Why you shouldn’t keep calm and carry on

It’s a thoroughly British phrase, coined more than 70 years ago, as one of three propaganda posters produced by the British government in the run-up to World War II. The other two got used, but “Keep Calm” was placed on reserve, for use only in times of crisis, and actually never saw the light of day.

The government of the day were essentially asking the populace to dig deep into their resilient selves and work as a team.  Quite right too.

These days, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ has come to mean ‘grin and bear it’ and is known across the world as one of the most annoying and overused phrases ever invented. And here we are, many decades later, grinning and bearing it on the back of a huge global economic crisis.

The state of the job market and the general gloominess around it has resulted in stagnant salaries, lack of opportunity to move up the career ladder and seething resentment all round.  There’s nothing worse than having colleagues muttering away about how badly off they feel to make you feel even more negatively about your job.

Against this backdrop, there’s a lot of seething resentment in workplaces across the land, where employees are fed up of ‘keeping calm and carrying on’.

Well, as someone reminded me yesterday, there’s little point in worrying about stuff that might not happen and that you can’t control. But sometimes, it’s important to get excited.  In fact, being calm isn’t necessarily helpful.

Let’s all get a little more excitable

I’m inclined to believe that we’ve been conditioned to stay in a permanent state of calmness. Let’s face it; it’s far easier to control large numbers of people when they are not over excited.

I think Oscar Wilde was right about this. He said that ‘worry is misspent imagination’. Looking at the research, it seems that we make poorer decisions when we are worried, but the state of arousal that we are in when we are excited has the reverse effect.

 ‘Worry is misspent imagination’. Oscar Wilde

In some great research by Harvard Medical School, a study looked at anger in the workplace. They found that people who tried to repress frustration at work were more likely to feel trapped under a glass ceiling than those who found ways to let it all out.

Don’t get it wrong. This isn’t a licence to lose it on a frequent basis. We’re talking about channelled anger.  But ‘individuals who learn how to express their anger while avoiding the explosive and self-destructive consequences of unbridled fury have achieved something incredibly powerful in terms of overall emotional growth and mental health,” said Professor George Vaillant, lead author of the study.

But we knew that didn’t we?  Haven’t you had a manager who is an emotional zombie? They are as bad as the ones that throw tantrums.The fact is that when you repress your natural desire to get excited or angry sometimes, you very rarely lose the anger. You just don’t show it, and it gets buried somewhere else, ready to boil over another time.

Aren’t we supposed to think positively though?

Am I the only one to find the current attempts to make us all concentrate on emotional happiness, constantly looking for ways to purge ourselves of negative emotions rather weird?  The popular psychology of today has convinced us that there’s no choice other than to be positive or negative.  Basically, negative emotions like anger are not to be encouraged.  Our emotional lives have been oversimplified.  It leads to a lot of wishful thinking and not a lot of facing up to reality.

There’s way too much emphasis on being calm and happy, IMHO. And it’s despite the fact that the greatest inventors and entrepreneurs of our time are not usually known for their zen like qualities.  I urge you all to get a little more excitable every now and then.  It’ll do wonders for your career.










Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.


  1. Ian Reply →

    Hi Alex, I agree with this post in all but this one small line: “it’s far easier to control large numbers of people when they are over excited”. This line is wrong because it is when people are not calm that they start protesting, however those people do tend to be angry rather than excited.

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