Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.
Erin “Big” Diehl is a Business Improv Edutainer, Failfluencer, and Professional Zoombie. She created improve it!, a company that pushes professionals to learn, play, and grow.
What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
Performing / facilitating / edutaining. Every time a curtain opens, or someone passes me the microphone, an energy runs through my body. It is a force greater than me, and I know that it is my job to shed light to the room filled with people.
The ability to bring laughter, levity and positivity to a room filled with people is a gift that I do not take for granted. To create a living doing what I absolutely love is what fuels every interaction. Every failure, every piece of feedback, fuels the next interaction. It’s a thrill and an ever-evolving journey, and I’m here for it all!
What is the first memory you have of being creative?
When I was three years old, I would stand on the side of the living room couch and hit the “buzzer” as if I was a contestant on the Nickelodeon show Double Dare. I loved this show, and wanted to be the first to answer, so I beat up my family couch as I punched it, trying to outplay the other invisible contestants. I also loved getting “slimed,” which was a key component on the show. I would make very dramatic faces as pretend slime poured over my head. I did this constantly, and can still vividly remember the couch— picture a 1980’s brown sofa with a brown and orange floral décor. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime!
What is your biggest regret?
I would like to say I don’t have any. I do try my best to treat every failure as a learning opportunity. However, I do regret not being there enough around my grandfather’s passing. He was like a second father to me, and I lived in Chicago at the time, while he lived in South Carolina. It was so hard to watch him suffer, and my dad called me the day before he passed and said I should come see him. I didn’t make it in time, and when I look back, I know that part of me didn’t want to witness his last few days on earth. I have regrets to this day about not being there with him or my family.
When his wife (my grandmother) passed away, I did not want to make the same mistake twice. I knew she had limited time, so I took a week off work, tending to her in the hospital and then hospice. I watched her replay the “tape of her life” and was there to witness her taking her last breath with my entire family in tow.
The evening she died, we were all squished into her hospice room, and knew she didn’t have long. It was Thanksgiving, and most of us (besides my dad) were planning on going home for the evening and coming back early the next day.
Just before we were about to leave, we started laughing about an old memory of her and my Papa. Suddenly, we realized she was struggling to breathe. We sat by her and held her hand and saw the circle of life right before our eyes. As she took her last breath, I kissed her cheek and held her hand. It was because I was able to learn from my life’s biggest regrets, that I was able to witness one of my life’s most magical and miraculous moments.
How have you gotten over heartbreak?
Heartbreak can come in many forms: the loss of a relationship, a death, a loss of a job, a loss of self. I have come to realize that my coping mechanism for this is disassociation. I do not recommend it, but grateful I’m now aware of my patterns. I have now realized that instead of disassociating and throwing myself into work or a project, I need to process. I need to not only forgive the person / thing that I am heartbroken about, but to forgive myself.
The greatest lesson I have learned is that forgiveness in all forms does not happen overnight. It takes time to heal, process, and move on. I am currently on a journey of healing and realize that intentional small efforts over time lead to massive shifts in perspective in the long run. This happens with intentional effort and commitment every single day.
What makes you cry?
Any animal commercial with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You.” Sick children. My period. Chronic pain. When people I love are hurting.
How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
NOT LONG ENOUGH! I am an Ennegram 3 to the fullest. I love to achieve. I get fulfillment from achieving. Sometimes I don’t know how to be chill, as I always want to be accomplishing something. However, I am now trying to more aware and present in celebrating success. I love celebrating wins with my team. I love celebrating them with my family. However, I truly struggle when it comes to celebrating myself.
At the start of the global pandemic, I realized that in six years of building this business, I never stopped and internalized our growth. The amazing team we built, the awesome clients we serve, the fantastic people we encourage to be their best professional selves while using improv comedy as the teaching tool. March of 2020 was like my senior year of high school. It was as if I finally opened my “yearbook” to look at all of the incredible things we had accomplished. Performing on stage at the Chicago Theatre for over 2,000 people, speaking and presenting at the first ever Obama Foundation Training Day (and getting to meet the former president), teaching over 30,000 people to chicken dance! Each of these monumental moments whizzed by me in a blur, as I continued to push our growth plan forward.
This momentum came to a screeching halt in March 2020, as our completely in-person business had to become completely virtual in order to survive. It was then that I realized that I needed to stop and pause more often. Adding more achievements didn’t fulfill me unless I took time to let them sink in.
So now I am more intentional with celebrating successes. For example, I just started doing more keynote speaking. I had a very special bottle of champagne in my fridge for when we booked our first official keynote. I savored every sip with my husband and best friend, as I realized how grateful I am to be able to do this work.
So, to answer your question— I am working on letting these accomplishments sink in more. And as I like to say, “no risk, no champagne!”
Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
I believe that we are all souls put on this earth to have a human experience. We have choices we can make on this journey. When we are in alignment with our inner being (or God, Universe, Source— whatever word you choose), and we are co-creating with this energy, miracles happen. This means, we as human beings must surrender and let go of control. When we feel good, and we feel like we are heading in the right direction, we are in alignment, and things flow to us naturally and with ease. When we are out of alignment, things feel hard, and we live in a world of scarcity versus abundance. Since each of us are 100% unique— with varying levels of privilege, distinct identities, diverse walks of life, and one-of-a-kind gifts to share— being “in alignment” will look different for everyone.
As I have leaned into these concepts, I have seen dramatic shifts and miracles occur. I am guided to who I need to talk to and what I need to know. I know my purpose here: to be a light worker. To shed laughter, levity, and positivity to those who need it (even if they don’t want to hear it at times)! I have a lot of work left to do, but when I go, it is my highest hope that I continue to co-create with my source energy to leave this earth a bit better.
When I get to the afterlife (which looks like tons of butterflies flying in clouds, my favorite people who have passed, endless French fries dipped in a high quality ranch dressing, all the foods that you could ever want with 0 calories or guilt, comedy shows that lift you up, lots of wigs, and cute toy poodles), I will feel fulfilled knowing that I have done what I came here to do.
What do you hate most about yourself?
My people-pleasing tendencies. I realize that this stems from my childhood. I moved frequently at pinnacle points in my life and constantly adapted to new situations. To not add any disharmony to an already stressful situation, I constantly wanted to be liked, so I did whatever I thought other people wanted me to do.
This adaptability has served me well in some areas, but has been a detriment in others. I’ve realized that people pleasing does not actually “please” the other person. And it’s not only a disservice to them, but to me as well.
So, I’ve started asking myself the questions: “What do I want? What does Erin need?” Once I realize this first, I can decide if I want to bend to meet the other person; not the other way around. The other way around always feels off to me and to the person on the receiving end. When I bend to meet the other person first before asking myself what I need, I only add resistance and resentment to both of us. Usually I just end up beating myself up, because I don’t want to do the thing I’ve agreed to in the first place.
This is a constant work in progress, but small choices do lead to change. I’ll let you know when that big change occurs 😊
What do you love most about yourself?
My positivity. When people first meet me, they think I’m “on,” that I’m not real, and that I cannot possibly have this much energy.
As a recovering people pleaser, here’s my rebuttal:
Positivity is a choice. I make it every single day, and I know it’s no one else’s job to make it for me. I choose to be in a place where I feel good, where I feel in alignment, because in that positivity is how I help others. Now, I also am vulnerable, keep it really real, and will tell you if I’m off. (Believe me— you will know and hear about it!) But I’m choosing to keep a positive outlook because it serves me. And when I serve myself first, I can serve others with laughter, levity and positivity.
And that, my friends, is my life’s purpose.
What is your absolute favorite meal?
The pre-meal cocktail is a vodka dirty martini with blue cheese olives. An appetizer of warm spinach artichoke dip arrives with a side of veggies, and loads of warm grilled pita bread. We then move into the next course: a crab Louie salad with a side of truffle fries and a solid aioli or ranch dressing for the table to share (this meal is shared with my favorite people, of course). As the meal comes, we move into a glass of Whispering Angel Rosé, which is accompanied by a side of raw oysters, a chargrilled fish on a wood burning stove, and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. The dessert is shared— we’ve got a Snickers Pie, and then a warm skillet chocolate chip cookie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
I’m wearing pants without a waistband and a Mumu. I like my meals like I like my life: extra with a side of awesome.