Happiness is a temporary emotion. It is fulfilling yet fleeting. Contrary to this, lives Joy. An effervescent feeling that is powerful and enduring. Joy runs as the undercurrent of life that pushes up other emotions to the surface increasing their intensity. Excitement turns to exhilaration. Giggles give way to belly laughs. Appreciation evolves to gratitude.
The catalyst for joy is doing what you love. When you’re there, there is an effortlessness to it. A singular thought of “This feels great, for me, right now” but that is only the ignition. Life can pull us away, dousing our joy. In order to maintain it, we need to increase the frequency of doing the things we love. Do it more often and you’ll find the feeling persists long after the physical act. We overflow with serotonin, the happy chemical, and it spills into the not-so-loving parts of life. The joy that we sit in day in and day out, relives us of the pressures of “doing more” and allows us a small reprieve of contentment.
Recently, I inherited a few boxes from my childhood that my parents kept. It would have been a cinch to take them out of the car, up the stairs, and into our attic space. So naturally they went out of the car and onto the garage floor. A month later they moved up the stairs in front of the closet with the attic door. A week passed and I continued to tell myself that I did not have the time to move them.
Paradoxically what I did find time for was to open one up and flit through the various documents for an hour. The contents were neatly organized and reflected various artworks, stories, and projects from my schooling in chronological order. The cover photo is just one of the many exquisite creations from my obvious gifted talent with the crayon.
Now, we’re not here to discuss what could have been a successful artist career, or how procrastination takes many forms from avoiding physical exertion to reminiscing. The spotlight today is on curriculums throughout school grades. From my box, I discovered my outline from kindergarten. Here’s a section of it.
These are all crucial to comprehend at an early age but what I found upsetting is that very quickly, once outside of the first few years, curriculums begin funneling into core subjects. Mathematics, reading comprehension, writing, history, and sciences. These subjects are repeated and expanded on every year. Before you learn calculus, you need to know algebra. Before you learn to write, you need to spell.
However these soft skills from kindergarten, disappeared as quickly as they came. Are these subjects so impressionable that we only have to be taught once? Such skills like “adjust to new situations,” “listen while others are talking,” and “work cooperatively in groups” are ones adults continue to struggle with and I’d argue that these are not only invaluable as grown-ups but necessary for any aspiring leader.
Take a moment to consider what attributes you admired most in your past leaders. Were they supportive by listening more than they spoke? Led productive and engaging meetings? Did they treat your team equally despite personal attitudes and assumptions? Did they share credit when it was due?
Today, we might not share toys or make the quiet sign when it isn’t our turn but when leaders exude these skills, we remember. We need more leaders with a heightened focus on their kindergarten lessons but the gap between primary school and leadership is colossal. We’re never graded on them again. A foundation that isn’t built upon and yet we expect everyone in a supervisory position to inherently possess. Taking turns creates self-awareness. Listening to others develops into empathy. Working cooperatively is part of motivation. Getting along with others is knowing personality types and cultivating emotional intelligence.
Welcome to Adult Kindergarten
Injecting this into the workplace isn’t unrealistic as one might think. One company takes their kindergarten skills so seriously, it is embedded in their hiring, how they operate, and how they succeed. Menlo Innovations is a software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Cofounder and CEO Richard Sheridan details the structure and success of their extraordinary company in his book Joy, Inc. Before starting his own company, Richard struggled with the standard software development process. It was rifled with miscommunication, redoing work, crunch time, and overspending. All to produce a product that was not what the client needed or too technical to be useful.
By starting Menlo, Richard cultivated a better culture where developers work in pairs on the same computer. The accountability that it brings to each project is incredible and its byproduct is quality beyond expectations. It all starts with their hiring process where they bring in groups of candidates, thirty to fifty at one time. They’re split into pairs and given a series of tasks to complete. Current employees affectionately called “Menlonians” observe each pairs progress but completion isn’t the primary benchmark. They’re looking for high marks in kindergarten skills. Does one person, in pursuit of their own success, dominate the conversation and execution? These attitudes don’t belong at Menlo. They look for the ones that share ideas, listen, disagree in a healthy way, and shows respect for others.
The company even has a process called Show and Tell where their clients review the work done and present it back to the developers. Menlo is living proof that sharing and caring has a need in the workplace. There are more examples of sharing in the book’s pages such as project management through index cards and daily stand-ups with a Viking helmet.
Emotional Health at School
If a company can prioritize these skills, so can we within our teaching. It is not that the core subjects aren’t important. I read and write everyday. Math is mandatory in my career. I can apply the scientific method to unknown situations. Where I believe the opportunity exists for exposure to emotional health and leadership is within these curriculums.
History walks us through past events to better understand our current world. We write papers on the different battles of the Revolutionary War and the Civil Right Movements but all in third person. Could we still measure comprehension if the assignment was in first person? Telling the events of the Revolutionary War through a soldier in George Washington’s army? Marching along with MLK Jr.? When we’re unable to experience an event but can connect to the same thoughts and feelings from our own experiences, it is empathy.
Writing gives us prompts from creative writing where the more imaginative and outlandish the better to book reports on Of Mice and Men and The Catcher in the Rye. For a moment, the prompt can be “How are you feeling today? Describe how that is impacting you.” A moment for self-awareness.
Science teaches us the rain cycle, the physics of motion, animal kingdoms, and mixing compounds. School labs are usually in pairs or groups but to further deepen motivation and cooperation, could one student owns the instructions and the other completes them?
Arranging the Mental Boxes
Kindergarten was a very long time ago and the artworks, letters, and activities are either lost or tucked away in an attic box for another generation. Those first lessons could also be shoved in a corner of our mental attic. Behind the Pythagorean Theorem, Abraham Lincoln’s presidential election year, noble gases, and MLA format. It’s worth it to rearrange our boxes to where self-awareness and personal skills are brought to the forefront and can be practiced daily. The demand for better leaders is a constant one. Reinforcing emotional health beyond primary school is our way of increasing the supply.
When we’re exposed to certain situations, we’re bound to have differences of opinion. On a team, opinions come from different perspectives and great teams ensure that each are valued. However, leaning too far in one direction by disregarding any evidence that speaks to the contrary, is damaging.
Opinions Through Facts
Let’s be clear, facts and opinions are dichotomous. Facts is the perceived reality while opinions are interpretations of that reality. Interpretations require information that can be obtained through the absurd amount of sources in today’s world.
At times we might believe that the source of those facts lacks credibility. In a workplace, it might be rumors or misinterpreted top-down information. Outside of work, media outlets likely come to mind. We might view the source as biased, filtered, and censored and cherry picking information within that source is worse altogether. We can’t discredit information against us and credit information in support of us simultaneously. We are in effect then, filtering sources through our own biases and by doing so we discredit ourselves for the very same reason we decided the source was unreliable!
Leading into Common Ground
As a leader that should hear out varying opinions, we must be aware of this pitfall. To pull ourselves and teams out, repetitiveness and probability are needed to dilute biases. Multiple matching sources yields higher credibility. Misinterpreted information becomes clear when reviewed over and over. Secondly, we can revert to statistics by asking a simple question: “What are the chances?” Rumors are squashed when one considers its likelihood is close to 10%.
When different opinions based on individual’s perceived realities become a debate topic, even healthy debates, it’s best to validate sources and work to remove biases through repetitiveness and probability.
Your career or job shouldn’t be your identity. Characterizing ourselves as such assigns too much value to an external and temporary source. If I identify with being a school teacher, I am confined by the rules that govern it. I am someone who teaches children in a school setting. A firefighter fights fire, a chef cooks, a leader motivates, an accountant reconciles accounts. Most jobs are quite literal in what they do and our self-worth can be strongly tied to it. When we leave, we feel like we’re losing a bit of ourselves too.
True identity lies not in the what but the why. The emotional stimulus elicited from performing said job is the underlying persona of who we want to be. You find fulfillment in educating the next generation and because of that, your job is a school teacher. You find satisfaction in creating delightful food and because of that, your job is a chef. My passion is to inspire others to Show Up and because of that, my job is a leader.
Aristotle told us “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” So the next time someone asks “What do you do?” Tell them your why, not the what. The more we say it, the more we remind ourselves, the more we live it out.
Physical injuries take time to heal. When we get hurt, there is well documented protocol of what to do and what not to do. There is an expectation of the recovery timeline and with proper support and rehabilitation, it can be improved. A broken arm takes three months, a twisted ankle three weeks. These are concrete ailments that people can understand and accept.
How about a fracture of the mind? Where is the step-by-step to emotional healing? Our brains, a complex organ, is unique to us as is our fingerprints. There is no standard timeline, no set of rules dictating right to wrong, no model for comparison. Regardless, we should have as much understanding for these emotional setbacks that we do physical yet our social acceptability for the former is abysmal.
Showing Up sometimes is staying away in order to come back stronger the next day.