In exchange for this review I received a free copy of the book.
As a consumer in our Western capitalist system, I suspect you’re no stranger to self-help books. They’re everywhere! Books to help you fix your relationships, your body, everyone around you, how that weird fungus growing in your basement is all your fault, but you can fix it! (Okay, I was joking about that last one. Although, who knows, maybe such a book does exist).
In a market saturated with self-help books you’ve probably gone off them completely, but how would you feel about a self-help book that “won’t tell you what to do or how to solve every challenge in your life”? If that sounds appealing to you, Life Unscripted: Using Improv Principles to Get Unstuck, Boost Confidence, and Transform Your Life by Jeff Katzman, MD, and Dan O’Connor may be the book for you.
I have to admit, while I was really enthusiastic about reading this book it didn’t immediately catch my attention as a reader. Maybe it was because I started reading this book toward the end of a pregnancy and the only pattern I wanted to define me was the magic “contractions 5 minutes apart and a minute long” pattern. I was as trapped by the lack of this pattern as most of us are by the tired scripts we use over and over again to interact with each other. But still I pressed on and the first unique thing that really had me enthralled with this book materialized at the end of the first chapter. A bullet point list of main takeaways from the chapter suggestions for how to apply the principles Katzman and O’Connor talk about in the chapter.
Each chapter, whether it was talking about the blessing of making a mistake, the stories we tell ourselves about what is really going on, or being compassionate to yourself and others, underscores the importance of play in our relationships. They note that play is a pretty risky business:
When we play, we don’t know where it will lead. It may be funny, but not always. We’ll reach unexpected parts of ourselves and of those we’re playing with. Sometimes these are scary or sad places. When we open ourselves to our inner being and to the experience of those around us, we’re more apt to bump into the unexpected. . . To keep playing, we must be open to these emotional experiences.
It is my opinion, and I am delighted Katzman and O’Connor share it, that play is a critical component that is missing in our relationships. Having a book that underscores how important and serious play is is truly delightful to me. That being said, there were a couple of struggles I had with the book as well. Both the authors share poignant and relatable stories to highlight their points. When those stories are personal ones, rather than the experiences of their improv students, it is not always immediately clear who they are talking about. It typically becomes clear, like when a skilled application of “Yes, and” saves Jeff’s life when traveling in Liberia, but as a reader, it took me longer than I would have liked with other anecdotes. The other piece I would have expected to see (although I admit this expectation may be because of all the academic reading I’m also doing) would be a numbering system within each chapter when Katzman and O’Connor refer to material that is not their own. The index in the back is comprehensive and well organized but doesn’t hearken back to exactly the passage where the study is referred to.
Although I’ve only recently started using the principles in this book in my own life I’ve already found them to be helpful and would certainly recommend them to anyone who is looking to form more authentic and rewarding relationships.