The Weekend of Saying, “Yes”

Most of us get up and go about our day without planning how much we will accept others’ ideas or determine how many times we will say, “yes.” It would probably feel odd to sit at the kitchen table early in the morning and write out how often you will agree with someone or support their ideas. Yet, we either do that throughout the course of a day or we don’t. And many times it’s human nature to: not even hear what someone has said because we’re tuning in to our own thoughts and concerns; hear what someone says but instantly say “no,” or “yes, but….” wasting no time to critique their idea and offer what we would do or say. That’s habit for many of us. This past weekend was all about saying “yes,” for me and the nearly 300 people I shared my message with.

Through my business, Laugh to Live!, I have the self-appointed pleasure of standing in front of people, sharing some humorous material about my life – like how I live next door to my parents who love me but don’t quite appreciate the disorganized state in which I keep my home, a method I like to call the poor woman’s security system because if someone breaks in they’re sure to think the place has already been ransacked and go right out the door – talking about the research that states how valuable laughter is for our well-being, and then leading the group in some laughter yoga exercises or some improvisation activities, depending upon the group and what I was hired to do.

Ladies Love to Laugh

This past weekend I was able to share laughs with nearly 300 people – 98% of which were women – in a 26-hour span of time. And once again, I can say to you, “Yes” laughter works and I can’t wait to share more with the next group –  a small club of retired women who gather monthly for lunch in a resort community – this Thursday.

Fear, anxiety, nervousness, doubt and self-scrutiny are the emotions I feel before I interact with a crowd and 9 out of 10 times, it’s satisfaction, pride, relief, affirmation, and joy that I feel after my encounters with participants.  Friday morning I had the pleasure of sharing some humorous stories and interactive laughter yoga with a group of nearly 200 child care workers at an end-of-year celebration. This group of mostly women came from four different counties to share in festivities at the Lackawanna County baseball stadium. Yes, we had a glorious view of the baseball field while sharing some “ho ho ho’s” and “ha ha ha’s.” While it took a little while to get everyone warmed up, by the end, I felt that the majority of participants were bound to feel better than before they started laughing – even if they did think these laughter exercises seemed a bit odd.  One woman made a point to tell me after the presentation that she really enjoyed it and even though she liked to talk a lot, she didn’t think she could get up and do what I do and seem so comfortable. She thanked me and gave me credit for what I do. That meant a lot to me and I told myself, “Yes” you do have skills and talent to share to help enrich people’s lives and it’s time that you truly believed that.

What Better Place to Laugh than Happy Valley?

Then I was on the road to State College to present at an IAAP Conference, which was a gathering of administrative professionals from across Pennsylvania. I presented to one chapter of IAAP last year and those women enjoyed it so much that I was asked to present something a bit different for the larger group. I was very excited to present my relatively new program: “Using Improvisation to Address the Three Cs: Communication, Conflict Resolution and Collaboration.” I was eager to share the golden rule of improv, “Yes, and…” with these women and to see what we could create together. I was equally excited to be back in Happy Valley. I am a 1993 graduate of Penn State University and have been back to visit about a dozen times but I never seem to have enough time to get fully reacquainted. What I do notice, is how much the campus continues to grow and change. I found myself feeling a bit like a stranger among modern, glass buildings for chemistry and science that clearly replaced something that I was familiar with back in the early 90s.

After settling in to our room at Tofftrees Resort where I would be presenting on Saturday, my boyfriend and I walked around the grounds, which had very green, finely manicured grass for the golfers and hosted an assortment of creatures from ducks to chipmunks and squirrels to a number of gophers. Yes, we talked about “Caddyshack” and Bill Murray. How could you walk on a golf course, see not one, but four go-pher go-phers running across the grass and not reference that classic movie? On our way back to our room we spotted an archway and rows of white chairs set up for a wedding the next day. Within minutes I had posted the picture to Facebook asking “Should I say, ‘I do’ in 15 hours, or run in 15 minutes?” I couldn’t resist putting that out there as a social experiment of sorts and fun. By Saturday there were mostly positive affirmations of congratulations and best wishes with a few women and men encouraging me to run. Even though my event Saturday was not to say “Yes” to getting married, I did say “Yes” to sharing the concept of improvisation with about 70 women who all experienced similar barriers or conflicts in their workplaces.

When We Say Yes, The Possibilities Are Endless

It’s interesting how we encourage children to try  different things that require bravery but adults tend to be quite scared to venture outside of our comfort zones. While everyone in the group did participate in the exercises I shared Saturday, very few volunteered later when I wanted to conduct an activity at the front of the room to further illustrate the value of listening, supporting and contributing. I eventually employed the teacher in me and “called on” a table of people who seemed to be good sports and were the closest to the front of the room. The women who volunteered on their own to play some “Yes, and…” games with me seemed to really come alive when they were forced outside of their comfort zones. And the group I volunteered to play something called the “Ad Game” with me, seemed to have a ball, especially when the audience showed their support of their work through laughs, applause and squeals of delight. Our group task was to reinvent adult diapers so we created Dignity Diapers that were purple and changed colors when wet. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlin Jenner as our designated celebrity spokes people, we were set to launch the product in Philadelphia to Elton John’s  “Philadelphia Freedom.” Yes, we were free. Free to share any idea no matter how silly or unrealistic it seemed. It was our job to brainstorm and to fully support one another.

Sure this was just an exercise, but it was a lesson to show the workshop participants how important and influential our individual roles can be in group dynamics. The quieter contributors were not always heard while the louder, more confident ones were. And some people talked over others. The game showed the value of listening, accepting and really supporting one another with an enthusiastic cheer of “yay, great idea” every time anyone said anything, the value of giving and taking and of all being on the same page. It was a great way to practice being in the moment, focusing on one shared goal rather than being distracted by the ticker that runs across our minds almost constantly each day, reminding us of both personal and professional “to-do lists.”

Be Not Afraid, Say Yes

As I told the group a few times throughout the afternoon, doing these exercises may not change anything substantial but if it gets you thinking a little differently – even for a little bit – especially about how we support one another in groups and relationships, then we’ve achieved success. I felt rewarded and validated when two women came to me after the workshop to ask about using “Yes, and…” in two completely different, yet equally valuable ways. One wanted to learn how to say “Yes, and…” to her kids because she was always telling them, “No,” while the other wanted to help the gentlemen she worked with learn to work better together using improv but she said it would require each of them tying up their alpha dog traits for a bit.

Do I believe that the rules of improvisation can teach everyone a thing or two about themselves and about working with others? Yes, and… I hope that people continue to be open to accepting it and sharing it with people in their offices and homes to make life more fun and productive!

The Smell of Leather Saddle Shoes in Autumn

I love these August days. Maybe it’s because I’m a Virgo and I associate this time of year with many years of happy birthday celebrations … for me, and for years, celebrating with my grandmother, a fellow Virgo.  Another reason could be that I was what one might call a bookish, kind of dorky kid who enjoyed the back-to-school season like any other joyful, colorful holiday. One of my favorite memories is that of the annual event of shoe shopping with my grandmother that took place around this time of year. It was exciting because it was one of few opportunities to express my sense of style. Because I attended Catholic school and wore a uniform from Kindergarten through 12th grade, there was little room for freedom of fashion other than choices like: cardigan or V neck? And white or maroon knee socks?

I also enjoyed picking out notebooks, pens and erasers. I treated those as fashion accessories. A simple joy in grade school was getting pencils and erasers that smelled like grapes, bananas or chocolate. And don’t get me started on the scratch n sniff stickers that were all the rage to put on notebooks. If I close my eyes really tight, I can smell the salty pretzel sticker. I also remember the fun I had getting a notebook in high school bearing the “dancing baby” from the TV show “Ally McBeal.” It was a conversation piece that always made me grin. I think little things produced  much more joy back then.  Today I do gain joy from simple pleasures like a good cup of flavored coffee, a sunny day and the smell of autumn in the air, but I think I recognize these opportunities for joy less as an adult. And when I do my allow myself to enjoy the moment, the moment goes quickly. The good news is that I’m aware and I am working to change that. Or at least I’m aware that I want to work to change that. I’m enjoying a good cup of coconut coffee while I type this. There’s a start.

Today I have the freedom to dress how I want for back-to-school season (as long as it’s in good taste, I am teaching at a Catholic college after all). I no longer carry on the tradition of shoe shopping and I don’t buy notebooks, pencils and loose leaf paper. But this morning I did have that all-too-familiar nervous feeling of knots in my stomach that eventually morphed into excited anticipation as I taught my first ever college class. (I ask for some leeway when it comes to my use of the word “teach.”)  Since it was the first day, I eased students into this writing class. We just got to know one another a bit and talked about the syllabus. I guess, technically, I was teaching them about the course and what to expect, while learning from them what they wanted to gain.

Naturally I took the opportunity to introduce students to the concept of laughter yoga, because that’s what I do, and because laughter works as a great ice breaker and brings the level of stress down in a room instantly. I asked them to stand and take a few deep inhales and exhales of ho, ha and hee. I didn’t want to take them too far outside of their comfort zones but I think this was just enough to loosen them up a bit and elicit a few smiles. I’ll take them farther down laughter yoga lane another day. I expect that we’ll have times throughout the semester when stress will need to be let out of the room so we can relax, re-focus and re-energize.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some coffee-scented stickers for my academic planner.