Is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” a Strategy That Make Sense?

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In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

— Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin

Maybe it makes for a catchy tune but does “don’t worry, be happy” really work as a strategy?

A recent article on by Mike Woodward says just that, and it comes from an irrefutable source: Henry Winkler, the actor who played “The Fonz” on TV’s Happy Days. The article itself was referring to a keynote speech Winkler gave at the HR Florida conference late last month where he encouraged folks to look past the negativity and embrace the positive. He talked about how he experienced success by disregarding the things holding him back and not letting negativity or weakness pin you down.

Maybe it isn’t a radical concept, but it seems to be taking hold in more than just the self-help section of the bookstore or a motivational speech.

Embracing your weaknesses

An author I was introduced to last winter by the name of David Rendall told me about this interesting concept he has worked on about flaunting your weaknesses rather than trying to improve (or eliminate) them. It was the ultimate in a “don’t worry” philosophy. Not only should you not care about your weaknesses, you should align yourself with them to get maximum enjoyment out of life.

Still, if your weakness is laziness, you might not enjoy some of your career options you will have by choosing to flaunt your weakness. Even so, the idea seems sound for those of us who have more manageable weakness like impatience, overbearing leadership, or a tendency to talk too much. If you find a career where those things are a strength (or at the worst, do not matter), you can simply work on making your strengths stronger.

Improving your strengths

As Woodward mentions in the article, Marcus Buckingham routinely touts research that says that we spend too much time on trying to improve our weaknesses when that time could be better spent embracing stuff we’re good at. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be widening your horizons. For the HR Pro out there that might get down because they can’t read certain financial reports perfectly, they should be still spending the most time on those core strengths.

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This is counter to every conversation I’ve encountered about HR getting respect in the corporate boardroom — except you don’t ask a VP of Marketing to perfect their reading of financial reports or know the benefits offering of the company. Literacy is expected, not expertise. Expertise is expected in their core area.

A department leader needs to have invested most of their time into knowing their department. If your CFO has a question about an HR issue, I’m guessing they’ll call the head of HR. If the head of HR has a question about a financial matter, they’ll call the CFO.

Make sure you can answer all of your peers questions before you get too deep into their area of expertise.

But still, don’t worry?

I have doubts you can throw all your cares away. Some weaknesses are going to be unavoidable in work, life ,and in running a business. Looking past them instead of improving them can be a short-sighted move (depending on what those weaknesses are). And while I wouldn’t say just focus exclusively on improving weaknesses, I also can’t say that simply work on improving your strengths is going to do it either. At some point, there is a severe diminishing return on improving a strength. You might be better off spending that effort on becoming a well-rounded professional.

What’s your take on this? Do you worry (or not) about your weaknesses?


3 Comments on “Is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” a Strategy That Make Sense?

  1. Thanks Lance. My take is that life is all about improvement – both personally and professionally. There is always room to grow and learn and if you focus on that I believe it makes your strengths stronger, if that makes sense. I don't necessarily “worry” about my weaknesses but instead I try to be aware of them so that it is a habit to consistently try to improve them. Interesting article. Thanks again.

  2. Like so many things Lance – this is about balance. Yes work on your strengths – you will find it fund, invigorating and your enthusiasm will flow. But ignoring your weaknesses altogether is like pretending the elephant isn't in the room and when others are in the room you might find yourself trying to ensure that nobody sees the elephant rather than getting on with being a contributor.

    Not beating yourself up over your weaknesses that is where you should be heading. If you cannot add up then make sure someone who does checks your figures and you can reciprocate by checking their spelling and grammar. However, continue to work on that maths when you can.

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