Looking for a work mantra
November 26, 2021 8:44 PM   Subscribe

I got an office job. I would like my work personality to lean towards quiet smart problem-solver, but I seem to be already moving towards my more traditional personality of gum-chewing smartass. I need a quick mantra that I can tape up so that I will see it, which will remind me to STFU and at least slow down on the smartass comments. It is reasonable to think that other people who come to talk to me might ALSO see this taped up thing, which creates its own problems.

Part of the problem here is that I am SO HAPPY to be back with other people that all I want to do is talk at them and tell them stupid jokes about ANYTHING because they are NEW PEOPLE and my brain is just tickled pink to have new people to say funny things to! These poor people.
I need suggestions for a quick 2-4 word phrase that will remind me that I am 20 years older than these people I work with, that I don't need to say every smartass comment that pops into my head, and that acting a tiny bit mature at work (at least at the beginning? When they don't really know me yet.) will be good for my career and might help me be taken seriously when the time comes for me to start trying to improve things.
I don't want this mantra that I'm hoping to tape up on my cube to make me look like the kind of person who tapes mantras up at their cube, it seems a little too over-earnest for me. I do plan to write it pretty small, and probably on a little strip of paper on the monitor (where it will be fighting for space with post-its, so not, hopefully, super obvious to others.)
I tend to self-correct pretty quickly with the gum, I don't need help there.
posted by Vatnesine to Human Relations (42 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Let others talk?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:48 PM on November 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is really aimed at different issues, but maybe close enough: Jessica Hagy, "The many gifts of awkward SILENCE." It has some things in it that could be used as mantras / reminders: found in quiet moments; the hero you deserve to be; etc.

PS. Grats on the job!
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:53 PM on November 26, 2021 [7 favorites]

Keep calm and carry on
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:04 PM on November 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

WAIT = Why Am I Talking?

This worked for me! Congrats on the job.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:20 PM on November 26, 2021 [28 favorites]

My boss has coached me:
Be brief
Be bright
Be gone
posted by itsamermaid at 9:47 PM on November 26, 2021 [32 favorites]

I think, "Ace Ventura... at 60". Shuts me down every time. Like a glove.
posted by zaixfeep at 10:13 PM on November 26, 2021 [6 favorites]

I remind myself "pause, breathe, listen."
posted by rpfields at 10:18 PM on November 26, 2021

“Use your inside voice”?
posted by vunder at 10:26 PM on November 26, 2021

I love the sort-of-Stephen-Covey quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I shorten it to the first sentence when I’m using it as an actual verbal mantra.
posted by librarylis at 10:28 PM on November 26, 2021 [7 favorites]

You could do something amusing like "Listen twice as much as you speak, that's why you have two ears and only one mouth." It feels less earnest to me because of the humor, and more like general good advice for life as opposed to a "note to self."
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:21 PM on November 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could you use a little picture or desk ornament instead? Maybe there’s a character who embodies the idea you’re going for that you could pass off as decoration.

Alternatively, you make up an acronym that resembles a password and put that on your note.
posted by Comet Bug at 11:54 PM on November 26, 2021 [7 favorites]

I have a tattoo that says “wait for it”. This is. Hamilton sing title but also a general reminder to myself if what you’re saying.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:23 AM on November 27, 2021

Try to get in the habit of considering what you're about to say and asking yourself whether it's True, Helpful, Timely, and Kind. Pretty sure I first learned this as Right Speech while reading about Buddhism.
posted by kingless at 3:40 AM on November 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

If you want low key a simple post it saying "don't forget the thing" might work. You seem aware enough that you won't forget what the thing is but, to Coworkers it is super vague and could be anything from a work related check to a grocery reminder. Some more curious ones might ask what the thing is and you can decide then what to say.
posted by dstopps at 4:05 AM on November 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

Years ago someone's comment on metafilter taught me "Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me right now?"
posted by sy at 5:25 AM on November 27, 2021 [21 favorites]

Maybe a picture on your desk of yourself in a suit and tie looking adult. [It can have other people in it so it doesn't seem narcissistic. ]
posted by SemiSalt at 5:29 AM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

No one likes extroverts.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 5:38 AM on November 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

Something like "enjoy the silence" or "wait for the pause" could be passed off as just a general prompt for mindfulness. I wouldn't think twice if I saw something like that on a co-worker's desk.

I think no matter what it is, as long as you know what it means, it should work, even if it's just a photo of a sleeping kitten or something. The key is in taking that conscious moment to look at it and remember.
posted by fight or flight at 6:03 AM on November 27, 2021

The failure mode of smart ass is just ass.
posted by phunniemee at 6:31 AM on November 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

When I start to make a smartass post on someone's social media I ask myself "am I saying this for me or them?"
posted by noloveforned at 6:33 AM on November 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

I had a break-up mantra for when I was tempted to moon endlessly about my terrible ex. I reduced it to an acronym and read it over to myself frequently. Had I put it in a public place, I might've worked the letters into an abstract graphic presentation to disguise them completely. Having a posted reminder around is definitely helpful, but you don't want to be One Of Those Aphorism People.

You could could come up with an acronym and spend your evenings cross-stitching a little sampler with the letters concealed in roses or cute animals or something and get a little frame for it and if anyone asked you could say your adorable niece gave it to you for your desk. You could also probably etsy that, but doing the cross-stitching yourself might cement it in your brain better.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:40 AM on November 27, 2021

I came here to say more or less what Comet Bug said:
Maybe there’s a character who embodies the idea you’re going for that you could pass off as decoration.
A visual reminder to act more like [Character who embodies the desirable traits] could help you tune your behavior, and double as a conversation starter with coworkers who also appreciate [Movie or Show featuring Character].
posted by D.Billy at 6:45 AM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

When I was still in the office, I put up a picture of Oscar Wilde to remind myself that I am an artist and my job is not my life. A few people asked who he was, but over twenty years, not one person asked why I had his picture up. So nthing picture of someone who embodies what you are going for. I don't know who could be similarly meaningful for you - off the top of my head, the first person who comes to mind is Atticus Finch as played by Gregory Peck.

I was listening to a podcast by a priest who was talking about why it's not great to model yourself after Chandler Bing, and he talked about a seminary where they actually put in place a "no sitcom style" rule because the seminarians were all being smartasses.

I put quotes on index cards and put them around my house, and I got this cool card holder from Etsy. If you use that, people will talk about the holder and not what you wrote on the card. Or maybe it will draw attention to the quote. What do I know? I just really love the holder.
posted by FencingGal at 7:10 AM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also, consider a picture of Mr. Rogers. Lots of people like Mr. Rogers. Watch videos of him on youtube and how he talks to children. You can feel him listening - it is amazing and what I aspire to.
posted by FencingGal at 8:45 AM on November 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Two phrases that have been incredibly important for me: listening is an act of love, and don’t expect applause.

It also helps me to remember improv technique: trying to be the funniest person on the stage makes for supremely un-funny theater. Trying to make your *partners* shine is what really works. Congrats on the job!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 8:55 AM on November 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

A phrase from improv: “yes, and!” It conveys the approach of not shutting down other people’s ideas by trumping them with our own - when someone proposes a creative direction, we play along (yes!) and build on that idea in ways that invite them to play along, too (and!).
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 8:58 AM on November 27, 2021

This cute turtle is linked in the Mefi Mall and is fitting.
posted by Comet Bug at 10:40 AM on November 27, 2021

Someone posted an amazing comment on this site once about an old man on a porch talking about a raccoon as a way to go slowly. “I’ve seen a lot of things...” maybe-
1 find that comment
2 hang a picture of a raccoon
3 etc
4 profit
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:50 AM on November 27, 2021

How about a pack of gum, or lots of packs scattered here and there. Keep one in your pocket. Change types when you quit seeing the first one.
Even better, get a gumball machine for your office.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:40 AM on November 27, 2021

Oh, right, a mantra...No Gum Chewing Allowed.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:43 AM on November 27, 2021

My personal work mantra is "Live, laugh, love". Yes, that old chestnut. Reminds me A. That I want to be perceived as the kind of person who has that festooned all over their house in lieu of a personality because at work your personality is a liability and B. Literally reminding myself to do those things.
posted by bleep at 2:20 PM on November 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you want it to seem like you picked out the saying personally, make a card with the saying on it and stand it up on your desk. Put an innocuous greeting on the inside in case anyone looks at it, maybe a congratulation on the new job signed by some initials.
posted by yohko at 2:48 PM on November 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

What about a sculpture or painting of an ear, or featuring an ear prominently? Quirky, maybe, but not really enough to attract much attention. People make relatively inexpensive desktop sculptures of individual facial features of Michelangelo's David, for instance. You could position one as a paperweight.
posted by babelfish at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe the no skateboarding dogs park sign

It's quirky and fun and reminds you to be less quirky and fun.
posted by DebetEsse at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2021

I came here to say WAIT but someone else got there first!

I am prone to monopolizing the conversation, which isn't a great look but especially not great for a manager who cares about letting my team have opportunities to shine. So I taped a small, decorative W.A.I.T. to my laptop to remind me in meetings to STFU unless I had a very good reason to do otherwise. It really did help me take over the conversation less--and as a bonus, when I did talk it was more well-thought-out because it gave me a little time to consider and think through how to say what I needed to say.

I also really like "listening is an act of love" which, to the casual observer, just looks like a benignly inspirational quote.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:27 PM on November 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

During a time when I was feeling particularly anxious and unhappy at my job, I came up with a mantra that was helpfuI, but definitely not something I could post at my desk. So I just pinned up a piece of paper on which I'd written the first letters of each word of the sentence.

Then came the pandemic. I've been back to my office maybe 3 times since March 2020. The paper is still there. Unfortunately, I no longer remember the mantra!
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:11 PM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]


similar to above, kids learn it as a way to decide whether to say something. Is it: True, Helpful, Insightful, Necessary, and Kind? Kind of a high bar but good advice!

Among other things, it helps me avoid bitching about people in other departments.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:00 AM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think one aspect of being a good listener is to ask questions. Get a bust of Socrates?
posted by at at 10:30 AM on November 28, 2021

If it sounds like fun to you, create a sigil! One way to do this is to write your intention / mantra, remove vowels and duplicate letters, and combine the letters into a design.
posted by beyond_pink at 12:07 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

“Do you want to be right or do you want to solve the problem?”
posted by jasondigitized at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2021

When I'm in a mode like what I think you're describing, I keep finding myself wanting to jump in again and again. So maybe something like "allow space for serendipity" or "let the idea breathe" would be a reminder that seems bland enough that (as bleep suggests) other people might not find it noticeable.
posted by Lexica at 11:55 AM on November 29, 2021

Work your acre
posted by Caxton1476 at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2021

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