Lessons in Laughter, Pt 2: Let Your Laughter Be Your Guide

In late February, I was given the daunting but unforgettable privilege of giving a TEDx talk at Bridgewater State University. As I wait for the video to be released, I wanted to put together the thoughts shared in the talk (combined with a great many others that didn’t fit into the 11 minutes) for your reading pleasure. First, I covered the importance of finding your funny. Today: how to use that sense of humor to get you where you want to be (and away from where you don’t!)

At this point, we’ve already talked about how humor can help guide you toward things and people who are good for you, that will make you better. But it’s importnat to remember that things can change.

Think about the jokes we heard as kids- from joke books, from clowns, or recited by our own friends from candy wrappers and color-tinged Popsicle sticks. Our younger selves found those punchlines hilarious! But as we grew up and learned more about ourselves and the world, our senses of humor evolved. Or, in one of the saddest moments I could imagine, they disappeared altogether.

Just as humor and the ability to laugh and push you toward people and things that can make you better, a lack of humor in those same places can signal the need for a change. Too many of us resist making that change, for any number of reasons. But if you truly do, as the inspirational quote says, “want to spend your life laughing”, then that may require you to let your laughter be your guide.

Does it invalidate your choices? To quote an underrated animated comedy genius in Futurama‘s Robot Devil, “Definitely probably not.”

Would YOU regret the chance to switch hands with the robot devil? Definitely probably not. IMAGE CREDIT: Fanpop

Some of the fear and anxiety that comes with changing course surrounds the idea that if it made us happy before and it doesn’t now, that the difference is because we chose wrong. And it might be. Was our arrival at this place- a job, a relationship, a task assignment- borne of fear, desperation, or not enough (or wrong) information? If so, it’s more likely that it could have been an ill-fitting decision from the start. More often than not, however, the idea that we choose wrong can be summed up by the phrase, “all other things being equal.” This assumes that we, our circumstances, and what we know are the same now as when we started. And truthfully, how often is that the case? Our jobs change direction. Our partners or friends evolve, as do we. We learn better. And all of these factors can contribute to how our decisions serve us as time passes. So if your wish to stay in a place that doesn’t make you laugh is based on fear that you chose wrong, the Robot Devil and I would like to try and calm your fears by saying, “Definitely probably not.”

Does it mean you’re a quitter? In the most literal sense, if you stop doing something that you were previously doing, then yes. But I’d then fire back with a different question: is that bad? If you’re involved in something that isn’t serving you, and you want to pursue something that will, doesn’t it make sense to move toward the fulfilling option and away from the draining one? The emphasis on the “and” in the previous sentence is to drive home the point that we sometimes strive to fix a rough situation by adding good things without taking away the bad. But the comparison between the two can magnify the problems in the former situation, and make the time spent in it all the more unfulfilling.

IMAGE CREDIT: Chatter Busy

My go-to example in this instance is Steve Martin. In his wonderful memoir Born Standing Up, he talks about the precise moment he knew that he was done with standup comedy- his primary source of success throughout the seventies. He talks about the moment where the joy fell away and he could no longer connect with the work. His take on enjoyment at work is an important one, because it flies in the face of much of what we say we should feel about the topic:

Enjoyment while performing was rare—enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford. After the shows, however, I experienced long hours of elation or misery depending on how the show went, because doing comedy alone onstage is the ego’s last stand.

But once he no longer connected with the work or felt that his place in it was valuable, he walked away. And, to be frank, we stand to lose another comedic icon of our generation in Dave Chappelle in short order. He has come close to walking away from the craft that has made him so successful a few times, but (as with Martin) has solved his discontent through seclusion and reinvention. Could we stick with things that we’ve lost our laughter over? Sure, but it may be a better use of our time and energy to find our laughter elsewhere.

So how long is long enough? “Find work you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” isn’t true. We’d love to believe that it is, but it simply isn’t. It couldn’t be. Even when we’re doing things that we feel called to do, there are elements of it that we’ll like less or struggle to get through sometimes. But the key here is to recognize the difference between a momentary frustration and a larger ill fit or evolution away from what we need. In her neurological dissection of creativity and writer’s block, Alice Flaherty makes a fantastic observation about our relationship with our work:

So a sense of vocation doesn’t guarantee happiness at work. Nor does it guarantee being good at the job. Perhaps it merely gives the possessor a subtle feeling of megalomania, a sense of being in some manner chosen for a higher goal. Sense of vocation as disease […] even those with a true vocation never feel only the joy of work without occasionally feeling its terror. When your work is a part of who you are, and you feel you are working badly, you become foul to yourself.

It is normal to have days when you don’t love your work, or other projects you’ve chosen to pursue, or even the people around you. Those days can and will happen. Hell, that’s not even the goal of any of these things the majority of the time. And a few bad days without a giggle are not cause for a rapid shift. When the bad days outweigh the good, however, that’s when you should start using laughter as a litmus test. How many of the moments that sparked your interest, excitement, and best self still remain? How often do you get to do those things that make you feel most alive? Are you still moved to put in the work needed (especially in love, by the way)? Let the answer to those questions, coupled with a quick catalog of the last time you saw your smile, gauge if you’re doing what you should be doing.

To return to Steve Martin for a moment, he talks about the time period covered in Born Standing Up as a biography of someone he used to know, rather than his own autobiography. And if the you that goes up to bat in any walk of life feels like a wholly different person than the one who joined the team…let your laughter guide you elsewhere.

Lessons in Laughter, Pt 1: Find Your Own Funny

In late February, I was given the daunting but unforgettable privilege of giving a TEDx talk at Bridgewater State University. As I wait for the video to be released, I wanted to put together the thoughts shared in the talk (combined with a great many others that didn’t fit into the 11 minutes) for your reading pleasure. First up: the importance of finding your funny.

This time last week, I was a bundle of nerves preparing for the one-night-only grad show from my sketchwriting class (cheekily entitled “6-8 Inches” in homage to our frequent cancellations for snow, and our class predilection for dick jokes). But my journey with this group started months ago when our teacher asked us a seemingly simple question: what makes you laugh? And while I knew on some level, I don’t know that I had ever taken the time to make a “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” list. But it can be powerful to know just what makes your funnybone shake. Why?

(1) It can help you tell your story. We live in a world vastly overpopulated with data- facts, opinions, statistics and the like. We have to find a way to filter it, and many of us- for better or worse- do this by focusing on what captivates us, the things that stand apart from the boring. And one way to make a story worth listening to, is to make it funny. I learned last year at a conversation with Arrested Development’s Mitchell Hurwitz and Modern Family’s Danny Zuker that the litmus test for many jokes on the former’s show was if the writers themselves found them funny. Write for the room, not for the potential viewer. People can tell the difference! Hurwitz gave this advice to another prominent showrunner, Dan Harmon (of Community fame). I use these examples for a very specific reason, which I’ll get to in just a moment.

Danny, Mitch, and the one-day-to-join-them Mike, at their conversation on comedy. I chicken danced for Mitch Hurwitz, I’m proud to say. CO-ka-CO-ka-CAW!

(2) It can help others hear your story, particularly ones that are difficult to tell. Relationships with power differentials (teachers with students, supervisors with employees) are particularly powerful places to tastefully demonstrate a sense of humor. Sometimes positions of power, or lack thereof, can make messages hard to receive; the ability to make them relatable can assist in overcoming differing stations in life. Contrary to older models of leadership or management that applauded a monolithic approach, humor is one of several humane elements (alongside the much buzzed about “authenticity” and “vulnerability”) being injected into our new take on leadership that values connection over fear and intimidation. Opening with a joke or periodically injecting tasteful and appropriately-timed humor can help create the relatability that builds all-too-important trust. While balance is key here, lest we forget the many stumbles of The Office‘s Michael Scott, the right amount can make all the difference.

(3) Your humor builds your tribe. As promised, I want to return to Harmon and Hurwitz for a minute. Their niche successes drive home a very important point about putting your sense of humor out into the world: not everyone is going to “get” it.

Like BoJack Horseman (voiced by Arrested’s Will Arnett), you may worry about if people are going to “get it.” IMAGE CREDIT: Entertainment Weekly

Both Arrested Development and Community have fiercely dedicated audiences, but ultimately not large ones. This may be why they had to resort to alternative distribution methods (Arrested to Netflix, Community [soon] to Yahoo! Screen). In a sense, your take on humor could be not just the litmus test for what goes out into the world, but what people you choose to take on said world with. As an example, I think about my friend Nick from high school. I’ve known him for half my life now, and we’ve been through a lot together. There are times where I tell people we probably shouldn’t still be friends, but here we are! He and I developed an inside joke about five years ago at brunch that makes us both fall apart whenever we think about it. The joke itself isn’t particularly interesting if you’re not us, and we know that. But if you ever really want to know it and have ten minutes (it will take that long and 80% of that will be giggling), I’ll tell you. Ever since that moment occurred, a story was created that never fails to connect the two of us. It’s not the most accessible of jokes, and having giggled about it in the presence of other friends we know it’s not one that everyone gets. But in a way, that’s the point: our jokes, our silly and unique takes on the world, are precisely the thing that let us know who is deserving of our time, energy, and hearts.

Stay tuned for parts two and three real soon! In the meantime, try out the exercise we did and make a list- what makes you laugh?

How a T-Shirt Reminded Me About Careful Crowdwork

When I think about my ideal weekend, there are a few inevitabilities that come to mind. Part of it will be spent quietly, either reading, writing, or watching lots of things I’ve already seen on Netflix. Part of it will be spent with friends, ideally over brunch. And a good portion of it will be spent in a Crowdrise T-shirt.

For those unfamiliar, Crowdrise is one of several crowdfunding platforms designed to help its users raise money for outside causes (or, as of recently, individuals). I first came upon them a few years ago when I participated in Women’s Health’s Run 10 Feed 10 initiative and fell in love with their approach- they provide outstanding logistical and technical support for fundraisers, while also bringing a spirit of fun and familiarity to their interactions with customers. While I don’t have the same relationship with them that my friend and colleague Paul has with his beloved JetBlue, my time spent fundraising and working with them has shown me that they “get” me.

But “getting” people doesn’t mean that we don’t make mistakes, and Crowdrise and I got through one a few weeks ago. As part of their customer relations program, they award points toward merchandise such as their super-comfy T-shirts if you pose with items you’ve recently received. I did so enthusiastically, posing with one of my new T-shirts in my office on a busy Monday. A few weeks later, I came upon the picture (which I was not tagged in, which seems an important detail) on their Instagram account with a caption that stung a little. It was nothing overtly rude, but it was something that cut deeply in an area where I’m already vulnerable. Some would use this as an excuse to write off the company altogether, insisting that any company that would do something like this was no longer worthy of their business. But after nearly four years and thousands of dollars raised with them, I elected to give them the benefit of the doubt, and wrote them a quick email letting them know how I was feeling. Sure enough, I received a message back shortly after with an apology and a strategy to fix the situation- which included taking the picture down (even though my initial email mentioned that I didn’t want to mandate that), as well as a donation to the charity of my choice. While the initial incident wasn’t what I would have wanted, I appreciate how it was handled and the care that I felt from people I’ve never met about putting me in a situation I’d find hurtful.

Why am I telling you this? Because any of us could find ourselves in Crowdrise’s position on any given day. As someone who comes in contact with many, many people over the course of a day, I am guaranteed a few unpleasant interactions. We all are. But how we choose to deal with these feelings and frustrations is up to us. Could I throw a status up on Facebook, execute a snarky “subtweet,” or find the perfect “inspirational” quote on Instagram to express myself? Sure. But there’s some danger in that. Being visible in an online space with many of the same people that I interact with in person, means that I can be seen. And it’s a rule of mine that my interactions in that space should be explicitly named (meaning that there is NO question who they are about), or entirely anonymous (meaning too vague to be ascribed to any one person). The passive-aggression that we sometimes find ourselves engaging in, falls in that expansive middle ground, and it can lead to hurt feelings. The hurt feelings I felt are subtlely different from the ones that I felt when I saw my photo and its caption, but the principle applies here too.

Earlier this week, now-former Chronicle Vitae columnist Jesse Stommel spoke out against this sort of hurtful snarking in places where it should not be, namely a publication designed to develop higher education professionals. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his argument and the one I’m trying to make:

Giggling at the water cooler about students is one abhorrent thing. Publishing that derisive giggling as “work” in a venue read by tens of thousands is quite another. Of course, teachers need a safe place to vent. We all do. That safe place is not shared faculty offices, not the teacher’s lounge, not the library, not a local (public) watering hole.

He goes on to say that Chronicle Vitae is also not one of the public places where this venting should take place. And indeed, those of us who are visible would do well to remember that our words shared in the heat of a moment or otherwise less than thoughtfully, can easily be seen by anyone who has access. Rather than airing these concerns at the proverbial watering hole, find those water coolers or other appropriately private places instead.

What’s my point in all this? First and foremost: watch it. You have no idea what people will see, or how they will come to know what was posted. Paul Jarvis wrote in his newsletter this week about audience growth, and made this point better than I could have (thanks Paul, you came in clutch this week!):

Think about it. In order for your numbers to grow, people need to first hear about you. How do they do that? By listening to people they already listen to. If those people they’re already listening to mention you, you’ve got a good chance of adding them to your audience ranks.

The student, coworker, or superior you’re venting about might not be friends with you on Facebook or follow you on Instagram. But their friend, roommate, or mentor might. And because the world is far smaller than we’d like to believe most days, don’t take that possibility for granted. Take these conversations offline, find your private setting and use it liberally, or even employ the Lincoln letter strategy.

But there’s a second piece in here: if it happens to you, and you do find yourself on the receiving end of a stinger, I’d encourage you to assume best intentions rather than lashing out based on impact. I will allow for the fact that zingers based on dislike, and truly thoughtless outbursts, can sometimes look the same. In that moment, think to your relationship with the person or entity in question: would they mean to hurt you? Interestingly enough, the shirt I had in the photo said on it, “Decent Human.” I love it not because that’s what I believe myself to be, but it’s what I hope to be able to expect from the people around me. Again, it can be incredibly difficult, but ground your response in the answer to that big question “would they mean to hurt you?” All of our most meaningful relationships have to be able to endure occasional disagreements, lapses in judgment, and honest mistakes. That’s what makes them stronger. I will continue to use Crowdrise as a resource for fundraising and awareness projects- not because they’ve been perfect, but because they displayed some heart when they were imperfect.


Still reppin.


Snowballs: The Secret to Successful Meetings


Maybe it’s my hometown’s gradual transformation into Arendelle, but I’ve been thinking about snowballs a lot lately. Not just the kind that sting your fingertips as you form the perfect friend-felling projectile, but the act of snowballing- of picking up speed with a combination of momentum and increasing mass. As an “idea person,” I am constantly looking for ways to add real weight and heft to my dreams and aspirations. Seeing ideas come to life only intensifies that desire, and this past week I had an opportunity to see such a vision realized.

At this year’s NACA National Convention, I had the opportunity to deliver a version of my session about assisting introverted student leaders in making an impact on their organization. A question I get often in this session and ones like it, is how to help introverts contribute in meetings. So many industries are fans of public brainstorming, sitting in a room and encouraging people to shout ideas for inclusion on a whiteboard, or flipchart, or broadcasted Google Doc. But not only is that not a great way to get the input of your most contemplative people- people for whom it is uncomfortable and draining- but it’s also unhelpful for anyone trying to solve your organization’s biggest problems:

Over 50 years of research shows that people often reach irrational decisions in groups … and highly biased assessments of the situation… strong willed people who lead group discussions can pressurize others into conforming, self-censorship and create an illusion of unanimity […] people are more creative away from the crowd. It is a universal phenomenon emerging in work across the world, including America, India, Thailand and Japan. In short – for seventy years, people have been using brainstorming to stifle–not stimulate their creative juices.

-Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot

Despite increasingly louder chatter that combats the reverence surrounding brainstorming, we persist in running meetings for students in this fashion. When we’re seeking ideas for Spring Weekend, recruiting new members, or trying to decide anything at all…we default to this tried and true method, even if it doesn’t work. So how do we rock the boat? How do we break up the tightly held, solidified notions that have served us (well or otherwise) for so long? As I fielded questions on the topic at NACA, I realized that my plan to combat it has three parts, spread out over time. Idea generation and meaningful contribution can happen during a meeting, but they can also happen before or after. And to allow our flakes of ideas to roll, get bigger and bigger, and finally gain enough mass to do some damage, they’re going to need more time.

Before the Meeting

When do agendas or topics of conversation for your meetings tend to come together? Further, when do your meeting attendees get the message? Most people see agenda sharing as a matter of courtesy, but there’s more to it than that. For members of your staff or general member base, having an agenda in advance can signify a few other things. First, sharing an agenda in advance is a means to allow people to be at their best. Not everyone does their best thinking in the moment; given time to do research and come to the table informed, however, they’ll thrive. But just as you can’t prepare for a test without knowing what it’ll cover, you can’t prepare for a meeting without knowing what topics will be on the table. Those in charge of running meetings owe attendees the opportunity to be the best version of themselves in these gatherings. And sharing agendas or plans of attack in advance allow for that.

What else does sharing agendas signify? Trust. Strong leaders don’t treat information as a source of power, but instead as a resource that can make everyone in the organization stronger. Bits of information, put together in just the right way, can form strategy that allows a well-informed and trustworthy team to execute projects. Not unlike, well, a snowball. Loosely packed snow doesn’t get the job done in a snowball fight quite like a tightly smushed one; it is that trust, that willingness to pull closer, that provides the extra “oomph” to knock down anything that might get in the way.

During the Meeting

I’m learning to love the idea of snowballing in meetings that require a lot of ideas. In this instance, snowballing refers to the process of sharing ideas on small pieces of paper, crumpling them up and throwing them to a specified location (the center of a circle, in a bin or bucket, or even at a person), and then sharing them with the group sans attachment to names or roles. Why do I love it so much?

  • For those who express themselves better in writing, snowballing allows thoughts to be shared in a way that doesn’t get filtered through speech
  • For those who need to move around more during meetings, it offers an additional opportunity to expend some energy in a physical manner
  • Vulnerability of sharing a contrary or potentially contentious opinion could be tempered with a semblance of anonymity
  • It’s far less boring than what we normally do (and that may just be my favorite part!)

Once ideas are shared, they can be hung for the group to peruse later, scanned for posterity, or pitched/recycled as needed. For student meetings, where proposed ideas are likely to get revisited, this can be a good way to keep ideas around in a more convenient manner. They provide a reference point that has more visual interest than our standard pages of notes or flipcharts; and bonus: you get to throw things. And who hasn’t wanted to throw things during a meeting? Right?! 

IMAGE CREDIT: Lifehacker

After the Meeting

How often do we hear after meetings, “if anyone has any additional thoughts or ideas, please feel free to share them via email/note/[preferred communication for your office or team]?” If it’s anything like the offices I’ve worked it, that sentiment isn’t shared often. Could it be implied? Sure. But putting it out there vocally could make a world of difference. Especially in the case of students, who may not be sure of the norms of the organization, saying this out loud could affect their level of post-meeting participation. Particularly if decisions at hand are not urgent ones, taking solicitations or notes for improvement after the fact could be the extra heft that your idea needs to be executed optimally. Providing varied methods of contact, and setting a deadline for supplemental information, could be the difference between moving forward with the loudest opinions, and moving forward with the best and most thought-out ones. Here again, as momentum builds, adding well-contemplated contributions as momentum builds can make the snowball bigger and more impactful.

As you head to the snowball fight that is our landscape of ideas, are you coming with the best ammunition you can? And how is your meeting culture contributing to the creation of big snowballs? 

Coming Soon to TEDxBSU: Lessons in Laughter

Earlier this week, I posted this image a few places around the Internet, sharing some big news:

tedxbsu announcement

On Monday, February 23rd (my half-birthday, and this is a pretty fantastic gift!), I will be presenting an idea that I believe is worth sharing, “Lessons in Laughter”, at TEDxBSU. I am so incredibly grateful to the Bridgewater State University Office of Student Involvement and Leadership and their selection committee for affording me the opportunity to speak about something so important to me.

For those unfamiliar with TED, I’ll provide a brief overview. Billed as a forum for “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TED is a conference series designed to highlight infectious ideas about Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Lectures are 12-18 minutes long, and are shared online shortly after they’re filmed for mass consumption. The TEDx series is designed to allow this major event to spread across the world, where local events sanctioned by the international organization can be hosted by cities, colleges, and other entities. Bridgewater State University is holding theirs in a few short weeks, with the theme “BSU 2040: What is our Future?” The goal of my talk will be to present one possible answer to that question.

What does speaking on Lessons in Laughter mean?

It means I’m going to attempt to share how humor helped me better understand and appreciate my family, battle anxiety, and made me better at my job. I’ve done some writing that will likely inform this talk- The Health of Your Career is a Joke, #sahaha, Can the FAFSA Be Funny?, and Balancing Humor and Humanity will all figure prominently into the speech, as will previously unshared stories about the Marfos and how the giggling I grew up with has made me a better person.

But I also want to hear from anyone willing to share- what makes you laugh? How has laughter helped you through hard times? And why do we need to laugh?

I promise to share the final product when it’s live on TED.com- in the meantime, wish me an untied tongue and as little sweat the night of as possible!

Video Review: Jennifer Kahnweiler’s Guide to Supervising the Introvert

Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of Quiet Influence, made a series of short videos for the American Management Association on issues concerning introverts and leadership. Below, find her response to the question, “How can an extroverted manager be a better leader of introverts?”

The key here is respect for style. Kahnweiler cites examples like going into an employee’s office to talk out an idea, when the style of the introvert isn’t always conducive for that. This can also extend to practices in meetings, like not providing agendas in advance, or expecting input to come extemporaneously. Additionally, it could even extend to recognition practices like public announcements of praise, or surprise awards.

So if you’re an extrovert that advises or supervises an introvert, here are a few tips that could help you facilitate their best work:

  • Plan out meetings in advance. If you can provide agendas ahead of time, do so. Additionally, any agenda items that will require prep or research, should be clearly articulated. What information will we need in the meeting to be successful and productive? Allow them time to find and prepare it.
  • Spend time in “big talk.” Engaging in big talk about employee interests will pull out potential areas of competency or excitement. Introverts and others who are unlikely to speak up about their accomplishments or expertise, are more likely to do so once a rapport was established. These conversations could inform you of someone’s potential to excel in a special project; lay the groundwork for “reach” projects by building a relationship where your staff feels comfortable letting you know what they’re capable of.
  • Articulate the acceptable nature of post-meeting/conversation contributions. Do your employees know that it’s okay to follow up after a meeting or event with an email or note? Probably. But it never hurts to say it. It will encourage introverts to use that avenue of communication, and opens the door for any other temperaments in the room that may not be accustomed to contributing in that fashion. You never know who will have an idea after the fact- let people know you’ll take input anytime!
  • If recognition is important to you, find out from employees early how they like to hear praise. Some employees value public acknowledgement of achievement; others prefer it to be a private affair. Important note: the distinction between the two is not always down temperament lines! But showing employees they’re appreciated, in the manner that they prefer to be appreciated, is yet another way of acknowledging that they matter.

Borrowing from the Batizado

A few months ago, I made the trek to Connecticut to see my sister participate in a batizado, or showcase (though its literal translation is “baptism” and involves the exchange of cords) for her chosen sport, capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines music with fighting, known to most people from an early episode of Bob’s Burgers (appropriately and hilariously called “Sexy Dance Fighting”) that I invoke often when talking to her about it.

“So that is what it’s supposed to look like…” IMAGE CREDIT: Pinterest

Because she started in college, and practiced less when she returned home after college, neither I nor my parents had had a chance to see her “play” prior to this day. So it was really fun to get to finally see her in her element, with a number of her friends I had met previously but never seen in the context that she’s typically in.

What were my first impressions? Well, it was long. The event, so to speak, was about four hours long. But it was structured like no “recital” scenario I had ever seen before. And, as an idea blender, I must confess- it got me thinking about what we could learn from how a batizado is set up…when it comes to hiring. How?

Change the way candidates interact with one another.
When we hire others for positions, the candidate pool is shrouded in mystery. Who else is interviewing? What sort of skill are they coming to the table with? Where are their strengths? Where do I stand? But in the troca de corda, the “candidates” for cords aren’t hidden from one another. They play, as the terminology goes in capoeira, with one another as they’re vying for advancement. They get to see where the other candidates’ strengths and weaknesses lie, and it pushes them to bring out their best moves and blocks.

Another element of the troca de corda is musical- several traditional instruments are played throughout the performance. At any point, a student (all of whom are trained to play the instruments used) can step in and relieve a “colleague.” Individual performance counts at the event, but so does your willingness to take initiative and play a role for the team. Individual interviews make it tough to see how people will actually behave in these situations, rather than how you say you’ll respond.

Change the way candidates interact with the “interviewer.”

A fascinating part of the troca de corda is getting to play with the person judging your advancement- the interviewer, in our world. You get out there and play with him or her. As I watched my sister’s classmates and teachers interact with her, I saw glimpses of what we should all hope for in a boss: she was given opportunities to use skills and moves that she’s really strong at (in her case, acrobatics). She got the chance to highlight the skills of others in her classes (including, at a high point for an audience, the youngest participant at the batizado- a six year old!). And she was challenged by the instructor himself- she, as well as each other person playing for new cords, was pushed down or otherwise roughed up by someone in a position of authority. But the roughing up wasn’t for the sake of being rough- it was to see how she and others would react. Presently, our interviews do little to truly pull out these moments of challenge, or hide them behind sanitized versions of how we said we responded in times of struggle. The troca de corda doesn’t allow that.

My sister, the badass.

A troca de corda is an experiential interview. Can we do that?

When I was searching for jobs just after graduating from college, I got a call for an interview with a “promotions company.” Told I’d be spending a few hours with them, I dressed in my nicest outfit- including what would later turn out to be wildly impractical shoes- and drove in. I was told I’d be heading out with a few promotions reps that were already doing the job, tagging along and getting the chance to do what they did. As I later learned, the job was selling oil change coupon packages in Plant City, FL. In a suit. In June. And we walked. For those unfamiliar with Plant City, FL, selling oil change coupons is a lot like selling coal to the good people of Newcastle- they’re flush with ways to get their own.

While I vividly remember this interview for its ability to show me how much I did NOT want to do that job, I also credit it with showing me how an interview should work. If I had been interviewed for that job the way we currently interview most people, I could have stated how good I’d be at talking to people, sharing the merits of any product given to me, and convincing people who may not want a product, why they needed it. But I would have had no idea what the job was like until I was in it, and the people who interviewed me would have never known how poorly suited I was for the work until I was already in it. The Troca das Cordas showed me another example of the same thing. Students don’t acquire new cords after enduring a rapid-fire set of questions about how capoeira makes them feel, or what they would do if faced with a given sort of attack from a peer or instructor. In the time it takes most employers to parade candidates from office to office, speaking in theory about the skills and traits they’d bring to the office, capoeiristas just put you in a room and let you do it. The advancement opportunities come from your ability to demonstrate that you can handle the load, not the eloquence with which you express your potential to. Can we find ways to do the same?

I mentioned that the batizado was long. It started with two-hour long workshops from visiting teachers, followed by everyone’s chance to play with each other, and finally those who were up for promotion in cords faced teachers. But by the end of that, I had a far better idea of my sister’s skills, and the skills of her friends, than any conversation with them could have ever conveyed. It’s designed to bring experienced practitioners together, while also welcoming new capoeristas into the fold. Is this the goal of interviews? In a way, it is. How can someone know if they’ll fit in a space, and how can you assess that of them, with the differential that a battery of questions tends to reinforce? We (and by we, I mean anyone interviewing candidates for a position) already subject our candidate pool to long interviews that operate largely in theory. How could we make these marathon days more helpful for both sides? Find opportunities to let people confidently show you their stuff. 

What realities of our day-to-day work can we responsibly allow candidates to test their skills at? Even if it’s something as simple as responding to phone calls or online inquiries, counseling students, or even operating the most temperamental copier in the office, the chance to take our potential to succeed out of the theoretical and into the practical is valuable for both parties in an interview scenario. For the candidate, you get a chance to assess the human resources you’d be surrounded by in a role; for the interviewer, you have a chance to see how your potential employee would behave in the workplace. Disingenuous or dishonest interviews can escape the watchful eye of search committee members, but it’s harder to mask those problems when you’re doing the work for real.

I’m going to share a video from my sister’s event, with the six year old I mentioned before. One of the coolest things I saw was the rest of the group’s ability to realistically test someone so young and relatively inexperienced, but still be attentive to his limits. As you consider designing an interview schedule and regimen, particularly one that may be taking place with a relatively inexperienced professional, think about how you can take this advice and approach to heart- be real with them while also recognizing limitations. (Apologies for the size of the video, had trouble adjusting!)


This could start slowly, with student interviews. Will you have a student answering phones? Consider letting them sit in the office with a more senior student who can show them the ropes, then watch how they respond in action. Will someone be advising students? Consider letting them work with a student on a project to see how they interact. Instead of the canned presentations that we request (something that few professionals will do again in their role), let them give a tour to show how well they researched the institution, or have them prepare a report as they might do at the end of a semester. Let them do the work they’ll be doing, and select based on performance over potential. What could this idea do to our office dynamics, our efficiency and productivity, and our job satisfaction?

Happy First Birthday, THE I’S HAVE IT!

A year ago today (or so), I posted “The Announcement.” Rather than informing you that I was taking my talents to South Beach, I let the world know that this book project I had verbalized ten months before had finally resulted in a finished product, available on Amazon.

What followed was a year that absolutely shattered any expectations I may have had about the process of writing, and then promoting a book. I’ve gotten to speak about the book to audiences of students, faculty, and administrators. I’ve connected with other introverts who appreciated the things I wrote and advice I provided. I did a book signing, something I never dreamed I would get to do! I got to live a life that truly exceeded my wildest dreams- I would have been happy if my parents read it and that was it. So for that, above all, I want to say THANK YOU. Thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for enduring my promotion of it :)

Hey, you. Thank you. I mean it. IMAGE CREDIT: Giphy

The traditional first anniversary gift is “paper,” and that’s something I want to offer to you. As some of you may know, this past December THE I’S HAVE IT became available in paperback for the first time. Want one? I have a coupon code for you! Head to The I’s Have It on Createspace (this code will not work on Amazon, so the Createspace link is important!) and enter the coupon code 9YPQWSP6 for $4 off! That’s 40% for those who like to work with those numbers.

Still haven’t read it yet? Let nothing or no one get in your way. IMAGE CREDIT: Tumblr

Now, many of you already have the book and I wouldn’t have you buy it two times just for my benefit. If this describes you, then there is one thing that the book would like for it’s birthday- to get on library shelves. Odds are, your library has a public site where you can request that books get added to its inventory. Please take a moment to ask that they add THE I’S HAVE IT to their collection. Should they ask for an ISBN number, it is 1505385369.

Hmmmm. First birthday? I’m gonna make a mess of a cake with my hands today.

Again, thank you for a wonderful year- none of the excitement, learning, or fun would have happened without you all! 


Guest Post Round-Up: Week of 01/19

Late last week, I was so pleased to be featured in Latinas in Higher Education, as well as on Liz Gross’s blog as part of her #Resolve2015 series. Read on to check out what I said, and thank you so much to Rosann and Liz for the opportunity!


From Latinas in Higher Education: The Introvert’s Guide to Nailing the Job Search


For #Resolve2015: How to Look to Other Industries for Professional Development