Relationships are the architecture of our personal and professional lives, something especially important to keep in mind during times of rapid, roller-coaster-ride-type economic upheaval. Like right now and into the uncertain future. The gloomy Jobs Reports over the past year indicating economic stormy weather, the (literal) uptick in stormy weather happening all over the planet, the fact that technology is evolving at something like “10 million times the natural speed of evolution” according to economist Brian Arthur, pose unrelenting pressures and some overwhelming problems. But even – or maybe especially – during times of heightened tension and unpredictability - anything can happen with the right tools and mind set. And if the infrastructure of our lives is built of supportive, sheltering networks and robust relationships that are more supply than demand we may be able to improvise our way into a new self, new roles and an expanded creative identity.
Improvisation is a key concept here, because it is all about taking and building on offers. Sometimes the offer comes in the form of a loss or anticipated circumstances that compel us to make a transformative change. Marian Rich -co-founder of the Castillo Theatre/Youth Onstage and a long-time builder of the All Stars Project, Inc on 42nd St. in NYC - who just this month launched herself into a new stage of post-corporate life, witnessed the enormous impact of individuals' choices in the work arena on the whole of their lives in her 15 years Executive Search Consultant. “When people take a new position and uproot their families they are changing their lives. That's a responsibility I took very seriously.”
An improvisation teacher and performer, Marian is in full-throttle engagement with improv principles now. As she reinvents herself for the 2nd act of her evolving life she finds the process turning on the strength of her social infrastructure. “So much of what I did over a long career in executive search is build relationships,” she states. “When I decided I was ready to make a change I reached out to a colleague of mine, a consultant in the world of innovation, who encouraged me to focus on my extensive background in improvisation and theater going forward. He had some really interesting thoughts on companies that might look at someone with my skills and experience and coached me on what I'd need to do - create a new resume and narrative profile - to get in front of the company he had in mind. I eventually had an amazing interview at one of the leading innovation consultancies in New York.” That interview has not yet resulted in a job offer, although the process of building her relationship with the company is in play - but in a different kind of offer. In improvisation, the "offer" is simply what we are given: a suggestion, a rule, a partner's unexpected choice.
Offers are to the improviser what a color palette is to a painter. The subjects of a cover story ("Pulling Off The Ultimate Career MakeOver") in the July 11 Fortune magazine found themselves with “offers” they never saw coming, e.g. their business model on the fast track to obsolescence (Blockbuster Video, if anyone can remember that far back), or an industry shake-up that eliminated entire companies. "If this self-reinvention process was an improv game," says Marian, "I would call it ‘If You Could Be Anybody Who Would You Be’ and here are the rules: we get a suggestion of a profession from the audience - two people start a scene inspired by the suggestion, focusing on relationship. At any point the actors can say "freeze" and ask for a new suggestion for a new profession.”
Learning to accept and work with offers through improvisation is an ideal training ground for navigation of unanticipated twists of fate and events beyond our control, and in this learning relationships are the tools as well as, in many ways, the product of our choices. Because onstage or in life, we sustan an improvisation by relating openly and continuously to everyone involved - (scene) partners, audience, or work group.
All the raw potential of pioneering our place in the order of things can be, however, as scary as it is exciting. When Marian’s fear developed into a paralyzing panic, her infrastructure was in place to help hold things together. “In those moments asking for help is so critical,” she says. “I have a friend who told me that he wakes up with massive anxiety every morning and he has learned to embrace that as part of his life, to ask for help, and to keep going.”