by Jen Brown (Oleniczak) | Featured Contributor
I’m not old enough to remember the start of the ‘Just Say No’ Reagan campaign – I am old enough to remember my DARE classes in elementary school. Specifically, I remember in 5th grade, sitting in class when an Oak Creek Police Officer brought in a case of drugs (or fake drugs?) so we could see what they looked like. The message? Say no. While I, like everyone, had my moments – for the most part, I was a success story of saying no to drugs. No, no, no. My overachieving, people pleasing mentality kept me on the straight and narrow.
Fast-forward to college and non-drug related behavior. I had my first experience with improv in undergrad. I remember loving it, especially the ‘never say no’ rule. It was SO freeing after years of saying no. ‘Yes, And’ was the law of the improv land – always say YES. For me, a people pleaser, this was FANTASTIC. Say YES to everything? A mentality I can get behind! Yes, I can do this extra shift at my part-time job. Yes, we can have more drinks. Yes, I’ll smile and nod in a bad relationship and friendship because I don’t want to upset you! Yes, yes, yes!
Yes came to a screeching halt in my 30s when I started to embrace and preach the word no.
This might come as a shock to people who know my business. As someone who teaches improv to non-actors, specifically to professionals who aren’t interested in ever being on stage, Yes, And is my LIFE. Affirm and elevate your coworkers, your staff, your friends, your family, and your significant other. Yes, they can feel upset when you forget to call them back. Yes, they can be mad when you are late. Yes, they can turn in their reports late.
Yes, And is really nuanced – it’s important to note that by saying Yes, And, you aren’t necessarily agreeing with someone or something. By saying Yes, And, you are affirming THEM and elevating THEM. Sure, yes might be agreeing to something. In this case, it’s part of the great equalizer. Whatever you are about to add with that next statement, the Yes, And makes your statement just as important as someone else’s. Yes, And gives you time to think, it allows for creative development, it’s literally tattooed on my arm. It’s a mantra.
With all this feel good Yes, when should we say no and why would I, an improv facilitator, start preaching no? Affirming and elevating is different than being a doormat. Just say no to doormatting.
How can you lead an Affirm and Elevate lifestyle AND believe in saying no? It’s simple: understanding what you are saying yes and no to. Yes, your opinion is just as important as someone else’s – and theirs is just as important as yours. No, you don’t have to agree with them. Yes, you should try that scary thing that your imposter syndrome says you can’t do. No, you don’t have to do that thing your gut and intuition is screaming about. Yes, you should take a risk. No, you shouldn’t over extend yourself.
Next Yes or No decision you’re a little unsure about, consider a few things:
Why am I saying Yes? Do I really want this, or am I saying Yes because I think I have to? Am I saying Yes for ME or for [insert reason or person here]? Will this help my life and me? Again, do I really want this?
Why am I saying No? Do I mean it, or do I think I ‘shouldn’t’ or ‘couldn’t’? Am I saying No because it doesn’t feel right, or because my imposter syndrome and inner critic is being a jerk? Will saying Yes overextend me? Will saying Yes make me a doormat?
Always say no to being a doormat, and always say yes to being spectacularly you.
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 over 25,000 people – all non-actors! Since 2012, Jen has given three 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. Jen holds degrees and accreditation from Marquette University, City College of New York, St. Joseph’s University and Second City. Currently, Jen happily resides in Winston-Salem with her husband, who she met while teaching an improv class – and no, he wasn’t the best person in the class, in fact, he was the worst.