It amazes me how seriously some people in business take themselves. It’s as if they have come to the conclusion that who they are or what they are doing is so important that there should be no time for anything as frivolous as laughter. This is a sad outlook on life.
I tell people who work with me to take their work seriously and themselves lightly. In doing so, they are better apt to have a sense of perspective about what they are doing that is balanced, and an openness to suggestions and new ideas I often find missing from those who are more tunnel-visioned and only focused on business. A sense of humor serves as a pressure valve that can keep you enjoying your work even when times are stressful. I find it a preferred alternative to developing an ulcer or migraine headache. In fact, it is one of the best ways I know to get you through stressful times on the job.
I have found three useful methods for keeping a sense of humor.
1) Take time for yourself. You should take time to relax and enjoy yourself some every day. What this means will vary from person to person. It may be reading a magazine, taking a walk, practicing yoga, or playing with your children. I personally recommend skipping. I believe that it’s impossible to skip and not enjoy yourself—and people who see you will probably laugh as well. (Unfortunately, I’m afraid my own skipping days are over now that I have two “bionic” hips!) I also recommend easing into your day—that is, getting up an extra 30 to 45 minutes earlier each morning so you don’t have to “jolt and bolt” like a race horse out of the starting gate. If you are too busy to take some time for yourself, you will inevitably start to expect others you work with to do as you do, and stress will result for both you and your people.
2) Set an example. Let others you work with know that it’s okay to joke with you by sharing your own sense of humor. I think the best humor is self-deprecating, because it’s never at someone else’s expense. For example, when I’m with a group having a good time at work I love to say something like, “Hey, if I’m in charge here, how come everyone’s laughing?”
If you are a manager, CEO, or business owner, you have a great amount of influence in setting the tone of the work environment. You need to show that it’s okay to have fun at work and to celebrate successes when they occur. For example, once to celebrate record sales halfway through our fiscal year, we closed the company and took employees to the beach for some fun in the sun. We took time to explain our company’s financials and why we were celebrating—and what it would mean to each employee in terms of gain sharing if our sales and profit rate continued.
3) When you find yourself stressed about something, ask yourself, “What difference will this make in 100 years?” You guessed it: No difference. So why get stressed about it now? Instead, make a plan and take positive steps toward your goals in a way that is reasonable for both yourself and those around you.
I use another perspective-setting technique that I call my “zoo mentality.” I developed this when my children Scott and Debbie were growing up. I noticed that whenever we were at a park or zoo I’d see parents yelling at their children for running around misbehaving and generally having a good time. It seemed crazy to me to take your children to a place to have fun with them and then spend all your time yelling at them! I decided what was called for was to get into a different frame of mind that I dubbed my “zoo mentality” when I wanted to have fun. Then if the kids started acting silly or chasing each other I’d be more inclined to join the fun myself. I still use this technique occasionally when attending company meetings.
The way I see it, everything is on loan—the skills we have, the opportunities to use those skills, and the impact we are able to make in this life. I’ve had good fortune in my life and I am thankful for it. I have yet to meet the person who does not have some good fortunes in his or her life. Even during dreadful times in your life and work, there is always a positive side if you take the time to look for it. Once you have this perspective it is difficult to have what I call “false pride,” in which you feel the world revolves around you.
Remember, no one says on their deathbed that they wish they would have worked harder. Most are inclined to wish they would have enjoyed life—and being with those they knew and loved—a lot more. So have a great week and don’t forget to laugh every day.