Playing By the Rules

In our house we have a ritual. Almost every night after dinner, me, my wife, and my 4-year-old daughter, Betsy, all sit on the floor and play a board game. We play Candy Land, Hi-Ho! Cherry-O or other board games that are appropriate for a 4 year old.

It usually starts off pretty good, and then about half-way through Betsy wants to change some of the rules.

“Daddy, I want another turn.”

“Mommy, I wanted the ice cream cone card.”

“I want a redo.”

“Betsy, these are the rules,” Lauren will say.

Betsy may cry or dig in her heals and keep repeating, “I want the ice cream cone card,” “I want the ice cream cone card,” until we either give in or appease her in some way so we can move on with the freaking game.

Just when we think we are back on track and she is on the verge of winning, she will say, “I don’t want to win. I want Daddy to win.” Which, as a parent, is very devastating to hear, and as a player it just sucks the fun out of it. I know some of you are saying, “Oh, that’s so sweet! Your daughter wants you to win,” but at this point, the game is ruined and we just want her to go upstairs and take a bath and put us all out of our misery.

I haven’t talked about this in therapy, but I can hear my crazy group therapist say: “Why are you holding on so tight to your agenda?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? When did wanting your someone to win at Candy Land become my agenda? The directions say the first person to reach King Kandy’s Castle wins. Do you want me to bring in the box?”

“Sounds like you have expectations.”

“Yes, of course I do! Anyone who plays a board games has certain expectations – they’re called rules. The whole point of playing a board game is to win!”

“Hmm, but what about the games you teach in improv? Are the point of those games for someone to win?”

“No, the point is just for them to play and connect. Improv games help people stay out of their head and have fun, and by doing that they will get closer to each other just by playing the game.”

“Like what your daughter doing with you and your wife?


“And these games you teach in your improv classes… what would you tell your students if they start making up the rules like your daughter does during one of the games?”

“I’d say just go with it. It’s a good thing. I tell them all the time that any instructions I give them for a game are just a starting off point, that the rules can transform during the game. The most important thing is to be in the moment.”

“Well, it sounds like your daughter is teaching you that. So, you have to ask yourself, do you want to be right or do you want to be in the moment?”

Apparently, I am not alone in need to learn this lesson. I see this in my classes and workshops all the time when students play improv games and exercises. The fear of doing it “right” takes over and limits their creativity. They are like a child wanting to please their parents and yet not knowing what they want.

Sticking to the rules and worrying about doing it “right” just hampers creativity. Creativity doesn’t give shit about results; it is limitless.

Creativity doesn’t judge if something is a good or bad idea — it leaves that up to us. When we can let go rigidly following the rules, we can be more creative, and sometimes we end up with happy accidents.

The inventor of the Slinky set out to design a way to monitor power on navel boats. The inventor of Post It Notes was trying to make a strong adhesive. The inventor of chocolate chip cookies ran out of bakers chocolate while making chocolate cookies.

Yes, all of those people all started with a certain agenda in mind, but instead of following it, they went with the flow and came up with something even better. I just have to remember that when I want to be the first person to reach King Kandy’s castle.

Are you a storyteller who wants to make your story funnier? Don’t miss Jimmy’s Finding the Funny in Your Story Online Storytelling Workshop on Nov. 10. Sign up now to save!

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