“Happiness is those who sing with you…” Those are lyrics I once sung as Schroeder in a Little Theater production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. It was a long time ago. And I think they make a lot of sense to me, maybe more now than ever.
My company took a trip last week to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. There, I said it. Not bragging. Just fact. We played. A lot. But we also had a meeting. That’s what we do. And heard two fantastic speeches.
I won’t go into great detail, but both moved me, and I’d like to tell you why (bail now if you want – that’s probably what I’d do in your slippers).
The first speaker said something I thought provocative: You’ll never be successful in your profession until you lose the fear of being fired. She’d been fired twice (from sort of the same company). The second time she didn’t fear it. And trust me, she is successful.
I got to thinking about my own career. Many of you know I got laid off from the magazine at the end of 2009. It was devastating: I was 52 years old, a wagon wheel maker in a world now dominated by cars. I had no job, no future.
It was the BEST thing that ever happened to me.
I’m not going to say I thought so at the time. But I think back to the way I was when the layoff came. The speaker said losing the fear of being fired was important because until you did, you always held back. You never really threw out the bold ideas, you made sure you covered your ass for every potential mistake. You became timid, walking around with shields up all the time, filtering what came in and what went out. How do I plead to that? As Megaphone Mark Slackmeyer said of John Mitchell: “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”
New Arthur, as I’m rebranding myself (it’s what I do), doesn’t fear that so much anymore. He’ll throw out dumb ideas all the time in meetings. But you know what? Some of them aren’t as dumb as I think they are. Apparently.
The other speaker was a guy named Shawn Achor. He’s written one of THOSE books, the kind I always wave off. Like the Seven Habits of Highly Irritating People Who Move and Cut the Cheese, or whatever the names of them are. I don’t care.
I do care about Shawn’s book (or at least his discussion of it, which made a lot of sense). It’s called The Happiness Advantage. It’s all about ways that being happy makes you more productive. I believe that. I’ve always believed that, I guess. Not Pollyanna happy or Pangloss happy. Realistic happy.
It’s what we do at my new job, too. We try to stay happy. We work hard. We play hard. We work harder.
The boss at my company, Ric Elias, often says the following words: “I choose to be happy.”
Here’s when he started saying them: After he survived the plane crash into the Hudson River in January 2009. The one where Captain Sully landed the plane successfully. Click here if you want to hear a TED talk by Ric on what he learned as the plane was crashing. I highly recommend it (like all TED talks, it’s not very long).
Anyway, we got back to Charlotte Sunday afternoon about a half hour early. It had been a good flight. The spinach “lasagna” sucked, but the cheesecake actually was pretty good.
We zipped through customs, even the luggage came out pretty early. It wasn’t until we got outside where the shuttles were picking people up that things broke down. And it was only with Long Term 1, where I had parked Thursday morning. Early Thursday morning. 5 a.m. Thursday morning. Which meant leaving my house at 4 a.m. Thursday morning. (Yes I know saying 4 a.m. Thursday morning is redundant, but it sounds more powerful, dammit, so I’m doing it.)
Turns out 15 minutes passed without any shuttles going to Long Term 1.
Turns out 30 minutes passed without any shuttles going to Long Term 1.
People griped. To one another. To drivers of the other buses. To anyone wearing a uniform. My friend Patrick, who rode with me to the airport, and I didn’t gripe. We were too tired to, mainly. And we just wanted to get home.
About 10 minutes later, the first Long Term 1 bus pulled up (they had closed the lot, so nothing was coming from it – and I think they forgot people might be coming in that needed to go to it). It wasn’t a big bus, but we both made it on.
The big guy in the blue shirt didn’t. We didn’t know him. He wasn’t with my company. He had been one of the gripers – to anyone who would listen. Which meant he wasn’t at the curb when the bus pulled up and we started cramming into it.
That didn’t stop him, though. He screamed at the driver. Then he screamed some more. Then he cursed the driver. I don’t think he realized how stupid he sounded to everyone else, even the others who hadn’t been able to get on the bus.
There was a time I might have been that guy. I’ve been angry at sales clerks and other service people before, and I’m pretty sure I’ve made an ass of myself in the process.
Not any more. I’m singing a different tune these days. I’m happy. And I hope a lot of people will choose to sing with me and Schroeder.
Is it hard to be happy today, given the unspeakable events of yesterday? Yes, it is. I don’t know the answer. I won’t pretend to. I’m grieving, too, for those little children and the families that will miss them and even a tiny bit for the poor soul who couldn’t see the horror in what he was doing.
But I’m also living. I still choose to be happy.