Joy as an Input or Output Image with arrows and question marks

Is Joy An Input Or Output?

Some people hear the word “joy” in relation to the workplace and are immediately confused. In some cases, they can even be rather hostile.  One time, I even heard “Joy?! What kind of shit is that? This is a place of business.” – and he was serious!

Now, it is easy for me to fall into the trap of being judgmental, defensive, or just simply hurt by this. I mean, this is my life’s work, right? But, what I have to remind myself of, is that joy can be seen as an input and/or as an output, and this person is locked in on one. Unfortunately, the wrong one.

Joy As An Output

When we see joy as an output, we are understanding joy as a result. We are conflating it with happiness. We are of the belief that if I make the right moves, good things will happen, and then, from that, joy will occur in my life. It is sort of like buying a lottery ticket.  If you buy the right one, you’ll get a great joyous reward. And, the truth of the matter is, most of us see joy in this way. That joy is the output of our actions, and therefore we need to be very careful with our actions today to help ensure that we get more joy tomorrow.

This is the status quo model for what we call “working for joy.” And while it is not completely wrong, it is insufficient to only have joy as an output of “what” we do. So, having joy as an output is not wrong but to only have joy as an output is very wrong because it keeps us and others working harder and harder every day, chasing after joy when we already have it, within. 

You are not what you do.
You are how you do it so well.

Consider the very language as it is given above.  Do you see how much fear there is dripping from it? Do you see how much negativity and self-judgment derive from it? The only rational understanding that comes from it is that you have to do everything just right and then, if you’re lucky, joy will manifest.  Alternatively, if you are not experiencing joy right now, it is because you messed up somewhere in the past.  Get yourself together!  Why don’t you have more joy?!  Fix it!

Sound like your parents? If so, consider that.  These are likely the people who taught you all about joy – and there isn’t much joy in that.

Pop culture models of joy at work are inverted and reflect the myth that we work to get joy. Leading from joy about letting joy work for you.

Joy As An Input

So let’s, just for a moment, consider the opposite: that joy is an input.

Regardless of what you were taught, joy has already been working for you. Just think back to when you were young. The reality is that as a child you had many experiences of joy and from that joy you were able to make decisions, engage with others, have meaningful impact in the world around you, etc. Your joy was more than an output, it was also an input.

Although, over time, the Corporate Mindset worked rather hard to convince you that joy was not relevant to how you live and lead you’ve still had meaningful of joy. No matter how oppressed or tough your life has been, there has been joy. In fact, you have been allowed to keep your joy of food as a way of deciding where you want to eat and witch whom you want to share the joy of food with. The same is true in even more important ways than just food. Joy is often the calling card of overcoming in the face of difficulty. It is only that we have not been allowed to focus on it, leverage, and drive from it. When we reflect on our joy, we begin to see what is really true about us and our position in the world. It illuminates our “How” and our “Why” despite all of life’s challenges.

So, consider instead what it would look like if you took those experiences of joy and reengaged in them as input, using them as your guides to make decisions, to act differently in the world.  What would change? How would you engage? What would you do first thing in the morning to honor and center your joy?

This is what leveraging joy as an input can look like. It is about using the positive and productive joyful truths in your life as the building blocks for what is next. It is about making sure you are always in your joy so that you don’t have to wait for it to be the result of your next action. It is about understanding yourself through joy, expressing it to the world, and building a life oriented around joy to help ensure that you are constantly tapped into who you really are, in joy, in your Whole Self.

A much more productive mechanism to empower leaders already exists. That mechanism is joy.

Live Joy Forward

I’m sure you see the difference.  But, just in the name of really making the point, I hope you can see how joy can be this hugely productive data set.  How it can be an input to everything that you do, and not just the result of a few select and well-timed actions. So, yes, joy can be an output, but if that is all you ever allow it to be, then the likelihood of you finding yourself in joy is really rather remote – you’re waiting for lightning to strike.  Instead, take those lightning strikes that have already happened, and allow the tremendous energy of them to fuel you forward so that you can get strike after strike after strike!

So, to that gentleman who had such a hostile response to the concept of joy at work, I simply smiled and asked him why he thought joy and a place of business were so incompatible, and, moreover, why his joy wasn’t related to what it is he did every day, why joy wasn’t relevant to his bottom line? He paused and consider what I was offering, and, after a few minutes of conversation, was able to recognize that his view of joy as purely an output to his actions was keeping him from engaging more deeply with his work, and, as a result, from having any joy in it. He became curious about what it would look like to use joy as an input and not just hope for it as an output.

You should do the same. What does leveraging joy as an input even mean for you? What is one thing you could do differently tomorrow informed by your history of joy? And, of course, if you ever need a helping hand to figure it all out, we’re here for you.