I’ve never been an improv comedian. I was famously told how unfunny I was in 6th grade, and that commentary has played on a loop in my head rent-free for decades. I complained how “unfunny” I was at work a few years ago and a friend challenged me to play the “Yes/And” game to get out of my creative rut. I rolled my eyes and reluctantly agreed.
Here’s how you do it. One person makes a comment or a phrase about some imaginary person or object and what they’re doing. They can stop at any point and the other person has to pick up with a “yes, and…” and say something else completely outlandish about the story they’re co-creating together. I don’t remember what we made up, but it was something along the lines of a woman who wore shoes two sizes too big who walked down a cobblestone street in Paris, eating a classic New York bagel, and fell into a subway grate. A little morbid, sure, but it got us laughing.
I was thinking about that trick the other day as I’m in the middle of writing some really heavy pieces in my memoir. It’s hard to wade into the past, sit in the thick of that emotional briar patch, and put words down on paper. It was about what happens when you realize that all of the dreams you have for yourself, for you and your family’s future, can’t happen at the same time. It’s just not logistically possible at times.
When I grew up, I wanted to be a pop star like Debbie Gibson (hello acid wash jeans and a black hat with my blunt blonde bangs). I wanted to be an astronaut, a scientist, a mother, a writer, and a veterinarian. And I wanted to be President of the United States. In my 10-year-old mind, any of that was possible and I could do it right now. I carried that enthusiasm decades into my career, thinking that being all the roles I wanted to play was possible at the same time. I could be a mom and work 80 hrs a week and volunteer at my son’s daycare and be a good friend and a loving wife and sister and build a booming consulting business, all at 100 at all moments of the day. I think you see the pattern of spiraling burnout that unfolded as you read that last sentence.
I was told I could have it all. Lean In solidified that narrative for me. As the pandemic started to unfold, those systems of Yes, and were stressed and broke in a very public way. I spiraled. Depression and constant fight/flight level anxiety overtook my nervous system. This yes, and wasn’t working.
As I watched social media for International Women’s Day, I saw the drumbeat of “yes women can do all the things and be all the things” roll out across brands and women’s networking groups. I saw companies laud the women in their ranks, all the while knowing statistically they’re being paid 20% less on average than their male counterparts. I saw retail chains post clickable and sharable memes on social media along with one-day sales that highlighted the day as a sales and marketing ploy, just like any other opportunistic federal holiday sale. I saw Bain’s Bitcoin group announce their all-male leadership team, which Claire Diaz Ortiz expertly dismantled on Twitter mere moments later.
What was missing from this day is a shift in the conversation of “yes/and.” Yes, women can hold many roles and keep the trains running, and we want pay equity for our efforts. Yes, we can out-hustle anyone while building a business and family (we’ve proven that), and we still need the space and grace to REST.
So instead of making any flashy International Women’s Day social posts, I opted to do the three things that would serve me well as I strive to share my story and help other women do the same. First, I sent off a new proposal and upped my rates. Second, I listened to what my body needed and took a nap. Third, I called a friend before our book class so I could play a fun improv version of “Yes/and.” Those fueled me well into a lively (maybe chaotic) dinnertime with our family to bedtime. And I wouldn’t change a thing about the life I’ve constructed to live in my best self.