Shaking Things Up Before They Fall Apart


Happy New Year! Of course immediately after the New Year is the perfect time to get a fresh start with whatever needs to be renewed in our lives. This need for renewal might be because despite the merriment, the holidays can start to feel rote and rife with clichés. So now that the usual business of eggnog, ugly sweaters, tinsel, and mistletoe has been run through and the confetti has been swept up into the dustbin of 2014, it’s time to come back to work and set the course for fulfillment of our personal resolutions to be better in 2015. Maybe one of those resolutions could include shaking things up at work.

This holiday I was at a family dinner where we played the white elephant game with an array of gifts which ranged from random and ironic, to handmade and sentimental. I was amused to end up choosing a package that included among other things, a cute little tiny snow globe. The scene inside was of Santa smiling and waving while his elves worked by his side. I shook it up and watched the snow as it glittered in a busy swirl. As the scene danced with life it provided a happy few moments that brought me back to the simple joys of childhood, where you could pass a good droll hour tilting a snow globe in the corner while the grown-ups babbled meaningless nonsense all around you.

Eventually the snow in my globe settled and the spell was broken. I was back in the presnt babbling about the minutia of adult life. In the snow globe on my lap, Santa stood with his red mitten up in a wave wearing a (now seemingly forced) smile. A random piece of snow floated lazily and aimlessly around the perimeter of the otherwise motionless bubble. The elves held their pose of loading gifts into his sleigh, but now without the frenzy of activity created by the swirling snow they looked stiff and humorless, where before I imagined that they had been humming a happy song.

So, why am I giving you this weird version of ‘What I did over Christmas vacation?’ Because I thought it was a perfect metaphor for what can happen in life and at work when things go on for too long without getting a good shake-up. Everything starts to feel stagnant and then the ennui sets in. A short distance past the point of ennui lays the land of entropy. The emails in your inbox pile up, the brief encounters with your colleagues are carried out as if they were rehearsed, and all your good intentions to do better fall off. But the good news is all you have to do is add life. “Life, this anti-entropy, ceaselessly reloaded with energy, is a climbing force, toward order amidst chaos…” -Albert Claude.

The bad news is that as easy as it sounds, adding life is going to take a little extra effort. “Only entropy comes easy.” -Anton Chekov. In my personal effort to shake things up a bit I have tried to write something a little more from the heart about the topic. Instead of giving you a standard “how to,” I will share my personal approach to keeping things interesting at the office in 2015.

  1. I will be more authentic. I will start by shedding the over starched role of government automaton in cubicle D that I wear to work every day and instead, wherever possible, allow my co-workers to interact with the real me; the quirky, dry sense of humor having, poetry reading, free range and GMO free, me.
  2. I will participate more. If there is a 15 minute yoga to Yoda break in the conference room, you bet I will be in there downward dogging with the other 4 ‘joiners.’
  3. I will try to deeply engage with what I am doing. If I have read an entire bore-you-to-tears document without retaining more than 50% of what was in it, I will take a few minutes to do a poetry erasure of the first page in order to force myself to have a meaningful interaction with it before I reread it, because “Entropy shakes its angry fist at you for being clever enough to organize the world.” -Brandon Sanderson
  4. I will be the instigator of conversations. Too often I drift through my day nodding brief hellos or standing in silence at the copy/fax machine while I wait in line for my job to finish printing. I will use this awkward silence to ask my co-worker if she has done anything fun recently. On that note, maybe I’ll even take it a step further and coordinate lunch with a few colleagues instead of running off for lunch on the quick.
  5. I will begin each new project with a renewed sense of purpose. I heard a radio spot once where a woman talked about writing college papers to the soundtracks of movies with epic scores like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. She said the work went faster and was more inspired when she did this. Maybe instead of just starting something when it starts and working through it to the end, I will begin each project with a clear theme in my head of what it could represent. When the work is done it will have a secret glow that only I will know about.
  6. I will bring my sense of play with me to work. Somewhere I got the idea that work was all serious business and that you had to chuck everything fun at the door. But recalling all my jobs over the years, the places where the quality and volume of work was the greatest were the places that had unconventional characters in the mix. Unique fun-loving individuals make for a happy and productive workplace.

I was talking over business etiquette with a colleague recently and I began to wonder, where did this stiff image of business come from? Where did this idea originate, that as employees we must downplay our sense of creativity, humor, and individuality in order to be taken seriously? How did we begin to equate fun with slack? My mission this year is not to find answers to these questions, but to test the validity of the premises in question by reintegrating the enjoyment factor into the employment factor.

In order to shake things up I will strive toward life/away from entropy. I will make the extra effort to create meaning where it seems there is a lack of it. I will reintroduce play, and interaction, and fun, and purpose into my work. I will be intentional in my personal interactions. I will rethink the rolls I assume in order to blend. I will dare to not blend. I will dare you to do all of these things in the unique way that only you can. May 2015 be your most invigorating and productive work year yet. Cheers.

Rena Priest is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.


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You are truly something magical. I espouse so much of what you wrote, and believe in and act in a manner accordingly. I am a former Soldier, and therefore,sometimes it is difficult for me to take off the persona of the Soldier while in the work place. So I am very conscious of how I act on a day-to-day basis so as not to let that Soldier interfere with what I truly believe the office atmosphere needs.


Very nice I ‘ll have to add it to my list of “Things that work at work”: Thank you.
15 years ago when I started working as a government contractor, I brought a philosophy with me that said all managers are pretty much the same as the boys in your cubscout den, ” Treat them as eager to know what you have to share and with mutual respect and you won’t have any disapline problems – or the adult equivalent. ”
That worked fine in corporate America but not in the agency I contracted with. I finally hit on the right tactic a few yearas a go when a young manger present an improptute class called how to “Manager your manager.” According to her, it was okay to enjoy your work and enjoy sharing who you are, but necessary to understand management expectations and tailor your approach to those facets. That has worked reasonably well but I have managed to garner just a few unexpected grins anyway, by being my own slightly zany self.

Toni Messina

Thanks, Rena – Being a “stiff,” I think, arises from our mandate to treat all fairly, our strategy to take some of the raw emotion out of transactions and our interest in self-preservation. It can be liberating to take a walk on the other side. Vulnerability and authenticity involve risk, and you sound as if you’re ready.