How I Became the Office Spirit Stick


By David Blackburn

Think back to your days in elementary school, maybe high school. I know it may seem like you’re pushing through a dusty attic of memories—some good, some bad. But see if you can find that box labeled “childhood emotions.” I’m sure it’s old and shoved in some dark corner of your subconscious. I’m going to speak for myself because hey I don’t know you like that—for me, a large part of my childhood was spent trying lots of different things [art, soccer, basketball (those were some dark days)]. There were some successes and some failures, but the thing that remained constant was the support of my parents and friends. It made the wins even better and the losses easier to bear, and truth be told, I feel like for me that remains true to this day: encouragement lightens even the heaviest of days.

Now let’s place that in a work setting. For a lot of my life, I aspired to be viewed as a leader because I directly equated that to success for some odd reason. Fortunately, I’ve come to realize that teamwork is a super complicated business and requires a wide range of diversity—it takes more than just a stellar leader to make a successful team work. With that realization came a discovery about one of my absolutely favorite roles on any team: the cheerleader.

I’m not going to judge you for the stereotypical images flooding your mind right now. I say, “Bring it on” (thank you, thank you). Cheerleaders have gotten a bad rap over the past 30 years. Now to be fair, some of them had it coming to them (I’m thinking of high school cheerleaders that I personally witnessed when I make comments like that). But the concept of cheerleaders is one that I can get behind. Who doesn’t love being praised for a job well done! I sure do.

Moments of triumph can be even sweeter when you have a fan section to witness them. And that’s what I like to be for my co-workers—a fan; see the little wins as well as the big ones and look for moments to lighten the atmosphere and say, “You’re awesome!”

That’s not everybody’s MO, I get that. That’s where the beauty of team diversity comes in. I do think that for those of you who have some desire to infuse some aspect of the whole team cheerleader thing into your day-to-day, there are some simple ways to do so without capsizing the pragmatic ship you may be currently manning. Some people would say that you shouldn’t be inauthentic with your praise. I agree. Here are my three ways to praise:

  • Authenticity is key. If your team just tanked during a big presentation, it does no one any good to congratulate them on a job well done. I think it can be beneficial to point out winning moments from the presentation/rehearsal process and congratulate the contributors on killing it.
  • Look for opportunities to physically or vocally show excitement about the company or projects that you’re working on. I’m convinced that introverts have experienced the emotion “excitement” at least once in their lifetime so I know they know what that sensation feels like. It may take you out of your comfort zone for a few moments but make some noise—let your team see that you’re excited about being with them. Hey, if we’re all going to work until we’re in our 70s, we might as well create a fun atmosphere for ourselves.
  • Finally, write a card…send an email. Do something tangible. It’s a lot nicer to be able to reread someone’s words than have to try and reconstruct the wonderful things they said strictly from memory. I regularly access the “encouragement” folder in my inbox.
    Maybe we carry more of those childhood emotions with us than we originally thought. I still love it when people cheer me on so let’s be that person for one another. Troy said it best, “We’re all in this together!”

Meet David

If money was no object, what would you do all day?

I would probably split my time between theatre, friends, and doing fine art. I’d most definitely be taking my besties on a LONG vacation to the British Isles specifically to see J.K. Rowling’s new plays, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2.

Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?

For some reason Alaska and Russia come to mind. Alaska still has that raw frontier thing going on and for some reason that’s alluring to me—Lord knows, I’d probably be dead within a week. And Russia—there’s just so much mystery there and I’m drawn to ambiguity like that.

If you were to create a piece of art to share with the world, what would the subject be?

It would probably be something fictional—usually most things that I come up with personally are. As far as mediums go, I couldn’t tell ya. Right now I have a musical idea, a short film idea, a children’s storybook idea, and a graphic design piece I’m working on—maybe I should focus myself and actually finish something I start.