Exponentially Increase Your Career Options With This Simple Improv Trick
When it comes to thinking big about career options, our brains love to make assumptions that keep us playing small.
Most of those “rational” assumptions attempt to convince us why we can’t have what we want: We’d have to go back to school. We’d be forced to take a step back in our career. We’d need to invest a huge amount of time and/or money.
While those assumptions might feel very true, they are not objective truth.
Binary thinking is one of the most common assumptions and a serious roadblock to designing a career with purpose.
Here are just a few examples I hear frequently:
I can do something creative or I can make money
I can make a real impact at work or I can have a life outside of the office
If I take a new job, I’d lose my current flexibility
Binary thinking pits your career goals against one another, leaving you to make impossible and unnecessary choices.
Instead of “Either, or...” shift to “Yes, and...” and watch your career options increase exponentially.
Take a Yes, and... Approach to Your Career
Yes, and... is an improvisational comedy technique that encourages participants to accept a premise as true without question or judgment.
Let’s say an improv scene starts with someone saying, “It’s so nice to finally meet you!” You wouldn’t respond with, “What do you mean? We’ve known each other for years!” That negates their entire set-up and stops creativity in its tracks.
By responding with, “Yeah, who would’ve thought we’d first meet in prison?!” you validate their premise and take it a giant step further.
“Yes” is about fully accepting the initial idea. “And” adds new information to expand on it.
When applied to your career, Yes, and... helps you fully explore an idea without limitation—before you talk yourself out of it.
Yes, and... challenges you to take your most important career goal as a given, then add another goal and another after that, to push beyond what's immediately available to what's ultimately possible.
You start seeing creative ways to combine your skills, values, and interests rather than deciding which ones you have to give up.
There’s Always a Way In
I have witnessed so many clever real-life career mash-ups that began with a simple Yes, And… Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing:
- Be creative and make money: Work in the Art Department of an established company or take a Corporate Communications role in a high-paying industry.
- Combine your passions with your skills: Meld your interests in Travel and Nutrition with your Personal Finance knowledge. Obsessed with movies? Use your Project Management skills to break into the Film and Television industry.
- Serve multiple goals: Volunteer or join the board of an organization you care about to make an impact and build relationships and build a particular skill and get exposure to other opportunities at that organization and . . .
- Find the Yin and Yang: Explore how seemingly disparate goals can work in harmony. For example, couple your desire to build something new with your need for stability by looking for opportunities to reengineer or build out new functions within established companies.
- Wear all the hats: Want variety and have a broad skill set? There are plenty of roles that allow you to wear many hats (Chiefs of Staff, COOs, and CAOs are just some examples). Roles that require you to coordinate across departments and organizations can also combine a number of different skill sets, functions, and areas of expertise.
- Learn something new and get paid: Find a company that will pay for your education or apply your already-proven skill set to a new subject matter or industry you can learn on the job.
Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
When I first became a career coach, I researched coaching roles within larger organizations so I could do the work I love and have a regular paycheck.
A friend and former colleague unexpectedly offered me a full-time coaching job at a prestigious company.
I shared my counter offer: more money, fewer hours, and the ability to continue building my own coaching business on the side.
He laughed and said, “You want to have your cake and eat it, too.”
I said, “Of course! Isn’t that what we all want?”
He disagreed, and the negotiation went no further.
This is what happens when both parties don’t agree to play the Yes, and… game. That’s okay. It wasn’t the right fit for either of us.
The realization that many people don’t operate with a Yes, and… mentality was a big motivator for me to take the leap to start my own business. I was sick of settling in my own life and wanted to show others how to have their cake and eat it, too.
I also kept telling people what I wanted and ultimately found the right business partner who was willing to play Yes, and... with me. When we decided to work together, we batted ideas around until we hit on an agreement that worked for both of us. We stated outright that it was not a question of if we'd work together but how, and kept talking until we figured it out.
This is my approach for pretty much everything in career and life: Decide what you want + Tell everyone about it + Keep talking (and listening) until the solution emerges.
The morale of the story? Just because you’re saying yes, doesn’t mean people won’t say no. But that doesn’t mean you should stop playing the game. When you encounter a "no," don't sweat it. Keep it moving until you get a "yes, and..."
It's completely bonkers (technical career coach terminology) that we're so used to settling that we start to feel unworthy, or even greedy, for asking for what we want and need.
Repeat after me: It is totally reasonable to make money, love what I do, and have a life outside of work. I deserve to have the life and career I want.
There Is Plenty of Time to Say "No"
You can always say "no" when it’s time to make an actual decision.
In the beginning, give yourself the gift of exploration without restriction or judgment. Once you determine what you really want in your career, there are so many ways to go after it.
No career is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the things that are most important. Don’t get trapped in binary thinking. Don't give away your cake. Play Yes, and… until you find a career that works for you.
What are your current career goals? Are they working for or against one another?
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