Do you have a healthy sense of drama?

August 3, 2012

The word “drama” has gotten such a bad wrap. People say they want less drama in their lives and their relationships, and yet we emotionally crave it.


Just take a look at our fascination with shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Wire, The Sopranos (etc). We want to experience these emotions, but safely from the comfort of our own sofa. But if we don’t have a way to bring that sense of excitement into our own lives (without destroying them), then we will constantly be stuck at home watching TV, and our memories become the shows we’ve watched, instead of real life.


Let’s start with what the word drama means (and by the way, if you ever want to get to the core of a discussion, debate or argument, then start by defining your terms. You would not believe how often people argue about something that they’re not even talking about).


Drama is the sense that anything can happen, and stakes are high.  (read that over a couple times).


Now, notice there is nothing inherently wrong, evil, bad or destructive about this, though it certainly can be. Here is the most basic example of drama and its power to engage: If you walk by a poker room in a casino, all the tables look the same, then you’re not likely to stop and watch.  But if someone says, “I’m all in,” and they move all their chips to the middle, then they have our attention… Anything can happen, and the stakes are high. Suddenly life is interesting.


So how does that become healthy?  Think about it in the context of getting what you want out of life… I wanted to write my own book, so my coach said, “How long do you think it will take to finish it?” I said, “A month.”  But he knew I would procrastinate, so he told me to get out my check book. Then he talked about finding an organization I would never support. We looked online and found a group that clearly supported hate crimes. He had me write a check for $300 to that group and said, “I’m going to take this. If you don’t have your book to me by the end of the month, I’m sending them this check.”  Anything could happen, and stakes were high. I completed my book in less than 3 weeks.


Recently, I felt completely alive on a 500 mile relay bike race that ran over 30 hours straight. We went through thunderstorms, construction zones, and pitch black darkness, all in a race to the finish, struggling just to stay awake. Clearly it was dramatic, but what made it healthy and safe was that I was with an amazing team and we constantly had each other’s backs.


Another example: A friend of mine is the CEO of a start-up and his team was not performing well. He called them together and decided to add a bit of drama… He shared, in full sincerity that he wanted to step down as CEO because he believed he was not the person who could lead and inspire them. To his surprise the team vehemently disagreed. They loved him and believed he was the best CEO, but they had disengaged because they were rebelling. They wanted more time with him, and their lack of performance came out of their feeling resentment. He was re-energized but decided to put both him and them to a test. He said, “Let’s pick one big audacious task for each of us to complete. I will do one as well. If we all complete it by midnight tomorrow, then I’ll know we are all truly engaged and I’ll stay on and move forward.” Anything could happen, and stakes were high.  The team rallied together and all tasks were completed by midnight.


Of course, it could have gone the other way. But that’s why it’s great. Drama brings out what’s really there, and what we’re really committed to.


All of this is a theory I’m working on. It’s clearly not fully thought out. To me it brings up questions like, how much drama do we need? When does it become stressful? What are the catalysts or triggers that bring up the need?  I’d love to hear your thoughts or stories. I believe it may apply to relationships as well. My working hypothesis is that those who consciously create drama, rather than trying to avoid it, tend to be the most successful and happy people.