Are you feeling very serious? Multipotentialite minds are always working and consequently endeavoring to make lots of things happen at once. Sometimes you can forget why you even started a new venture. If you ever feel like the fun has gone out of something you initially loved, I have a phrase to help shake things loose.
I learned the expression years ago, in the music world. I played trumpet in both classical concert bands and jazz bands. Both types of bands rehearsed almost every day. And both types of bands started rehearsals by tuning up.
In concert band, tuning could take quite a while. Not only were there more members, but the tuning was precise. Our director would take every section through a tuning, then start all over again if he wasn’t satisfied. Sometimes it could take 45 minutes before we even started to rehearse a song. Then there could be more tuning. And later on—you guessed it—some tuning. The exactness called for in the performance of a classical piece demands tuning that is right on the money.
In contrast, tuning for jazz band was often short and sweet. Just 20 minutes into a rehearsal, we were typically already into our second song. See, the tuning didn’t need to be so squarely calibrated in jazz band. Compared with classical music, jazz is meant to be played in a less structured way. That magic phrase I mentioned earlier? “Close enough for jazz.” If you guessed that I liked playing jazz more than classical, you’d be right.
“Close enough for jazz” means, Hey, let’s not agonize over this, okay? Let’s do what we came here to do, which is play music. I love the phrase, and I’ve tried to adopt it in other areas of my life and work. I’m not always successful, but remembering that phrase helps when I get stuck.
As multipods, we tend to deep dive and get overly serious about what we do, like a classical concert band tuning up. That tendency—no, let’s call it an ability!—is a gift, and we should embrace it. But sometimes, we can get so serious about what we’re doing that we get stuck in the tuning phase and stop enjoying what we set out to do. It can feel like we don’t even get to play songs anymore.
Sometimes, I’m working away at something and I start to take myself way too seriously. As I notice it happening, I see it get in the way of my enjoyment. I start trying too hard, and ironically the results are worse than if I had taken a more chilled approach. In those moments, if I’m willing to let go of some of the details, I am able to enjoy myself a lot more along the way.
It’s actually funny, when you think about it
Developing a sense of humor about yourself and what you’re doing can make life easier. Sometimes laughing at ourselves can even help us do better work.
I once worked on an animated children’s TV show as a storyboard artist. My job was to create a visual representation of the scripts before they went into full production. Part of the process was meeting with a team of researchers to make sure that our visuals were on target and appropriate for kids.
The function of my storyboards was to provide a map for the director and animators to follow. The finer details were not as important as the position of characters and objects. Even so, meetings with the research team often progressed slowly. Little by little, their comments would start to pile up.
“That apple looks kind of big. Is it too big?”
“I’m concerned about the toaster. Should the handle be square like that?”
“The countertop corners look sharp. Can they be rounded?”
I repeatedly explained that each one of those items was only a general depiction, and the Design Team would create the final images. My storyboards weren’t meant to be perfect. They served their intended purpose! Still, eventually, the researchers and I always circled back to the same questions. It was a maddening exercise, and I complained to everyone within earshot about it. I took the comments very seriously and even got upset from time to time.
That is until the other staff, seeing my frustration, intervened. I would arrive at work to find cute little notes on Post-Its all over my desk:
“This keyboard is too big.”
“Does this chair have to be black?”
“Why is this pencil facing North?”
Of course, it was hilarious. It shook me out of my weightiness, and I could finally see the humor in the situation. My coworkers helped me get back into the “jazz” phase of working on an animated TV show. I loosened up and started enjoying my work again. And I like to think that I was even more productive than before.
Ultimately, I was able to train the research team on what “close enough for jazz” meant within the context of our storyboard meetings. It took a couple of years and a lot of rehearsal, but eventually we learned to spend less time tuning and more time playing.
Self-care for your sense of perspective
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.—Jon Kabat-Zinn
You’re not always going to have someone else around to give you the perspective that my coworkers offered me. Sometimes you have to find it for yourself. Since working in TV, I’ve developed a few methods that help me get unstuck when I’m fixated on perfection.
As a kid, did you ever sit on a chair or couch the wrong way, with your head towards the floor? If you didn’t, it’s worth a try. When you gaze around the room hanging upside-down, everything looks… weird. You get a whole new perspective (literally) on a place you spend a lot of time in. Maybe you’ll even get some new decorating ideas—just don’t get too distracted! If you can’t physically hang upside-down, try tilting a mirror at an angle and looking around that way.
It’s a silly activity, but that’s the point. Going upside-down pulls us out of our seriousness and shows us a different way of looking at something we thought we knew very well. You can do the same thing when you’re mentally stuck. Turn your vexing problem upside-down and look at it in a silly way. For example, if you’re so deep in learning a new language that you can’t remember why you started, switch to a different language. Try learning a little Klingon, for example. It may just shake things loose enough that you can enjoy learning the human language again.
Watch the blooper reel
YouTube is full of blooper reels from TV shows and movies. It’s particularly fun to watch those from an intense action movie or thriller. Watching and listening to actors mess up lines and start cracking up during somber scenes is a kick.
Witnessing other peoples’ bloopers might be enough to knock you out of your seriousness, but the thought experiment goes further than that. If you can start to imagine what your personal blooper reel would look like, it may give you a sense of playfulness about whatever you’re doing.
Close enough for jazz: not just for tuning a sax
Multipotentialites tend to get super focused when we’re passionate about something. The ability to be involved in many different things so fervently can be an advantage. Multipotentiality can also be the greatest adventure when you allow yourself to experience the simple joy of doing.
You can work hard at something, care about it a lot, and still maintain a sense of lightness and fun. It’s not always easy to do, especially if we’re feeling pressure to deliver a product or achieve a goal. But sometimes, loosening things up and moving forward even though the tuning isn’t just right may even help us increase productivity. Using the mantra “Close enough for jazz” might be the way to get us out of our heads and be able to enjoy the thing we’re doing again.
Your turn! What are some methods you use to loosen things up when work gets too serious? Do you have other types of self-care for your sense of perspective?