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Happy Accidents: The Rules of Improvisation in Life

It’s a fact. Sometimes life just deals us a seemingly shitty hand of cards.  What is a woman to do?

Agree with what’s been dealt, say Yes, then Add your two cents.


In case you haven’t had the chance to read Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” or are currently too busy rereading the “Harry Potter” series, here are four improv. lessons every woman can apply to her life when difficult circumstances make her want to run for the hills screaming “Uncle!”:

1. Agree and Say Yes

Our lives are littered with the word “no.”  It begins in childhood with “No, you can’t have a cookie before dinner,” “No, don’t touch that,” “No, I won’t take you to the park – I’m busy” and continues into adulthood with “No, we can’t go to the Cayman Islands, there is not money in our budget,” and “No, not tonight.  I’m have a headache.”

What if we changed the rules of the game?  What if we responded to circumstances in our lives by respecting the current answer, but saying yes to it instead?  There may be no money in the budget today – is that a reason to push that desire away altogether?   How about changing the answer to a “yes” to the Cayman Islands for next year?

2. Say Yes, AND….

You may be thinking, “I can say “yes.”  It’s not going to really make it happen…” (because, clearly, Joëlle,  you are delusional – there is NO money in the budget)… This rule required you to add an “and” to the equation – which brings in a way for you to contribute, options for you to consider.  What if you tracked your spending, cut out your daily dose of Venti Caffe Latte and blueberry scone at Starbucks, made your own lunch, brought that $250 pair of shoes and all the clothes you never wear (with tags still attached) to a consignment shop…. You get the picture, right?   In a year you could have what it takes to take yourself wherever you wished….

3. Make statements. Don’t Ask Questions All The Time.

Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  It is very easy to ask “What if” questions and be a Debbie Downer pointing out all the possible obstacles.  We all have Debbie Downers in our midst, don’t be one of them.

As women, in particular, Fey points out that we tend to speak in apologetic questions rather than clear statements.  Our voices lilt up at the end of our sentences, which leave us sounding unsure and uncertain.  It’s akin the kind of confidence a dentist might engender in us with, “Yeah, uh, I’m going to be your dentist today? I graduated first in my class at my dental school?  Uh, I’m taking care of that root canal for you today?”

Practice bringing the tone of your voice down at the end of your sentences.  In fact, practice the following as a question and then as an actual sentence.  It might surprise you to sense your confidence shifting:  “I am getting ready for my Cayman Islands trip next year…..” (or whatever you are working toward)

4. There are no mistakes.  Only opportunities.

This is so true.  Don’t forget that the most “Beautiful Happy Accidents,” as Fey calls them, have led to many of the world’s greatest discoveries.   And, it’s where we are tested the most.  This rule brings up our fears and keeps us saying no to new possibilities while pre-determining the outcome.  We fall prey to going through our day acting out a script based on what has always happened or what should happen rather than being present, listening and reacting with openness and curiosity to the current circumstance.

Life is all about exploration, discovery and creation – of something that doesn’t yet exist, hasn’t been explored and most often will never be discovered unless we take the leap to improvise! By flipping our beliefs about mistake-making, we create the space for exploration by taking risks, saying YES and feeding our life with information, presence and new possibilities.

The rules of improvisation require us to look outside the box and create the scenes in everyday life where happy accidents can happen.   What have been your most “Beautiful Happy Accidents” where you gave yourself the chance to say Yes AND?  I love your comments, so post them here on the blog.

3 Responses to “Happy Accidents: The Rules of Improvisation in Life”

  1. Cathy Brooks says:

    Great blog @Joelle. Your webpage is really beautiful too!

  2. Joëlle says:

    My pleasure – lots more coming your way. My desire is to inspire!

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