Humor to Encouragement: My Greatest Transition

On Behalf of Mike Chitwood
| March 16, 2023
Category: Inspiration

Do you want to hear a joke? Perhaps, depending on the type of joke. Would you like to hear an encouraging word? Yes, anyone would and that difference is a great way to love our neighbor better.

In 2019 I was identified to be medically separate from the Army. After months my separation journey began during the second week in March of 2020, around the same time of COVID-19 pandemic’s start. As a result, my medical separation would be delayed for many more months. 

Not knowing how long this separation was to occur I decided to set my future for success by going back to school. My program was the Master of Business Administration in Strategic Leadership at the University of Tennessee (UT). A program I started at the start of 2021, while still in the Army. 

Around the start of the program, I had no clue how much longer I’d be in the military. At one point I was told, “you won’t be evaluated until face masks are not required.” Having sinus and rhinitis issues meant I could be in the Army for an unknown time, or so I thought. 

Eventually, they realized that the face mask rule meant I and others could be around for years. They then relented on the rule, I was seen for my nasal issues, and effectively retired in May of 2021. 

Fortunately, UT’s MBA was a flexible program. Its Director was a retired Army Officer who understood my challenges and let me do things online until I completed my Army separation process. However, with that process concluding in the middle of UT’s one-year MBA program, it meant a lot of change for me at once. In my experience, that much change reveals the areas of improvement we need most, even if we don’t want the light shed on that area. For me, it was where my greatest transition began. 

UT’s one-year MBA requires four 10-day residence periods. Each one culminates with a synthesis meant to stress and create success in its students as they team together. Under this stress I finally understood what many had been trying to tell me for years: you have a problem with your humor. 

Other posts on this site highlight my life’s stresses and trauma. A response I created was pun-filled humor. In fairness, many in my family have a similar sense of humor. My problem is I took it to a whole new level. 

For example, occasionally a joke is well-placed, but mostly the responses are filled with groans and eye rolls. Despite learning this lesson midway through the MBA I dropped a pun at graduation. One person from our class stated, “How does it work?” In other words, sure they’re impressed with my brain’s ability to connect the dots for a pun but put it to better use. 

Kim Evanoff is a name I’m glad to write in this post. She’s a competent professional and someone that you should work with if ever given the opportunity. I’m convinced God put her in the program to help me among other benefits for her and others in our MBA cohort. Going forward I imagine she’s the same or greater benefit to the companies with where she works. 

Kim’s a classic case in my life where I didn’t like someone, but they became someone who was critical to my life in the end. Kim was on my synthesis team and we didn’t get another to the point where it created a huge conflict with each other on our team. Later she would tell me that she didn’t think I was taking the MBA seriously due to my jokes. Her comment hit my heart harder than any other person who ever tried to address my humor concerns. 

For better or worse, I value education, even if I didn’t always love school. Now, however, I love it and for Kim to critique me that I wasn’t the MBA serious hit me in my core. In one conversation she did what others couldn’t do, no matter how hard they tried. Having hit me in both the heart and my gut her comment had my attention. A focus where I spent a lot of time in reflection. 

That summer I was heavily around family. Like any family, there are unique conflicts and I chose to not speak ill of anyone, even if I had the chance to do so. A fact my brother-in-law confirmed during this season. His acknowledgment then both taught and reminded me of how I needed to replace my humor: encouragement. 

Life can stink at times. For some, it can stink continuously. Meaning, there’s a short supply of encouragement and even as an elementary school kid I tried to encourage others to come together. Knowing this about myself and hearing in others beyond my brother-in-law I decided to table the extreme uses of humor and encouragement. Granted, there are times when a pun goes through my head, but I keep it to myself. Even then one will slip out. However, the remedy is to listen to others than to listen for the next humorous response. As a result, I try to find ways to encourage people, even when I disagree with them. After all, a fly is attracted to honey far easier than vinegar. No, it’s not a manipulation I’m pulling, but an acknowledgment that I was to help others and encourage our agreeable areas is better than a snarky quip or pun. 

Forever will I be grateful to God for putting Kim Evanoff in my life to help me realize this area of improvement. It’s such areas that as I’ve advanced in other areas old supervisors still bring up its issues. Not going to lie, their comments hurt as I wonder if they’ve seen my improvement. Yet, I also see to see it as an opportunity to improve further.  

All said I do think there is a use for humor. As my MBA Director at UT stated, “It’s a tool that’s meant for a specific use.” Part of learning to master the tool is learning where it doesn’t work then never at all. So I’ve used my humor wrong since Kim and I’s talk. Still, I strive to find that contextual needle where I can use the skill. Even then, if I had to choose humor I today choose encouragement. That might mean I remain silent for a long period of time to find the right time to encourage, but it’s better than a quip that many don’t know how to discern. 

In closing, if you have a sense of humor use it to edify others. If not, withhold it and ponder how you can encourage others. If unsure, though it may be hard, remain silent. Trust me, I know it will be tough, but remain silent until you’re confident that you’re building others or the situation up then into confusion. 

Originally published at Vertical Paths. View the post here: https://verticalpaths.com/humor-to-encouragement-my-greatest-transition/

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