Be a clown, be a clown
All the world loves a clown
Be the poor silly ass
And you’ll always travel first class
This post pulls together a selection of articles that highlight the importance and benefits of humour, laughter and sometimes even the capacity to be a bit of a clown at work.
Are you playful?
Do people find you funny?
Do you like to lighten things up and mix work and play together, to find the fun in any situation?
One of the 24 Character Strengths identified by Peterson & Seligman is humour, and here is why it matters so much to our own and other’s wellbeing and success:
Humour and Playfulness:
…seeing and highlighting the light side of things; you like to laugh and tease; making (not necessarily telling) jokes.
You like to laugh and tease.
Bringing smiles to other people is important to you.
You can usually see the light side of all situations.
Humour involves an enjoyment of laughing, friendly teasing, and bringing happiness to others. Individuals with this strength see the light side of life in many situations, finding things to be cheerful about rather than letting adversity get them down. Humour does not necessarily refer just to telling jokes, but rather to a playful and imaginative approach to life.
6 Possible Ways To Exercise Your Humour and Playfulness
- Find different ways to bring a smile to somebody’s face every day.
- Play with different ways of lightening or cheering up a situation, group or meeting that feels overly serious or struggling.
- Next time you feel anxious or upset or stressed, ask yourself: ‘What is the funniest thing about my situation at the moment?’
- Think about a past even in which you used humour for your benefit and the benefit of others.
- Write down the humour of your everyday life. Each day make a conscious effort to be aware of your sense of humour, others’ sense of humour, funny situations, and clever comments and record them in a daily journal.
- Watch a funny sitcom/ movie or read a comic/funny blog daily.
What follows is a number of different takes on how and when and why laughter, fun, being truly human and allowing our human foibles to show are so essential, vital and beneficial to the successful flourishing of our work and our relationships…
Judy Garland, the consummate tragic clown shows some of the many faces and dimensions of clowning…
Give ‘em quips, give ‘em fun
And they’ll pay to say you’re A-one
If you become a farmer, you’ve the weather to buck
If become a gambler you’ll be struck with your luck
But Jack you’ll never lack if you can quack like a duck
Be a clown, be a clown, be a clown
We don’t need scientists to tell us that laughing is fun and makes us feel better. Research is verifying that humour has many of the positive effects that funny people have long suspected.
Researchers have found that you can even “act as if” you are feeling an emotion—say, happiness or irritation—by arranging your face in a smile or a frown, and you are likely to feel that emotion. In a classic study, participants were instructed to hold a felt-tip marker in their mouths in a way that caused their facial muscles to be formed into a smile or a frown. While holding the marker this way, they were asked to view comic strips and say how funny they found them. Those whose facial muscles were mimicking a smile found the same comics funnier than those whose facial muscles were set into a frown.
Physical benefits of mirth and laughter:
- Increased endorphins and dopamine
- Increased relaxation response
- Reduced pain
- Reduced stress
Cognitive benefits of humor and mirth:
- Increased creativity
- Improved problem-solving ability
- Enhanced memory (for humorous material)
- Increased ability to cope with stress, by providing an alternative, less serious perspective on one’s problems
Emotional benefits of humour and mirth:
- Elevated mood and feelings of wellbeing
- Reduced depression, anxiety, and tension
- Increased self-esteem and resilience
- Increased hope, optimism, energy, and vigour
Social benefits of humour and mirth:
- Bonding with friends and family
- Reinforcement of group identity and cohesiveness
- Increased friendliness and altruism
- Increased attractiveness to others
- Happier marriages and close relationships
Laughing out loud, being quietly amused, anticipating something funny, and even forcing a smile or chuckle can all lead to increases in positive emotions and neutralise negative emotions, which can help keep us on the “upward spiral” to greater happiness.
“I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.”
…When times are tough is helpful to remember to smile and laugh and look for the sunny side up.
As clowns we have resilience and an ability to see the humour in life.
The messengers of humour have been characterised by the fool, clown, trickster, joker, buffoon and jester. They operate outside the norms of society and simultaneously are near the centre of human experience. There are clowns who depict the happy/sad clown. This just means that life is up and down at times. There is a little tear drop on some who are wishing for a happier side of life to emerge. There are other white faced clowns who bring grace and skills to make others laugh. Others are mimes, I remember Charlie Chaplin here, who was a great mime. Some are comedians or who deliver serious messages with humour.
The clowns are the ones who help society to release tension and to remember all is well. They often use themselves as the joke. The court jester was the clown who would tell the truth to the King in a funny way.
The early clowns were often seen as conflict resolvers as they distracted people from their problems and gave them light relief. What a relief to be en-lighten-ing. That’s where ‘lighten up’ came from
Sometimes, as a society, we can become very serious about politics, the state of the world and ourselves. However, from a clowns perspective, we would say speak up by all means but do it in a way that doesn’t hurt but reveals we can laugh at our inconsequentialities and find solutions.
The art of the clown is to demonstrate unity and peace in the world, through not being serious. Discernment is good but not with the negative energy. We may have to get serious and send out the serious police, seriously. Write you a ticket, but really it will be a love letter. If we catch you frowning too much we may have to put tickets on you (ha ha). Clowning is the opposite to frowning
“I was finding it very difficult to find a label that understood what I wanted to do and really believed that people wanted to hear something honest and a little bit different. So, I did feel a bit like a clown. You’re knocking on everyone’s door trying to get them to believe what you’re doing.”
Here are some of the pearls of wisdom from Let’s Grow Leaders August Festival, all about Humour in the Workplace, compiled by Karin Hurt…
“Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.” – Will Rogers
Humour and Leadership
“A sense of humour is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Bob Whipple of the Trust Ambassador tells us to Wag More, Bark Less. It’s a pretty simple way to lead better:
Why is it that some bosses feel compelled to bark when wagging is a much more expedient way to bring out the best in people?
The message we get from the barking dog is “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance.”
In the workplace, if a manager sends a signal, “I am here, I am formidable, I am not going anywhere, so keep your distance,” the workforce is going to get the message and comply. Unfortunately, group performance and morale is going to be awful, but the decibel level will at least keep everyone awake.
When a dog wags its tail, that is a genuine sign of happiness and affection. You can observe the rate of wagging and determine the extent of the dog’s glee. Sometimes the wag is slow, which indicates everything is okay, and life is good. When you come home at night and the dog is all excited to see you, most likely the wag is more of a blur, and it seems to come from way up in the spine area. The wag indicates, “I love you, I am glad you are here, you are a good person to me, and will you take me for a walk?”
A manager who wags more and barks less gets more cooperation. Life is better for people working for this manager, and they simply perform better. Showing appreciation through good reinforcement is the more enlightened way to manage, yet we still see many managers barking as their main communication with people. Look for the good in people, and appreciate it. Try to modify your bark to wag ratio and see if you get better results over time.
“I’m not sure how a world leader reacts to the work of a clown.”
Martin Webster of Leadership Thoughts shares his personal leadership mnemonic. What does L E A D E R S H I P mean?
What’s Your Leadership Mnemonic?
a system such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations which assists in remembering something.
Leadership In a Nutshell
L for listening. Listen to people. Listen to your employees. Listen for the good and the bad. If you don’t listen, “Yer know nothin’.”
E for example. If you want to inspire others to do something then it has to be a part of your life. You must lead by example.
A for awareness. Seeing what’s around you is important. But situational awareness—understanding the bigger picture—is even more significant since it leads to better decision-making. And a self-awareness means we make sure there is harmony between what we say and do.
D for development. Develop your leadership ability and develop your team.
E for excellence. Strive for excellence. Encouraging effort is aboutaiming for excellence and this means always doing and giving one’s best.
R for resilience. Leaders must learn to take knocks and get up again and again. Resilience is not giving up.
S for surround. Surround yourself with high quality employees. The leader is only as good as the team. But the high performance team is greater than the sum of its parts.
H for humility. Leaders should develop the positive aspects of their personality. Humility is a strength. It is accepting the other way is better.
I for innovation. Innovation can be as simple as showing people how to lead themselves to their own solutions and stepping out of the way.
P for purpose. People are motivated if they have purpose. The leader’s vision helps employees to see their purpose in the workplace.
Jennifer V. Miller of The People Equation advises that all leaders encounter potentially embarrassing situations and offers three ways to deal with inevitable unfortunate leadership gaffes in 5 Reasons Leaders Fear Embarrassment – and three ways to deal with it:
“The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.” Douglas Engelbart, American Inventor
Trying to avoid embarrassment is like the proverbial nailing of Jello to a wall: it’s hard to do and probably not worth the mess. So why do some people still operate under the mistaken premise they should avoid embarrassing situations at all costs? It’s an unrealistic expectation driven by fear:
- People will laugh at me.
- I’ll look stupid.
- My persona of near-perfection will be damaged
- I’ll seem weak.
- My credibility will suffer.
What if, instead, you took Douglas Engelbart’s quote to heart—that a bit of embarrassment may actually be good for your leadership effectiveness? Being forced to admit a gaffe, mispronunciation (or, heaven forbid bodily noise) will do wonders to help you show humility and most importantly, your humanity.
Here are three remedies to help you deal with those inevitable embarrassing moments at work:
Acknowledge it. Acting like it didn’t happen may work on some level foryou, but it does not work for your followers. They saw you do it (or heard through the grapevine that you did it) so just ‘fess up and get on with it.
Use Humour. As a former corporate trainer, I’ve made my share of “oops!” comments during presentations and workshops. I once co-facilitated a workshop with a brilliant trainer who stumbled on the AV cord and nearly bit the dust in front of 100 meeting attendees. He didn’t miss a beat. He put himself upright and said with a chuckle, “I just washed my feet and I can’t do a thing with them.” Sometimes, just laughing at oneself can be the best way to show that a) you have a sense of humour and b) you are human.
Be gracious. My colleague Henry took the ribbing in stride. He didn’t get defensive or try to outdo the heckler from the audience with a riposte. Instead, he smiled, quickly deleted the Skype icon, let the laughter subside and then moved on with his presentation.
The next time an embarrassing situation comes your way, take a deep breath, deal with it and take heart in knowing this: you just upped your maturity another few notches.
Fun With Your Team
“One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity, there ain’t nothin’ can beat teamwork.” – Edward Abbey
Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership tells us Don’t Force Your Employees to Have “Fun” at Work:
What’s a leader to do to create an energizing, motivating work environment, where people can come to work, have a few laughs, and feel good about themselves and their work?
Instead of hiring a fun consultant, a leader can:
1. Lighten up
3. Be energetic
4. Maintain a consistent, positive attitude
5. Keep calm under stress and a crisis
6. Poke fun at yourself
7. Bring goodies to work. Food is always fun.
8. Be happy
9. Enjoy your work
10. Be a team player
In other words, take care of yourself first. Be a role model – if you’re enjoying yourself at work so will others – it’s contagious. And if you’re miserable, the best fun committee in the world won’t be able to lift the dark cloud following you around.
A word of caution: just don’t overdo it, or you can come across as flip, unconcerned, clueless, or a goof. As with everything, it’s all about moderation.
You can’t force “fun” on someone – it’s phony and intrusive. However, you can create an environment where natural and spontaneous fun is allowed to emerge on its own.
Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership encourages us to Listen for Engagement because laughter is a characteristic of engaged teams:
Engagement is great stuff. No two people agree on a precise definition of engagement, even though everybody agrees that it creates all kinds of good things.
That’s OK, though, because they can give it the Potter Stewart test. “Don’tworry,” they tell you, “I know it when I see it.”
That’s almost right. You can tell if a group of workers are engaged. Butdon’t look for engagement, listen for it.
Listen for the laughter. An engaged team is at ease. Team members enjoy each other and they enjoy what they’re doing. So they laugh. You can hear it.
Listen to the stories. When a team is engaged, they tell each other and others certain kinds of stories. They’re stories about overcoming obstacles, stories about heroic achievements, and about doing good things.
Boss’s Bottom Line
When you hear your team members laughing and telling positive stories about work and each other, you’ll know they’re engaged, without the need for sophisticated surveys or expensive consultants.
John Hunter of the Curious Cat Management Improvement Blog shares that joy in work encompasses fun—that it is fun to take pride in what you do and help others. Take a look at Positivity and Joy in Work:
Creating organization that show respect for people in the workplace and give them tools to improve is far more powerful than most people understand. Most people get scared about “soft” “mushy” sounding ideas like “joy in work.” I have to say I sympathize with those people. But it is true.
To get “joy in work” it isn’t about eliminating annoyances. Fundamentally it is about taking pride in what you do and eliminating the practices in so many organizations that dehumanize people. And to create a system where the vast majority of people can have joy in work most of the time requires a deep understanding and application of modern management improvement practices (Deming, lean thinking, etc.).
Enjoying Your Days
“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.” – Steve Martin
Lisa Kohn of Thoughtful Leaders Blog shares Seven Stupid and Easy Things to Do to have a Better Day. We have a choice between whether we let our stressors get us down, or whether we do something stupid that makes us laugh and makes our mood—and our day—better:
With all the pressure on all of us to be effective, productive, successful, and serious-minded (at least most of the time), I’m putting a stake in the ground – perhaps a stupid thing to do – for also being stupid. Because there are some very basic, simple, and even stupid things that we can do that will make our mood, and our day, better. It may not make us more productive or effective or successful – at first – it may only make us happier. And that may very well pay-off in the other dimensions as well.
So what are they?
- Do something stupid – not bad stupid or mean stupid, but silly stupid and fun stupid. Do something that will bring a smile to your face. Do something that will cause others to chuckle.
- Smile anyway – it does seem stupid, but when you smile, your brain thinks you’re happy. I mean, you wouldn’t smile if you weren’t happy, right? That would be stupid. So simply smile and feel better.
- Do something for someone who annoys you – dumb, right? Why would you ever want to do something for someone who p—–s you off? Because it can make you feel better. You’ll know you’ve taken the higher road and you’ll release the positive emotions that come withdoing something nice.
- Do something for someone who doesn’t notice – this one is stupid because you don’t even get appreciation in return, but again you do get a wash of good feelings…which leads to a better day.
- Tell a stupid joke – it probably has to be with the right audience, but stupid jokes and ideas can work wonders on tough days. There was a time recently when I was (appropriately) upset by things that were happening around me. And as I sat with my best friend of over thirty years and we cracked jokes about how popular we were in high school (which our kids all doubted) and how much we loved sitting around now in our housedresses and reminiscing, I laughed so hard I forgot I was having a bad day. It was stupid and fun.
- Tell your boss (coworker, client) about that idea you have that is outlandish…and just might work – feel free to caveat this one with, “this may be a weird idea but…” if you’re worried they’ll think the idea is really stupid, but sometimes the ideas we’re afraid to share spark the greatest outcomes.
- Just decide to have a better day – while there are things that happen that really are bad, most of us are stressed out mostly by things that don’t matter in the long run. And it may seem stupid to simply decide to feel better, but we do have a choice between whether we let our stressors get us down, or whether we go back to number one and do something stupid that makes us laugh.
“Sure, I could of done it different… put my clown in a closet and dressed up in straight clothing. I could of compromised my essence, and swallowed my soul.”
Bill Benoist of Leadership Heart Coaching shares about Having Fun at Work. So why did the frog cross the road? Ask a few people at work this question and watch how your day begins to change:
Last month, I committed to writing a post about having fun at work.
Having fun alleviates stress. It helps put others at ease. Having fun can even increase productivity.
So one would think writing a piece about having fun should be a piece of cake, right?
I stared at a blank piece of paper for what seemed like an eternity. I am not talking one or two hours. I am talking days.
The problem I had with this commitment – I could not relate to the topic.
How do you write about something fun when you’re not in that place?
Of course there have been fun times at work that brought a smile to my face, but for this post I could not remember any details.
Everything was a fog.
Everything, except the audit compliance paperwork facing me; the staffing crises I was dealing with; the unreasonable requests coming across my desk.
All those things were crystal clear.
Had the topic been about stress in the workplace, or how NOT to have fun, the post would have been done in minutes.
How I longed for some humor in my life.
I wanted someone to call me up and make me laugh.
And then IT hit me.
If I am feeling this way; if I am waiting for someone to call and make me smile, just how are those who work for me feeling?
Whether good or bad, our emotions are contagious.
So for the next 30 minutes, I pushed aside everything due and overdue, and I picked up the phone and I started calling my staff.
My first call was to a tech who was closing more work orders than the others and I asked her why she was slacking off. This produced a few giggles from both of us.
My next call was to my second in command who I informed I was bequeathing all my stress to.
Again, more laughter
I made a few more calls to staff having no agenda other than to brighten their day.
I laughed with one over her date from hell the night before. Another proudly told me about her daughter’s swim meet.
I then called my manager, and maybe it was the tone in my voice, but he proceeded to tell me a story about his cat running up the chimney the night before.
I was howling as he described how he was chasing this soot demon cat amongst white carpet and furniture.
It has been a couple of days since I restarted this post and now the words come very easy for me.
It’s hard for me to remember much about the unreasonable users that day, or the staffing crises, or those compliance reports.
But I’m pretty certain I finished the day with a smile on my face because I’m smiling now as I think about it.
No question or plan of action for the end of this post, but I do have a riddle for you:
Just why did the frog cross the road?
Ask a few people and notice how your day begins to change.
Willy Steiner of Executive Coaching Concepts points out that Americans neglect to take 175 million vacation days they are eligible for annually! His post, The Disappearing Vacation (and 8 Reasons You Should Take One) explores some of these troubling facts, explains why it may be happening, and gives you eight reasons why you, the leader, need to get out of the office:
- The Conference Board reported that 40% of consumers had no plans to take a vacation over the next six months, the lowest percentage recorded by the group in 28 years.
- 57% of American workers had unused vacation time and in a typical year, that amounts to 175 million vacation days not taken.
- Since 1970, Americans on average work an additional 568 hours per year, about another 10 hours per week.
- 23% of American workers in the private sector do not get any paid vacation time.
- The average vacation has been reduced from 7 to 4 days in average duration – by CHOICE.
In many respects I think the reason is that we have let technology run amok and it has created an artificial reality where busyness is now equated with our value to an organization. We can’t seem to escape the email, the texts, the calls, and the meetings. Many of these also cross continents and therefore multiple time zones, complicating matters even further. What it says to us is that if we are busy, we must be important. How often do you hear people droning on about how busy they are, the endless meetings they are in and the 300 emails they get on a daily basis?
The executives I have come to admire the most always seem to be the most responsive but also the most in demand. They manage this busyness rather than let themselves be led around by it. These are the people who do find ways to take their vacations, so they can enjoy their families, indulge in their passions and recharge their batteries. Having a break to look forward to, a release, is always a positive thing.
A couple years ago I came across an interesting article in the Fast Company Newsletter by Patty Azzarello, titled: “Think You Can’t Take a Vacation? The Sound Business Reasons You Really Should”. This is adapted from her reasons why the business is better off without you for a while:
- It shows you are a competent leader. If you can plan, delegate and free up time for yourself, and not leave a train wreck while you’re away, it is a positive reflection on your leadership skills.
- Nobody is impressed that you haven’t taken a vacation in years. The old saying is that all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull person. People do not respect or admire someone who can’t get away.
- You will motivate your team. They will appreciate your example of allowing yourself to have a life, as long as you don’t barrage them every day with check-in’s and email dumps. A couple scheduled check-in’s on key projects are okay but don’t go somewhere and just keep on working.
- Your team can be more productive. You may not like to hear it but the absence of all the stuff that you throw at them on a regular basis gives them a chance to catch up on their stuff.
- When you’re out of the loop, it allows them to develop and grow. If you’re unreachable, they’ll have to stretch themselves, learn and take some risks. Don’t undo all they have done when you get back just because it’s different, however.
- You will be more productive. When you have a chance to reflect and mull over some tough issues without the day-to-day pressures you normally toil under, you may be surprised at the insights that present themselves.
- It may help you prioritize better. In the busyness that is our world, priorities are overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush of constant action. Stepping out of that world might help your perspective.
- You and your company benefit. People who indulge in interests outside of work also deal with pressures and disappointments in the workplace with more resilience and confidence. Besides everyone needs a break.
So ask yourself:
- Do I feel I’m too busy or important to take a vacation?
- Could I be stifling the development of my team?
- Can I find a way to let go and relax?
“A scientist worthy of a lab coat should be able to make original discoveries while wearing a clown suit, or give a lecture in a high squeaky voice from inhaling helium. It is written nowhere in the math of probability theory that one may have no fun.”
Becoming a Humorous Person
“Comedy is acting out optimism.” – Robin Williams
Lisa Hamaker has been working on her humour and shares her progress at Worth It! My Long Journey to Being Mildly Funny. We’re all different and it really shows up in our humor—what we laugh at, and how funny we are. Does working on it help?
Fun is important in our work: to enhance communication, to ease a tense situation, or to create connection and camaraderie. So I have put a little effort into being able to be more humorous in my work.
Years later, I am still not the jokester in the group, but more often than not when I relax my inputs get a laugh, and I can actually tell a joke that gets a joyful response. In addition, when I am not trying to be funny, but others laugh anyway, I can relax into the moment and enjoy it.
A few Reminders to help us feel the the funny in our workplace:
- Everyone is different and I believe it really shows up in our sense of humor. Even as a kid I thought the Three Stooges were ridiculous, but just mentioning Steve Martin’s name brings a smile to my face. I am sure there are folks out there who think I nuts for not laughing at the Three Stooges–the joy of life is how different we all are. It doesn’t mean I’m bad when every person doesn’t smile at my funny lines, just different.
- We can learn to be funny. I have focused on telling jokes more effectively–like pausing before the punch line. It seems to be working.
- Know that when we receive unintended laughter, it’s usually not meant to hurt us, it’s just the difference of styles mentioned above. I believe that we gain lots of points by being able to smile and relax into these situations.
What about you? Are you the natural humorist? Any tips for the rest of us? If not, is it important to you to be able to be funny? What have you done to come out of your shell?
“I’ve always been misrepresented. You know, I could dress in a clown costume and laugh with the happy people but they’d still say I’m a dark personality.”
David Dye of Trailblaze – Engage! asks “Do you ever feel like a fraud? A fake? Like you have no business leading anyone? If so you are in good company with almost every leader. Dave shares several antidotes to the imposter syndrome, including humor in “What to Do When You Feel Like a Fraud.” After all, “It’s hard to be critical if you’re adorable.”
“David, I’m worried that they’re going to find out I’m not as good as they think I am.”
Pop quiz: Who do you think said those words?
a) The youngest-ever elected president of a state medical association
b) The director of a nonprofit organization that serves tens of thousands of people around the world
c) A physician who speaks internationally and is renowned in her field
d) A small business owner whose team regularly coaches international CEOs and celebrities
e) A fortune 500 executive vice president
The correct answer is “all of the above.” I have personally heard those words from all five of the people I described.
I’ve even said them myself.
A Dirty Little Leadership Secret
Have you ever felt like a fake?
As if your success rested on a knife’s edge…one false move…one tiny mistake and everyone would know you were nothing but a well-spoken fraud.
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. In fact, you have very good company – just from our little quiz, you now know seven people, all very accomplished, who have felt the same way (five in the quiz plus you and me).
Although rarely discussed, this feeling is so common that is has a name: imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome describes a feeling of strong self-doubt, that you’re a fake, that your success is due to luck, or your ability to fool people, more than it is due to your work. It often comes along with the fear of being ‘found out’.
It’s a dirty little leadership secret that causes all kinds of stress and can result in leaders who burn out trying to satisfy their own inadequacy.
If you let it, imposter syndrome will tie you in knots, ruin your confidence, and undermine your ability to lead your team and achieve your goals (not to mention screw up your life in many other ways!)
I’ve been there.
I’ve felt as if I didn’t belong in the room, didn’t think others would take me seriously, or that I wasn’t as smart, as rich, or as experienced as I needed to be compared to the group I was working with.
The brutal truth is that you can’t be the leader you need to be when you’re tied up in knots like that. You’ll try to overcompensate or you’ll stay silent when you should speak.
Either one will kill your credibility and end your influence.
Put an End to Imposter Syndrome
The good news is that there are several tools you can use to overcome these tendencies to self-sabotage. Here are seven tools I’ve used to put an end to imposter-syndrome:1) Honour your past and your present.
During much of my childhood, we struggled financially. I remember one pair of pants I wore where the patches had patches (which had patches!) It was embarrassing to wear those pants.
Later in life, long after we’d overcome those financial hurdles and I was doing well professionally, there were times I felt like I’d conned my way into the room, and when my colleagues realized it, they’d show me the door.
A mentor of mine told me, “It’s a good thing to remember where you come from, but it’s a foolish thing to think you’re still there.”
His point was that your experiences in childhood can serve you, help you make good decisions, give you an appreciation for people from all walks of life, and keep you from being judgmental. It would be foolish to leave that treasure behind.
However, it would be equally foolhardy not to acknowledge today’s circumstances. It’s intellectually dishonest and dishonors the people who have put their trust in you today.2) “You’re always too something for someone.”
I first heard this from the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking and motivational speaker, Craig Valentine.
It’s a fun way to overcome the doubt that creeps in when you compare yourself with others.
You might worry that you’re too young, too old, too thin, too fat, too poor, too rich (believe it or not, people canworry about this and see it as a limitation).
“You’re always too something for someone” gets at the silliness of it all. Once you start looking for inadequacy, you’ll always find a reason you don’t belong.3) Visualise the Critical Voice & Have a Conversation
Have you ever experienced a critical chattering voice that pipes up with all sorts of harsh negativity when you’re trying to do something?
- Who do you think you are?
- You’re crazy if you think you can do that!
- Why would anyone listen to you?
You’re not crazy. Many people have these thoughts (or experience them as the voice of a particularly critical person from their past).
One fun way to deal with these voices is to visualize them. This tool comes from Taming Your Gremlin by Rick Carson.
Give your internal critic a name and picture it as a little gnome or troll. (Like your own version of Kreacher, the negative house-elf from the world of Harry Potter.)
Once you’ve got your own Kreacher in mind, have some fun with it. Let it talk.
You might even answer it in your imagination. “Uh huh, okay. Let’s hear it. What else do you have? Is that all you’ve got? Keep it coming…”
Once your negative gnome is played out, you can order it to go sit in the corner and be quite until you’re done. (And it will!)
Yes, I know this sounds completely silly. However, it’s a fun way to play with these negative voices and when you’re playing, they cannot trap you.4) Laugh
When I’m writing and self-doubt begins to wrap me in its constricting coils, telling me I can’t write anything unless it’s absolutely perfect, I can almost hug that little voice, laugh at it, and say, “Ahhh, there you are again, aren’t you cute?”
It’s hard to be critical when you’re adorable.5) Inner Authority
This tool comes from a book named (appropriately) The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower by Phil Stutz.
You can use this tool when you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressure to perform (whether in a meeting, with a new group of people, or on stage) and it causes anxiety, doubt, and insecurity.
To tap into your inner authority, picture what Stutz calls your “Shadow.”
Stutz describes the Shadow “as everything we don’t want to be but fear we are, represented in a single image. It’s called the Shadow because it follows us wherever we go.” The shadow doesn’t affect how you see the world, but rather, it determines how you see yourself.
Project that image visually, just outside of yourself. Try to see it with a body and a face.
The next step is to connect yourself to the Shadow…to feel a bond with it. Then together, with your Shadow, turn to your audience, the group you’re facing…whoever it might be and say together, “Listen.”
This may take some practice (and again, it may feel weird) because most of us spend lots of energy trying to hide away the things we’re ashamed of, but with practice, you will find tremendous strength in this tool.
The reason it works is because you show up with your whole self. You’re not split in two; you’re not hiding. You’re all there.
6) Catcher’s Mitt Curiosity
Sometimes your doubts might have something important to tell you. Maybe there is a new skill you need to learn or a true mistake you can avoid.
How can you tell the difference between legitimate doubt and useless insecurity?
Picture yourself wearing a baseball catcher’s mitt. Picture the doubt as an apple that someone tosses to you.
Catch it in the mitt and imagine turning the apple over while you examine it. (Don’t eat it right away!) Ask yourself if there is something of value for you here. Create space for curiosity. See what happens.
If you’re still unsure, this is a great place for a mentor or coach to assist you.7) Your Team
One of the most effective tools for dealing with imposter syndrome is simply to focus on the people you serve.
They don’t really care where you came from, how you got here, whether or not you had a big house, small car, good hair, bad hair, or anything else.
What they do care about is how you can help them succeed today.
It’s almost impossible to trip over your own insecurities when you focus on serving others. This is the reason volunteering is such a powerful experience and why you hear volunteers say that they received so much more than they gave.
I have proof this one works: while I’ve been writing this article, I’ve focused on you. Not me, not my doubts, not my lack of a PhD in psychology – you!
(Clearly it worked since you’re reading this now.)
There you have it: seven different tools you can use when you feel self-doubt, insecurity, or imposter-syndrome threatening to undercut you.
Please know you’re not alone and that the world needs you!
…Not to pick on those happy-go-lucky folks whose goal is to bring about happiness at work, but true happiness comes from organizations doing right by their employees. Not even Googler Chade-Meng Tan would disagree with that. At least I think …
You want happy workers? Give them what they want: a culture where creativity is encouraged and pass-the-buck is discouraged, flexibility to manage business life and home life, good benefits like a retirement plan with auto-rebalancing and a few plum perks — discounted movie tickets anyone? — couldn’t hurt either.
With those tenets in place, you won’t need funky job titles like “happiness hero” to get employees engaged. Happiness on the job is a chief motivator on its own.
“Men are really good at making fun at other people and women are really good at making fun of themselves.”
adapted précis from an article by Leo Babauta
The One Step to Finding Your Purpose
It’s simply this: learn to get outside your personal bubble.
Your personal bubble is the small world you live in (we all have one), where you are the center of the universe. You are concerned with your wellbeing, with not wanting to look bad, with succeeding in life, with your personal pleasure (good food, good music, good fun, etc.)…
Some of the problems caused by this personal bubble:
- In our bubble, we’re concerned with our pleasure and comfort, and try not to be uncomfortable. This is why we don’t exercise, why we don’t only eat healthy food.
- This fear of being uncomfortable is also why we get anxious at the thought of meeting strangers. It hampers our social lives, our love lives.
- Because we don’t want to look bad, we are afraid of failing. So we don’t tackle tough things.
- We procrastinate because of this fear of failing, this fear of discomfort.
- When someone does or says something, we relate that event with how it affect us, and this can cause anger or pain or irritation.
- We expect people to try to give us what we want, and when they don’t, we get frustrated or angry.
Actually, pretty much all our problems are caused by this bubble.
Including the difficulty in finding our life purpose.
The Wider View, and Our Life Purpose
Once we get out of the bubble, and see things with a wider view, we can start a journey along a path like this:
- We can start to see the needs of others, and feel for their problems and wishes.
- We then work to make their lives better, and lessen their problems.
- Even if we aren’t good at that, we can learn skills that help us to be better at it. It’s the intention that matters.
- As we go about our daily work, we can tie our actions to this greater purpose. Learning to programme or become healthy (for example) isn’t just for our betterment, but for the betterment of others, even in a small way. This gives us motivation on a moment-to-moment basis. When we lose motivation, we need to get back out of our bubble, shed our concern for our discomfort and fears, and tie ourselves to a bigger purpose.
In this path, it doesn’t matter what specific actions you take or skills you learn to make people’s lives better. What career you choose is not important — what matters is the bigger purpose. You can always change your career and learn new skills later, as you learn other ways to fulfill this purpose. You’ll learn over time.
What matters is becoming bigger than yourself. Once you do, you learn that you have a purpose in life.
How to Get Out of the Bubble
Getting outside this personal bubble isn’t as easy as just saying, “Let it be so.” It takes work.
First, you must see when you’re stuck in the bubble. Whenever you’re angry, frustrated, irritated, fearful, anxious, procrastinating, feeling hurt, wishing people would be different … you’re in the bubble. These are signs. You are at the centre of your universe, and everything is relating to you and your feelings. When you can’t stick to habits, or have a hard time with a diet, you’re in the bubble. Your momentary pleasure is what matters in this bubble. Outside the bubble, they’re just little events (sensations of desire, urges) that can be let go of.
Second, when you notice that you’re in the bubble, expand your mind and heart. See the bigger picture. Feel what others must be feeling. Try to understand rather than condemning. See how little and petty your concerns and fears have been. Realise that if others treat you badly, it’s not about you, but about what they feeling and paying attention to.
Third, wish others well. Genuinely want their happiness, just as you want your own happiness. See their suffering and wish for it to end or lessen.
Fourth, see how you can help. How can you makes things even a little better for others? Sometimes it’s just by paying attention, just listening. Other times you just need to be there, just lend a hand. You don’t need to go around solving everyone’s problems — they probably don’t want that. Just be there for them. And see if you can make people’s lives better — create something to make them smile. Make one little part of their world — a cup of tea, an article of clothing you’ve sewn — be a little space of goodness.
Repeat this process multiple times a day, and you’ll get better at it.
You’ll learn to be bigger than yourself. You’ll learn that the life we’ve been given is a gift, and we must make the most of it, and not waste a second. You’ll learn that there is nothing more fulfilling than making the lives of others a little better.
“I’m not this callous clown walking around laughing at life all the time. I’ve had some serious, serious problems in my life. But I’ve come out with a smile.”
Most of us associate creativity with an actual creative pursuit, such as dancing, painting or writing. In fact, according to public speaker, singer, businesswoman and social entrepreneur, Tania de Jong presenting at Mind & Potential 2013, creativity means far more, extending way beyond the arts to every facet of life depending on one’s outlook. As de Jong says, “Creativity is about new ideas and thinking about doing things differently and solving problems.”
De Jong says one of the problems is too many of us tend to be more left-brained (logical, analytical and objective) than right-brained (intuitive, thoughtful and subjective), the upshot being, and here de Jong quotes legendary business thinkers, Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker: “Creativity has become the most endangered species in the 21st century. Never has the need for creativity been so compelling and never has genuine creativity been in such short supply.”
Which is why de Jong has made it her life’s work to motivate companies to commit to fostering what she calls “this incredible strategic tool” to help “unleash those values around inspiration, courage and passion and those outcomes of wellbeing and leadership.”
Not that this is always easy given the risks inherent in thinking outside the box. De Jong says sometimes we’ll get it wrong, or we won’t necessarily succeed first go. Thus it’s important we make friends with failure by seeing it as normal, and as a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth. Certainly she’s someone well qualified to say, having experienced a number of setbacks herself in her early professional singing career. Yet despite this she never gave up. What’s more, she’s probably more successful today than she would’ve been had her journey been all smooth sailing.
De Jong has prepared a list of what she regards as the key attributes of innovators and great teams. These are:
- curiosity, visionary and highly imaginative thinking;
- persistence, a commitment to learning, teamwork and collaboration;
- adaptability and flexibility;
- courage, trust and listening;
- the desire for improvement, efficiencies and enhanced experiences;
- and perhaps most importantly, an emphasis on encouraging diversity of thought.
Apropos the latter, she says, “I believe in the power of what I call positive human collusions, that is colliding with people you’d never meet in the normal course of life and deliberately seeking to build bridges with [them].”
De Jong cites a 15-country creativity study that showed 98 percent of three to five year olds tested scored in the highly creative range. By the age of 15, just 12 percent were ranked in this category; while a mere two percent of adults over the age of 25 who took the same tests were still at this level. “But it’s still sitting there,” she says. “Imagine if we could unlock another five percentage points?”
The Leadership Freak writes honestly about the benefits and positive consequences of openly showing our human emotions…
Feeling alone is the result of isolation. Those who feel misunderstood live behind self-protective barriers that keep others out.
Once a month I meet with a group of leaders to strengthen connections, clarify focus, and develop our leadership. We spend at least half our time eating, talking about movies, families, and stuff we’ve done. The rest of the time is focused on leadership.
Some were surprised and others a little uncomfortable with this month’s agenda. I asked them to give me feedback.
- Name two things I’m doing that enhance my potential.
- Name two things I’m doing that hinders my potential.
- What one thing should I do more?
- What one thing should I stop?
- What would you struggle with if you had my position?
Here’s a sampling of their responses.
- You take immediate action when you receive actionable feedback.
- You see and develop the strengths of others.
- You make people feel appreciated, not taken for granted.
- You lose focus and get distracted.
- You put people on the spot.
- You get too occupied with logistics and miss opportunities to connect.
They like seeing my emotional side. When something touches my heart, let it out. This is about compassion and kindness, not blowing up.
Observations about the meeting:
- We feel like we’re on the leadership journey together.
- Leaders don’t receive feedback if they don’t actively seek it.
- Honest feedback is encouraged by openness and blocked by excuses.
- People feel valued when you listen and explore their feedback.
- Your feedback tells me what’s important to you. Their observations reflected their personal values. Several are more attuned to the reaction of others than I am.
- We’re building an environment where sharing positive and negative feedback is normal and welcomed.
- We’re creating a culture of self-development. I’m modeling the way not pointing the way.
How can leaders lower protective barriers and let others in?
“I think we all have the urge to be a clown, whether we know it or not.”
Susan Pearse is an acclaimed leadership expert
STUCK IN A RUT? Ruts are your brain’s way of staying lazy, so breaking out of them can give you the momentum to achieve your goals. It’s also a great way to keep stretching your neurons, growing your brain, and feeling renewed.
Check out the 5 common ruts below and try the exercises to break out of your ruts.
Rut 1: Avoidance
Your brain is very clever at dodging risks and coming up with convincing excuses about why something should be avoided. Putting off a phone call, declining an invitation, or worse, finding an excuse to hold off on starting that new business, trying a new approach, or changing your life.
Try this: Small Step. Avoidance is the brain’s way of protecting you from risk and potential failure. But avoidance itself really is a form of failure. By not acting on your dreams, striving for possibilities, or taking a chance, you are destined to repeat the same old patterns and you won’t achieve your goals. Rather than trying to break out of the rut in one big step, take a small step first. As long as you act, you are breaking the rut of avoidance.
Rut 2: Holding on
Your brain likes to stick with things that are familiar. It takes less energy and feels comfortable, or at least more comfortable than doing something new and different. But sometimes holding on just holds you back. Cluttered cupboards, stale relationships, meaningless work won’t create the life you want.
Try this: Let Go. It feels uncomfortable to change, but nothing new happens without first letting go. If there is some part of your life you are seeking to change, it’s important to give your attention to what you will start doing. But unless you are clear on what you need to let go, this rut will hold you back. So today, identify what you are holding onto that’s holding you back. Are you ready to let it go?
Rut 3: Complacency
Have you stopped noticing the view out your window? Is your partner no longer as fascinating as when you met them? Is work just a chore rather than a way to make a difference? You are slipping into the complacency rut. Once something becomes very familiar, your brain engages autopilot and you operate with very low levels of quality of attention.
Try this: Fresh Eyes. Once something becomes too familiar, attention must be given intentionally. If you don’t do this, the familiar drops into the background. Stay engaged with the important people, places and activities in your life by giving your full attention. Just tell yourself “see this as if for the first time” and experience life with the richness of fresh eyes.
Rut 4: Self Talk
It’s amazing how much chatter rolls through your head. Apparently you’ll have 12,000 internal conversations today! But it has also been found that 95 percent of these chats will simply be reruns of the day before. In fact they are more like echoes from an old conversation, rather than useful reflections on what is happening right here and now.
Try this: Fresh Talk. The conversations in your head will determine what you do today. If you’re holding yourself back from something important, is it because of a stale old conversation: an old excuse for not acting, believing the time is not right even though things have changed, convincing yourself you are not capable when you haven’t even tried? Have a fresh talk with yourself today and break out of the self talk ruts that hold you back.
Rut 5: Indecision
How many things are waiting for your decision right now? Items in the in-tray, phone calls delayed, holiday destinations to choose, suppliers waiting for your order, another year passed without writing that book … Maybe you say to yourself, “I’ll get to that when I have time to think about it properly.” But most indecision arises from too much thinking!
Try this: Think Then Act. Once you’ve given something a good dose of thought, finish it off with an action. It does not need to be the big final act, but do something that moves you forward. You need to train your brain to make decisions, otherwise it will slip into the lazy habit of circling thoughts with no outcome. And this is the very definition of a rut! Turn thinking into a tool that leads to action rather than a heavy process that holds you back.
All of these articles and many more are collected in this week’s new Happiness At Work edition, where you can find the cream of the week’s stories about 21st work and leadership, happiness and wellbeing, creativity and learning, self-mastery and resilience.