I need humor to thrive. That may sound a little dramatic, but it’s a part of who I am (humor is my top character strength). When I think about my best relationships, work experiences, and things I enjoy the most, there is a little absurdity and funniness at the core.
This doesn’t mean that I am incapable of taking things seriously or following social norms. I don’t walk around constantly cracking bad jokes, laughing at things that aren’t funny or diverting important conversations with long, semi-funny stories (at least not that frequently – ask my colleagues or my fiancée). I’ve gotten pretty good at using social intelligence to gauge how quickly and intensely to inject humor into situations and can use self-control to keep certain things to myself. After all, even if I can’t say it out loud, it doesn’t mean it’s not funny.
I’ve come to realize that the opposite is also true – when I find myself in situations in which I can’t fully be who I am, I struggle. In an intense and stressful previous job I became so absorbed with a need to compensate for my relative youth and inexperience that I took myself way too seriously. I came to realize this after nearly a year in the role when I received 360 feedback from my manager that described me, in part, as unapproachable, single-minded and unopen to feedback. My seriousness wasn’t just the perception of others – it had become my own reality. I was a huge bummer!
Since then, I’ve been much more aware of maintaining my sense of self – including my need for humor – in my personal and professional life. I’ve also come to realize that humor isn’t just for me – it can help others, too. Maintaining a funny outlook on things in the midst of stressful situations is one of the best ways to help keep people relaxed and focused and to diffuse tension (there is research out there on that – it’s not all that funny, but it is really interesting). And, as for not taking yourself too seriously, a dose of self-deprecation once in a while can keep things in perspective and help you maintain a sense of humility.
Humor doesn’t mean you have to set booby traps throughout your office, wear your pants comically high or start each team meeting by dancing the polka while watching YouTube clips from The Office. Oftentimes, it’s simply about maintaining perspective, being yourself and just not taking yourself so seriously. After all, we’re at our best when we can be who we truly are.