I have had my share of crappy, miserable, insanely-awful Tuesdays. My mornings usually consisted of lukewarm coffee, screaming children, re-heated muffins, and boring NPR stories. I was stuck in traffic, with bad hair and pants that were an inch too short, and when I got to work I noticed half-done reports and a computer keyboard covered in the crumbs of yesterday’s subway sandwich. I was thinking "Is that really the day care calling to say my kid as a fever? Do I honestly have a meeting in ten minutes? It’s only Tuesday for crying out loud."
But sometimes negative can be turned into positive. I’ve had to ask myself - was I good about finding the humor at work all those years? Work is the one place where you hang up your personal, jovial, humorous self in the closet next to your blazer and half-wrinkled pants and trudge off to Get Things Done.
I think back through my career in law. I’ve snapped at support staff for packets not fully prepared or been furious with opposing counsel for unrealistic discovery demands. I’ve worn sour expressions and said so many disparaging things I’m sure my co-workers wanted to slide Midol pills underneath the crack in the door with a note that read “For heaven’s sakes take these pills, eat a cupcake, and come back when you are nice.” But what do they know? Work is a place where you Get Things Done, after all. Where you beat deadlines and answer emails and attend meetings.
But can’t we get some fun up in here? I’m not talking about the lame birthday cake parties in the break room. I’m talking about real and honest joy. Is it even possible given today’s demands?
The answer is yes. An overwhelming yes.
But you have to go about it the right way. One particular website suggested that in order to break the tension in a workplace, a manager should bring a panic button into the meeting and tell their staff to “just push the panic button when it gets too stressful.” It breaks up the monotony! It creates a light-hearted environment! It’s fantastic! If I were in a meeting where my manager brought in a panic button, I'd shake my head in the same way I did when my mother use to say "let's fold socks; it'll be fun. " Liar.
Another piece of advice said to take fifteen minute walks, develop games with cube-mates, work puzzles in the break room, and take jokes with you to meetings. This just doesn’t ring true. If I was discussing a merger in an operations meeting, I wouldn't be all “hold up there, folkzies. Before we begin this discussion, have you heard the one where the elephant walks into a bar?” And no offense to those people who love puzzles, or elephants. I’m just saying it wouldn’t work particularly well for me.
But the more advanced I became in my career, the fear and insecurity of being accepted wore off and faded into oblivion. So I began to let loose and hauled my normal happy self into the office. After all, my shoes are from TJ Maxx and my brain only works about half the time. If I had a joke about an elephant that I thought was really funny, I’d probably say it. Because elephants are endearing little things that crush vehicles with their hind quarters.
So here are the Top Ten Things that I learned after so many years that helped me start to enjoy work again. To bring humor back into my working life. To learn to really live a little:
(1) Don’t take things so darn seriously. Humor creates a psychological distance. After all, if you don’t get that report turned in and your boss gets mad, and you end up being fired, you could work at Dairy Queen and eat Blizzards all day. Think of the toppings!
(2) Get out of the office for lunch. This is key so your head isn’t buried inside your computer from 7 am until closing time, causing you to be grumpy and lumpy and snappy. Just leave. If you aren’t hungry, drive around. Pick up some iced tea. Head to a park and walk a bit. But take a mid-day break.
(3) Think of your commute as a very special time, not some horrible long wasted hour. Listen to music that uplifts you. Pray. Call a friend or check out a book on tape. Enjoy a cup of good coffee. This is your time, without kids yelling or bosses snapping or husbands talking. How many times do you tell yourself “I have no time for me!” Well here it is, you whiner.
(4) Be the bearer of silly little gifts. Everyone brings something different to the table in a workplace. Some people are more organized. Others are great with follow-up. Some are good listeners. Reward those talents by leaving candy or gum or little treats on their desk with lame, corresponding sayings that you find online or make up. You’re worth a mint to me (mentos)! The way you listened to that client was so smart (smartees!) Your organizational skills are worth all the cash in the world (100 grand!) It’s not laugh-out-loud funny and might cause people to roll their eyes a bit (rolos!) but it makes people smile and it helps them see you as a human being and not just a widget (or whatchamacallit!) Tell me to stop.
(5) At every opportunity, send out poems (Today is just another day, it’s Wednesday in December, but if you have a moment at all, can you call that counsel member?) I use www.rhymezone.com so much I think they created that site exclusively for me. Now, instead of simply barking orders, you can bark orders in rhyme, which is far better and makes you more likeable. Unless you’re firing someone. Then I’d steer clear of rhyme. I also like to use unusual similes and metaphors, like “this is similar to fighting alligators” or “imagine this project is a large lion.”
(6) Be a gossip killer. When someone comes into your office, closes the door, and says “I’m so sorry but I just have to get this off my chest” and then begins to rant about someone with glee, think strategy. It’s fine to listen. But when they are done, ask them if they often have to replace buttons on that blazer or start a conversation about space exploration. Don’t give in to employee-bashing. It’s not helpful, it ruins the office mood, it destroys morale, and it’s hateful. Hateful humor doesn’t warm the heart. Unless it’s your boss, of course, which is an exception and you can both plot his/her demise in good conscience. Think of what will be on the gravestone. Pick the funeral flowers. Whatever.
(7) Send notes of praise and thanks all the time, to anyone you can think of. Email someone’s boss and blind-copy them. It makes you feel better, and happier, to give rather than receive. We learned this as children around Christmas, and it’s so true. Unless you are receiving a new Nikon 5100. Then getting is good.
(8) Smile. When someone walks into your office, stop your train of thought long enough to let a smile erupt on your face. Even if it’s forced. If you hold it long enough, it might turn real.
(9) Find your own space. Despite advice to the country to form “lunch bunches” and all kinds of work pot lucks, I’m not big on dining together with work colleagues all the time. After all – you see these people enough. Do you really want to sit together in the break room heating up leftover lasagna? This makes everyone happier and more interesting.
(10) And finally, admit when you are wrong. Apologize when necessary, and embrace your faults. No one can find humor, warmth, and joy in the workplace if you are constantly trying to fight battles of will, or cover something up, or lie to save yourself. Be true to your inner self. The self you were born to be. The self that wears pants that are sometimes too short with coffee stains. It’s cool. You aren’t the only one.
We all have those kind of Tuesdays.
Amanda Hill (writer, mother, lawyer, cancer survivor, and laughter lover)
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