I've seen a terrific article circulating on my social media feeds this past week. It was written a couple of years ago about one of my favorite topics - improv. Go ahead ... feel free to take 4 minutes to hit that link and read Kim Quindlen's piece now.
Are you back? Great. There are a bunch of gems in there, huh? But before we get to those, you might be wondering what's up with the title of this post.
Five years ago I was stuck in a deep rut in life. I was so far in it, I actually didn't even realize I'd gone underground. I was masked by an identity that I'd assumed over time. Like many men in our society I had silently taken on the mantle of being a Provider.
I can't say that I consciously sought it out. I just sort of slipped into it - taking on the "bread winner" role, while my wife (at the time) shifted into the role of "home maker" once our kids were born. It just kind of happened, you know? We bought the big house, I took the big job to pay for it, we started having kids, I took on bigger jobs to pay the extra bills, she stopped working "temporarily"... And we plodded along, deeper and deeper into the rut we were unwittingly digging.
The unnamed expectations were, I believe, the crux of the problem. Nobody told us this was the plan - and we sure didn't figure it out for ourselves. But society sent us lots of messages along the way. (I missed most of them, ok, all of them.) I felt pressure to attain the prestige of lofty promotions - which were tilted invariably towards men. She was pressured by the pomp of baby showers and encouragement about "more babies, more involved mothering". We both felt the expectations of how well we raised our kids. So, so many reinforcing messages came at us to stay in those roles.
And there I was, mid-40's with a nice house, six figure salary, a wife and kids ... the picture of modern American success. Yet I wasn't happy. At all. In fact, I was miserable. The pressures to succeed at work, to continue earning more money, to be promoted, to take on more responsibility - they had built up so much pressure. At the same time, I knew in my heart that being a great dad was absolutely central to my life, so I gave my kids all the remaining energy I had. There were puppet shows every night, weekend trips to the park, expensive vacations I couldn't really afford, all the special things I could think of giving them from myself.
I can say that I was a terrific provider. And it didn't work. It wasn't sustainable.
So here it is: Men don't need to be the Provider.
Women have been just as capable of playing that role as men all along. By claiming that role as our domain, we've unleashed a dynamic that has resulted in so much harm to women - discrimination, harassment, minimization, violence... the list is long.
You know what, guys? We have also been harmed by this - the burden of the Provider's expectations is substantial and creates strain. But our collective response has been off target. Rather than share the responsibilities, we've become isolated and empowered by them. When we do that, we not only leave the utterly capable women who can help us on the sidelines, we actually reinforce the hurtful cycle that we're stuck in. Our stressful and prideful reactions churn out messages of division and harm. It's a fear-based move, guys. And fear-based moves always end up failing.
One of the one-sentence lessons in Kim's article reads, "Spend less time overthinking, and more time simply being." I might amend that for this to read, "Spend less time overthinking, and more time being simple." And by that I mean humbly step back, see what's really going on, and see where you can connect to the help that's waiting for you. In the course of doing so, you might just help break the cycle.
But wait... what about this blog post's title? What's up the the 15 letter thing? Ok, you see, I used to say "I M Provider", but now I am an "Improviser".
(There are 15 letters between "d" and "s" in the alphabet - get it?? Sorry, but catchy titles sometimes require creativity.)
"Improviser?" you say. Yes. Improv has taught me amazing lessons about how to create wonderful experiences through listening, acceptance, agreement, trust, and so many more principles. Using an Improviser mentality has truly revolutionized my life for the better. It's helped me learn to ask for help and to expect that it will come, often from places in which I least expect to find it.
So I'll leave you with my personally selected Top 10 from the 30 lessons in the article. Feel free to read them as if you were a guy, perhaps trying to find his way out of a burdensome situation, hopefully by opening up his mind to a new scene filled with possibilities (and women):
Listen to the person in front of you, instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next.
Vulnerability makes you strong, not weak.
When you make others look good, you look good.
Go after that which scares you the most; it’s your heart trying to tell you something.
Putting other people down will not make you look better.
Ultimately, all that any of us want is to connect with others.
Don’t put people into boxes; a powerful CEO can be (or be played on stage by) anyone – a straight white man, a gay Latina woman, a young African American transgender woman, the possibilities are endless.
It is okay that others will be better than you at certain things; you will also be better than them at certain things.
Everyone else’s opinions and experiences are equally as important as yours.
Don’t be an ass; no one wants to spend time on stage, or in real life, with an ass.