Like many of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ passing. Few could deny that he was one of the world’s greatest comedy creators and personalities of our time.
His passing showed us that, while it may appear that life is good for someone from the outside, we can never fully know what they may be going through on the inside. What’s important is to seek help online during our darkest times, as well as to remain alert and receptive to warning signs in others.
Tragedy aside, what I really want to celebrate in this writing is the lighter side of Robin Williams—the side that lit up faces and places with a uniquely brilliant beacon of humor, wit, and wisdom.
We couldn’t help but laugh out loud as Robin spontaneously danced from tangent to tangent as a comedian, a talk show interviewee, or a movie or television character. We adored Robin; after all, he allowed us to forget our problems as we lost ourselves in the hilarity of his antics.
While building my career as a motivational humorist, I often attended improv classes. Robin’s style was my model of inspiration as I learned to let go of judgment and let my imagination come out to play. He reminded us that when we are in a state of play, good things happen. In this state, all the worries, stresses, and pressures of the moment would immediately dissolve into curiosity, spontaneity, joy, and passion—both for life and for living.
So how can we incorporate more spontaneity, play, and laughter into our own lives to manifest similarly positive outcomes?
- Honor Your Vulnerability. Robin Williams wasn’t afraid to look foolish. In fact, I think in some way his foolishness is what set him free. Too often we censor ourselves, worrying unnecessarily about what people think or how we will be perceived. We stop taking risks and go with what is most comfortable and safe. We let the perceived expectations of others filter our creativity. Robin taught us that “If we’re not living on the edge, we’re taking up too much space.”
Action Step: Jump out of your comfort zone and turn off the self-critical filter. Instead, be vulnerable and enjoy the natural flow of your own creativity.
- Honor your Authenticity. It’s easy to conform to our community and to operate within the written or unwritten rules of a limiting culture. Many organizations talk of empowerment, but often they do not support risk-taking or new innovations. Zappos is a good example of an organization that shuns conformity. One of their core values is to create fun and even a little “weirdness.” By granting employees permission to be silly or offbeat (and by the way, who among us is not just a little odd?), Zappos encourages workers to be more authentic and self-expressive.
Action Step: Grant yourself permission to be your truest self. Reward and recognize those who take risks and who allow their authenticity to shine through.
- Honor Self-Expression. As managers and leaders, our job is to honor not only our own self-expression but also that of those we manage and lead. Sure, mistakes will be inevitable along the way, but progress will result when, instead of stifling self-expression through micro-management, we encourage it through personal empowerment. By creating an award or prize for the “Mistake of the Week” and by sharing lessons learned from all mistakes, we can inspire employees to take intelligent risks as they successfully forward the mission of the organization.
Action Step: Encourage self-expression and intelligent risk-taking. Create clever awards and honor the lessons of mistakes made.
And so, as we say goodbye to one of the greatest comedic geniuses of our time, we can allow his legacy to help us say hello to our own vulnerability, authenticity, and self-expression.
Thank you, Robin Williams, for helping us live more enriched, playful, and spontaneous lives. You have given us many reasons to keep laughing and living, and for that, we will always celebrate you.