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  • I am a firm believer in laughter, and humor, as a healing balm, and as a breaker down of walls. I have a motto at work, which I share freely – “Bring a mental laugh track with you, and hit that laugh button liberally!” Don’t take it all, or yourself, too damn seriously! Life’s too goddamn short. What’s the worst that can happen? What if it does? What then? You still need to find a way to laugh at it. Seriously!

    Several years ago, after I’d gone through the executive institute and was now keenly aware of my strengths as a leader, I was finding that my current position, which I had loved and thought I would spend the rest of my career in, no longer really challenged me. It did not play to all of my strengths. I needed more. Be careful what you ask for!

    I was approached by the Deputy CFO and asked to consider coming over to help him run the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. “But I don’t have a financial background – I know just enough about budgets to be dangerous. You probably want someone who has a deeper background in these areas.” I really didn’t want to go there.

    But I liked the Deputy, and the person who would be our boss was someone I thought I could learn a few things from. They both said they wanted me there for my demonstrated leadership skills – they needed someone to lead the Office of the CFO through some unprecedented challenges. It was the year in which our budget would exceed one billion dollars for the first time. The Department was trying to force us into a new financial system that wasn't really designed to accomodate all of our functions, and someone needed to convince them to hold off until we could figure out a way to make it work. That would be me. Failure could result in disaster.

    I had said I was looking for a challenge! I wound up going, and it did stretch me. But I truly hated the day-to-day grind of that type of work. In short order, I was tapped to be the CFO - it was the kind of job where you found yourself waking up at 2 a.m. thinking about something, and needing to go write it down. I often had this vision of being a train conductor of a train that was headed right into a brick wall. Would I be able to pull that handle to stop it in time? This dream would also awake me in the middle of the night, many nights.

    Meetings were so deadly serious. And endless. There were days when every moment of 9, 10, 11 hours was spent in meetings, and sometimes, trying to cover two meetings that were going on at the same time. It’s an interesting trick – kids, don’t try it at home. At the end of the day, you then had to spend a few hours getting some work done, that you couldn't do while you were in all those meetings.

    At least many of the meetings were right in my office, which had a decent sized conference table and decent air quality, unlike much of the building. I kept this mask in my bottom right-hand desk drawer, and if a particular meeting was going on too long, and had become too soul-crushingly serious, I would step back to my desk, open the drawer, pull out the mask, don it, and calmly sit back down at the conference table and resume whatever it was we were discussing.

    It rarely failed to work, at cutting the tension in the room and getting folks to loosen up, and remember to not take it all, including themselves, too damned seriously. It was always interesting to see the reactions of those who didn’t know how to react. The ones who desperately needed that mental laugh track, but had no idea where to find one. I hope it helped. It sure helped me!

    Thank you….thank you very much.
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