The Happiness Dilemma

A few years ago, I had one of those “aha!” moments. You know, the feeling you get when you peel a snorkel off after being in the salt water and the world slowly comes back into focus?

The moment happened to me as I sat in one of those trendy restaurants, where the menu reads “farm to market” in big bold letters, and giant TVs line the walls. I was sitting across from my boss in a tiny high top table, sipping my iced tea, because it was time for my annual review.

Once the usual questions and answers were out of the way, we arrived at the “areas of improvement” section. I slowly squeezed a lemon into my drink, trying to prolong the moment, while readying myself with a deep breath.

I often battle between wishing it was as simple as the reviews my elementary school teachers use to give, full of smiley faces and colored stickers and yet also eager for clear, actionable feedback that really pushes me forward and shakes things up. This time, it was definitely more of the “shaking things up.”

Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.

My boss, someone who I deeply admire and is one of the most direct people I know, took a sip of his drink, and looked across the table at me with an amused smile on his face. He slowly started reading some of the comments:  Tyeler is sometimes too happy. He continued to read, I wish Tyeler would show us more of when she is upset or frustrated, because I feel I just see her happy all the time.

The feedback was so unexpected and different from any other review I’ve had in my life. My first reaction was to laugh, but then I remembered the “too happy” comment, so I just scowled at the ice water in front of me.

It took me some time to really get to the crux of this feedback, but this review would lead me down an incredible journey over the next few years as I explored more of what these comments meant and how they would make me a stronger, more connected leader.

Happiness has gained a lot of attention in the media over the last few years, but it’s one of the most studied human emotions throughout history. There are currently many incredible speakers and authors describing in detail the powerful effects of happiness and how important it is that we generate the energy we desire. Of course, I have my moments when I’m low in energy and not feeling like my usual cheerleader self, but I’m a positive and energetic person by nature. A few years ago, my company had Shawn Achor, a renowned author and speaker who studies happiness, present to our team. It was awesome! Achor spoke about the research behind the power of happiness and about the remarkable effects happiness will have on others. In his book “The Happiness Advantage,” Achor stresses that “Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.”

This reinforced the power of happiness, and to not discount the positivity I have, as I was really questioning this about myself. As I explored this concept further, I asked myself, why would my happiness and upbeat outlook be something others, at times, would view negatively, or make them feel not as connected with me? If happiness is fueling success, per Achor’s point, then can too much happiness and not sharing other emotions over a period of time decrease success or connection to others? These are the questions that drove me to dig deeper because I truly cared about how I could connect better with my team. I knew happiness was the key to driving connection and success, but something was missing.

Vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive.”

When I moved to Texas in 2014, a good friend introduced me to Dr. Brene Brown and had me watch her TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” I realized that I was creating a safe, honest space for those I work with to be vulnerable, but I wasn’t opening up as much as I thought. I was connecting through high energy, and trying not to show any weakness. Through this discovery process it became apparent that what others were asking of me wasn’t that I quit being happy, but that I allow them to see beyond the “smiley faces” and “praises.” Dr. Brown says that “Vulnerability here does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be yourself. It means replacing “professional distance” with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” In my case, I take this as balancing out my “happiness and positivity” with expressing more of my emotional fears, uncertainties and being more bold in my requests, not holding back because I would disrupt the “happiness” of the moment.

For even more clarity into expressing my vulnerabilities, I attended a 4 day High Performance Conference by speaker and author, Brendon Burchard. He talked at length about being present and engaged in the moment. Instead of just generating positive energy and being happy all the time, you have to let your vulnerable side out and have confidence in your own worthiness so you can share those doubts and fears in a way that makes an impact.

In the years leading up to that review I wasn’t considering how embracing these more vulnerable moments, and allowing myself to be open, would actually bring more powerful connection and therefore produce greater work.

As I take myself back to that moment at that high top table, I’m grateful for those comments. They shifted my path and pushed me to engage with my team in more meaningful ways. I’m able to connect more fully and take bolder risks by allowing my team to have more confidence in me. By showing my vulnerabilities and not hiding from my imperfections, my relationships can take on a new level of trust, openness, and connectivity.

Frank Kalman, a writer at Talent Economy says that ‘Leaders who are able to show vulnerability won’t be chided as bad leaders but will be viewed as the kind that others should enthusiastically follow.”

As I head into my next annual review in a few weeks, I know the relationships with my team have only gotten stronger, and I’ll be smiling all the way to that high top table, eager to hear what I need to work on next. Bring it on.

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