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The three lessons I learned that helped release my self-doubt, increase my confidence and helped propel me forward in my business!

The post that started it all!

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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I hear Laurel. Most of the time. I have, though, heard Yanny, as well. I’ve listened and read to the many explanations on why different people hear a different word and I think I am starting to understand the science behind it. There is a much bigger lesson to be learned in all of this, though. What it really means to listen.

When we finally put aside the bewilderment, the arguing, the skepticism and the insistence on “our word” being right, we are left with a basic idea. Two people can listen to the same thing and hear something very different. And, more importantly… that is okay.

I think we - as humans and as a country - lose sight of that sometimes. We forget that the brain can work differently, it can interpret things differently and it can leave us with no definitive right or wrong answer. That is when we have a choice. We can spend our energies trying to convince someone else that we are correct (often by method of shouting as loudly as possible or talking over one another) or we can spend our energies working toward agreement with the full acceptance that we can hear things differently.

For me, the Yanny/Laurel conversation is a microcosm of my marriage and my relationship with my wife since before we were married. We fight. She is Italian, I am both Italian and Irish. We have convictions and are passionate about those convictions. Our fights are almost always the same:

I say something.

My wife hears something.

OR

My wife says something.

I hear something.

Very rarely is the “something” the same thing. My wife hears things I say differently than how I say them. I hear things my wife says differently than how she says them. For a long time, I would (ignorantly) label my wife a bad listener. In short, I was dismissive. She was not a bad listener, at all. She was listening very intently, she was just hearing something different. I was saying Yanny and she was hearing Laurel.

There are a million and one reasons why we hear things our partners, spouses, friends and family say differently than how they said them. Some reasons are psychological, some are emotional, some are historical, some are physiological and all are okay.

If we can - in response to this wacky, random sound byte - begin to learn the value of acceptance as a listening skill, perhaps we can slowly move toward embracing acceptance as a way of life. Perhaps we can tear down walls instead of building new ones. Perhaps we can extend an open palm instead of a pointed finger. Perhaps we can learn to love again.

Don’t let the irony of the word at the root of this be lost. Laurel, a plant commonly woven together into a wreath, has been a symbol throughout history of achievement and used to bestow honor. Perhaps we can don this laurel with honor as we achieve a new level of acceptance for one another.

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