Less stress, more fun: One couple’s war against adultitis

A curious hush falls over the audience as a man takes the stage wearing a faded Captain America T-shirt, a black blazer and jeans. “By a show of hands,” he addresses the crowd, raising his own hand as an example. “How many of you, at one time in your life, were a kid?” A smattering of hands pops up instantly, followed by a hesitant trickle of others, until about half of the audience members have their hands in the air. The remaining half keep theirs skeptically planted in their laps, unaware that they have made the man’s point before his presentation has even begun.

The man on the stage is Jason Kotecki, nationally renowned Certified Speaking Professional and self-proclaimed “professional reminder-er,” and the point his audience has just made for him is that as we get older, we forget the basic truths we knew as kids. He refers to the phenomenon as Adultitis, a term he and Kim Kotecki, his wife and fellow reminder-er, coined themselves.

“Because you get to name a condition if you discover it, right?” is their justification. And quite right, considering the fact that they have both committed their professional and personal lives to combatting Adultitis’s virulent spread.

Hoping to get some further insights into what the Koteckis do and why, I caught up with them to discuss the details of Jason’s program and his upcoming keynote presentation at CUNA’s annual conference for credit union training professionals, CUNA Experience Learning Live!

Adultitis: A National Health Concern

According to the Koteckis, Adultitis is not merely a sustainable lack of the good things that childhood held. It’s more than missing out on the fun; it’s what happens when missing out becomes a cause for prolonged stress and unhappiness. Needless to say, it is not a rare condition in our country.

“Like they say, some stress is good stress,” commented Jason. “But the Adultitis I’m talking about is that chronic stress that builds up over time, affects your health, makes you snap at co-workers and closes your mind to new opportunities. In short, it’s what happens when we forget what it was like to be a kid.”

The trailblazing couple even refer to various stages of Adultitis, each of which introduces greater detriments to the sufferer’s productivity, teamwork and morale. “Most people have some form of it, because as adults, we have more to worry about and more responsibilities than we did as kids,” Jason went on. “But the fact remains that a lot of different sources say kids laugh 400 times a day and adults laugh only 15. I’d like to try to move the needle if we can.”

During his presentations, Jason speaks animatedly about the strategies and secrets of childhood – the universal truths that kids have figured out, and that we as adults might spend the rest of our lives trying to rediscover. “Whether it’s their natural curiosity, their passion for life or their willingness to be playful, these are extremely useful tools that we can use in our own lives for problem solving and stress relief,” explained Jason. “That’s kind of what we’re all about: Observing how Adultitis seems to have taken over the world – especially in more corporate environments – and trying to remind people of stuff they already know.

The role of a Professional Reminder-er

Adultitis loves when we’re at our busiest, when we’re so focused on bottom lines and what’s next and what needs to get done that we lose track of why we’re doing any of it in the first place.

That’s where Jason comes in, inviting his audiences to think back to their childhoods with an inspiring, humorous and heartwarming presentation on relieving unnecessary stress. “The truth is, we were all kids. We were all experts at this stuff, so anything that I typically say in my presentation is not, as I joke, rocket surgery. It’s not a new concept. I say my role is as a professional reminder-er, which seems very simple but I’ve learned over the years how important it is.”

His reminder-ing is especially vital as our mobile technology and deadline-centric society constantly demands that we do more work will fewer resources.  Oftentimes, adults simply don’t have time to stop and think beyond the next line in a long list of cumbersome, day-to-day tasks.

“I remind people of stuff they knew, but haven’t thought about for years. And for some people, that ‘Why don’t I do that anymore?’ moment can be a big break through.” Jason paused, choosing his next words carefully, “I’m kind of a professional reminder-er and a professional permission granter, because a lot of the things that I suggest are about having fun or are things that adults secretly want to do, but are waiting to be shown a value or a benefit.”

From Say Anything to Spaghetti Slinging

Jason’s program is well-known for its heavy incorporation of pop culture references, personal artwork and ideas for shaking off stress and taking oneself less seriously. Having started his career as an artist, he was surprised to find that it took him so long to begin using his own art as a presentation tool. “It’s a weird thing – you forget that the things you’re really good at are really easy to take for granted,” he mused. “For me, the art is a great way to hook a visual. There’s something about it that creates an emotional reaction and if I can have a piece of art that goes along with the story I’m telling or the point I’m making, that visual then serves as the emotional anchor for people to remember it by later.”

As for the pop culture references, I caught a glint in Jason’s eye as he explained that for him, they serve as a way to draw generations together and create common bonds. He explained that if he refers to a movie that’s 20 years old, like the boombox scene from Say Anything, part of his audience will immediately break out into excited whispering about how they love and remember that moment. On the other hand, he’s also mindful to include references to newer movies that the more seasoned audience members may not know. He likened the result to a freeway, providing multiple entry points for people to jump in on his content.

“Also, it’s just fun,” he added. “How often can you talk about movies and movie stars or characters from Star Wars in a business professional setting and make it relevant?”

Kim pointed out that most of the ideas Jason shares are not so much concrete steps or complicated life plans as they are ways to break up the monotony of day-to-day life – ideas like Barbarian Spaghetti, which involves a plastic table cloth, an upended bowl of spaghetti and no plates; or Sticky Cup, which the Koteckis proudly admitted to playing with their own kids: “You take an empty McDonalds cup and tape it to the top of your car. Then drive around town and watch people’s reactions.”

A lot of the best ideas I’ve seen are as simple as telling a joke or bringing in brownies,” Jason added. “The issue I run into a lot is people discounting these ideas because they’re so simple, but sometimes it’s the simplest things that can be the most effective in twisting a perspective, opening someone’s mind, or starting a meeting on the right foot with a laugh.”

Living the story you want to tell.

When it comes to their audiences’ daily struggle against Adultitis, the Koteckis always prescribe a big-picture approach. That is, addressing the source of the ailment rather than temporarily treating its symptoms.

“There are a lot of books, resources and speakers that have great content on how to fit more in your day and how to deal with the stressors that we all have,” explained Jason. “Kim and I look at stress more from a 25,000-foot perspective: Look at your life as a story and an overall general direction. What kind of story are you telling? When you can figure that out, it puts everything else into perspective and a lot of the day-to-day annoyances become manageable.

It’s like the old metaphor of climbing a corporate ladder and you realize when you get to the top that it was leaning against the wrong tree. You’re so busy going in a direction that you don’t stop and think, ‘Which direction am I heading?’ It’s not my job to tell people what direction to take, but to make sure they’re going where they’re going on purpose.”

Passing on the role of Reminder-er.

This October, Jason will speak in front of credit union trainers from across the country at CUNA Experience Learning Live!, an annual conference dedicated to showcasing personal training styles and improving credit unions’ educational cultures. So, what will Jason’s program have to offer a room full of experienced training professionals?

“Hopefully, it’ll be a chance to laugh,” he suggested without hesitation. “A chance to have fun, a chance to learn some new things that you can do with friends, family, loved ones, coworkers to make the day-to-day workplace more fun, but also to get out of that rut and get fired up again.

One of the things I try to do with attendees of conferences like CUNA Experience Learning Live! – people who are leaders or trainers themselves – is to remind them that they, too, get to be permission granters. That means letting the people we’re training know that it’s okay to have some fun. Even if it’s a heavy or important topic, we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. People need to be empowered before they’ll show their weird sides.”

Does Adultitis have a cure?

The Koteckis grimaced in unison as I concluded with this question.

After a moment of careful consideration, Jason ventured a response. “I tend to believe that Adultitis is not completely curable. For instance, I would love it if I could just eat salad for a week and then never have to worry about my weight again. Adultitis is the same way; there are things you can do to bring it into what I call a ‘controllable state of remission,’ but it’s coming after us every single day. As long as we have busy-ness and stress and other people, there’s always going to be Adultitis.”

“However,” he went on. “I will say that if you have a full-blown case, there is always hope. I’ve seen some people with some pretty extreme cases that are completely different people now – not necessarily because of anything I said, but because they decided it was time for a change and steered their stories in the direction they wanted them to go.”

Jason will be a keynote speaker at this year’s CUNA Experience Learning Live!, which will take place October 26-29, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. For more information on the Koteckis, their work and to learn more about booking Jason for a speaking engagement, visit their website at www.escapeadulthood.com.

Marlo Foltz

Marlo Foltz

For the past 20 years, Marlo has designed and overseen training programs for credit union employees, executives and boards. As Vice-President of Blended Learning at CUNA, Marlo is responsible for ... Web: www.cuna.org Details