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Improv Improved My Life, Really!

I have been defined for years (29 to be exact) as a mom and 10+ years as an entrepreneur, and I love these roles, deeply. Well, now that my youngest boys (twins) are driving, have girlfriends and their own life, I realized I needed something for me. And, while shopping and having dinner and movie dates with my husband is fun, I wanted something for me, something to fill my soul.

So, Improv, why not?

My story starts with my amazing 80-something-year-old cousin, who is a survivor of Nazi Germany and Ford Motors (both having its own challenges) who started an Improv company in Detroit a few years back. And boy did I have FOMO (for my contemporaries, FOMO is fear of missing out – my millennial children filled me in). He would tell me tales of humor and fun that I simply coveted.

As a huge fan of Whose Line is it Anyway, I dreamt of hanging out with really smart, clever, funny people that had little boundaries and even less inhibition. But Detroit was a long trip from Blue Bell, PA, so I was stuck with living vicariously. Plus, I was very busy being a mom and a business owner, so who’d have time for that anyway?

Then something dramatic happened in my life… my baby boys (now 16-year-old twins), got girlfriends and driver’s licenses. Yikes – my self-defined purpose took a hit. And, while my husband and I had already sent off 3 young adults into the world, I was hanging on to these guys for a little bit longer. The good news is they are happy, healthy, independent teens who are ready to have a big part of their life without me. And while I still have 2 years before I am an empty nester, I knew it was time to do something outside of friends and family and work to fill me.

The universe works in amazing ways – just about this exact moment in time, I saw an Improv Class, 101 in my local area. Without very much hesitation, I registered that day.

Some back story, I am a sales trainer that focuses on social selling so I am in front of people, teams, and audiences on a consistent basis – so I knew this whole improv thing should be right up my ally. In the hours between sign up and class, I became more and more excited on how this was going to help my keynotes and classes but didn’t realize how it would transform my life as a whole.

There are three lessons I learned in the first class that will stay with me forever:

  1. Yes and… a very simple Improv exercise but is a game changer. “Yes and” thinking is a method where a person accepts what another person has stated ("yes") and then expands on that line of thinking. Our initial exercise that had us start with a “no but” round where someone would offer and idea and their partner would respond with “no but” was so unproductive (and kind of annoying), The second round was “yes but” which proved to be just as frustrating. But when it was time for the “yes and” round the conversation was uplifting and so productive.

  2. It’s about making the other person look good. It isn’t about being right or funny or the center of attention, it is about setting your partner up for success. Wow, this is a powerful lesson for creating productive relationships in my life, both personally and professionally.

  3. Stop thinking! Getting out of my head, listening to others rather than thinking about what I am going to say next was transformative. In improv, if you are preparing your answer while the other person is setting you up, you fail. The goal is to feed off of each other, and active listening is the only way to make it work… this is food for my soul.

These ah-ha moments were just day one. And now, on the afternoon of our Improv 101 class public debut, I sit and write this very brief memoir from an Improv novice, recognizing and better yet appreciating that the lessons learned, the relationship built and the pure joy it brings to my life has become an addiction.

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