Updated: Aug 28, 2018
Last April, I signed up for an Improv class here called "Beginning Spontaneity". As dramatic as this may sound, the experience changed my life or better said, I changed my life because of taking this class.
Playing games in class week after week gave me the chance to start combusting my personal myth that getting it all right equals being good. When I stopped trying so hard to get it right, I noticed I laughed more, let myself try what came to mind, however zany and in turn pushed myself way out of my comfort zone. And I spent less time spent overthinking and overanalyzing, and planning ahead about just what to say to get it right.
There are a few rules in improv and the one that stands out for me is, "yes, and" which is about accepting what's offered, adding to it, and expanding on it. I noticed week after week how these two words gave me practice in getting out of my head and in letting go. These two words open communication between two people, among a group/team, and create possibility in creating anything. I saw this come to life in improv certainly and beyond that how powerful this could be if we practice yes, and" at work, in meetings, classrooms, board rooms, in relationships, and with ourselves. With "yes, and" there's no "no" or "but" shutting down the flow of ideas, of communication, of shutting down possibility. There's a big difference in what happens when we say yes, and" vs "yes, but" and certainly "no" to everything. Try it and see.
When practicing "yes, and" week after week along with the other rules of improv, I'd leave class filled with joy, having laughed hard for two hours, having made connections, having practiced some courage, and feeling totally inspired. Each week in class, I let down walls made of fear:of failure, of looking like a fool, of making a mistake. Along with my classmates, I pushed through what scared me, to show up vulnerable and ready to play. If you've read or listened to Brené Brown, you know that through vulnerability comes connection to ourselves and to others. The experience of going to improv class, letting go and unleashing really was for me stepping into a giant personal "yes, and" experience that expanded into other parts of my life.
And with all of this "yes, and" practice, I really took a hard look at other areas of my life, namely work and I knew that I wasn't feeling that sense of play and joy, and that something was missing for me. Truth is, I'd been ready to leave my job for awhile and kept telling myself "no, because" or "maybe, but" followed by a whole lot of excuses.
three quarters of the way through the course, I quit my job. And not because I saw a future performing improv full-time, rather because I hit a wall at work and felt the sureness in my whole body that the time had come to leave. I drafted a resignation email, pressed send and let go. I may have even done a little dance. I'd decided that I didn't want to sit and complain about work, swim in negativity and regret not listening to what was calling. As for the "what was calling", I had no idea exactly what that was. I decided however to practice some trust in myself and a whole lot of yes, and" and accept the offer I'd presented myself and expand on possibility.
At first after quitting I felt excited, even elated at moments. And then a few weeks later after my decision became reality and I'd told everyone at work and heard myself say over and over, "I'm leaving" I started to feel scared. Really scared. Why? Because I had no plan and I thought I had to have a plan. Neon signs of self-doubt flashed through my mind. Often. "What the Hell Did I Do?" "What was I Thinking" "Are You F*$%c*ing Crazy?" "You Have No plan!"
And so launching into autopilot, "I gotta have a plan" mode, I jumped into a job selling cheese at a local grocery store. Phew, I thought, "now I have a plan and a job". Only, here's the rub. I can't eat cheese, well, not much anyway and I didn't research anything about what it would be like to work in a grocery store. In my mind, I'd made selling cheese romantic as though I would be running a shop somewhere in the French countryside. I worked for just over a week at the grocery store, met some wonderful, very hard-working people committed to the mission of this outstanding organization, and learned a little about cheese which by the way is fascinating. I knew though I didn't want to do this work. I struggled with the decision to quit, listening to those inner gremlins shouting, "hey, that's not very responsible and you're letting people down." And then I woke up, got clear, said thank you for the experience and quit, and got the most valuable lesson of all in this experience which was this was not the job for me.
The experience was a less than a gentle reminder how important it is sometimes to stop and take a step back. I hadn't even let myself separate from the fact that I'd left a job where I'd given my heart and soul for three years.
So having quit the store and back to having no plan, I decided to step into the fear and anxiety and picture myself on a surfboard. I don't surf though I could feel what it might be like and I'd remind myself to ride the wave and hold on when fear and anxiety came rushing in. When those signs of self-doubt would flash, I'd call my friend who's like a sister and cry for help. And she'd remind me to trust what I'd created, to believe my possibility which I realized I wasn't actually doing. I'd let my tendencies to overthink, overanalyze lead the way into feeling stuck in fear. I'd wrestled with the decision to quit over and over because I loved aspects of my job and the people. Letting go was damn hard, brutal even, and heart-wrenching. Sort of desperate, clinging to the fear, I tried to think of ways I could stay at this job even just a little. And I knew the truth, which was that by quitting I was saying "yes and" to what's next, to something new, to possibility. If I stayed even just a little, I couldn't move on to what's next.
To get to what's next, you've got to let go. I was talking about this with a friend recently who related a story about a video game he remembered as a kid where the Tarzan-like character would swing from one vine to the next. Simple fact is, we don't get to the next vine if we don't let go. We don't get to what's next if we don't leave where we are. For me, the visual has always been about leaping across a canyon. I won't get to the other side of the canyon if I don't leave where I'm standing.The "and" in yes, and" is about accepting what's presented and expanding, stepping forward, swinging to the next vine, leaping across the canyon to new possibility.
I still get scared at moments and when I do, I say it out loud and then I go outside and hike or run or walk or hangout with my dog or friends or kid and decide to get out of my head.
I am feeling more at home with quitting, feeling like myself, seeing less and less those flashing neon signs of self-doubt and rather spending more time outside of my head and feeling good about my decision. I am cooking, listening to lots of music, writing and just redesigned this website.
I remember there is new possibility by my saying yes, and" . I am taking time to head down the paths that call me so I'm studying organizational health, culture, developing healthy teams a field that's been calling to me for a long, long time. I am reflecting on what I love to do and what I don't. I want to work for an organization where the work, values and mission resonate with me. And I want to keep building on my career coach/guide business to do the work I love in supporting others in saying "yes and" in their lives to find work that resonates
As for improv, I'm in for more classes, more game nights with friends, more saying "yes and" to more laughter, more fun, more learning, more expanding, more possibility.