Little Lessons

The Benefits of a Positive Attitude. Or Did You Get Your Cherry on Top?

Posted by Mark Fallon

Apr 14, 2017 5:01:00 AM


"There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative." - W. Clement Stone

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Topics: attitude, inspiration, motivation, humor

Have a Good Laugh….At Yourself

Posted by Mark Fallon

Oct 14, 2016 5:01:00 AM

“Against the force of laughter nothing can stand.” – Mark Twain

License_Photo.jpgI’ve been criticized in the past about being too serious. When the clerk at the Department of Motor Vehicles took my photo, she asked, “Would you prefer to have one with you smiling?” My response, “That is me smiling.”

People who know me better know that I do smile. Just not for posed photos. I prefer spontaneous smiles and laughter. Especially if I’m the subject of the joke. This happens more often when I’m among friends.

I’m okay with my friends taking “jabs” at me. They know that my ego is strong enough to handle a few jokes. In fact, some of my friends would say that my ego is too big, and their jokes are just treatment for my affliction. Isn’t it wonderful to have such caring people in my life?

Most of our waking hours are spent either at work, or commuting to work. Our jobs require that we take our duties seriously. Other people – customers, employees, managers – rely on us to deliver results. We must work hard and be earnest in our efforts.

That doesn’t mean we need to lose our sense of humor. We should balance the need for sincerity and solemnity with the appropriate amount of lightheartedness. It’s important to verify the budget allocations accurately. It’s important to document progress on a project. It’s also important to keep our jobs, and our lives, in perspective.

Maintaining this balance isn’t easy. If you work in customer service, the person calling you doesn’t want to hear a joke, they want you to solve their problem. When your boss tasks you with building a solution for a business problem, they’re not looking for an impersonation of Bugs Bunny. Your employees expect you to run an efficient staff meeting, and not tell stories about your fun weekend.

Certain problems and situations are serious, and should be addressed that way. We should work diligently to resolve issues, deliver results and help others be successful. That’s the appropriate response to each of these situations.

When the situation is resolved, the problem corrected and the crisis averted, that’s the moment to reestablish a good environment. A good joke will help relieve the tension, and remind people of what’s important. If you can turn that joke towards yourself, even better.

In the late 1980s, I was an officer in the U.S. Army, serving on the general’s staff of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized). During those years, we were preparing for a possible war that would include defending our European allies from a Soviet invasion.

At that time the military had just begun using computer programs to simulate warfare. During training exercises, a team of observers would enter our troop movements into a computer workstation, and then relay to us the estimated Soviet response. We would transcribe that information to a map, determine our response, and pass that information on to the observers. And so on.

These exercises didn’t take place in classrooms, but out in the field, using the same communication equipment, tents, vehicles and food that we would use in actual combat. We would operate 24 hours a day with rotations for sleep and meals. We took the exercises and the problems we faced seriously.

During one exercise, I had the night shift in the command vehicle. The general in charge was an imposing man who had led troops in combat during the Vietnam War. This exercise was not a “game”, but a test. The team worked diligently to develop innovative responses to the changing situation. The pace was hectic: relaying information, updating the map, and issuing orders. The general would challenge our ideas, ensuring we had accounted for different variables. The tension was powerful.

Suddenly, the computer crashed, and the exercise came to an abrupt halt.

About 10 minutes later, one of the observers informed us that it would take about 3 hours to fix the problem and we should “stand by” for updates. We looked around, not sure what to do next. The silence was deafening.

The general stood up, and said, “3 hours? How did the computer know that I needed a nap right now?”

It was a small joke. But it broke the tension and we all laughed. The general then used the next half hour to give us his critique of how we’d performed so far. Then he gave us directions on what to do while we waited for the computer program to be restored. We went back to work, intent on completing our mission successfully.

The exercise was a serious, rigorous test to determine if we were prepared to lead our soldiers. Yet, when the moment was right, a dose of humor relieved the anxiety and improved morale.

Mark_Race_010112.jpgLook for these moments at work and at home. Find a way to lighten the spirit of people around you. And when possible, have a good laugh.

P.S. As evidence that I don’t take myself too seriously, here’s a photo of me at the start line of a race in “solemn” anticipation of the challenge ahead.

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Topics: humor

Lessons from My Father: A Sense of Humor

Posted by Mark Fallon

Jun 17, 2016 5:00:00 AM

Smiles.jpgTen years ago, my father was in the hospital. Not an uncommon occurrence during the last decades of his life. But suddenly, the routine became dangerously serious.

Unfortunately, there were some complications with a port the doctor had inserted for a blood transfusion. As the emergency response team worked on my dad, they asked questions to make sure he remained conscious. At one point the doctor asked, “Mr. Fallon, who’s the president of the United States?”

“Harry Truman,” my father replied. The team stopped everything, worried that he’d slipped into delirium. After a slight pause, my father opened one eye and said, “Well, we’d be better off, don’t you think?”

The doctors and nurses chuckled, and went on with their work. Their patient was fine. He may have a strange sense of timing when it comes to telling jokes, but he was fine.

Growing up, I didn’t consider my father a funny guy. Of course, working several jobs to support his family didn’t leave a lot of energy for telling jokes at night. And keeping 10 kids in line probably wasn’t a piece of cake either.

But it’s a different story whenever I talked with his former co-workers at the post office. They always shared tales about his easygoing manner and his sense of humor. Whether from my generation or my father’s, his co-workers spoke about his laugh and funny jokes. It’s quite a compliment to be remembered that way.

As I listened to these stories, I learned some important lessons about having a sense of humor and telling jokes at work. The three most important are: keeping the jokes clean, don’t make fun of others, and learn to laugh at yourself.

“Keeping the jokes clean” may sound like an anachronism in today’s world, but it isn’t. In over 50 years, I never heard my father swear or tell a dirty joke. And while my father was a devout Catholic, I know that he had plenty of opportunity to learn how to curse. We both went to the U.S. Army boot camp at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and drill sergeants talked the same way in the 1980s as they did in the 1940s.

By choosing not to include swears or raunchiness in his jokes, my father made his humor accessible by everyone. Neither the teller nor the listeners would worry about being embarrassed. And the story could be repeated anywhere.

Clean jokes can still be funny. We grew up listening to Bob Newhart, whose old albums still crack me up. It doesn’t take that much effort to leave out the cursing, and there are plenty of funny jokes that don’t include sexual references.

Jokes also don’t have to be told at someone else’s expense. Making fun of someone, especially someone weaker than you isn’t being funny. It’s being a bully.

Just as I never heard my father swear, I never heard him tell a racist or sexist joke, or make fun of someone because of a disability. No one ever accused my father of being “politically correct”. But people did describe him as being polite.

There’s enough bigotry in the world without adding to it. Jokes can be about “three guys entering a bar”, it doesn’t have to be “a Mexican, an Irishman and a Jew enter a bar”. And there’s nothing funny about disabilities or diseases.

The exceptions to this rule may be politicians and the very wealthy. As the start of this story shows, the president (any president) is clearly not off-limits. People who place themselves above others can afford a joke at their own expense. They’ll get over it.

Which leads to the third lesson – learn to laugh at yourself. If you don’t think you can be the butt of a joke, ask a good friend. Or better yet, ask someone who’s not a friend.

My father was known for telling jokes about himself. He made fun of the way he walked with his cane, his propensity for going to wakes and funerals, and of course, his health. When one of his grandchildren gave him a t-shirt that said “Grumpy” instead of “Grampy”, he didn’t get upset. He laughed and wore it with pride.

I’ve tried to bring that same approach into my own life. When I was a manager, I was often the subject of a joke by my employees – whether it was about my suits, my temper, or my beard. Rather than let the jokes bother me, I embraced them. I refused to loosen my tie, took bets on my blood pressure readings, and adopted the nickname “Wolfy”. Everyone got to laugh, and I got a reminder of just how important I wasn’t.

Enjoy a good laugh at your own expense, especially if you’re in a position of power. It makes you more human and accessible by employees. It’s good to be humbled occasionally. Don’t worry, you’ll survive.

Not everyone is naturally funny. And considering some of my father’s bad jokes, maybe he wasn’t either. But all of us can decide whether or not we’ll approach the world with a dour face or with a smile. I think I’ll join my father and choose to smile.

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Topics: love, humor

Zen and the Art of Airline Travel

Posted by Mark Fallon

Apr 22, 2016 5:44:30 AM

“Though the road's been rocky, it sure feels good to me.” – Bob Marley

plane_sun.jpgEach year, I fly around 100,000 miles on airlines, rent between 20 and 30 cars, and spend 75 to 100 nights in hotel rooms. Long lines, delays, cancellations and missed connections are fairly common occurrences. One day, I spent over three hours in the airport trying to get on a plane for a flight that would only take about an hour. Yet I don't get stressed out over travel.

As a speaker and consultant, most of my work is conducted at client sites. And since a consultant's value seems to rise in direct proportion to the number of miles traveled, most of my clients are not in the Boston area. Add the conferences and other speaking engagements, and I spend almost a third of my life on the road.

No complaints – just the facts. I knew there would be a lot of travel when I went into this business. I traveled a lot in my previous jobs, including my stint in the Army. Trust me, any commercial plane is more comfortable than an Air Force C-130 Troop Transport. Plus, the commercial pilots don't ask you to exit the plane while it's still 1,500 feet above the ground.

My attitude towards traveling has helped me see the good in each day. At moments when others got upset over events out of their control, I look for ways to take advantage of the situation. Instead of venting anger at the wrong people, I’m pleasant to those who can help out. This isn't a case of wearing rose-colored glasses. It's facing the real choices you have, and the impact those choices will have.

Some helpful tips:

Treat the ticket agents with courtesy. The agents didn't overbook the flight and it's not their fault the mechanic grounded the plane. These people can help you within their area of influence. Be pleasant, courteous and respectful when asking for help. Let the agent know you appreciate their efforts. Say "thank you" when you have been helped. Your positive manner will create positive results.

Be pleasant to your fellow travelers. Say hello to the person next to you, hold the door for the person behind you, and offer help to those that need it. If you aren't outgoing, that's okay. Just nod and smile to the person in the next seat. Being pleasant will make the trip nicer for both of you.

Carry a book at all times. Odds are you'll be waiting in lines, you're flight will be delayed, and the in-flight movies won't be that good. Sometimes you may be able to get some work done, but don't count on it. A good book can instruct you, or just distract you. I recommend small books or paperbacks, as you can hold them in one hand while you drag your bags with the other. (Yes, I’ve heard of e-readers, but paper books don’t have batteries that die in the middle of a chapter.)

Enjoy the ride. If you hit turbulence, loosen up your body as much as possible. If you tense up, the movement of the plane could actually hurt you. I let my body go limp and let the motion rock me to sleep. The person next to me on a recent flight likened this to the response of an infant. Babies actually prefer motion and they enjoy being rocked and swayed. Find your "inner infant" and go with the flow.

Relax, and remember, you aren't in control. Most of what occurs in airline travel is out of your control. You can't control the decisions of mechanics, pilots or the security staff. You can't control the weather. The only thing you can control is how you react. When you find yourself getting upset; stop, take a breath, and relax. Don't waste your time and energy increasing your frustration. Stay in control of yourself and your emotions.

Smile at the agent, say "hi" to the person next to you, and open a good book. And please place your seatbacks and tray tables in the upright and locked position. 

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Topics: optimism, humor

The Joke’s On Me

Posted by Mark Fallon

Feb 12, 2016 5:00:00 AM

"It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.” – Max Eastman

Many times, when I’m out with a group of friends, I’ll become the subject of a joke. Often the joke is based on the exaggeration of a true story or my physical appearance. And once the joke is told, people refer back to it throughout the evening, generating another round of laughs at my expense.

Well, not really at my expense, because if the joke is well told, I’m laughing too. With social media, I don’t even have to wait for a get-together – I can enjoy these same interactions online. Everyday. Comments about working in the postal industry, my hectic travel schedule, running long distances, and of course – the significant amount of hair that covers my body. Really good friends even find witty phrases to describe my blog. It’s all fair game.

While drafting this post, I was also participating in a online running group discussion about what people wear when during races – short shorts, tight shorts, no shirts, etc. I replied that I no longer run shirtless because someone called animal control. My friend Larry immediately posted this photo:

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Topics: leadership, optimism, humor