By Jeannine Luby, Guest Blogger
Jeannine is the owner of Laugh to Live, a business dedicated to promoting humor and laughter through stress-relieving, wellness laughter yoga workshops and comedy performances, as well as a marketing and communications consultant who offers strategic guidance and content creation for digital and traditional marketing.
When I listen weekly to tecBRIDGE Radio, I always take something away from the conversation among the host and guests. I learn. I am generally inspired. And, as a self-proclaimed word nerd, I am most interested in a feature that show host Don Webster has been facilitating for more than a year, to ignite truly interesting conversations. He asks guests what their word for the year is. It could be to describe their thoughts and feelings, their outlook or hope, and so on.
While each guest has offered up interesting words and explanations for their choices, the words that have resonated with me the most this year have been ‘Now’ offered by Bob Courtwright a guest on episode 258 and ‘Agility’ offered by Dr. Greg Cant on episode 259. These words struck the loudest chord with me because they remind me of what is at the core of improvisation…acting in the moment and doing it with the ability to move quickly and easily.
Comedy improvisation is an activity that I have trained in and performed on stage for many years. And most recently, with the changes brought on by the pandemic, I have been applying the core principle of comedy improvisation known as ‘Yes, and…’ to my everyday life and entrepreneurial ventures, and I’m encouraging others to do the same.
Yes, and… was the one rule I was taught not to break when performing comedy improv. And it is a valuable tenet to embrace in life, especially during these times that have caused such disruption to what we have known. The idea is to accept what is given to us, what exists in the moment, and respond by contributing in a way that builds or creates something that moves us forward. In a comedy improv performance, the rule illustrates actors working together as a team to create a scene and keep it moving forward to entertain the audience.
Words create valuable connections and inspire us!
When I heard Bob explain the reason for his word, ‘now,’ by saying that we need to be in the present and stop blaming or referring to the past, I immediately thought what he was encouraging, is what improviser like me promote through the ‘Yes, and…’ principle.
At a comedy improv show, the audience doesn’t care what happened before and they don’t want to hear about what’s going to happen in the future. They gain the most joy when performers act in the moment with one another, creating an energetic and engaging scene that takes place Now!
For that to happen successfully, it requires each actor to abandon any planned or preconceived ideas about what they were going to say or what they thought would happen or wanted to happen. Each actor must respond in the moment with agility, accepting what their fellow player says and then apply ‘Yes, and…’ to move the scene forward. Our philosophy in comedy improv is that we are not doing drama, so we do not need conflict (imagine that); we accept what our fellow actor has given us eagerly and with enthusiasm, like the finest thread with which to weave a masterpiece together.
If my fellow performer begins a scene by saying, “It appears your fears were right; the test results show you are becoming a Klingon,” I do not dare reject the premise introduced by saying, “No, I’m not. You’re wrong.” I ‘Yes, and…’ to move the scene forward. Perhaps I would say, “Ah, that explains the ridge forming on my forehead. I guess I’ll need to buy larger hats.” Or, I go big with a different form of acceptance and lament how this will change my life: “Oh no, why me? Just when I became comfortable turning my video on during Zoom meetings.”
With either statement there is acceptance of the premise introduced and now the actors can explore the many exciting possibilities and uncertainties of what life will be like as a Klingon, which makes for comedic fodder, and moves the scene forward. It does not get stalled or weighed down with rejection or negativity.
At this point you may be saying, “But I have no interest in performing comedy, what does this have to do with me?“
The answer is this: every day we have many opportunities to accept or deny/reject what is happening. We also can choose to let go of the past. Stop dwelling on mistakes we made and the circumstances we did not create and cannot control. We can ‘Yes, and…’ by accepting the moment we’re in. Look for the possibilities and opportunities. Think about how you can contribute to make something positive happen and move your life’s scene forward.
The pandemic has changed things…for everyone. But it has been happening for nearly two years and we’ve had time to adjust and adapt. It’s up to us to respond in a way that moves us forward, and work with others who do the same, rather than being stuck.
Think about people you know who may have chosen to change careers, start or close a business, revamp their current services and products, or retire during the pandemic. While some of the choices made were likely not easy, they accepted what was happening, assessed their options and acted, to move forward.
Allow me to offer some small, but still frustrating, examples from my daily life that I can ‘Yes, and’ for my own health, well-being and productivity. Each day I encounter some moment (usually several) with software or technology that frustrates me. Out of nowhere my ability to use my touchscreen function on my laptop ends. After calling my doctor’s office to submit a referral for a medical procedure, I discover five days later that the facility hasn’t done it. These are small nuisances but still frustrating because they interfere with my day and take up time to resolve. Admittedly, my natural reaction tends to be a verbal dust cloud of swear words (when in the privacy of my home of course), but how does that change anything? It feels good to vent (for a little while). But will my technical issue get resolved through cursing? Will my referral arrive at Geisinger if I keep shaking my head and throwing my hands up in the air out of disbelief or frustration?
After a few minutes pass, I remind myself to say ‘Yes, and…’ so, I do a Google search to troubleshoot why my touchscreen is not working. I call my doctor’s office again to politely ask them to send the referral before my appointment at the facility. I don’t have to enjoy the annoyances and issues, but I do need to accept that they are happening and do something to move the situation forward.
How do I ‘Yes, and…’ the bigger things in life?
Now you might be thinking, “Wow, she sweats the small stuff in life.” And I admit that I often do. I am aware of that, and change is imminent. The good news is that you can also ‘Yes, and…’ the bigger things in life. I am not telling you it will be easy (at all), but I am saying the rewards and outcomes will be favorable. What is the alternative? Life happens anyway. Isn’t it better if you attempt to navigate what happens next, or at least how you feel about it?
Two powerful examples of ‘Yes, and..’ at work.
In October I had the privilege of chatting with breast cancer survivor Nanci Oehrlein on my podcast Uncorked with Funny Wine Girl. Nanci has performed stand-up comedy on shows I have produced at area wineries. She talked about receiving her cancer diagnosis at a time when she just moved to the Lehigh Valley area to increase her husband’s chances of receiving a heart transplant. Nanci had a lot going on in her life. She spoke with me about how she used humor to get through her treatments—often being fought over by nurses who wanted to treat her for the laughter she induced—and the painful wait for her husband to receive a heart. Humor is what got her through her challenging times. She is a powerful example of someone who applied ‘Yes, and…’ to what was happening in her life. I’m happy to share that she and her husband are both healthy today.
Think about the entrepreneurs and business owners you know who changed paths or closed businesses during the pandemic before too much financial loss or personal distress. Think about the business owners who are not only still in business but perhaps have added new products and/or services or teamed up with other businesses or entrepreneurs in innovative ways because they said, ‘Yes, and…’ and moved forward.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Danielle Fleming, owner of the business Noteology, on my podcast. In the early stages of the pandemic, hand sanitizer was hard to come by, so this fragrance maker said she used the World Health Organization’s recipe to begin making hand sanitizing hand rub—a response she says was more out of necessity than anything else. Then, as time went on, she began working with a local maker to offer handmade masks and eventually, she added Sense of Smell Training Kits to her product line. The kits allow people to perform scent therapy at home to regain their sense of smell lost due to post-viral infection. Danielle is an example of someone who applied “Yes, and…” to her business and life practices.
So now the question is, when life hands you your next Klingon diagnosis in the form of a traffic jam, technical issues, personal or professional disappointment, will you say, “No. This isn’t happening,?” Or, will you acknowledge the ridges forming and buy a bigger hat?