In the early part of my career I had the misfortune of seeing my employer slowly and dejectedly shuffling towards bankruptcy (time is a great healer - I’m not looking for sympathy - you can find my silver linings from that experience here). Towards the end things picked up pace, until eventually we were learning about our fate from sky news as the messages hadn’t yet filtered internally to confirm the company’s failure.
See also: Top Motivational Quotes for Employees
In the midst of the chaos inevitable in what was the first and biggest retail casualty of the ’credit crunch’, my (much respected) boss sent us all a poem. My immediate thought was to check on his welfare - perhaps he hadn’t heard we were up to our necks in problems, or perhaps it was all a bit too much for him to process. Suspending my disbelief for a minute, I read on, and realised precisely why he’d chosen this particular moment to share his love of Kipling’s ’If’.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
As the days went on, and the phone rang off the hook with angry colleagues demanding to know why we could not tell them more, the words continued to come back to me, a source of comfort in an otherwise bleak time.
Now, I like words. It’s not a massive admission from someone who spends quite so many waking hours writing as I do. I like words for inspiration, for comfort and ideas, to make me smile, to make me think. But I don’t like the way us HR types try to conjure up emotion from words in the workplace. I hate, for example, the scattergun approach to ’inspiration’, in the form of random quotations sprayed liberally round the walls of most offices and training rooms. Usually these quotes are somewhat less inspirational than intended, although they do generally manage to disguise some of the peeling paintwork.
What I do like, and what I respect enormously, is the use of proper words - poems, lyrics, film - quote Eastenders if it’s relevant, just don’t google ’inspiration’ or ’creativity’, or whatever today’s topic might be, and them blindly print whatever it spits out.
I did a lot of competitive sport at university, and vividly recall before a major race receiving a good luck card with a particularly vicious looking tiger on it. Inappropriate, I thought, until I read the Shakespeare section of Henry V’s infamous ’Once more into the breach’ speech lovingly written inside.
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage
The image of the snarling tiger, blood pumping hard, coiled and ready to spring on its prey set me and my team for success, in a way a bunch of flowers and a bland mass produced sentiment could never have done.
My current word-crush is ’It Couldn’t Be Done’ by Edgar Albert Guest.
Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
Now how much more inspirational is that, than the standard set of Ghandi and Einstein quotes, slopped in with the compulsory selection of Chinese/Latin/Greek proverbs. As motivational as they all may be, by the fifth time they’ve been blu tacked to the wall, they’re somewhat faded, curling at the edges and failing to engage with the audience.
Sometimes someone else is just a bit better at expressing our feelings than we are, and words are a powerful tool to be respected and used well. So next time you’re tempted to jazz up your training room a bit, or if you’re in need of a little inspiration at a dark moment - try some poetry, rather than a google filtered assortment of randomised thoughts, to have a real impact.