Good news! Being and Becoming Culture-Changers

Ready for some good news in the midst of a polarized, contentious, hyper-partisan national debate?

People around the world are playing, performing and becoming other than who they are! We are embracing our human capability to be who we are and who we are not. We are being who we are becoming. There’s a conceptual revolution happening … people are creating culture change in many ways and in many places.

In August I attended the Applied Improvisation Network’s annual conference in Paris, the city of love. Barbara Tint, the President of AIN, shared this in her talk about the growth of the organization and of Applied Improvisation:

We need to hold on to the heart and the power of improvisation and what it can do in the world.

Or as my colleagues Caitlin McClure and Theresa Robbins Dudeck put it in their wonderful new book: Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre:

Applied Improvisation is changing the way we lead, create, and collaborate. It also brings joy into this uncertain, crazy world.

At the Paris AIN conference I met people who are using Applied Improvisation in diverse settings such as the Israeli Army, sustainability/climate science, Agile teams, and work with refugees in Europe.

We are becoming humanitarians, giving people new ways to play with difficult and challenging problems.

As the co-chair of the NYC chapter of AIN, I’m proud to be the NYC liaison to the Program Committee for the 2019 AIN conference, to be held at Stony Brook University in conjunction with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. See the announcement video here: https://youtu.be/w63vNnIFWX0

Last month the All Stars Project, Inc. and the East Side Institute – two organizations that I have helped to build for more than three decades – hosted the 10th Performing the World conference in New York. Over 400 people came together from 30 countries to address what is needed in order for people to see possibility, to imagine the inconceivable, and to take action.

We asked the question: Can humanity seize the day? And we created the answer: YES!

Workshops brought together a diverse array of creative world-changers: young magicians working/playing in the slums of Latin America, cross-border collaborations challenging current U.S. policies, humanitarian clowns from around the world, innovators in education and youth development from Taiwan, Sweden, and Nigeria, psychologists from Japan and Brazil, theatre-makers from Europe and India, and refugee workers from Greece, Italy and Serbia.

We are becoming a world of people who are challenging the status quo, the roles, institutions and ways of being that prevent us from exploring our creativity, our humanity, and our ability to be culture-changers.

We are discovering that play, performance, humor and improvisation are the tools we need to transform our world.

I’ll end with this terrific quote from one of the many thought provoking workshops at Performing the World: Performing Citizenship through Applied Improvisation led by my NYC-AIN co-chair, Don Waisanen:

How Shall We Become? (Changing our careers and changing our lives)
Drs. Lois Holzman and Patch Adams at Performing the World 2014
Drs. Lois Holzman and Patch Adams at Performing the World 2014

Last weekend I was a participant, presenter and trainer at the biannual international conference – Performing the World (PTW) – which is co-sponsored by the All Stars Project and the East Side Institute.  This year’s theme was “How Shall We Become?” – a critical question for all of us.  I think this question has a particular resonance around the issue of changing careers.  It is heartwarming to know that in a world as chaotic as ours, there are so many people who are committed to using performance in various settings to help people grow and develop, to foster community-development and social change.

Everyday people in every part of the world are creating new ways of being together, breaking out of the constraints that we all encounter in our professional and personal lives – the “scripted” ways we all learn to be in the world – in favor of performing the world and our lives anew.

This was the second time that Patch Adams, radical humanist, physician, and clown, has attended PTW.  I had the pleasure of spending time in conversation with Patch, attending his wondrous workshop, and clowning around with him.  He is an inspiring man who has chosen to live his life as a performance of love.

So, what does all of this have to do with the workplace and my work as an executive search consultant and coach? What does it have to do with making a career change?Everything!

A number of years ago (after I first met Patch) I attended a training in the social therapeutic approach and talked about wanting to develop a new career path for myself.  I was just beginning to think about what I wanted to do professionally after spending 15 years at a boutique retained search firm. I was trying to weave together the many threads of my work (a professional career, the work over the last 30 years as a builder of the broad development community which I do as a volunteer, and a creative life as an actress, improvisational comedienne and teacher).  I talked about ultimately wanting to become a hospital clown.  Someone suggested that I consider becoming an “executive clown.”  That was an odd and wonderful idea and perhaps I’m getting closer to discovering what that means!

I’m writing this story because as a recruiter and executive coach how we approach and create our professional lives is of great interest and concern to me.  For example, I’m currently working on a project for a large non-profit that is looking to hire someone from the for-profit sector to lead finance and strategy for their organization.  People often say things like, “Well, I’d like to join a non-profit at the end of my career, but I never really thought about it as something I would do now.” The ways that we think about our career is often guided by financial concerns, for good reason – putting children through college, wanting career advancement, maintaining a certain lifestyle, etc.  It is also somewhat prescriptive (i.e., non-profit is something you do at the end of your career to “give back”). There comes a time, particularly after turning 50, that many people start to question what it is that we do professionally, given that we spend the largest portion of our time at work. Many people desire a change and want more than financial reward. Given the world we live in more and more of us want to play a part in changing the world.

How do we perform changing our career?  How do we begin to think about ways we can impact on the world – in small and big ways? I don’t have a turnkey solution to this question, as it depends on many factors. My training is in a methodology that is activistic and not cognitive.  The “answer” lies in what it is that we do.  That said, a good place to start is to give attention to “the how” of what we do.  Unfortunately we are taught to focus on “what” we do, which leaves out the important work of looking at how we are creating our lives, who we are creating our lives with and what it is that we want (how shall we become and who shall we become?).  Patch Adams had this to say in his workshop, “Wanting is the becoming.  Take charge of your wanting. Take charge of your belonging.” Ask yourself what it is that you want, who are you becoming, and where do you belong?  These are all good questions that can shape the performance of changing our professional and personal lives … and the world.

I’m always inspired by Drs. Lois Holzman (chief convener of PTW and the Director of the East Side Institute and dear friend and mentor) and Patch Adams -two “doctors of development.”  Check out their work and let them inspire you as well.

http://www.eastsideinstitute.org

http://www.patchadams.org