Learning Not To Take Things So Seriously

I had a very productive and enjoyable trip to a U.S. state well-known for boots, and wasn’t disappointed with the bootedness (LOL), but am now back home and getting back into the swing of things.

During my trip, I interacted with thousands of people, from airport security dudes to airline flight attendants to hotel staff to attendees of the meeting which was the purpose of my travel.

Most people are courteous, but there are a few who take themselves much too seriously. Examples:

* Young TSA agent at the airport. Heaven forbid, while waiting for him to check my I.D. and airline ticket that I should step 3cm over the imaginary line that we are supposed to stand behind. Honestly, he didn’t have to bark, “move back!” like I was some terrorist. Chill, dude.

* This young dude’s twin at the x-ray belt… clipped, abrupt instructions to do what I was already doing… taking my boots and belt off, emptying my pockets, taking my laptop out of its case. Okay, I know these instructions are boring as heck to continue to give for hours on end, but you don’t have to be so abrupt in delivery like everyone is a complete moron. Yeah, there indeed are a lot of misinformed and less educated people traveling by air, but we’re all human and don’t need some kid yelling at us just because he is in a minor position of authority.

* Young cop at the airport directing traffic. He pointed at a car to stop, and it did, but apparently not where he wanted it to stop. This cop threw a temper tantrum and screamed at the top of his lungs at the driver who sat there stunned and bewildered. By not acting, the driver made the cop even more furious to the point where he was having spaz-fits while dozens of us stopped, mouth agape, to watch. Yelling and screaming doesn’t do anything but bring negative attention to you and your agency, young man. Once again: chill!

Contrast these young guys with a calm, mature, cop who I observed in a public tourist area. In a matter of a few minutes, this cop calmly interceded in a fight between a man and a woman, calmed them, and sent them on their way. He paused to give someone directions and smiled while he pointed the way. I know the cop is not a tour guide, but he didn’t seem to mind at all. I stopped to compliment him, and he shrugged while saying, “all in a day’s work.”

Then I looked at what I was doing at my meeting. I had a rather big role where I made several presentations before thousands of people. While I love public speaking, it is still quite daunting to speak in front of thousands of your peers and professionals from all over the country and the world.

Three years ago at this same meeting, I had a similar set of activities to do. I remember how I fretted, worried, and spent hours and hours rehearsing my speech and making last-minute changes to my visual presentation. When I was on stage under bright glaring lights, you could hear nervousness in my voice. I got my points across, but felt uncomfortable. (Perhaps it was the suit & tie that made me feel that way as well.)

This past week, I gave five speeches in front of large crowds. While I was well prepared, I was much more relaxed. I gave all of my talks extemporaneously. That is, while I knew what I was going to say, I did not rehearse a canned speech. I just glanced occasionally at my notes. I even interjected a few lighthearted humorous remarks related to the event.

I laughed when the President of my professional organization mispronounced my last name, and later called me by a different first name. I just took it in stride and did not make a fuss. A close friend who knows how I hate having my name mangled came up to me to say, “man, you handled that well. Good for you!”

By relaxing and not taking myself so seriously, my speeches and activities were far better than I imagined that they would be. I introduced a major plenary speaker with such warmth and respect — again, completely from the heart and not a rehearsed speech — that she and I both choked up a little bit. And the next and final day of the event upon giving my last planned presentation, I received a standing ovation. Tears welled up.

My change in overall demeanor and behavior was observed by many people, including the elected leaders of the organization that hosted the meeting. The President of the organization gave me his highest honor — executive citation — where he praised my organizational skills, but more importantly, my ability to work with people who had “turf issues” and bring them together to achieve a greater goal on behalf of all. That was my crowning achievement… and all because, over time, I learned to relax and not take myself so seriously.

Life is short: chill, dude! It really will work out well after all.