Several years ago, I took a theatrical improv master class at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. There were three rules of improv, we were told:
1. No matter what your partner says, your response is, “Yes, and…”
2. Always make your partner look good.
3. I’ll be honest–I don’t remember the third. And looking around on Google yields far more than three. But let’s go with this one: Stay in the present. It’s as good as any other. 🙂
The rule that always sticks with me, though, is the first one. I’d never realized until that class that saying no kills the energy of improv dead, probably because any good improviser knows not to do it. If you think about it, it’s obvious–if your partner points to the sky and says, “Look! A UFO!” and you respond, “No, man, that’s just the light on the ceiling. You need new glasses,” there’s nowhere to go. The improv falls flat on its face.
I never thought of it as a life philosophy until 2003, when I read about how Tina Fey landed her SNL Weekend Update gig. I realized that saying “yes,” even when she had no idea how she was going to move within a week or, subsequently, make the very sudden transition to be a head writer, made her current career possible. She recognized the hand of opportunity reaching out and took it, doubts and all, and the results have been fantastic. (Obviously, this philosophy does not apply to everything! Saying yes to a plumbing job when you’re an accountant, or selling a house you want to keep, for instance, aren’t usually good ideas, and it’s always best to listen to your gut and run with it, whichever direction it wants to go.)
I’ve encountered a few hands of opportunity recently–I’m going to be offering a 2-part teleclass for Kaleidosoul Kindred Spirits in September and in December, which is much sooner than I’d anticipated, but also a chance I couldn’t say no to. A freelance proofreading job landed in my lap two days ago, too. I don’t know exactly how either one’s going to go yet, but I have confidence that they would not have appeared unless I was meant to say yes to them.
The next time an unexpected opportunity or possibility comes your way in what looks like an impossible–or at least impractical–package, think about whether there’s really a good reason to dismiss it. If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, see, or try, does it matter if it doesn’t come on your schedule (and is your schedule necessarily the best schedule)? Give it a whirl and see where it leads you.