A ‘sliding door’ moment


January 3rd, 2010

Funny how things turn out. Way back in the 1990s I took some Playback Theatre classes – my intro to improvisation. Then early in the last decade, in 2004, I discovered the Applied Improvisation Network (then known as Improv in Business) on the web and took myself off to their conference in San Francisco. I decided to go to that conference because it was about *applied* improv and it included a day of open space and it was to conclude with a Playback Theatre performance and it was on the west coast of the USA, making it accessible from the east coast of Australia. Now I can see that making that decision was the turning point of the last decade for me.

How our lives are shaped by seemingly innocuous decisions. It was just a conference for heaven’s sake!

I didn’t know a single person. I met a few. And I went back the following year for another dose. And then again. And again. I’ve now been to five Applied Improv conferences. I’ve written often enough about what I’ve learned, here and here and here; how I’ve incorporated improv into my practice as a facilitator, here and here and here; how I use improv, here and here, and, most recently, my reconnection to Playback, here.

What I haven’t explored so much is what else I’ve gained from that simple decision. This post is inspired by a coaching program I’ve just completed with Patti Digh and David Robinson. I met these remarkable people (although I didn’t realise just how remarkable) at the AIN Conference in Banff in 2007. I truly thought, as we went our separate ways, that that would be it. I’d enjoyed their company, loved their workshop on diversity and how improv was used to explore abstract concepts, and expected nothing more. David flew back to one side of the United States, Patti to the other, and I flew back to Australia.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Patti and David announced an on-line coaching course. In the meantime, Patti had published her book, Life Is A Verb. I’d followed Patti on her blog, like squillions of others. I bought her book. And I bought her book for others. Geoff Brown and I did a podcast with Patti, and mused over numerous coffees about one day working with Patti and David. I still use their workshop as a touchstone of how improv can be incorporated to explore difficult topics. I started my own blog (in June 2007), joined Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. This helped me stay connected to people I’d only met briefly. People like Patti and David.

So I signed up for the six-month course, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to fully participate. Remarkably, the timing of the calls was ‘down-under’ friendly. At some stage, travel and work would get in the way. Which it did – but I was surprised that I managed to hang in there for most of the program.

I’ve just listened to the recordings of the last four calls – all of which I missed. One after the other. Five hours’ worth. It’s difficult to be precise about what I’ve gained from this experience, because it’s ongoing. As I first heard from Chris Corrigan, and was reiterated by Patti during our last call, the conversations began before we came to them, and will continue long after. It’s these conversations that I value the most.

I know this is true because of tendrils. Tendrils of thought, of ideas, of knowledge that roam in my brain and surface when I need them most. And I’ve also learnt to trust that these tendrils WILL be there when I need them. Here’s some of my favourite take-aways:

  • The answer to complexity is not more complexity
  • You can’t progress along a monkey bar unless you let go, and it’s in that moment of letting go that possibility emerges
  • My life is made up of concentric circles. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. Nonetheless, these concentric circles are who I am (even if you only see some of them)
  • I do my best work when I am mastering my own craft, and not performing for others
  • You can’t follow something that hasn’t been initiated – so I have a choice to initiate, or wait for someone else and follow their lead. Both are legitimate. What’s not legitimate is to complain when no-one else is doing something that you’d like yourself. This is an opportunity to implement the JFDI policy!
  • Relationship is everything: I am who I am, and know what I know, because of relationship.
  • Sometimes you see the purpose after you’ve worn the path.
  • Being can’t be passive – nor can living.
  • My decisions come from who I am and what I value, rather than from what other people expect.
  • My list of criteria that helps me decide what I want to do, also helps me decide what NOT to do – when to say ‘no’.

How else has that simple decision to attend a conference affected my life?

It has everything to do with the people I’ve met, the friendships formed, and the opportunities enabled.

Photo credit: Noosa Lakes Dusk by Tristan Clements

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