I’ve got a grinning plastic monkey leaning on my computer screen. It was a gift from my friend and former colleague Kelly (hi Kelly!) seven years ago when we were the two (very busy) communicators at the big federal lab in our city (the only Level 4 lab in the country) and we had to bust our butts to develop a communication plan for how to tell the public that our scientists were going to begin injecting monkeys with the scary SARS virus. Though most people want scientists to develop vaccines to protect us from viruses, few of us are happy to know that monkeys have to be sacrificed in the process. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pleasant story to release to the media, and we were all rather nervous about what the animal rights groups might do in reaction.

That cute little monkey has represented several things for me in the past seven years. First of all, in a “make light of a difficult situation” way, it represented the monkeys who were giving their lives for the cause of science. But more than that, for Kelly and me it represented the HUGE challenge we had trying to convince the political and bureaucratic powers-that-be that we had a responsibility to release the information to the public and that we shouldn’t just sneak the monkeys in under the cover of darkness. (Don’t even get me started on the other challenges that year, like the fact that we were the centre of a big media storm over both SARS and Mad Cow Disease coming to Canada. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.) You’ve heard about “getting the monkeys off our backs”? Well, the heavyweights we were dealing with at the time certainly felt like big powerful monkeys, sometimes trying to cloy our vocal cords out.

A few years ago, my boss at my current job (which I came to after near burnout at the lab), passed around an article to all of the managers about getting better at “getting the monkeys off our backs”. This time the monkey analogy represented the extra duties and baggage we as managers sometimes take on.  The article was about learning to delegate tasks and make staff take responsibility for their own projects rather than having everything end up on our shoulders.

It seems monkeys are forever getting a bad rap. If it’s not the “monkey on your back” then it’s the “monkey mind” that the Buddhists talk about when they’re referring to the way our distractable brains jump from one thought to the next and seldom come to rest on one tree.

With all these bad connotations, I wondered if it was time to retire that cute little monkey now that I won’t have the “monkeys” of senior management on my back, or even the opportunity to offload “monkeys” onto my staff.

But instead, I decided to redeem the monkey. It’s time for a little monkey love, I say!

I’m rather fond of that googly-eyed grinning monkey, so from now on, he’s only going to represent GOOD things. Like the fact that my new consulting career will allow me to jump from one tree limb to the next and never get bored because I’m stuck in the same old tree. And the fact that my diverse interests in different ideas and settings is a blessing instead of a curse. And the fact that my monkey mind is a thing of beauty in the way that it helps me adapt to the world.

Yup, I can identify with that monkey. He suits me just fine. I want to check out every tree instead of settling on just one! I want to travel through the jungle with a joie de vivre that the animals stuck on the ground can’t quite understand. I want to chatter with glee when I find new discoveries that I think other people should get excited about. I want to relish the joy of swinging just for the sake of swinging.

Grin on, plastic monkey!

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