Inspire Improv & Coaching Inc

Transforming cultures through communication and connection.

Inspire Improv & Coaching

Shoving Each Other to the Front, a Lesson From the Cast of Saturday Night Live

I have been watching Saturday Night Live since I was old enough to program the VCR to record it. I was enjoying the Season 45 premiere this weekend and noticed something that I’d also seen on the Season 43 premiere (yes, it was that impactful that this 15 second memory lasted a full two years). 

Here’s what I saw, at the end of the show, when the musical guest and the host come out for a final “Thank you.” and a general celebration.

Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 2.10.03 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-09-30 at 1.57.56 PM.png

What you’re looking at here, is veteran cast members, who have given up their front row visibility and have shoved the new cast members to the front so that they can be clearly picked up by the camera and are pointing excitedly at them to put as much attention on them as possible. 

What you can’t see in the still photos, is that at one point, Kate McKinnon weaves her way clear across the stage to grab new member, Luke Null, who was nearly off stage, pulling him back with her. 

Of course they did this, you know why? They’re improvisors and in improv, one of our main principles is to always be looking for opportunities to “Make each other look good.” Sometimes, this means giving up the chance to get our own laugh, or a spot in the limelight, in order to set someone else up for a laugh or give them time in the spotlight. 

In this situation, the veteran cast members are also confident in their place in the cast and in their ability, so they are not threatened by the new cast members. Instead, they take a step back, throw their full support behind their new teammates and give them a chance to shine. Oh, and they celebrate the fact that there is new talent on their team that they can pull from!

Think back to the last time you had a new person on your team. What would it look like to follow the lead of these veteran SNL actors? You’d notice your new team member shying away from important projects, not quite fully confident in their ability just yet, you’d find ways to bring them in and highlight their abilities. You’d be confident in your own position and excited about what they might be able to bring to the team. You’d be willing to take a step back at times, in order to let them lead and grow. You’d celebrate your new partners!

When we set aside our own ego and make a conscious choice to make each other look good, we all end up looking great, we take full advantage of the talent on our team and have a lot more fun in the process. 

Design Think Your Way to a Better Culture

For a second year in a row I attended the Creative Problem Solving Institute's yearly conference (CPSI). A couple of days in, it seemed that I was the only person there who did not know what “Design Thinking” was (and everyone seemed pretty excited about the concept), so I took a workshop with Paul Skaggs, a Professor of Industrial Design, so that I could join in on the conversation. 

In short, design thinking is a way of using empathy to look at a product or process through the progression of look, do, ask. Let’s use a conventional spatula as an example.

 Look: They observe the person using the product, looking specifically for ways that the user is altering the product or process, to make it fit a need that the designer didn’t originally think of. This is referred to as “adaptive behavior.” Have you ever taken your spatula and put it on a plate so that the contents of your pan or grill didn’t get on your counter? That’s adaptive behavior.

 Do: They use the product themselves, as if it’s their first time, noticing their own feelings or challenges. Is there anything that is frustrating or awkward about using this product? 

Ask: They suspend their own judgement and come from a place of pure curiosity, asking questions of the person who uses this product the most, specifically looking at how the user is feeling and what they are thinking while using it. 

If we apply this process to the spatula debacle, we end up with something like this:

Look: What are you observing about the way that people interact and work together in your organization? Are they rearranging chairs in a conference room to have more effective meetings? Are they gathering in a certain area to connect and build personal relationships? Are they creating loopholes in processes to get their work done and see the fruits of their labor? 

Do: If you’re in a leadership or management position, spend a day going through the motions with one of your people. What do you, yourself feel and observe? Are there processes or organizational norms (spoken or unspoken) that are getting in the way of people experiencing autonomy, mastery and connection on a daily basis? 

Ask: Get curious! Suspend your own judgement and simply listen for the golden nuggets that, if attended to and designed differently, could change your culture for the better. Look for non-verbal cues and don’t be afraid of silence. 

What would your kickstand spatula culture look like?

You Can't Control the Situation, But You Can Control Your Focus

“The only thing we have control over is our breath and what we look at.” said my yoga teacher, Susan Fain, as we were in tree pose, a balancing posture where one is challenged to stay upright while standing on one foot and stretching one’s arms toward the sky. There is typically a lot of wobbling and shaking and in order to keep one’s balance, we breathe deeply and rhythmically and choose a focal point.

 When you are in a tough position or a situation that is shaky or challenging, the same applies. The only thing you have control over is your breath and what you look at or focus on.

Studies have shown that taking a few deep, intentional breaths brings our bodies and minds out of fight or flight mode, where we are simply scanning for threats, and allows us, instead, to think more strategically and creatively. Taking a few deep breaths, in essence, tricks our body into thinking that everything is okay, even if it isn’t.  

What I’d like to take some time with, is “what you look at” or, what you’re focusing on. Think back to the last tough situation you were in. What were you focusing on and what impact did that have on the situation? Whatever we choose to focus on (whether negative or positive), our brain will look for ways to validate it, bringing further momentum to that belief, thought or story. Why not use it to our advantage?

It starts with what you just did, simply noticing. Where is your focus currently? Is it serving you or the situation? Next, you make a choice. Is that the focus that you want to stick with or is there something else that you could choose to focus on instead? Below are some examples to get you started.

  • Are you focused on the problem or the solution?

  • Are you focused on everything that annoys you about the person you are in conflict with or the one thing that you could appreciate about them and what they bring to the table?

  • Are you focused on saving your own skin, or actively supporting your team in order to make them look good and help them to succeed?

  • Are you focused on all that is wrong with an idea that someone has suggested or on how it might work?

  • Are you seeing the person in front of you, or on the other end of that email as an obstacle or as a person trying to do the best job they can?

  • Are you focused on an inevitable negative outcome or the possibilities?

  • Are you focused on what went wrong in the past or what might go wrong in the future, or simply on attending to what is happening in the present?

Yes, it is a good idea to consider the consequences of a situation and how you got there, but does it help to continue to focus on it?

In the movie Bridge of Spies, there is a great scene where Tom Hank’s character, James Donovan, shares with the accused Rudolf Abel, played by Mark Rylance, that most would prefer to see him in the electric chair. Rudolf simply sits calmly and continues to listen. James Donovan says, “You don’t seem alarmed.” Rudolf replies, “Would it help?”

This is not to say that we need to go through life with rose colored glasses, but there is a benefit to intentionally choosing to focus on something other than doom, gloom and negativity. Studies have also shown that those who choose to focus on the positive are more creative and resilient, bouncing back from challenges and failures more quickly.  

Del Close, the father of contemporary improv suggested, “If we treat others as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.” What if your focus and expectation was always that you and your team have the ability, creativity and knowledge to get through whatever you are facing?

The next time you find yourself in a shaky, unnerving or challenging situation, in invite you to take control of your breath, notice what you’re currently focusing on and choose to “look at” something different.

The Moment Before - 5 ways to keep your last conversation from ruining your current conversation

The moment before. It’s a concept that we use in acting, where we imagine what JUST happened to our character (before they made their entrance onstage) to inform the way they interact in the scene.

Let’s say I’m in a scene where two co-workers are discussing their next big project. Applying this technique, I imagine the possible “moment before” for this character.  Did I just get back from a lunch with my very best friend? Or did I just have a meeting with my boss, telling me that a project I worked on for months has been canceled? Depending on which choice I make as an artist, will have a huge impact on how the scene goes. Lunch with a friend? I’ll be open, bringing a feeling of excitement and collaboration to the scene. Email from my boss? The conversation will likely be riddled with defensiveness and stress.  

It is these subtleties that allow two different actors to interpret and play a role in two completely different ways.

How does this apply to you?

We use this technique in acting, because it reflects human behavior. Emotions and thoughts from your “moment before” naturally carry over to your next conversation, impacting the way you think, feel and act.

With this understanding, how can we get ourselves back to neutral so that we can bring our best selves to our next interaction?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Notice first, how are you feeling? By simply noticing that we’re feeling stressed or fearful, can help to take away some of that negative feeling’s power over you.

  2. If you don’t have time, DON’T CHECK YOUR PHONE. Simply glancing at our phone and seeing the subject line of an email can elicit an emotional response, raising stress levels, making us less able to take in new information in a productive way. If you don’t have time to process that information before your next interaction, leave it in your pocket.

  3. Take a breath. Deep breathing can help to calm our system and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), bringing us back to a more neutral state.

  4. Create a mantra, a simple phrase that will bring you back to a positive place.

  5. Think of someone or something that you are thankful for. Experiencing gratitude helps you to feel more relaxed, resilient and optimistic. What a gift to bring to your next conversation!

Each conversation carries some kind of importance, because all people deserve to be treated with respect, not as the recipient of residual emotions from the situation that you just came from. This is especially important for conversations when you are giving or receiving feedback, delivering tough news or conversing with a customer or client. Bringing your best self, in these instances, may have a direct impact on your job, organization, family or community.

Try it out!

Start small, when you’re at the grocery store, notice if you got frustrated because they moved your favorite creamer. Try one of the tactics above and see if you can get yourself back to neutral before you get to the checkout and see how your interaction with the cashier goes. The way you connect with them could change their day.

Follow the Fear - how one word can make all the difference

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking at the 2018 International TWA Conference in Ontario, Canada. The focus of my talk was, “Follow the fear,” Which is a concept that comes from improvisation, referring to our tendencies to second-guess our ideas and shut ourselves down, before we give that idea a chance to breathe. The concept of “Follow the fear,” encourages us to step into what it is that only we have to offer.

We understand that that the more afraid we are, the more important and brilliant those ideas are, and the more necessary it is to share those ideas or things that you feel need to be called out.

During the talk, I used one of my favorite exercises, One Word Story. It’s pretty self-explanatory, a group of people stand in a circle and tell a story together, one word at a time. It gives participants a chance to practice simply saying the first thing that comes to mind, without judging it. We also notice our natural tendencies to want to have the entire thing planned out ourselves, and spend time thinking about what we’re going to say, rather than being present and listening to our teammates.

The best part is leveraging the creativity of the entire group and creating something together, that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own.

While discussing these insights, a participant made another wonderful point. She said, “If any one of us weren’t here, the story would have been completely different.”

Yes! I wanted to cheer and jump up and down, but that would have been inappropriate.

Your unique insight, creativity and expertise is invaluable.

What are you holding back? Where are you second guessing yourself or keeping quiet because you don’t have every detail figured out yet? How could contributing your “one word” drastically change the story of your organization or your community?

I encourage you to “Follow the fear” and see where your “one word” takes you. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Making Every Day a Great "First Day of School"

It’s back to school time! For some, this time of year may elicit memories of excitement, joy and wonder. For others, it may be on the other end, fear, uncertainty, dread or even indifference. You wake up in the morning, head out to the bus and before you stepped foot in the building, you already had thoughts, feelings and expectations, negative or positive, based on the environment you were returning to, which then impacted how your day went.

Thinking about your “school leaders,” your teachers, who did you learn best from and perform the best for? It was likely those who encouraged you, who listened to you and who took a collaborative approach to teaching, working in concert with you and your classmates. These basic needs to be heard and valued do not change much as we enter adulthood.

Similarly, no one walks into work an empty slate. They bring their own residual thoughts, feelings and expectations based on their prior experience in your organization and with you as a leader. What can you do or what are you doing, to make your organization a place that people look forward to coming to every day? How can you make it so that they get ready for their “school day”, excited for what they’ll get to create and learn? How can you better listen and find ways to collaborate with the people that have so thoughtfully been chosen to join your team?

If you are a leader in the Rochester area and would like a jumping off point, please join the Rochester Small Business Council’s Boot Camp this September 13th for my workshop, “Building a Culture of Collaboration.”

Here’s to a great first day, every day!

Support Your Competition, Enhance Your Culture

I recently competed in my first tug of war competition. I was in the Adirondacks, for a bachelorette weekend, which also happened to be the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days. We were outsiders and showed up completely unprepared (most of us were wearing sandals), but with all the gusto in the world, we registered to compete in the tug of war competition.

Immediately upon signing up, a woman from a competing team came up to us, giving us all the tips we could handle, strategy, what order to line up in and how our own extra team members could support us best. We’d be competing against the reigning champion for the past 10 years, Team Rope Burn, and she wanted to help us have the best chance possible to succeed. It was time, we were pumped up and also fully ready to fall face first in the dirt.

What happened next was incredible, not only did we have our “screamers” (those teammates whose job is to coach from the side), but this much more experienced team rallied around us as well. The energy of our own team putting in our all, plus the unexpected full support of our competition, cheering, coaching and well, screaming, was incredible. We didn’t win, but we did get third place and made some new friends!

So what does this have to do with culture? I’ve observed in many organizations, cultures where teams and departments not only work in silos, but see each other as competition and sometimes as go as far as describing them as the enemy, again, this is within the same company!

Is there a team or department within your organization that you see as competition? Or simply a department that does nothing for you? What if you took the same approach as this competitive team took with us? What can you do to cheer them on? Is there information that you have, that they could really use, but perhaps it’s being withheld because of a spoken or unspoken rivalry? What skills or insight does your team have that they could use? What would happen if you took the first steps to bridge that gap and really began to support one another?

Another twist, is to think about the newbie. The one who doesn’t have a clue as to what they’re supposed to be doing and doesn’t seem to deserve to be there. How did they even GET this job? Instead of watching them flounder or butting heads with them because they have a different approach, apply the same principles. Give them all the support wisdom you’ve got, right from the beginning. Don’t waste a minute, you have something truly valuable to give.

If you have trouble getting past the rivalry or perception that you’ve become so accustomed to, ask yourself, “What is the overarching goal that we’re both trying to work toward and how can we help each other out?” This takes the focus off of the friction between you and that person or team and puts it on something greater, that you can both get excited about.

In improv, we call this concept simply, “Make each other look good.” Imagine what you could accomplish if everyone in your organization followed this approach?

Let’s get a little dirty and make each other look good.

Four Things I Learned About Self-Worth From a Near-Mullet Experience

I’ve found myself in a styling chair on a stage, in front of an audience of fancy-pants, Los Angeles hairdressers. Describing what he’s planning to do to MY hair, the stylist, just uttered the words, “Hip mullet”. M-U-L-L-E-T! Business in front, party in the back MULLET!

Let’s back up for a moment. I’m a 20 something, struggling actor in LA and a friend calls saying that the studio across the street is putting on this huge hair styling class, being taught by someone of importance in the styling world. Their  model didn’t show up and they need someone ASAP and they’ll cut my hair however I want! My immediate thought, “Woohoo, a free haircut!” I hop in the car.

I’m having my makeup done when the stylist introduces himself and thanks me for coming on such short notice. I show him a picture of the style I’d like, and he agrees that it would be a great look. He’s happy to do it!

Fast forward 30 minutes, I’m in the chair, on stage, having had the rug pulled out from under me. What should I do? In this situation, my job is to stay quiet and simply be a body with a head of hair. But the stakes are too high. I cannot afford to walk out of there with a “hip mullet.” So, I speak up.

“Excuse me?” I say in a tentative voice, “That’s now what we discussed. Can we go with the style that you said you’d do backstage?”

Silence and a look.

“This brings up a great topic.” he says as he turns back to the crowd, “What do you do, when your client asks for a style that you know will not look good on them?”

I am FACING the audience trying to control the look on my face.

He turns back to me, “What if we cut it into the style I suggested and if, after that, you still want it cut your way, we’ll do that?” I agree.  

He gives me a mullet and it is terrifying.

“So! Do you still want me to cut it your way?” he dares me.

I muster all my strength, “Yup.” And with that I give my head to a person holding scissors, who I’ve clearly upset, in a room full of his peers.

He does a fantastic job and the stylists in the audience are invited up to look at the cut close up. A handful, out of earshot of him, whisper to me, “You did the right thing.”

Yes, this was a haircut, this was not life or death. But I did learn a few things.

1.     Just because someone is an expert in a certain area, does not mean that they are better than you or know what is best for you.

2.     Chances are, if you think something’s not right, others do too, they’re simply too afraid to speak up.

3.     There will always be critics and there will also be people on your side. You’re the one who has to look at yourself in the mirror the next day. Go with what feels right for you.

4.     There is no such thing as a “Hip Mullet.”

Ten years later, I’m a mom, wife and business owner. I face situations where the stakes are much higher, but these lessons have encouraged me to understand my worth and trust my gut through even the toughest of situations.

I Messed Up and I Want To Tell You About It

You failed! You completely fell on your face and learned from it, great! Now are you willing to share it with the world?

Everyone knows the importance of learning from failure, but how often do you share your own failure so that people outside of yourself, can also learn from your experience? BECAUSE Caitlin, it’s okay for ME to know I failed, but it is NOT okay for OTHER people to know.

I agree, because I am a human, to a point, but I think there's a better option. I'm going to step into my fear of "looking bad" and tell a story about how I messed up with a client, the very person who I need to see me as a flawless expert to survive in my business (or at least that’s what my “inner critic” or “ego”, who is FREAKING OUT right now, tells me), for the purpose of sharing a lesson I learned.

Here goes. I facilitated a workshop recently for a new client, so the success of this workshop would likely dictate how much they use me in the future. I started the day with the intention, “I’m here to serve.” However, once the afternoon rolled around and it was my turn to facilitate, they were running behind. What was supposed to be 90 minutes reserved for my training quickly shifted to a little over an hour. I had a lot to cover and this is where I got in trouble. A pesky voice in my head showed up and said, “This is a new client, you have to show them how much you know!” overpowering “I’m here to serve.”

The value that I bring to the table, is that I help people to listen to one another, through experiences, practice and discussion in order to create a better team atmosphere and culture (aka not me dominating the conversation with content). Unfortunately, the “Impress them with your knowledge!” voice took over and instead of cutting out content to make room for the important pieces, the discovery and discussion, I kept all the content, and cut the discussion time down.

Now, granted, it was probably not as pronounced as I see it in retrospect, I did receive positive feedback, but I know it could have gone differently. Instead of coming from a place of service, I came from a place of “Let me show you what I can do!” Have you ever experience that yourself? When your need to prove yourself in a superficial (or survival-based) way overtook your mission?

The “inner critic/ego” voice will always be there, the key is to notice it, but not let it guide your actions. It’s the same voice that is advising me to keep this story to myself, but I’m choosing to do something else.

We see people of influence sharing their failures, through Ted Talks, articles etc. and you have an opportunity to do the same! I encourage you share how you’ve messed up and what you learned, with those around you. 

Let's come from a place of service and share what we don't know!

Circumventing the Ego - The Improv Shortcut to Inner Brilliance

Practicing improvisation allows us to bypass the ego, allowing us to access our inner wisdom and creativity. The #1 rule of improvisation is that we always say, “Yes, and,” actively listening to, accepting and adding on to our partner’s idea. A scene using this framework may look something like this:

Ann: Hey Steve, that is an interesting red t-shirt you’re wearing today.

Steve: Yes, this is an interesting red t-shirt and I bought one for you as well!

Ann: Yes, you bought one for me and we will look very well coordinated as we present our strategic plan for the Board this afternoon.

In reference to the ego, the “Yes, and” framework:

  1. Forces us to suspend judgement of our partner. Due to the rule of saying “Yes, and,” we have no choice but to put our energy into supporting our partner’s idea, regardless of what we may think of it, going against our natural tendency to immediately say, “No” to unconventional or outside the box ideas.
  2. Because of the pace, encourages us to go with the first thought that comes to our mind, instead of allowing the ego to come in and tell us that our idea is not good enough.
  3. Allows us to become comfortable sharing outside of the box ideas because, within the confines of “Yes, and,” we know that our partner is required to support us as we support them.
  4. Rendered powerless, the part of our ego that wants to be in control and have everything figured out. Scenes are build line by line. Not knowing what our partner is going to contribute until it comes out of their mouth, enables us to be in the moment, instead of thinking about and planning what we are going to say next while they are talking.
  5. Creates an even playing field. No one can be “in charge” in an improv scene, as we’re building it together. No one person is better than, or more important than another.

When we are able to circumvent the ego, our best ideas emerge and we are much better equipped to be a fantastic teammate.

Too Afraid to Fail - How I nearly got kicked out of college

Have you ever lost an opportunity or even a job because you were too afraid to fail? I nearly lost my college education because of it.

I was an acting major at SUNY Fredonia. In addition to the traditional academic acceptance, we also had to audition to be accepted into the program. At the end of every semester, we had “Juries”, where we had to perform a monologue for the faculty and they would decide if we had improved enough to stay in the program. A little back-story on me, I entered into college as a traditionally “good student”. I graduated third in my class and was always on the high honor roll. In my mind, if I studied hard enough and could get the answers “right”, I would get a good grade. The same was not true when it came to these acting Juries.

In acting, there are no right or wrong answers, it's all subjective. Think of how two actors can portray the same character in completely different and fascinating ways. Your performance either speaks to the audience, or it doesn’t. At the end of my freshman year, I was put on probation because of my performance. I had been so stuck on doing it “right”, that my performance was too safe. It was not compelling, it was boring. One faculty member put it this way; I was “acting in a bubble”.

Coming back my second year, I was in a situation where, if I did not improve, I would be kicked out of the acting program. Talk about needing to perform under pressure.

My turning point came during a voice and movement class. I was still stuck in my safety bubble, even physically. My teacher helped me to realize how terrified of failing I was, and how it was getting in the way of my passion and creativity, the reasons I was accepted in the first place. He asked me a simple question, “Are you willing to fall on your face in order to improve?” I had no other choice, the answer was an obvious, “Yes.” From there the floodgates opened. I took risks, I made choices, I fell on my face several times and at the end of the semester I got the following feedback after my jury performance, “I don’t recognize you. You are a completely different actor.” and “Um, keep...doing what you’re doing.”

Now, I understand that in an organization or in your life, the stakes may be higher than being kicked out of an acting program. Risking failure is never an easy option, but ask yourself what will happen if you don’t do anything? Sometimes if we really look at it, doing nothing is even more risky.

You were chosen because of your talents and skills. What are you keeping from your organization, family or more importantly, the world, if you allow a crippling fear of failure to hold you back from at least trying?

More recently, I designed and facilitated my first group-coaching program, “Leap - Make your next step a bold step.” Of course there was fear in putting myself out there in that capacity. What if no one signs up? I’m not ready, I need to know more about this! What if no one finds value in it?

In the face of these thoughts that clearly came from my ego, which tries so hard to keep me in that same safety bubble, I went for it and oh, how glad I am that I did! Not only was it a stretch for me professionally, it was some of the most rewarding work that I’ve done yet. I was able to provide a space for women to think, to define who it is that they want to be and how they want to move forward in their lives and most importantly, have a community of women to walk with. I’m so glad that I did not let the ever-present threat of failure get in the way.

How will you face your fear and bestow your gifts and talents to the world?

The Face-First Approach

I have a busy two year old at home. The other day I observed the way he climbs up on the couch… face first. It makes sense. The head is a heavy part of his body, so it provides a good anchor while he works on pulling up the rest of his body. It made me think about how I attack challenges and take risks and what I can learn from his approach. Here’s what stuck out.

1. The Quickest way to get where you want may seem awkward, but it does the job.

How often do we over-prepare, getting stuck at 90% readiness thinking that we have to get to 100% before taking a risk or putting something out there, whether it’s a project, career choice or simply an idea for a solution to a challenge in a team meeting. There are certain things we’ll never be fully ready for, so let’s not get stuck in the present simply because the plan for the future isn’t perfect.

2. Vulnerability is the key to breakthroughs.

I’d say the face is a pretty vulnerable part of the body right? Does it keep my son from risking a smashed nose in order to get where he wants to be? Nope!

That voice in our head that says, “Don’t do that, everyone will laugh at you.” may guard us from embarrassment, but it also keeps us from stepping out of our comfort zone and into personal growth. What if you put that message aside? What would it look like to dive into life with the most vulnerable part of you leading the way?

3. Follow through.

Yes, making the leap is exciting, but what follows is equally as important, otherwise you’re just stuck with your face in a couch.

4. You can do it!

A toddler does not question whether or not they can do something, if they really want it. They have a wealth of courage and simply go for it. This is not to say that we should all throw caution to the wind and quit our jobs to go write blogs from a tropical island. I’m simply suggesting that you give yourself the benefit of the doubt every now and then.

It is my firm belief that we are much stronger, wiser and more creative and capable than we give ourselves credit for. Remember, you were once that kid.

How I Got Hired By Making Someone Else Look Good

I moved to Los Angeles when I was 21 with a BFA in Acting and very little entertainment industry or business experience.

I went to an open audition for an improvised character within the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park. At this point, most of my training was around scripted material. But when it came to improv (unscripted theatre), I had very little experience, besides a workshop here or there. What I did know, was that you were supposed to say, “Yes, and”. This means you always listen to and accept your partner’s idea and then add onto it, so that the two of you can effectively create something together without the security of a script.

As I was watching another pair of actors go before me, one of the actors threw their partner under the bus, in order to make themselves look clever and funny. One of the other actors sitting in the audience called out, “Make each other look good!” It made a lot of sense. If we strive to make one another look good in the scene, instead of only looking out for ourselves, then we both look brilliant!

Before I knew it, it was my turn. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I’m a rule follower and went in with the goal of following those two simple rules; say “Yes, and” and “make each other look good.” My partner started the scene (thank goodness!) and I simply agreed with her idea and helped to move the scene forward by adding my own ideas to further support and develop the initial premise. We looked out for each other, and found ways to set the one another up for a laugh. At the end, we had created something together that we would not have created on our own.

A few days later, I got the call that I was hired!

Putting my focus on supporting my partner had not only reduced the pressure that I tend to put on myself, it showed that I could listen, collaborate well and set aside my own ego for the good of the company.

When you’re in a stressful or unexpected situation yourself, possibly feeling out of your element or that you’ve been given more than you can handle, try following these rules yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised at the effect that simply saying “Yes, and” and striving to “make each other look good” can have.

Here are three tips to get you started:

  • When an unexpected situation arises, start with “Yes”. Instead of reasoning why something won’t work, first give it some space and consideration, explore how it could work.
  • Actively listen to your co-workers and clients. Instead of thinking about what you're going to say, be present with them. After all, you can’t say “Yes” and add on to, or effectively respond to something you didn’t hear.
  • Turn your silo into a spider web. Actively look for ways to reach out and support your teammates to make them look amazing.

Break a leg!

Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Interview?

Have you ever felt nervous about a job interview? Me too, here’s what helps me to shift to a more positive and confident mindset.

I spent most of my 20s living in Los Angeles, pursuing an acting career. An actor’s version of an interview is an audition, equally nerve racking. The actor typically auditions for the casting director. Their job, is to sit through, sometimes hundreds of auditions to find the right person for the part. The writer relies on them to help bring their characters to life and the director relies on them to bring in, not only great actors but great people to work with.

When battling our own nerves, my acting teacher, Doug Warhit, always encouraged us to put ourselves in their shoes. Instead of worrying about messing up or fearing that we’re not good enough, realize that the casting director isn’t sitting in the audition room, with their arms crossed, saying to themselves, “Gee, I can’t wait to watch this person fall on their face!” On the contrary, they are hoping and praying that you will be the right person for the part because then, their job is done; they get to go home and hopefully the director will hire them again!

So often, we approach interviews with the less productive view and forget that the person interviewing us is also hoping that we are the right person for the job and chances are they are just as nervous about pleasing those higher up. They are rooting for you! How thankful will their boss and team be when they bring on the best person for the job?!

The next time you have an interview, remember that you are on the same team and they want to see you succeed. Now get out there and play the role you’ve always dreamed of!

Not What You Expected

Squeezing a workout in while raising a family and running a business is a challenge to say the least. I recently decided that for my own health and sanity, I needed to make it a priority again and was thrilled to find that a yoga studio had opened up just a mile from my house! I went to my first class, ready to be challenged, to sweat and get the most out of this one hour of “me time”. When we were still laying on the floor and breathing 15 minutes in, I became frustrated. All I could think about was how much “more” I could have done on my own in 15 minutes. Ugh, I should have just done a workout video at home, I should have gone somewhere else, when are we going to pick up the pace and get moving?!

These thoughts occupied my mind for a good 40 minutes until, finally, I realized that I could have used the quiet time to think, relax, meditate and honor my body by giving it a much needed stretch, had I simply let go of my previous expectations. In practice, yoga is much more about meditation than it is “working out”. I was expecting the class to be something that I wanted it to be.

Improvisation, as an art form, is based completely on the unexpected. Because two or more people are creating something from nothing, no one knows exactly what will happen. This means that the actors have an opportunity to create something together, that they never would have created on their own. This is where the infamous “Yes, and” of improvisation comes into play.

Saying “yes, and” means that, no matter what idea is put forth, the team agrees that they will say “yes” to it and build on that idea together. Even if one person had another idea that, in their mind, was “better”, they choose to let it go and jump on board to support their team member.

In my yoga class, I was doing exactly the opposite. I did not accept what the class was putting forth. It was not meeting my expectations, so I did what many of us do when faced with the unexpected. I resisted, I said “No” and in my mind I spent 40 minutes reasoning why this class was a waste of time. I bulldozed over its value with thoughts of what I would have considered a better class. I tried to make it what I expected it to be, instead of jumping on board for what could have been a transformational experience.

When we let go of expectations and simply take the next step with an open mind, we open ourselves up to infinitely more possibilities. By letting the frustration of expectations not being met take over your brain space, your own creativity is inevitably elbowed out as well.

I have another class scheduled tomorrow, I’m choosing to let go of my expectations and let the class be what it is. Whether I get my definition of a “workout” or some time to meditate, I’m ready to take it one step at a time and say, “Yes” to reaping the benefits.

La La Land, aka, Confronting my Ex.

I recently saw La La Land and it was a great film. I, myself, spent my early adulthood in Los Angeles, living the life of a struggling actress, much like Emma Stone’s character, Mia. She is shown working on a studio backlot (been there), at a cafe (done that), going on auditions for less than desirable roles, pouring her soul out while casting directors ate lunch and stared at their phones (oooh the memories). All the while, knowing that it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person who sees you for the shining star that you are and gives you your big break (as long as you can tell the difference between someone who is interested in your art and not a date).

Once I signed with my third agent, I thought, this is it! It wasn’t. Then I got a callback for a national Swiffer commercial and I thought, this is it! Nope. After my second audition for Neil Patrick Harris, I was sure, THIS is it! Then I didn’t get the part. However, I did receive a voicemail, informing me that Neil thought I was great, and had it saved on my phone for at least a year.

Seven years in, I decided it was time to move on. It was a process and I had to work through a whole lot of pride. Leaving LA meant I had failed right? I couldn’t say that acting was the only profession I could do for the rest of my life and then go do something else? Right? Well..I was wrong. I was allowed to have different dreams and I didn’t need to know exactly what that new dream would be to make that leap.

Fast forward four years. I discovered my “new dream” and get to do what I am passionate about almost every day. I have a wonderful husband and a silly, curious toddler. I am joyful.

Sitting through La La Land and reliving those experiences, felt like a conversation with an old boyfriend. There was no big drama, no huge blow out. It just didn’t work out. Maybe one of you moved or maybe the timing wasn’t right. So now when you think of them, you can’t help but wonder, what if? What if I’d stuck it out? It wasn’t really all that bad right? What if I had just stayed one more week? Just went to one more audition?

My ego longs for the chance to be an actor, but my intuitive side knows I made the right choice. I recently listened to the “Lively Show” podcast about ego and intuition. It pointed out that when we follow our intuition, we are more likely to make a choice that benefits the most people possible. When I applied that theory to my professional journey I could see the scenarios playing out. When the ego is driving,I become a wildly successful movie actor and impact people through my craft. In reality, my intuition told me to move on. Listening to that voice has been profoundly rewarding. What I do now empowers people to find their own joy and realize their full potential. It was the right move.

A job or relationship does not have to completely disintegrate and destroy you before you are allowed to leave. Sometimes you are in a great position, but something in your gut is pulling you elsewhere. Logistics are important, planning is important, but don’t let it completely drown out what your inner voice is trying to tell you. 

And when that “boyfriend” shows up in the line behind you at the grocery store, smile and appreciate that time in your life for what it was and be thankful it led you to where you are now.


Why am I Doing This?

Have you ever been in the midst of a major life change, whether it was a promotion, a move or going to college and wondered how you got there? Or if it’s really what you still want? So often we allow others, or an outdated version of ourselves,  to inform our “next step” in life, we forget to ask ourselves if it is the right step.

In an episode of comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, he interviewed actor Lauren Lapkus. As an improvisor and actor, she shared in the dream that so many have, of being on Saturday Night Live. However, at the time of her audition, she already had a sitcom under her belt and was doing really well professionally. Should she have been cast on SNL, her 5 day weeks would have turned into 7 and her 12 hour days, to 16. But that prevailing notion that SNL was some kind of huge accomplishment, took over the space to ask the question, do I really still want this? She says, “The idea of getting it, is more important after wanting it your whole life, than doing it.”

Straying from the path is scary, especially when that nicely paved path leads to recognition, security or wealth. I encourage you to take a moment today, look at where you are and where you are headed and ask yourself, “Do I want this? Why do I want this? What do I want?”

Yes, there are “I’s” in each of those questions. Women especially, think much more of their relationships with others first and the effect that they will have on those around them. That’s not a bad thing, it’s a great characteristic to have but if left unchecked, and I say this from personal experience, we can get lost in all that we’re doing for others and forget that our own pursuit of joy is important too.

Here’s to a year full of JOY!

12/19/17 Update:

The response to this blog inspired me to create a group coaching program, "Leap - make your next step a bold step" to give women the space to think about what it is that they do want for themselves and how to take steps toward making that a reality.

Lessons My Toddler Taught Me About Failure

My husband and I recently took Frankie, our 14 month old, to Cape Cod for the first time. He just started walking this summer, so I knew that the sand would be an extra obstacle for his unstable legs. This is what watching him taught me about failure.

1. Celebrate other people’s failures!

When a toddler falls, the last thing you do is gasp and run over to them in a hurried, scared state. Instead, you cheer, so that they will master the skill of walking and not be afraid to fall in the future. Because let’s face it, Mom and Dad are tired of carrying around a 25 lb. person.

What would it be like if we did this for our teams? What if, upon failures, we cheered (figuratively, hey, maybe even literally!) and encouraged one another to fail and learn from those mistakes so that they could become masterful at what they do?

2. Enjoy the fall.

My son laughs when he falls, he thinks it is hilarious. However, it’s much easier to encourage others to fail than it is to be comfortable with it ourselves. How do you see failure? Really? It’s time to reframe. It is an opportunity, not only to learn, but to show others how you deal with failure. If you are hard on yourself, those around you will assume you’ll be just as hard on them, therefore perpetuating the nasty cycle of the fear of failure. Be kind to yourself and find joy in the process.

3. Lead with your gut.

Have you ever noticed the way a toddler walks? They lead with their belly, fully letting it hang out. None of this uncomfortable sucking in, trying to play it safe, appearing like they have it all together. Have you ever seen a baby in spanks? I didn’t think so.

The time when you fail the most epically is going to be when you follow your gut instinct and go for that crazy idea. But you know what? If you learn from it, instead of bailing and sucking it in like it never existed, you may also experience your greatest success.

Frankie spent three days trudging through the most difficult terrain for a toddler to traverse, he must have fallen a hundred times, but do you know what he’s been doing since we got back home? Running!



Wait, I'm Supposed to Say "Yes" to Everything?!

The cultural change that I encourage companies to embrace is the “Yes and” mindset. This comes from the number one rule in improvisation, that you always say “Yes” to your partner’s ideas and then take it one step further, by adding on to it, therefore building something together that you would not have come up with individually. It goes against our natural tendencies to automatically say “No” to uncomfortable or unexpected ideas and opens us up to other possibilities.

The first question I get is, “But what if you KNOW that the idea won’t work?” This usually comes from a leader, someone who has wisdom and experience, someone who perhaps already tried that particular idea years ago and doesn’t want their team member wasting time, letting history repeat itself. This thought makes sense, so how do you keep that “Yes and” mindset in these situations?

Let’s start with some clarification. When performing improvisation on stage, no matter what, we abide by the “Yes and” rule. By practicing it, in a safe and supportive space, leaders and teams learn to put their tendency to say “No” aside, in the most extreme form. When we take this mindset back to the workplace, the intent is not to say “Yes and” to everything. The intent, is to let our minds (and hopefully, more often than not, our mouths) say “Yes” and consider that idea for a moment, instead of jumping straight to, “No, and this is why it won’t work.” I call this a Yes Loop. 

In those situations, where your experience leads you to believe that an idea will not work, my suggestion is this: help them to get there too, in a collaborative way. Go down the road with them, say “Yes” by taking the time to walk through the idea fully. Get curious, ask questions and certainly let them know what occurred the last time you tried that idea. 

You will not only allow them to learn by figuring out the answer with them, you’ve built trust and created a relationship where they will be more likely to continue to come to you with innovative ideas, knowing that you will be there to listen and consider, rather than jumping to “No”.

Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised with a new aspect of the plan that no one thought of last time. It could be the key to making it work!


Improvising Through Change

My son will be one this weekend. He arrived two weeks early and my life changed overnight. It has been an amazing year.

 What would you do if you knew that your life was going to change overnight and that it was all going to be okay? So many of us are terrified of change weather it’s a restructuring within our organization or a new addition to our family. What I do know is that there are two ways things could go. It could all blow up in our face, or it could all be okay. So why do we concentrate so much on the former, completely forgetting the latter?

 In improvisation, nothing is planned ahead. Therefore, it is all an unexpected situation that can change on a dime and we need to be able to respond immediately. What makes it doable is the fact that we are abiding by the rule that everyone will say “Yes” to the new, and possibly scary situation or idea, and jump on board! Then, we take it a step further by adding onto it, allowing the team to create something together that none of us could have created on our own.

 This moves us to a mindset where we know that everything will be okay because we’re all going to support one another. We are not out there struggling alone; we lean on our team and allow our team to lean on us. In improv, we call this, "Making each other look good."

Has your organization gone through a big change recently? Was each person out for themselves, just trying to keep their head above water or were they looking for ways to support one another and find ways to make it work for the whole team?

 The former is a default instinct. The latter takes practice, it means taking a moment in a time of stress and checking in, being fully present and taking stock in not only what people are feeling, but also looking for what they need and how you can support them.

 Today, weather you in the midst of a big change or not, try to do just that, take a moment to check in, be present and look for a way to support someone in your organization.