In improv, there’s a rule that every actor has to follow, no matter what: they have to say “yes, and.”
That means, when another actor introduces something to the scene, you have to accept it.
If another actor comes up to you and says “Oh my god, your hair is on fire!” you can’t say, “Oh, you’re just seeing things.” If they say, “Let’s go skiing,” you can’t say, “Nope, I’d rather stay home.”
You have to take what they say and run with it. From there, you can shift the scene any way you want, as long as you accept – and build on – each new development.
The reason is, that advances the story. If actors could negate each other, saying things like “No, that never happened,” or “That’s not true,” then the scene would pretty much come to a halt.
That is so true with life, too. If we keep saying no to opportunities or risks or trying new things, then our lives will grind to a halt. We’ll get stuck in a kind of stasis.
But if we say “yes and,” even when it wasn’t our idea, or it’s not what we wanted, we advance our stories. We let our lives move and blossom in ways we might never expect.
In spring of 2013, I had just hired Kim. She was my first Moticise employee, and she was awesome. We had excellent rapport; she could field my ideas and help me create action items; and she really helped me clarify and start to realize my vision. Things were going great.
Until one day in March, when her long-term relationship suddenly ended. Soon after, she came in to work and said, “Sonia, I need to get out of the city. I just can’t be here…I really want to keep working for you, but I need some time and space to myself.”
She’d come back to New York for grad school in September, but she’d found a place to rent for the summer in North Carolina. She knew that was what she needed to do.
“So,” she went on, sounding timid, “I have a friend who who’s just moved to Brooklyn. She’s going to sublet my apartment, so maybe she could…you know…take over my job too.” And she described her friend Lauren, who had a background in IT and business. At the time, we were bogged down in spreadsheets and numbers, which neither Kim nor I could navigate. Lauren, she said, would be a big help in that department.
I took all this in, unsure how to react. I was disappointed Kim was leaving, but I understood her situation. And since I had Lauren to think about, I decided to say, “Yes, and…let’s see what happens. Let’s make this work.”
Lauren transitioned in right as Kim was leaving, in the beginning of June.
I admit, I was apprehensive. The deal was, Kim would get her job back in September, but as Lauren and I worked together, I realized how valuable they both were. As the summer went by, I dreaded having to make a choice.
September came. When Kim got back, all three of us met in the office. Neither one of them wanted to leave, and I wasn’t about to choose between them.
So we did it again: we said, “Yes and…?”
“Let’s figure this out.”
“Let’s look at what we all need, and what we can all do. Let’s see if we can arrange something that will work for all three of us.” And we did just that.
The business was growing, and by hiring on two people – which I hadn’t planned to do – we were able to branch out in new, big ways. That was the year we made the DVD, got published in Women Fitness, started the website…so many things that require a team of people, not just one employee. The three of us worked (and still work) wonderfully together, complementing each other’s skillsets and viewpoints.
If Kim hadn’t left for the summer, I don’t know how long I would’ve waited to hire someone else. It might have been a year or more, and then the business wouldn’t have grown in the ways it did.
Often, we resist change. We say, “No, that’s not happening,” or “That’s not what I want, so I’m not gonna deal with it.” But if we shift the response from “No” to “Yes, and,” then we can advance our own stories in new and surprising ways.
What about you? What’s a time when life threw you a curveball?
How did you respond?
(Check out this week’s Moti Minute for a mind-body exercise to help you step into this question!)
Is there something you’re facing now, where you can shift the energy by saying “Yes, and…”?
What’s possible then?