Riding Roller Coasters And Dancing On Tables
A couple of weeks ago I was flying home from a visit in California. I had a layover in Dallas and had to ride the tram from one terminal to another. With as much as I fly, I know exactly where to position myself in the tram to make it off of the tram the fastest. Given this, I always step into the first car and stand in the corner near the door.
On our first terminal stop, a couple stepped in and positioned themselves at the very front of the tram facing the window that looked outward. This couple was probably in their mid-20s and were dressed mildly like hipsters. Nothing particularly stood out about them. They weren’t being incredibly affectionate towards each other. They weren’t saying much. Everything changed when the tram took off.
As the tram picked up speed, they both shot each other a look of knowing and gave each other a slight head nod. They then both took a skier-like stance and hurled their arms up in the air. It was as though before they came onto the tram, they made an agreement to play a game to see who could actually hold their balance as the tram moved quickly from one terminal to the next. They made no sounds, just facial expressions that mimicked those of riders on a roller coaster. Other tram riders shot each other confused looks, but one passenger and I caught eyes and just started laughing. They were uninhibited, quietly wild and having more fun than anyone should on an airport tram. In their quick glances to each other in our brief ride, it’s like they were sending the rest of us passengers a message. That message? Let go, start living and embrace childlike fun.
If there is one thing I loathe about being a professional, it is the fact that oftentimes those surrounding me in this world filled with meetings and business suits don’t know how to have fun. Rarely is there laughter. Seldom is there a joke. And God forbid if you come to the table with either. In the business world, laughter, humor and fun are oftentimes seen as weaknesses. It is no coincidence that there are more adults on antidepressants than children. Medical reasons aside, our adult society’s way of sapping the fun out of life may be largely responsible for the general unhappiness of many of my adult peers.
In the early months of the year, I travel the country visiting with sorority women to help them become leaders and set goals for the year. While I doubt my sorority would be thrilled that I do this, one thing I always tell the women to do, is to dance on a table at some point in college. When I tell them this, I get a lot of giggles. I also get confused looks from rooms full of women who have likely dozed off from listening to me up until this point. Realizing that I have their attention again, I say, “Yea, dance on a table when you are in college. Or, dance on a couple of tables. However many it may be, just dance.”
Seeing their confused looks, I quickly clarify my point. No, I am not telling them to dance provocatively. No, I am not telling them to dance drunkenly. No, I am not telling them to dance to get the attention of the coed they’ve been eyeing. Rather, my anecdote of dancing on the table is one of letting loose. It’s one of recognizing that because of the confines our society has placed on adulthood, the window to dance on tables is small. As I say, “Once you are a lawyer, you cannot dance on a table. So, dance now. Dance often. And dance wildly.”
After I tell them this, I often question myself and wonder, at what point does fun really begin disappearing from social interactions? At what point does serious talk take over and laughter is swept under the rug when meeting new people? At what age are happiness, giddiness and joy seen as weaknesses amongst human beings?
I travel a lot around the country giving speeches at various universities. I oftentimes get to sit down with industry leaders and peers at these events, and it always slays me that few smile. Few of these people laugh. There are seldom any jokes shared. It’s like once you hit adulthood, the games go from fun ones to “Let’s see who can keep their stone face on the longest.” These are people who have everything to smile, laugh and joke about. They are people who have few financial worries and limited professional concern. But, they are the most hesitant to let loose. They are the most reluctant to let a smile fade through their face, over the fear that it may be perceived as weaknesses or intellectual inabilities.
A few months ago, I wrote in my journal that going to law school might have been one of the worst decisions of my life. I clearly didn’t mean this, but I think there was a deeper point in the sentences that followed. The sentences that followed, though, painted a picture of life before and after law school. Alicia before law school was vivacious. The life of the party. Filled with jokes, high jinx and good stories. Alicia after law school was reserved. Scared of saying the wrong thing. Slow to joke, laugh and crack smiles.
The professional world has a problem. Yes, there is a time to be serious. But are seriousness and professionalism entirely interrelated? Must someone be stripped of their personality to be taken seriously?
Seeing that couple on the tram in Dallas brought so many of these thoughts to the forefront of my mind. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and I keep coming back to the questions of “What do I want to be?” and “How do I want to be seen?” Watching them helped me answer. I want to be seen as free. I want my reactions to events to be natural and not staged. I want the way I enter a room or deal with an event to be led by joy and happiness. When people talk about me, the first word I want them to associate with my name is “Happiness.” Not shrewd. Not bright. Not sharp. Happy.
It’s time that professionals stop seeing happiness, laughter and joy as negatives and signs of weakness. And in order for the transition to come, it is time that we start fostering workplaces–like the one I am lucky enough to be in at the University of Miami–that celebrate happiness and well-being. We need to start also telling our young people that it is ok for them to responsibly act like young people.
So, what roller coasters can you ride? What tables can you dance on? What unexpected areas in your life can you create joy in? And finally, what are you waiting for?