect lots of people have not persisted. How can we go back and find them? What can we do when we do?

    • Rebekah Castagno on December 21, 2020 at 1:34 PM

      That’s a valid point. I’ll speak to where I’m at with what I think you are asking. When my cup is full, I try to lean in and pour out to give of what I have. When my cup is empty, I not only fight my pride to ask for help, but I try to receive graciously, without judgment. There are seasons of giving more, seasons of receiving more, and often it’s a blend of both. Reciprocity is at work when we are willing to unconditionally give and receive. Often the giver receives just as much, if not more, than the recipient.
      I see that I must pay attention to better recognize when I am full, so that I may reach out and pour out, as well as when I am nearing empty, so that I may invite support before I am completely dry. This may be as simple as calling someone who is experiencing fear or anxiety when I’m at peace. Or, recognizing that I’m feeling fearful and calling someone to talk and share honestly about where I’m at. It’s a journey and I’m learning every day. Thanks for your insights Dave.

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