Out of Office: Jenny Davies

By | October 1, 2023

Jenny with friends at her 2015 reunion.

In a new series, we are spotlighting HFMA members who have a cool hobby or passion they invest in outside of work. First up is Jenny Davies. At work she is a Finance Director at Baystate Health. Outside of work, she is an improv comic. Read on to learn more about Jenny when she is out of office! If you have a fun hobby or passion outside of work and are interested in being featured, please reach out to admin@ma-ri-hfma.org .

Hey Friends, our Blog Editor recently asked me to share a bit about how I became involved in improv, and the lessons and takeaways. I’m almost certain that my story is not what you’d expect. Before we dive in, it may ease your mind as a reader to know that I’m well and healthy.

I’ve always loved the performing arts, and performed a bit in college in a comedy troupe. I’d have to admit that in college, I was mostly being silly and having fun with my friends, and didn’t really have an appreciation for the discipline. After college, I stepped away from performing, believing that I should be focused on more serious pursuits. Over the years, in the back of my mind, I had a desire to perform in improvisational comedy again and hesitated to act on the desire. Honestly, I spent much of my adult life stuffing down the sparkle in my personality because I was trying to fit in. Particularly in professional settings, I presented myself conservatively, and even dressed conservatively in order to be accepted.

Sometimes life presents beautiful synergistic moments. At the beginning of 2015 a reunion of my college comedy troupe was being planned, and I was looking forward to attending the reunion in April of that year. At the end of March my life shifted out from under me when what I thought was a routine diagnostic test revealed a large mass. Very quickly, I was referred to a gynecological oncologist and scheduled for surgery. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Before my surgery, I asked my nurse whether I’d be able to attend my reunion. Whether or not she thought I’d be able to pull it off, to her credit, she encouraged me, saying “Jenny, you should plan to be with your friends and have fun.” As a matter of fact, about two weeks after my surgery, I was able to attend the reunion. It was so much fun watching improv, and at the party afterward, playing improv games. I remember, in the moment, thinking “I want more of that!” I wanted more laughter and more joy. So, on the way home from the reunion, I was scheming about how to join an improv group. As it turned out, there was an improv group offered through a cancer outreach program in my community. I joined right away, just as I was beginning chemotherapy, and I was able to attend every Thursday evening throughout my treatment and beyond. Each week, I’d gather with this beautiful, humble group of kindred spirits and we’d spend two hours having belly laughs together. It was the high point of my week, and the laughter sustained me. As I faced my own mortality, I experienced a transformation. For perhaps the first time in my life I was intentional about experiencing joy. I felt joy expanding in my life.

About a year later, one of the members of the cancer outreach improv group mentioned that a local improv instructor was offering a course at the community college. The class was Mindfulness Through Laughter, taught by Pam Victor, Happier Valley Comedy. My friend and I took the course together. The instruction opened my eyes and expanded my understanding of improv. I was on a learning trajectory. For quite a long time, it was almost as though I couldn’t get enough. I felt as though I was gobbling up joy. The learning trajectory continued for me, and I started taking improv classes through Happier Valley Comedy School. Eventually, I auditioned for the Happier Family Show and have been performing for audiences of families and children for several years.

There are so many lessons that I’ve taken from participating in improv. I’ll share just a couple of lessons here. Practicing improv has sharpened my listening skills. “Slow down, notice more”, is one of the instructions in improv. Through lots and lots of practice, my awareness of non-verbal cues has been fine-tuned, which has allowed me to become a much more intuitive listener. The practice heightened my awareness of posture, body language, tone and what’s not being said. This skill absolutely transfers to my professional life as a leader in healthcare finance and as a professional coach.

Another lesson from improv is that the practice is more easeful when the performer isn’t trying to be funny. When authenticity comes through, there’s recognition of the gift of authenticity from the audience. Over the years, I can honestly say that I’ve become a more authentic version of myself. For better or for worse, I present myself in a much more authentic way in my professional life. Focusing on what’s meaningful and authentic allows me to choose how I show up in my interactions.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit https://www.happiervalley.com/ for information on classes, including professional development. There’s an entire line-up of shows each month if you’d like to catch a performance.