This article was published on April 2, 2020

A good CEO confronts their worst fears with humor

Jokes can be a useful tool


A good CEO confronts their worst fears with humor
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and pr.co. Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

Years ago, my father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The news hit us hard, and I rushed over to my parents to see how I could support them. At one point, my father wanted to take a nap, so my mother and I went for a walk. She was sad, scared, and worried, and I tried to console her as best as I could. At one point, she said, “What are we going to do? What if he gets really sick? What’s going to happen to us?”

The logical thing would’ve been to say that everything was going to be okay, not to worry, and to try to focus on the positive. I considered that, but instead, I said, “Well, then he’s going to go through a long and awful suffering, with you by his side and then die an awful death.”

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Now, this is not something I recommend you say to someone who fears their loved one is about to die, but at that moment, it worked. By confronting our worst fears and just blurting them out like that, I relieved some of the pressure of that moment and said what we both feared so much we had trouble even mentioning it.

Through her tears, she laughed out loud, grabbed my arm a little tighter, and we resumed our walk. My father survived, and both my parents are happy and in good health now.

When I’m presented with a problem, I always like to hear the worst and best scenario. It sets the boundaries and allows you to start planning. Sometimes, however, the worst-case scenario is embarrassing or painful to accept, and then humor can help. But it isn’t just when problems arise that I think humor has its use.

I think stories are better remembered and understood when they trigger an emotional response. A story, product, or presentation that makes you sad, happy, or laugh out loud is more likely to stick than just a factual account of events.

At TNW we try to show the human side of technology. Humor certainly is a human trait. Therefore I see it as my responsibility to not always be serious and to seriously joke around.

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