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Recently on Wisdom Exchange TV, two women I interviewed provided the same advice: “As a leader, you must not take life too seriously.” Some of the leadership gurus, such as Jim Collins, also endorse this sentiment. He talks about Level Five leadership, which is when someone doesn’t take herself too seriously, but has a laser focus on the mission. Though I haven’t read Jim Collins’s book, Good to Great, or dug deeper into the insights of these women, I find myself reflecting on this advice. As I write this post I have not decided if I agree or disagree with the sentiment.
As a person who has always been quite focused on my objectives and my specific vision, saying, ’Don’t take life too seriously’ is a piece of advice often thrown around like it’s just that easy, much like, “Live in the now!” I am sure Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now, has made millions teaching people to live in the moment in order to access it for a happier life. As a person who has read this book, I believe in his recommendations, however, they take high concentration to master, not to mention a commitment to focus on how to achieve. Commitment and focus are two words I would often use when it comes to being too serious. So really, what does not being too serious really mean? And what are its implications?
In a leadership context, I assume it means having the ability to laugh at yourself when things don’t go the way you planned. I am sure this can be healthy, as laughter can be the best medicine for any problem. In laughter, we become more relaxed, allowing our minds to wander, which in turn allows us to become creative. New ideas and perspectives come to mind, and new approaches to dealing with the same problems. Okay, this seems to make sense to me. Laugh at the obstacles and take them as a learning experience. Sold, I believe in laughing at yourself. So how do you do it?
As a very goal-focused person, it can be a challenge to access this place of lightheartedness and frivolity. I often wonder how you can manage not taking life too seriously while still being focused and determined. I can write what I believe is the answer, but no matter what is written in this blog, I don’t know if I will be convinced that we shouldn’t take life too seriously. The reality is we have only one life. What we do with it is not only our responsibility, but it is our legacy. If we don’t make wise decisions on how to live this one life, we may be perceived by others, or more importantly by ourselves, as squandering the biggest gift we have ever received. I take that very seriously! No matter what your faith, you cannot ignore that your time on this earth is your responsibility. How you live your life is your responsibility. What you do with your life is your legacy. I am not sure how not to take that seriously.
Are you looking at your life as an opportunity? As a journey that impacts more than yourself? As an opportunity to make a difference? If you are not, then perhaps you are more of a master than I about not taking life to seriously. For me, I take it seriously, because this is the only life I have to create a positive impact on others. All my choices can impact people positively or negatively. All my choices impact me in the same way.
Now I do have to give some merit to this theory of not being too serious, because I do believe as a leader you can truly limit, squander or suppress creativity amongst your team and yourself if you do not foster a place of being free-spirited and sharing ideas. If a leader lives a life of seriousness, their team will not feel inspired or safe to share whimsical ideas, often limiting an organization’s ability to not only think outside the proverbial box, but to act outside it. Without levity, we can squash the next best idea to gain a competitive edge. So perhaps it could be more truly said, ‘Don’t take life too seriously, in order to achieve what is very serious.’
Now that I have argued both sides of the question, to be serious or not to be serious, I suppose I can entertain the notion of not taking life too seriously. I do, however, need to place parameters around my acceptance: In order to live a full meaningful life don’t take everything too seriously as there will be many obstacles that present themselves. If you take each one as a personal attack on your vision and dreams, you will be too preoccupied to ward off the real poisonous assaults that are part of any journey to achieving your potential.
Let the small stuff roll off, it often has nothing to do with you. Focus on your bigger vision. Take that seriously. All the incidents leading to achieving your vision, don’t take those too seriously. It can cripple your initiation, intention and inspiration. Ultimately, like Jim Collins professes, ”Don’t take yourself too seriously, but have a laser focus on the mission.” Then, and only then, can you cultivate and eventually realize the vision that will be your legacy.
Action: When someone offers an opinion, or you offer a perceived silly idea, or if you do something that doesn’t work as intended, look past it. If you are a leader, or just living your life, remember your vision and goals. If you don’t know what that vision is, get one. It will help filter what to take seriously and what to allow to roll off you, like water on a duck’s back.