Yes, And: Things I Learned from Tina Fey

This week during my daily walk to work, I’ve listened to The Clash (Story of the Clash, Volume 1) or Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I find them equally inspiring for beginning the day at the office. Especially when the 20-minute walk is plagued by Seattle’s mix of rain and wind, I could use a boost or funny anecdote.

I bought Tina Fey’s book shortly after it was released in 2011. I never read it. Instead, I downloaded the audiobook from Audible. The thing is, in addition to being funny, the book has several things I can apply to my job and not taking myself so seriously.

1. Be a Yes Person. 

The rules of improv are simple. Agree and Say Yes. Don’t say “no, we can’t do that.” Offer alternative solutions and make statements. Say “Yes, And” instead of saying no or explaining why something won’t work. Improv is based on saying yes, and then contributing something to move the action forward. There aren’t mistakes, there are opportunities. It doesn’t matter if you were trying to portray a cop on a bicycle — if the other person in the sketch interprets this as a hamster in a hamster wheel, you’ve suddenly become the hamster in the hamster wheel.

2. The Show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. It goes on because it’s 11:30. 

Don’t overthink it. The summary for a project I’m working on doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be in good, presentable shape (with no spelling or grammar errors) and it needs to be done before the deadline.

3. The Secrets of Beauty: Don’t wear what designers tell you.

Don’t wear what is in fashion just because it’s in fashion; wear what the designers wear themselves — simple pieces that flatter their body type. For instance, I avoid button-down shirts because I find them unflattering. I don’t own a plaid shirt (even as a Seattleite, these reminded me way too much of growing up in farm country). Skinny jeans are a go-to, but in 10 years, I’m not sure I’ll be wearing them.

4. Hold on to the successes. Move on from the failures.

Saturday Night Live had some classic sketches and some sketches that completely bombed. Similarly, in my work life some things go well, some things go very well, and some things go not so well/terribly off course. Savor the success, and don’t beat yourself up about the failures. Move on and try not to repeat the same mistake again. You’ll go on to have more successes and more not-so-great moments, so it’s important to move on after both.

5. And lastly, don’t care too much.

At the end of the day, I’m not an ER doctor. Lives are not at risk if I mess up, if I don’t work a 9-hour day, or if I don’t respond to a work email at 10 pm. If I do exceptionally well, I’m not saving someone’s life or livelihood. When I’m stressed and uninspired, I remind myself that it’s not rocket science or surgery. It’s closer to a combination of logic, communication, persuasion, project management, and process improvement. And trying not to portray sweaty palms over the phone or in the several hours of meetings each week.

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