Class Clown

by Jeff Justice, CSP

For years, I’ve earned my living making people laugh, but I was funny long before I did it for money.

Class ClownAs a kid, I was always the class clown. Somehow, I instinctively understood the power of humor — that if I said something funny in class and it made my teacher laugh, I wouldn’t get in trouble. Of course, if she didn’t laugh, I got a chance to rehearse and try it again on the Principal. If I didn’t get a laugh there, I got to do it again in his office for my parents. Sometimes I did two or three shows a day…sometimes even an after-school matinee!

So I ended up in comedy clubs where stressed-out people went to laugh and forget the grind of their nine-to-five. Eventually, I began speaking to corporate audiences, using my sense of humor to teach about team building and management skills…and stress. (Good professional speakers are better paid than good comedians, which reduces my stress at home, too!)   Really, it makes sense to deal with stress by using humor. It’s like dealing with a headache by taking Tylenol. You can sit and suffer or you can do something about it. Me, I’ll take the Tylenol — and a good laugh along with it.

You know that pain is nature’s way telling you something’s wrong, and stress is also an indicator. Tylenol doesn’t cure whatever causes your pain, but it can relieve symptoms and allow you to concentrate on what really matters. I think of humor the same way: it’s not going to cure the root of your stress, but it can ease anxiety and help you focus on what’s really important. So take two laughs and call me in the morning.

You’ve heard people say, “Years from now, we’re going to look back on this and laugh.” My philosophy is, “Why wait?” Who made the rule that we have to endure years of misery and pain before we’re allowed to laugh? I looked it up in my copy of the Official Rule Book and it’s not there!

You don’t have to turn into a giggling idiot or pretend that the challenges in your life aren’t real. But you can learn to use humor appropriately to take the sting out of stress for yourself and others.

Stress is actually something that we need in our lives. Most of us need the stress of a deadline to get a project done. Others need it to get a project started. The stress of paying my bills makes me get out of bed and go to work every day. If I didn’t have bills (or something else to motivate me), I could sleep till the crack of noon and wake up just in time to take my afternoon nap. We all need “productive stress” to generate results. As a side benefit, we gain a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and purpose.

So stress is not really the problem. What you and I don’t need is distress.

That’s the negative side of stress. Sometimes distress comes from outside sources in our environment: where we work or live, the people we deal with, the situations of life. But sometimes, distress comes from inside sources that are much more under our own control.

Have you ever noticed that the trees left standing after a hurricane are the ones that are able to bend with the wind? Rigid trees snap like twigs.

Your sense of humor can help you bend with the gale of stress you face every day.

If you found these tips from Jeff Justice, CSP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at


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2 Responses to “Class Clown”

  1. Fred Barrett, PMP says:

    What a great way to start 2010. I have always said that if you can’t go to work and have a few laughs, then something is wrong (and Lord knows, every place I have worked, there has always been pleny to laugh about).

    Jeff, thanks for sharing your insights and best wishes for a happy new year and a great 2010!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Jeff – Thank you for reminding us of the importance of laughter. More than “smile sheets” I often measure success at a speaking engagement by laughter. I think we learn more effectively when we can weave humor in to our presentations. Laughing at myself (and not taking myself too seriously) works well!

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