It’s now been six years since I left my job at P&G. While looking through old files, I found this note that I shared with my coworkers as I left: Six Lessons I Learned from Six Years at P&G.

As I leave, I can’t help but be compelled to leave some advice for you and your next employee (I promise not to be too jealous). Unsolicited, unrequested, unasked-for advice from a non-executive, far-from-veteran, boyishly-handsome employee:

1. Take chances.

The best advice I received came from my first manager: “it’s better to have to beg for forgiveness than to sit around waiting for permission.” Take chances, do what inspires you, and don’t sit around waiting for someone to tell you to be great.

2. Deliver results.

If you want long-term success with P&G (or any company), you have to deliver your workplan consistently–that’s what gets you solid ratings. The other stuff you do (these other tips) will get you the top ratings.

3. Be yourself.

Why have split personalities (you at home and you at work)? Be yourself, be silly, have fun. It’ll help you enjoy your work more, and help your co-workers enjoy you more.

4. Be positive.

It’s easy to be negative. Trust me, as a Bengals fan I would save myself a lot of heartbreak if I didn’t get my hopes up. But that’s not what life is about. Be positive about the situation and look for things you can build on (instead of criticize).

5. Be inclusive.

A leader includes and lifts those around them, even if they do things that irk you (like chew gum in that really obnoxious way). It improves not just your own situation, but the situation of your team, organization and co-workers.

6. Choose fun.

As the self-proclaimed corporate humorist, this is the most important piece of advice I can give you. If you want to enjoy your work more and gain the benefits of using humor in the workplace, you have to make that choice. It’s one you make, actively or passively, every day, so choose fun.

That’s it. Six years boiled down to six bullet points.

Do you think you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it? I didn’t used to think so. I mean, people are limited by education, environment, and circumstance.

And then I saw something, or rather someone, who changed my mind.

The Butt Sketch Artist

I was sitting at the closing event of the Women’s Foodservice Forum in Dallas, TX. Earlier that day I had delivered two breakout sessions to 400 aspiring women leaders on the topic of humor in the workplace and was now celebrating the end of the incredible conference.

To my left was a VP of Coca-Cola. She was telling us the story of those “Japanese coke machines” that allow you to pick any flavor you want that in no way started in Japan. To my right, was a VP of Starbucks. She had recently helped improve the food selection that sits in those glass cases along with the delicious marble loaf.

In the middle was a very distracted me. Despite our interesting conversation and the fact that these were two very powerful women to know with regards to business, I couldn’t help but focus on what was happening directly across from our table:

A man stood drawing on a white easel. One woman posed off to the left. A line of ten women stood off to the right, awaiting their turn. The man was not a caricaturist, nor was he a painter, but he was an artist, specifically of drawing women’s backsides.

For each volunteer, the Bob Ross of Butts would give a warm greeting, turn them around, and then help them pose in a fashion to accentuate the lines of their tookus. He would then sketch their butt, sign his name, and and give the drawing to his butt subject. The process took one to two minutes and then the next volunteer would step up.

I was fascinated. A butt sketch artist. I had never heard of such a thing. Immediately I wondered: how did this all come to be?

I’ve dwelled on this a lot since then and have come up with three theories:

1) Failed caricaturist.

My first thought was that he was a failed caricature artist. I imagined he went through art school and was decently talented but he could never draw faces. Like he’d get the frame right but then butcher the nose or draw the eyes lopsided. Eventually he said screw it and drew what he was good at: curves.

2) Artistic integrity.

My second theory was that he was actually incredible at drawing faces, so good, that he would include the blemishes and flaws of his clients to the point of insulting them with his accuracy. The only way he could get around making his clients happy while not offending his integrity as an artist was to turn them around.

3) Passion to profit.

My third, and what I considered the most likely theory, was that he had recently attended a motivational seminar. In it, the speaker asked, “What are you most passionate about? Find a way to make money doing it.” The guy thought to himself, “I like looking at butts. How can I profit from that?”

Like most businesses, I’m sure he started with a few ideas that wouldn’t work. Create Yelp for butts? Too offensive. Become a casting director for Victoria Secret? Too hard to get into. Do caricatures but instead of drawing faces, draw butts? Perfect.

Part of me wishes I had gone up to the man and asked him how he started his business. Part of me thinks the speculation is way more fun. All of me wishes I had gotten in line to get my own butt drawn.

photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi

photo by Tsahi Levent-Levi

I was recently asked to sit on a panel to answer questions about job transition. Given my move from the corporate project manager to full-time speaker last year, people were interested in how I handled the move.

Here are some of the questions I was asked along with my answers:

What steps did you take to clarify your career goals?

For me it was a discovery process. I tried a little bit of everything it seemed, looking to see what stuck out the most. I’m not the type of person that can just visualize how something might look or feel, instead I have to just go out and do it.

To expand on that research, I also talked with people in the field. I asked them what their day-to-day schedule was like, what they liked about the job, what they disliked about it. Over the course of a few years, there was something that I kept coming back to from all the things I tried: teaching people about humor.

Was there a defining moment in your search?

There was. I had already created the humor in the workplace blog, but I hadn’t fully decided if that’s what I wanted to do long-term. And then I talked with Sarah.

Sarah was a coworker of mine at P&G. We worked together on a couple of projects, and one night, before a big project was due, she came up to me and said,

You know, Drewsito, before Project Awesomization, I was feeling burned out from my job and not liking what I was doing. And then I joined your project, and right away I could see it was different. The project wasn’t named a typical boring name, it was Awesomization. We each had unique nicknames for our meetings. And you started each meeting with an interesting question, like “what’s the first thing you remember spending money on?” Or “what was the last movie that made you tear up?”

And I realized that you made the choice to make your work more fun. Your manager didn’t pull you aside and say “Use more humor.” The CEO didn’t come down with a directive that said “Have more fun.” You made a choice to have fun with your work, and that’s now starting to rub off on me. Now, when something frustrating happens, I think “What would Andrew do? How would he find the humor in this?” And it’s helped. I’m not as stressed or frustrated as I was before, and I’m actually enjoying some of my work. Thank you.

It was in that moment that I realized there are thousands, probably millions, possibly billions of people that are in the old mindset that Sarah had–going to work everyday stressed, frustrated, and dejected. I wanted to find as many of those people as possible and tell them there’s a better, more enjoyable, will-actually-make-you-a-better-employee way to work. That’s when I knew that growing Humor That Works was what I wanted to do.

How did you keep your energy up during the process?

There have been a few things I’ve done that really helped with the process. One was “finding my tribe,” a group of people that were like-minded and working to accomplish something similar. They proved to be a great resource for bouncing ideas off of and encouraging me through the process.

I tried to develop habits for long-term productivity that included tracking my time and success. I also added gamification elements to my process–a  system with points and rewards that helped motivate me to get some of the more mundane tasks completed. That all supported my overriding philosophy of “Be better today than I was yesterday.”

And finally I tried to find something everyday to be grateful for. I live in the greatest city in the world and just walking the streets of NYC would remind me that despite any challenges I have, I’m happy to be where I am right now.

What advice would give to others?

I would say most important is to keep searching and trying things until you find one that you are passionate about. Once you find it, create a weekly plan (every week) that includes steps towards building up that passion. I’d also make sure you schedule other things and get out there and do some type of work to avoid Parkinson’s Law.

And finally, I’d say have fun. All of life is a journey (even the job search process), so it might as well be a fun one.