Thursday, August 8, 2019

No Joke - Why Humor at Work is Essential

Note: This post originally occurred on my company's internal blog. I got permission to repost it if I wanted to and since I haven't made a post in a while (I'm working on some, I swear) I thought this would be a good time. Enjoy!

I’ve been interested in comedy ever since the age of 5 when I overheard my parents and their friends laughing at a popular stand-up comic on television while I was supposed to be asleep. All I wanted in life was to hear people laugh. In high school, when I watched an improv troupe perform at a local coffee shop, my obsession with doing improv comedy was born. This obsession deepened as I studied acting in college and moved to Chicago to pursue it. I have been doing improv for about 18 years now. 
Recently, I began thinking about how humor can affect the way we work. A friend and fellow improvisor Drew Tarvin has made a career out of using humor at work - his most recent book Humor That Works gave me a whole lot to think about. 
I first met Drew when he came to visit my improv theater while he was working on a book about doing comedy in all 50 states in the US. Drew has a few TEDx talks about using humor at work and refers to himself as a Humor Engineer. Here are a few reasons Drew believes humor is important at work when executed properly: 
  1. Studies estimate that 83% of Americans are stressed at their jobs, 55% lack job satisfaction, and 47% struggle to stay happy. This, in turn, costs the US economy nearly one trillion dollars a year in lost productivity, healthcare costs, and turnover. Using humor to reduce stress, engage our workforce and promote more joy in our working lives could lead to real cost savings. Having more humor in our workplace isn’t just a nice idea, it feels like an imperative. 
  2. Drew lists 30 benefits of humor in his book, including increasing productivity, enhancing problem-solving skills, encouraging collaboration and even strengthening the immune system and burning calories. Drew suggests that by using humor, we could create an even more positive work culture, strengthen loyalty and morale, boost engagement, and raise profits. 
  3. Humor is not without its pitfalls. When used improperly, humor can be distracting, divisive, disparaging and offensive. But if we’re mindful of the ways we use humor, use good timing, make sure everyone can be in on the joke, and make sure we’re not engaging in humor at the expense of others, we can avoid these pitfalls. 
So what do we do? What would it take to inject a little bit more of this into our workday? 
  • Play work – making work fun can sometimes be a challenge. But what if it was a game? You could time yourself while doing a task and then see if you could increase your speed the next day. You could compete with a colleague for efficiency. You could have a meeting while going for a walk to get your blood pumping (I’ve done this one and found it quite enjoyable). 
  • Spark insight – taking some time for yourself to clear your head before you have to go into a situation requiring critical thinking is a new idea for me. Drew suggests that by doing something fun for 5 – 15 minutes before needing to make an important decision, you’ll warm up your brain and be more prepared to think critically. We can do this by watching a funny video, playing a game, working on a puzzle for a few minutes, or doing a simple improv warm-up game. 
  • Reference funny - sometimes, effectively expressing the ideas you want to communicate is difficult. You know what you want to say, but you get blank faces looking back at you. I developed a real knack for creating analogies in these circumstances. It helps my ideas relate to the people I’m communicating with and my analogies get people laughing! Drew suggests that in order to effectively use this skill, keep your analogies simple (they shouldn’t require a great deal of explanation), keep them relevant to what you’re trying to communicate and, of course, make it fun. 
These are just a few of the many ways we could use humor to help us foster creativity, connection, and joy in the place where we spend on average 10.2 years worth of our time during our life. All it takes is ending an e-mail with a pun or a relevant quote or spending a few minutes doing a crossword before you go into a big meeting. 
There’s a lot more excellent information to be found at Drew’s website, including a comprehensive humor database featuring funny pictures, videos, and jokes you can use in presentations and when interacting with colleagues. 
I highly recommend checking out his book.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dear Max - Month 48

Preface: On my previous blog, I used to write letters to my son every month. I stopped doing it (publicly) around the time of my divorce because I didn't want to write about it publicly. I've written him 3 letters in the past 24 months and kept them private. But now that I have a new blog, I'm ready to start writing him publicly and trying to get back to this as I think it will be a wonderful gift to give him one day.

Dear Max, 

Oh, buddy, it’s been about 15 months since I wrote the last one of these letters and for that,
I’m really sorry. I thought when I randomly wrote the last one that I would pick it back up, but alas, I did
not, but now I’m trying again because I think it will be really valuable. I figured your 4th birthday was a
good place to pick it back up. So to begin, happy fourth birthday my boy. 

So looking back over the three letters that I wrote to you and kept private from the world, there’s a lot
to catch you up on. 

When I last wrote, you were talking a lot more, but it wasn’t more than 2-4 word sentences. We didn’t
really have conversations. Now, there’s just no keeping you quiet and that’s been a blessing and a
curse. I love to talk to you, teach you new words and phrases, and hear your actual thoughts and
feelings about things. It’s really nice for you to be able to let me know why you’re upset or why you’re
happy. Nothing beats picking you up from school and having your eyes light up and having you scream
“DADDY!” while running to me. Every so often, you’ll say “Um” over and over again while you’re
looking for the word you want to say and that can wear thin, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Your eating still concerns me, but everyone has assured me it’s just a phase. Your favorite foods seem
to be the same as they were last time I wrote. You love pizza, chicken nuggets, PB&J, cereal,
pancakes, and mini-muffins. You also dig bananas, grapes, and strawberries. To my knowledge, there are
no veggies that you enjoy, but I’m hoping to break that habit while also breaking it in myself. I’m a
really picky eater and I’m probably projecting but I worry that you’ll pick up my bad habits. For now,
though, we’re trying to let you make your own food choices while also setting boundaries and limits. 

You’re fully potty trained and I actually can’t remember the last time you had an accident. You picked
that one up really quickly. When I last wrote, we had just transitioned you to a big boy bed and you’ve
taken to that really easy. At my house, you tend to get into your bookshelf after I leave you for the night,
so keeping your room clean has been a bit of a challenge (there are books everywhere basically every day
and it’s a battle I’ve chosen not to fight at the time). 

You’re a sweet and compassionate boy. You love to give hugs and kisses to pretty much anyone and
you’ll play with just about anyone. I imagine we’ll have to make sure to explain to you the concept of
stranger danger because you’re very trusting. I’m hopeful we can find a way to teach you to be careful
without being cynical and suspecting that everyone in the world is out to do you harm. 

You love music in a whole new way that you didn’t before. You have favorite songs, songs you know the
words to, songs you sing and dance to, songs you request when we get in the car. Currently, your
favorites are Changes by David Bowie, Born to Lose by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers,
Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones, Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, and That’s What Makes You
Beautiful by One Direction. You’re really all over the map musically and it makes me really happy. 

You’ve taken on dad’s love of superheroes and comic book stuff and that also makes me really happy. It’s
so wonderful to sit and watch Spiderman movies or Batman cartoons with you and know that when
you’re older, I’ll be able to share the super cool stuff. Man, I can’t wait until you see Heath Ledger as the

Your mom and I have continued to build on our co-parenting family dynamic just as we promised we
would. We’ve both met really wonderful people who we love very much and we’ve added them to the
You met Bubba (mom’s boyfriend Travis) about 9 months ago and he’s really great with you. I’m very
grateful your mom met someone who fits into our dynamic and respects what we’re trying to do. It’s not
easy and takes a special kind of person. 

You met Miss Katie (my girlfriend) about 6 weeks ago and you guys have become fast friends. She’s
really great with you and you guys love to play together. She has also taken to our dynamic like a duck to
water (do we still have water...and ducks? I’m fearful they may have gone away by the time you read
this…hopefully someone has solved climate change). It’s all going exactly the way your mom and
I hoped it would. We’re all 4 able to hang out together and get along and actually have a really great
time together and I think we’re all going to be a wonderful little family. 

The world is still the world. It’s full of ups and downs. Your dad is the type who looks for the silver linings
and the good whenever he can. It gets really hard sometimes because a lot of people who are in power
are just not very kind. But I’m inspired every day by things that regular people do for their fellow man and
I try to put a lot of my mind there while not burying my head in the sand. 

I think that’s all for now. I love you so much buddy and your mom, Bubba, and Miss Katie do too. We’ve
all got your back, we’re all looking out for you, and we’re excited to see what this next month and year
brings for you. Talk to you next month. 


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

What's in a Name

So you might be asking yourself why this blog is called "Taking a Ten"?

You might know that I have an acting degree (because of course I do) and assume it's a reference to using this blog as a way to "take a break"...and you'd be wrong.

The title is a reference to the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, a game I've loved and not played enough of throughout my life, no matter how hard I try to find games to get involved in. In D&D, players make choices for their characters and then roll dice (most commonly a 20 sided die) to determine their success or failure. Taking a 10, without diving too deep, means choosing to automatically roll a 10 vs taking the chance. It is assumed that a 10 is just enough to succeed at most routine tasks.

So now you're asking why that's relevant to me? I love how inquisitive you are. I'll happily tell you.

All my life, even when I didn't know I was struggling with it, I've struggled with self-esteem. I've never felt like the people who were close to me were there because they wanted me, it was always because of something I had (a toy, a car, whatever). I never believed that people chose to spend time with me. Even family, who I know loved me, I assumed were just loving me out of obligation.

This feeling has been pervasive in my life and, while I've gotten better at quieting down that voice, it finds a way to get loud now and again. It makes it hard for me to be satisfied, to be grateful for what I have in life. It makes me feel like I'm constantly failing my son, my partner, my friends, and my family, no matter how much these people all love me.

One day I decided I wanted a new tattoo. I wanted something reflecting my enjoyment of D&D. For the longest time, I'd had the idea for a long time of getting a d20. The most common d20 tattoo is the die rolled to a 20 with some sort of exclamation of critical success and I'm not going to take anything away from those people. Good for them for positive self-talk. But it's never been my style. My style is more self-deprecating.

So my thought was the same die rolled to a 1 with a banner that says "Born to Lose". It spoke to my perception of myself as a lovable loser, but I decided, in my newfound quest to love myself more, I didn't want to permanently scar my body with a joke about how much I suck.

So I kept thinking, and I realized that my message to myself was "You are enough." I don't need to be the best at anything. Just by breathing I was deserving of love and respect from myself and from others. I was enough to be a good partner. I was enough to be a good son. A good parent. A good co-parent. A good friend. I was enough and enough is all anyone can truly hope for.

So I talked to some D&D friends, including Dale who DMed my last campaign. I asked them what number they thought symbolized a minimally successful roll of a d20. A lot of numbers went around, but Dale's answer explaining the "Taking a 10" rule (which I didn't know about at the time) was like a sledgehammer to the side of my head. I was in love with the idea and wasted no time.

So now I have a nerdy mental health tattoo motif on my forearms (more on the other tattoo another time), a motto I try to live for and a name for this new blog!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

An Introduction

I've been considering coming back to blogging for a long time. Here's the thing...

I'm terrible at it. I don't like to focus on one subject, I like to ramble, but I feel like I've got nothing to say.

But lately, I've realized that I have value and that what I say matters whether anyone reads it or not.

Before I go into what I'm thinking for this blog, let me tell you a little bit about me.

I am a dad, a co-parent, a boyfriend, a son, a pop-culture junkie, a thinker, budding productivity and organization nerd, a reader, a comic book fan, an improviser, a storyteller, a cook, a gamer, a friend, an empath and an extreme extrovert. I'm a mental health advocate suffering from General Anxiety Disorder. I'm a weight loss surgery patient who is constantly trying to live a normal life while working on my health. That's me wrapped in a sweet package with the funny pages used for wrapping paper (God, I loved when people did that)...and I bet there are lots of other small packages inside that I didn't think about. It'll be like when my dad's family through all the wrapping paper into the fire on Christmas morning only to learn later that they had also tossed 7 envelopes with $100 bills into the fire inadvertently, but hopefully less costly and tragic.

This blog is going to go all over the place, but you can expect to find my pithy musings on being a dad, co-parenting, mental health, pop culture, my day to day goings on, life, the universe, and everything.

In our next, this blog got its name.

Until next time!