When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Keep a Sense of Humor - Page 2

Don Tennant

To anyone who hasn't spent a career in or around the IT profession, the numbers would suggest that IT is a relatively low-stress career field, despite the fact that the work is quintessentially mission-critical. Yet we all know that the very nature of the job is such that it's necessarily high-stress. Regardless of what you do in IT, if you get something wrong or if something goes wrong on your watch, the ramifications are disruptive at best, and potentially catastrophic.

My contention is that IT professionals tend to be wired in a way that enables them to cope with stress more successfully than people in other professions, so when asked, they're inclined to minimize the stress level. It's like an individual's threshold for pain: When a doctor asks a patient to describe his pain level on a scale from 0 to 10, one person's 2 is another person's 8.

There may be any number of reasons why IT workers might have a high threshold for stress, but my observation is that a lot of it has to do with the fact that the typical IT professional has an amazingly good sense of humor. I've heard countless IT pros say that you just can't make it in this profession without a sense of humor, and I'm convinced they're right. Simply put, people in IT tend to have an unquenchable ability to laugh.

That observation was crystallized this week at the Midmarket CIO Forum in Orlando, where CIOs and other IT executives from around the country gathered to share their experiences. Despite the severe challenges that virtually every CIO is facing in these times of economic hardship, and the seriousness of the technology issues confronting them, there was simply no room on anyone's agenda for somberness. To the contrary, the refreshing, uplifting sound of laughter could at one point or another be heard in session after session, in meeting room after meeting room. The healthiness of that can't be overstated.

And for what it's worth, I've spent almost a third of my life outside of the U.S., and I've come to recognize that one of our best attributes as Americans is that we tend to have the fortitude to laugh. We're certainly not the only ones, but we're definitely in the top tier. So it's probably not really the case that U.S. workers as a whole are under relatively low stress, either.

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