It’s easy to get upset when things don’t go well at the office. Or we are disappointed when things don’t work the way they should on a project. We get locked into long term incentive plans. Over time we begin to believe we’re going to be doing what we’re doing forever. In those situations, it’s time to wear the Burger King crown! (I’ll explain in a minute). We seem to easily lose perspective and learn helplessness in the dailiness of our jobs.
The effects of losing perspective are toxic. Hairs gray. Midriffs expand. Arteries clog. Nerves fray. Many of you reading this are overachievers (a conclusion I’m making based on an assumption you’re here to learn and improve yourself and your career). Let me ask this – when’s the last time you laughed at the office (and not that “Harrumph. I can’t believe this crap.” laugh. A REAL laugh because something was funny)? Has it been a while? Another diagnostic question – when is the last time you were frustrated at the office? Exactly 6 minutes ago, right? And how important was the matter? Really? A computer bug? A meeting? I’m betting it wasn’t life or death (unless you’re a neurosurgeon in which case I’d prefer you read up on your medical journals rather than this blog so when they wheel me into the hospital you’re better equipped to care for me).
It’s not hard to get sucked up in the vortex of crap that can become our jobs. By submitting to the vagaries of life, we’re creating “Captain Stupid” – a super villain who torments us with seemingly-meaningful events called our “jobs” but in the process breaks down our very humanity. Suicidal Tendencies sings about this pernicious little chap. My favorite verse is:
So you’re scared to do something about it?
Well, you better be scared not to do something about it’
Cause if you don’t kill Captain Stupid
Captain Stupid gonna kill you!
And Captain Stupid can kill you. Stress. Heart disease. Over what? Some Excel charts? A progress review? A steering committee meeting?
I know. I dispense plenty of thoughts and perspectives on the above topics so I’m fanning the flames. I’m actually offering my perspectives to make those things easier to deal with. But it’s up to you to kill Captain Stupid. And the best weapons in your arsenal are perspective and humor.
I’ve always been a guy who can get pretty intense. I’m driven. Things are important (even when they’re really not). I try to exceed expectations in everything I do. But there’s a price that goes along with that. My goatee is a lot grayer than it used to be. I don’t even want to count the hours I’ve wasted worrying about meaningless stuff. But occasionally I get it right. I regain my perspective and my humor. I kill Captain Stupid. And I’ve found the best way to do so is to be stupid myself. No. Not stupid as in insipid. Stupid as in silly and mirthful. Irreverent. Relaxed. Allow me to offer a couple of examples.
It had been a particularly harrowing week. Progress reviews. Steering committees. Meetings. Ridiculous “reply all” emails. By Friday afternoon I was close to wit’s end. It was a beautiful April day. My work was “done” by all rights. It was time to catch my breath. I went out for lunch and when I returned to the office, I realized I had my fishing pole in the car. I grabbed it and my tackle box and went to the lake on our office campus (the lake was surrounded by several buildings containing my colleagues). I started fishing. And catching fish. Nice ones. Bass. I lost myself in the afternoon. I was out there a good two hours or so. I finally took a break from fishing and looked at our offices. Many of my colleagues were lining the windows watching me with incredulous looks on their faces.
I packed up my stuff and went inside. One individual who saw me fishing said “Are you crazy? You’re going to get fired.”
“You were fishing! And it’s Friday afternoon.”
“Yeah. And my work is done. I’m actually ahead of schedule on most things. I needed a little time to decompress.”
“Am I? Let me ask this… I was outside recharging my batteries, enjoying the beautiful weather, and basking in a great day of fishing. You were in here answering email. Who’s the crazy one?”
He didn’t say another word. And then it happened. A few people packed up early. They said they were going to head out and spend time with their kids. Or at the gym. Or with friends. The “perspective” on what was important spread pretty quickly. While some of you might think productivity drops in such situations (in extreme cases, yes it does but not this one) I’ve actually seen it improve. Healthy associates are productive and engaged associates.
Another time, another miserable week was in full force. Once again I went out for lunch (on good days, I tend to eat in the office but the bad ones merit a trip away from the asylum). I ended up at Burger King. They had a pile of cardboard crowns on the counter. I grabbed one, adjusted it to my head (I had to use the last “slot” on the crown – I have a fat head and thick hair). I wore the crown. People looked. I looked back.
I returned to the office. King Mike. People looked. I looked back like there was nothing going on. It unnerved some of them. Others laughed with me. Their day was a little brighter. I attended a steering committee meeting that afternoon. I was still wearing the crown. I was engaged and contributed a bunch of thoughts on the projects we were reviewing. Some attendees suffered massive cognitive disconnects to see me wearing the crown and discussing the R-Squared of an analysis.
After the meeting, a colleague asked “Why are you wearing the crown? Did you lose a bet? Why do you have that thing on?”
“Because. And if you don’t get it and have to ask that question again, you’ll never get it which is really sad.” He shook his head and walked away. He never got it.
Others did. They laughed. They realized if I could take myself a little less seriously, so could they. They saw I was still engaged in my work but that play and perspective was important too. I wore the crown the rest of the day. I have, on occasion, broken it out once or twice over the past few years and it has always made my day better.
Take a step back. Realize it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be. Go get yourself a BK crown and you’ll quickly regain some perspective.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC