It’s been almost impossible to escape the overwhelmingly bad news over the past several weeks. January 6th of 2021 is already a day that will live in infamy. Just short of microwaves and alarm clocks, everything with a screen is there to remind you of a perpetually burning dumpster fire. How are you coming with your New Year’s resolution goals?
In some instances, we have the ability to turn news/noise off. Several of the well known automotive personalities have long advocated that sales personnel shouldn’t pay attention to the news at all. A few of us know this measure to be draconian, because the economy, consumer confidence, Federal Reserve rates, production delays, and so on are all regularly covered by the news. These facts, not opinions, can actually strengthen the dealership’s position, while often adding a much-needed level of urgency. Using the news to an advantage is the antidote to the salesperson tactics that are so often ridiculed by the buying public. Turning it off altogether could be harmful.
If the news is important, then the natural reaction for many is to start to filter news to only “positive” sources of information. Positive is in quotes because it’s extremely subjective. What is positive to you and positive to someone else can vary wildly (Exhibit 1: 2020 election results). One can easily and factually argue that “positive” thinking could be blamed for the student loan crisis, the credit card bubble, and opioid addiction. Despite the statistical probabilities of success, “positivity only” advocates will focus on the statistical anomaly as the norm, then proceed to make it the only goal worth achieving.
As some of the readers are already preparing a gallows for this dear author, let there be some clarification. This is not advocacy for pessimism. Deep down, most are not interested in relishing in the failure of others, unless it involves sports teams losing (Exhibit 2: Ohio State). Even when “positive vibes only” people still label some as “haters.” Let it be obvious that this is a call for moderation.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, we’re seeing the same social media feeds…retweets, shares… so on. Certainly, the majority of people have come to realize that they are seeing a finely orchestrated version of reality, as opposed to the actual truth. Those ripped abs didn’t happen without months at the gym, the perfect skin didn’t happen without makeup or Photoshop, and smiling kids didn’t happen without 137 other photos of weird faces, crying, closed eyes, and parental threats. Those Ritz Carlton rooms are on maxed credit cards, the jewelry quality is exaggerated, and “autolebrity” photos are an awkward 15 seconds of imposition. No individual who is actually doing good work has time to post this contrived nonsense. Yet, these are the standards that are constantly reinforced.
The bombardment doesn’t just stop there. In between all of the hyperbolic activities of those being followed, there is also an onslaught of who’s right and who’s wrong. This expert knows more than that expert. If you’re not using this provider, you’re going to go bankrupt, or possibly go to hell. If you believe this, you have no hope of succeeding, and people will go out of their way to destroy you. This doesn’t even include the political content. Before this sentence is finished, I’ve already been called an idiot, genius, fascist, communist, pragmatist, Zoroastrian, Christian, un-American, American. We still have half to go.
You Can’t Measure up to What’s Not Real
Since benchmarks of excellence are now so impossibly high, or the pathway to success is so elaborately complicated, no one can hope to measure up to success. No one is pretty enough. No one is fit enough. No one is rich enough. No one is woke enough. No one is smart enough. More often than not, these highest levels of excellence are established by people who don’t even do your job on a part-time basis. It’s this constant bombardment of fictitious standards that creates, what I call, Awareness Fatigue.
Awareness Fatigue can be described as being reminded so much about a certain topic that one becomes apathetic to the cause. It’s seeing four Facebook posts, getting a Google alert, five re-tweets, six text messages, a conversation with the boss, and two campaign-generated emails about the same multifaceted issue in the same afternoon. It’s the constant salvo of Google optimization strategies, Disney and Apple customer experiences, the parading around of the best salespeople on the shoulders of champions…then add the copy and pasted political gibberish. It’s a daily deluge of reminders that your hard work and accomplishments simply aren’t good enough. Instead of actually doing something about said cause, like actually rolling up pant legs and getting knee-deep in the shit, simply bringing awareness to an issue is somehow enough.
People Just Want to Know They Matter
As certain Boomers and older Gen-Xers like to point out, subsequent generations got a lot of participation awards, and still do. As a younger Gen-Xer/Xennial, there is certainly a guilty party writing this. The instinct to crush opponents runs strong in some of us. But, not all of us. That’s where the origins of the trophy-for-everyone practice come from.
Ironically, it was the Baby Boomer’s parents that popularized the participation trophy. The rationale was simple. Encourage participants to give their best efforts, win, lose, or draw. By recognizing contribution, the award incentivizes incremental improvement, and more importantly, encourages players to stick around for next season. More passionate participants lead to sustainable teams, built for the longterm. This is where this analogy starts to make sense.
Games are just games. The consequences of losing are negligible all the way until the professional level And, for most pro athletes it’s a gray line between playing an actual game and performing as an entertainer. The majority of humankind would probably think it hilarious to compare themselves to a pro athlete, even the most obscure professional sports. For games, participation trophies are probably overkill. But, jobs are jobs.
For many, work is an extension of their identity. Think of the many people you know with a last name of Miller, Cooper, Smith, Shoemaker, Hunter, Shepherd…names literally derived from what their ancestor did for a living. Then there is the modern affectation of social media handles, with all the car guys and gals, kings and queens of car sales, et al. Their jobs are not games. It’s a matter of feeding the family or paying a credit card bill. Those are the choices they’re given every day. Yet, more often than anyone would like to admit, they’re faced with Awareness Fatigue every single day. How can anyone imagine being held accountable to untouchable standards, when they can’t even get a simple “good job” or an “attagirl” when they deserve it?
People just want to know they matter. This means celebrating progress when there’s progress. Holding them accountable to realistic standards, as opposed to hypothetical ones. Paying them what’s promised, when it’s promised. Accepting growth as growth, even if it’s at their own pace. Saving the story about perseverance, instead telling them to take a break when they’re burnt out. The constant blitz of telling people all the stuff they’re not doing, parading around those who cannot even substantiate the standards they’re presenting, and the continuous spamming of content just has the opposite effect. Before another positivity salvo on social media, try letting someone know they’re valuable the old fashioned way. Face-to-face, and not as part of an ulterior motive to generate likes.
We are wearing ourselves out. We are holding people and ourselves to outrageously high expectations. We are using standards that are contrived and broadcasted by those who have no inkling of what it’s like to walk in your shoes. We are hiring and firing people because they can’t meet immeasurable standards. We are following shepherds, who are so blind that they bump into each other, yet we’ve made their staffs so heavy with gold that they lay trenches in the earth. We go to bed at night thinking about all the imaginary things we didn’t do, instead of celebrating the things that we actually accomplished.
It’s been said before, but continues to need to be said again. Growth takes time. Any improvement that matters doesn’t happen overnight. It takes forever when energy and assets need to continuously be diverted to human resource issues. This is further magnified when being held to standards that are wildly unrealistic. Excellence is a marathon. Try finishing the 26.2 miles before becoming obsessed with setting the world record.