By Jen Oleniczak Brown, Founder of The Engaging Educator
There are some days I would like to clock the person that told me to follow my passion.
Seriously, hear me out – imagine being a person that was perfectly comfortable going to a survival job day in and day out. You go to work, you do your job, you go home. No thoughts about something more. No worries about potential or dreams or wants. Just 9-5, in and out.
(Un)Fortunately, I was and am a super motivated woman and started a company that teaches people how to be better communicators through improv – and one of the largest challenges in our students I’ve seen as a facilitator involves the very thing that pushed me here: wants.
So therein lies the question – do you know what you want? And even more – do you know how to get it?
Improv scenes aren’t complete without 4 major things – WHO you are, WHERE you are, WHAT you want, HOW you feel. Since we teach non-actors, specifically people who are working on communication, presentation and social skills through improv, no one really cares about scenes – what they do care about is conversations. Now reread the first sentence in this paragraph and replace ‘improv scenes’ with the word ‘conversations’. Conversations aren’t complete with a who, where, what and how – but in conversations, we generally know who we are, where we are and usually how we feel. Those ‘wants’ get tricky, even in the safe place that is a continuing education class, which draws attention to real life wants. So how do we figure out what we want?
- Figure out what it is that you want. Lists are fantastic. Braindumps are better. Give yourself a week – on day one, give yourself 5-10 minutes to just write, freestyle, what you want. Don’t stop writing; write for the whole 5-10 minutes. Set this aside, and on day two, read it, edit and add. Do the same on day three, four, five and six. On day seven, the things that made it through all of those edits? Those sticky things are what you want.
- Now you have a list-like thing. Take one of those wants and solve it using the improv principle ‘Yes And’. Yes And is complex, and connects with creative problem solving and brainstorming by elevating ideas. Within your solutions, come up with all the ways you can make this happen. Failure isn’t an option – you have all of the money, all of the resources, everything you need. Elevate each of your ideas, and make them more creative. For example, maybe you want to write a book. Your solutions might include ‘find a publisher’ and ‘write 5 hours a day’ and ‘self-publish’ and ‘find a job that lets me write all day’. Use the AND and add to your solutions – ‘find a publisher’ becomes ‘find a publisher and get a contract for more books’, and ‘write 5 hours a day’ becomes ‘write 5 hours a day and edit every day’.
- Break down tasks into doable pieces, and work backward. ‘Write 5 hours a day and edit every day’ is amazing and maybe a little lofty – so how about 4 hours a week and one hour for editing at the end of the week? Start from the solution and work backward.
- Do it. In improv, failure is encouraged. I’m constantly telling students and new facilitators, if you’re trying not to fail, you’ll never succeed. So play to fail, and play like you can’t fail. You’re already further along than you were when you started, because you are aware of what you want, and you’re trying to get it. If this strategy hits a wall, pick another from your list and repeat steps 3 and 4.
- Celebrate little wins. Negative sticks – I’ll pay more attention to one negative Yelp review than a bunch of little positive reviews. When you have a successful week, note it and remember how that felt. Channel it on hard weeks.
Now go out there and get what you want. Clearly, if you’re reading this, you’re like me and want more than the ‘every day’. And if you need a Yes And buddy, comment or shoot me an email, and I’m happy to push you along. Shine on!
About the Author:
JEN BROWN (OLENICZAK) is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Engaging Educator. Through EE, her pedagogical approach of Improv as Continuing Education has reached thousands of people – all non-actors! – with the awesomeness that is Improv.
Before starting EE, she was an actor in Milwaukee, Chicago and New York. After a few too many waitressing gigs, she found herself at the City College of New York, getting a degree in Art History and working in museums as a museum educator. She realized the field lacked the ‘how you say it’ training and boom – The Engaging Educator was born.
Since 2012, Jen has given two TEDx Talks on the power of Improv, grown EE to three locations in NYC, Winston-Salem, NC and LA, and recently began The Engaging Educator Foundation, a 501(c)(3) which offers free and low cost Improv workshops for educators, at-risk adults, teens and students on the Autism Spectrum. Along with Improv-based workshops, she is passionate about Autism acceptance within cultural organizations, and loves to personally collaborate with museums on the creation of socialization programs. Jen holds degrees and accreditation from Marquette University, City College of New York, St. Joseph’s University and Second City and the school of Yes, And.