Making Lemonade


“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade;” is an old proverbial saying, a ground-breaking album by Beyonce, and the essence of improvisation. The phrase is often attributed to Dale Carnegie who used it in his 1948 book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. He attributed it to Julius Rosenwald, part owner and leader of Sears, Roebuck, and Company.  Prior to this the poem appeared in a 1940 edition of The Rotarian.

"Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade."

The first published copy of the phrase initially appeared in a 1915 obituary penned by Christian anarchist writer Elbert Hubbard for dwarf actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder. The obituary praises Wilder's optimistic attitude and achievements in the face of his disabilities. The saying is meant to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. It became a mantra for our nation. America is held up as the land of can-do, where you can over-come any adversity and become whatever you want to be. To quote Elphaba, “Our future is unlimited.”

Making lemonade is an example of taking what is offered, accepting it, building upon on it, and transforming it into something better. In improvisation we call this Yes, And. In improv when we accept and build, Yes And, we work with whatever has been given us. That offer can come as a suggestion by an audience member, or it can come from my scene partner. As an improvisor I can tell you that the audience deliberately tries to give off-beat suggestions just to see how we deal with them. As scene partners, we all want to say something clever that moves the scene forward in fun new ways. Sometimes, however, we bomb and say things we wish we could take back. But we can’t. Once we’ve said our piece its up to our partner to take our sour note and turn it into something pleasing. Hence one of the rules of improv, “there are no mistakes, only offers.”

Yes, And is an improv skill that is beneficial not only on stage, but in all aspects of our life. There is an awful lot in this world that we cannot control. We get up each day with a full day-planner and our to-do lists, only to be blind-sided by a myriad of interruptions. Some small and some not so small. A mindset of Yes, And keeps us agile and ready for anything. We can grudgingly accept the interruptions and get totally stressed out, or we could embrace the chaos and the interruptions with grace and look for ways to turn them into something surprising. We truly can take life’s lemons and turn them into lemonade. It’s a matter of choice. Like many choices it just takes practice. The more we practice saying Yes, And, the more we are able reduce our stress and increase our sense of well-being.


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