“You’re too close to your staff.” Those were the words from my boss back in 2011. His observation was that I was too friendly to the people I managed. I let my face do the talking. I wrinkled my nose, furrowed my brow, and, for added effect, tilted my head like a bewildered Spaniel. He received my message and didn’t like it. He upped the stakes by bluntly reminding me that at any moment I could be instructed to make my team redundant. I knew what he was alluding to, but I nudged him to say the words with a single word of my own…
He told me that it would be harder to deliver the devastating news to a friend than an employee. I made the counter argument. I told him that if I ever had to deliver such news that I’d be able to do so with genuine empathy and compassion. It was his turn to let his face do the talking. He looked disgusted at me.
What he was asking me to do was alien. He was asking me to apply a filter to my behaviour. Judge the situation. Apply the behaviour. Or, maybe it was even worse - judge the person, apply the appropriate behaviour. He was asking me to be someone that I wasn’t. That level of calculation just isn’t in me. I’m not clever enough or agile enough to play that particular game. I couldn’t be the chameleon he instructed me to be.
Life becomes less complicated and less mentally draining when you adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to how you live. This isn’t a pious position of principality. It’s about self-preservation. My sense of well-being demands it.
Now of course, a point of clarity - I do still have some filters. This has been demonstrated historically by the fact that I am yet to tap-dance at a funeral.
When I reflect on that moment, I wonder what compelled my boss to offer me his leadership advice.
The answer, I believe, is laughter.
I enjoyed making my team laugh. I played to the gallery. I said silly things. I did silly things. And we laughed. A lot. It didn’t necessarily make me a better boss, but, it did make me a more fun human. Truth is, at times, it was the only thing that helped me cope with a job I’d fallen out of love with. Showing up in that way at work was me living up to my ‘filters off’ value. Why? Because making people laugh is the common denominator of my life.
I am good at precisely two things. Writing and making people laugh. It’s hard to explain, which maybe suggests I’m not all that good at writing after all. Eliciting a laugh from a fellow human does as much for me as it does for them. There’s connection in shared laughter. A moment in time where emotionally everyone is on the same page.
I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s just part of my DNA. I do it without thinking. It’s a reflect. I hear or see something around me and, as I process it, I end up saying what’s in my head. I surprise those around me and, yes, I surprise myself. I enjoy it and I thrive off of it.
There are moments where it’s more purposeful. I do it to cheer someone up. I do it to lift spirits. I do it because I can. At times it feels like a moral obligation, one which I’m proud to deliver upon. The people that know me best know that this is just who I am. Those same people also know that a prolonged absence of mirth is a sure fire sign that something isn’t right with me. Humour is a barometer of my mood. A few years back when I was on the verge of a mental breakdown I used humour to deceive those around me into believing that I was OK. I was an actor.
It was exhausting. It was forced. It was desperate.
The trigger for seeking help was when I ran out of laughter.
The cliche of the clown in glowing technicolour.
The point of all of this - living without a filter is the only way I can live. To apply filters to situations and different cohorts of humans is to be that actor all over again.
And yet, I am a hypocrite.
When it comes to my business, I have applied a filter. I have reigned myself in. I have edited myself. I have at times censored myself. I’ve been guilty of portraying a different persona. This has particularly been the case on LinkedIn. If you don’t know LinkedIn, it’s essentially Facebook for business people and professionals. I’ve been showing up there as a diluted version of myself for over eleven years. I’ve been safe and calculated. Until I wasn’t.
Three weeks ago I recorded a test video to see how the backdrop would look for my Zoom calls. It was a one-take job. I threw it up onto Facebook and it drew a few laughs. The next day, I did another video. It was a parody of someone pretending not to read a script. It made me laugh. It too went up on Facebook. Then, in a carefree moment, I posted it on LinkedIn. The reaction was incredible and it’s become my most successful post on LinkedIn.
The lesson from all of this is that I need to be filters off in everything I do. And, in doing so, I know that I will put some people off. I know that some people will dismiss me as an attention seeking clown. And, that’s actually a good thing. If taking off my filter means that other people filter me out, then my job is done. Because life is too short to work with people who don’t get you. Or, more importantly, life is too short to spend with people who don’t accept you as you truly are.
This is who I really am. It’s not a tactic. It’s not a gimmick.
It’s just me, being me.
An unfiltered happy clown.