I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’…
I can still remember the day when my good friend sat down with me in a Starbucks in Atlanta and said, “I want you to come back to Bosnia with me.” He was going there to work with the organization that I currently work for, and he was overtly recruiting me to with him. I had lived in Bosnia for a short time right after college, a period during which many surely thought I was sowing my wild oats. I’d get the travel bug out of my system soon and come back and settle down.
But as soon as I heard “come back to Bosnia”, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt a burning desire to go back and help build something meaningful. We mulled the decision over for about a year, but my wife and I eventually decided to go.
Learning a new world
The U.S. can be very different from the rest of the world. Living in Eastern Europe has been an adventure in adjusting to new cultural norms. But somewhere in the process of acquiring a new language and learning new customs, people tend to change. We’ll always be foreigners, but we’re no longer the same people that left the U.S. in 2010.
Yes, there are new habits and tastes that have developed, but most important is the new awareness that has resulted from our time overseas — awareness of ourselves that we would not have had, had we stayed home.
I’ve learned how to survive — quite well — without all the creature comforts available back home. My children speak a different language fluently. I speak a different language. I’ve learned organizational skills I never would have learned had I stayed in my old job. And the young people I have worked with have given me more than I’ve ever given them.
The last shall be first.
In this upside-down world in which we live, I think the principle arises that might not have been as visible before. When one ventures out to help others, often the giver benefits more than the receiver — but in ways that were unanticipated before. The one who helps might gather up clothes to donate to the needy, but in that process they gain an understanding of the things that people truly need. Or, they gain lifelong friends in the process of teaching an English class. Building a staircase might serve a temporal need, but the knowledge and skills gained in the process are valuable for a lifetime.
In the end, the givers become the receivers, the first become last, and those who give help discover just how needy they are.
Willingness — it’s an attitude, a posture, a way of thinking. A strong will embraces life in the midst of great challenges. Everyone wants to work in an environment that feeds the will, that encourages people to give their all and make sacrifices for the company. But the conventional wisdom about work might be what keeps us from having the experience we know we want.
The conventional wisdom says we work from 9 to 5.
In a lot of offices, you are expected to get the bulk of your work done 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. There’s nothing wrong with that, but problems come when we allow the office schedule to influence our thinking so that we become unproductive. Case in point: we’ve all had the boss who says, “just make sure you get your 8 hours in.”
Thinking 9 to 5 can make us really unproductive.
So here’s what happens: we sit and wait for 5:00 to come. Why? Because we are being “good employees”, getting our 8 hours in. The problem is that logging time merely for the sake of fulfilling 8 hours is inefficient and expensive. Somewhere in our subconscious, we are aware that we won’t be able to finish anything we start after 4:00, and so we devolve into busy work in order to eek out that last hour so that we can go home.
But what value have we actually produced in that last hour? And… how many times have we followed that same pattern at other parts of the day — like the first 30 minutes before or after a meeting? or the last 30 minutes or so before lunch? Or the 10 minutes around the water cooler?
Just getting in your 8 hours probably costs the organization at least an hour a day of true productivity. That’s at least 12% of all the time we work.
Just getting in your 8 hours also probably creates a desire to log more hours than we should, in an effort to appear more productive. That affects us throughout the workday.
We know that people don’t really want to work in that kind of environment. People really want to put their best foot forward — to actually bill hours when they do their best work, and to be free to do their best work and be able to log the time appropriately. And nobody wants to work in an office where there are always some people just eeking out that last hour.
So how can we break the cycle? 4 things.
As workers, we’ve got to make work sacred.
Everyone knows who spends too much time cutting up at the water cooler, or who takes the most smoke breaks. We’ve got to come to the place where we decide to leave those things at home. Embrace work as work.
As leaders, we’ve got to learn how to encourage productivity.
If you’re a leader, it’s not because you’re better. It’s so that you can bring out the best in your subordinates. Encouraging people to do things simply to fill out a timesheet usually doesn’t help the company’s bottom line. We’ve got to be more concerned with real productivity.
Organizations need to be a little more flexible — workers need to be a little more rigid.
A flexible organization is always innovating, changing with its environment — a lot like an organism. On the other hand, workers tend to want to push the envelope a little too far.
As people, we’ve got to communicate better.
Better communication usually leads to better results. Teams that practice honesty will be more nimble, and will be able to perform better. Good communication will foster openness and support — allies of creativity and productivity.
Ultimately, honesty, courage, and action are the keys to a willing attitude — at home and in the office. If we can find it in ourselves to rethink our attitude toward rest, then why can’t we also question our attitude toward the workday as well?
When Americans go to live overseas, it is usually because of their job. They go there to work, and for most of us, the arrangement is temporary. When we know that we are transient, it is easy to get into routines that are unbalanced. Family and personal health can suffer as a result. Here are a few things I have found that help me stay balanced as an expat.
Cut the grass.
OK — I realize that many people who move overseas will end up in an apartment where they don’t have a yard. So, if you are fortunate enough to find a house with a nice little yard, cut your own grass. But if you find yourself in an apartment building in the middle of the city, let this be analogous to maintaining your own home — just as you would if you lived in your home country.
The reason for this is that many of us end up settling for a living situation that we would never accept back home. Things break and we don’t get them fixed, we neglect to hang pictures on the walls, and we fail to make our homes into the nice, warm abode we would have made otherwise. Your home needs to be your castle — a place where you can relax and be at ease after a long day of work. Don’t neglect this subtle element of life, or you will come to regret it.
Learn to fix things yourself.
Over the years, plenty of things have broken in our houses, and we’ve been in need of a handyman plenty of times. Don’t misunderstand me — there is nothing wrong with calling a handyman. However, I have been disappointed so many times that I decided I was better off just buying some tools and learning to fix a few things on my own. And in the end, I think I’m a better person for it — I ended up gaining good skills and maybe (maybe not) saving a few bucks in the process.
Make things with your hands for your family.
This is a personal belief of mine, so feel free to disagree or leave a comment below. I believe that spending time making and doing things with your hands builds discipline and patience, traits that are necessary for successful family life. It also helps you take pride in something you’ve produced by the sweat of your own brow — a process that can positively influence the way you do your “real work” when you are at the office.
Ride a bike or walk to work.
Many who move overseas find that it is suddenly possible, in their new surroundings, to eschew driving a car, at least for the daily commute to and from work. I took up commuting by bike last year, but in years past I had always walked. Many joke that it’s part of the so-called American weight-loss plan that American expats commonly take up when they move overseas: cut out fast food (because it doesn’t exist), walk everywhere (because you often have to), immediately lose x-number of pounds 😉
Participate in sports.
This is a big habit that can be healthy in more ways than one. Participating in sports with a group of people, be it organized sports or just a pickup game in a park, builds friendship and camaraderie. And in the end, the relationships forged may be the biggest positive outcome of spending a couple hours playing a game.
Find community activities for your children.
Your children would be involved in a dozen different extracurricular activities if you lived in your home country. So don’t just assume that while you’re overseas they’ll be fine spending all their time either at home or school. They need time at friends’ houses, local libraries, etc. And they also need things to do that stretch their physical and mental abilities. Find them a tennis school or organized swimming lessons. Enroll them in an art class at a church or local school. Find something — you won’t regreat the experience, and they will make new friends.
Go on dates with your wife.
This is the big thing that many of us tend to neglect for some reason. If we were in our home country, we would not go years without taking our wives out for a nice coffee or dinner together. But for some reason, when we move overseas, that becomes acceptable. Buck the trend! Find a babysitter and go out — even if it’s just for an ice cream or a nice walk in town, and even if it’s just for an hour or two. You need to spend time together, without the kids and without the distractions of life abroad.
Become a connoisseur of local attractions, restaurants, and cafes.
I still haven’t done this, but I would like to. It’s important to become aware of the nice things to do in one’s town. It’s especially important when hosting guests from out of town — something that us expats tend to do a lot of. Learning about one’s surroundings also fosters a willing spirit and an increased appreciation for the city.
Keep up with local cultural events.
This is related to the previous point, but implies an ongoing habit of keeping abreast of the events in one’s town or city. If there is a festival or concert in town, chances are it would also be a good opportunity for a date.
Find a regular watering hole.
Find a great place, and find some friends who will go there with you regularly. I have a group of men with whom I go to a local pub once a week. This is a great time, and I look forward to it each week. As a foreigner, you don’t have that many opportunities to simply go and spend time with people, tell stories, and cut up. Even if you don’t imbibe, most “pubs” around the world serve espresso or other drinks as well as alcohol, and don’t care if you personally choose to abstain. Take this opportunity to let your guard down and be yourself — you won’t regret it.
This post is something of a personal memoir; if you have no interest in reading about popular music from the 1990s and 2000s, feel free to skip this one.
I can vaguely remember, about 24 years ago, hearing “The Freshmen” for the first time. It was the epitome of the new sound, something my friends and I called simply “alternative” music. As that drum beat rolled along, I was shocked — this was the first time I had ever heard abortion and suicide mentioned in the same song. But at the same time, I was irrevocably, indelibly hooked.
I couldn’t explain what had hooked me; later I would understand that as a teenager, I felt angst because of my impression that the world around me didn’t really listen to me. And I would connect with angst-filled songs because I identified with the emotions they expressed.
Enter the genre of so-called “alternative” music. This was a never-ending sea of angst, there to make us feel heard and validated. That’s how it seemed then, but nearly 25 years on, it seems much different.
Everything looks different in the rear-view.
As an adult, my mind now goes to the actual suicides (the one from “The Freshman” was fictional) of alt-rock superstars Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, and the overdose of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. See, the Verve Pipe was never able to follow up on the success of “The Freshman”, but Cornell, Bennington, and Weiland produced many of alt-rock’s hits through the 90s and early 2000s.
These are not the only alt-rock musicians that have succumbed to suicide or overdose in recent years. Matthew Roberts of 3 doors down was found dead last year after an overdose. There’s Mikey Welsh (Weezer), Mike Star (Alice in Chains), Paul Gray (Slipknot), Dave Brockie (Gwar), Elliott Smith… the list goes on.
Time after time, we failed to recognize danger.
I can vaguely remember when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana killed himself. It shook the rock world. And in the wake of a suicide, people are always apt to sugar-coat things. People said, “We lossed him,” and, “He passed,” just the same as they would have if he had died of old age. But he wasn’t old — he wasn’t even 30 years old. He left behind a wife and a daughter.
Scott Weiland was a complex character, convicted of buying drugs in 1995 and sent to jail for a while; I can still remember radio stations counting down the days until he would be paroled and become able to tour again. Stone Temple Pilots released a new album and were suddenly back at the top of the charts.
These alt-rock performers were kings and queens — they could do as they pleased because their respect for the law paled in comparison to their lust for the stage. And nobody penalized them for their misdeeds. Cobain eventually became something of a martyr; Weiland, little more than misunderstood.
We smeared the character of those who made one politically incorrect statement in public; but drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and suicide, were all excused, as long as we fans could keep listening to their angst-filled songs.
If we can’t recognize death, it will kill us.
Obviously, I would never advocate being insensitive about suicide. In the wake of death, it is appropriate to say, “We lost him”. But eventually, there must come a point where we publicly acknowlege that, though we loved the person, we despise what they did. Somehow, that point never came for us, the alt-rock generation. And now, as musicians continue to succumb, we are paying the price.
We weren’t actually being authentic, even though we said we were.
As I look back all these years later, it becomes apparent that we didn’t actually identify with these singers — not the way we thought we did. We didn’t share some kind of good connection with them as we drove down the highway, listening to them scream about infidelities. We weren’t appreciating them — we were using them.
They were our crutch, our escape, our drug. We cared not for their wellbeing; we cared only that they seemed to give us a voice.
The tragedy here is incredibly complex. It seems apparent now that if we, the public, had ever drawn any kind of line in the sand — if we had ever said that violence, harmful drug abuse, or suicide would result in our disavowal of a rock star — it may have made a difference. It seems to work in other genres.
But we never placed any boundary on the behavior of our beloved rock stars. And as they used us to support their lust for the stage, we were happy, so long as we could use them as our loudspeaker. This is the culture that has led to death, and continues to give those on the edge an inkling that violence and suicide are within the realm of what is acceptable.
And that’s why the suicides of three rock superstars should matter to us. We’ve got to make a stand, as the alt-rock generation. Our lives depend on it.
“You will realize that other people just don’t have the freedoms that we have,” said my dinner host as we sat down to eat.
I was young — 22, just out of college, and getting ready to go overseas for a year to work with young people in Sarajevo. I was raising money to cover the expenses for my time overseas, and I had just been connected with what would turn out to be my last donor.
“There are many beautiful places to visit, but the people that live there are not free,” they said. “You will realize this, the longer you live and work outside the United States.”
And so I embarked on my journey, with that idea in mind. As I landed in Sarajevo, I can remember looking for all the ways in which people would be walking around, shackled, wishing for a better life. After a while, I asked my boss what he thought. He dismissed the idea outright, and said, “Jonathan, those kinds of people will never live overseas.”
This was a paradigm shift for me. It may seem like a simple thing, but I had been raised — just like many young Americans — to believe that the United States is undeniably the best country in the world, and that everyone outside the U.S. lives their life trying to get there.
Most people don’t really want to leave their home country, any more than Americans want to leave America.
Over the next several years, I came to appreciate the United States in new ways, but I also gained valuable perspective on how people live in other countries. Here are a few points that I came to realize…
Most people don’t really want to leave their home country, any more than Americans want to leave America.
As I have actually seen a few people leave their home and emigrate to the U.S., the emotions that I have observed have been overwhelmingly bittersweet. Unless one is fleeing from war or persecution, leaving home is never easy. And even if there is conflict, most people believe that war is an aberration and not the norm. They are leaving the place of their birth. Most of the time, they simply wish they didn’t have to go.
People who come to America may like the U.S., but they still love their home country.
Even if life in the U.S. turns out to be successful, most people will still always nurture fond memories of their home country. Wouldn’t you?
There are plenty of things about America that foreigners – and even some Americans – don’t like.
McDonald’s and QuickTrip on every corner. Starbucks coffee for $5. Shopping malls with huge paved over parking lots. These are things that symbolize everyday, modern life in America. But for most foreigners, the ubiquity of commercial objects is a reminder that this place is not like their original home, and it never will be.
Most people in other countries are not “shackled”.
The vast majority of the world’s citizens will never come to live in the U.S., and yet they do not consider themselves particularly unfree. Their country might not be quite as developed as the U.S., but this usually does not amount to being unfree.
People around the world do desire to obtain better opportunities for themselves and their children, but for many, leaving their home for good is an option of last resort. When we look out at the rest of the world from the comfort of our borders, it is easy to imagine that everyone is clamoring to come in. Some are, and others are not. Reality is complex, and if we want to understand reality, then we must embrace the complexity around us.
I wrote at length about what I call the Millennial Myth yesterday and how feeding the myth is destructive to our relationships and culture. Today, I was able to find the above video, which captured the essence of my point very clearly.
Here’s the main thing I want to take out of the video: for decades, Americans have been operating based on this chart:
Every 25 years or so represents a new generation, and there are 4 generations, in general, that are alive and entering adulthood right now. This is the conventional wisdom that we have all grown up with, and it’s perfectly normal to hear Gen-Xers complain about Millennials in their workplace, or Baby Boomers talk about how everything was different for their generation, and so on.
The truth is that generations are a myth.
While we all have been told that the above chart is relevant and helpful, we all actually should have been operating with this chart in mind:
The truth is that there are just people — not generations.
There are people around us, and some are young, and some are older than us, and as we live, work, and play we interact with them. That’s it. That’s the truth.
Why is this more true than the Generational Myth?
The Generational Myth tells us that Millennials are flighty and frivolous with their money, but actual research reveals the opposite.
The Generational Myth told us that Baby Boomers were narcissists (The “me” generation), and now so-called Baby Boomers tell us that the real narcissists are Millennials.
The Generational Myth, when you really get into it, doesn’t actually help us describe anyone any better than if we just relied on actual research. That’s because the Generational Myth isn’t real research — it’s just a marketing tool, and it doesn’t help real people learn about other people in any meaningful way.
If you read about generations and feel resentful or superior, there’s a reason for that.
The generational classifications are made to divide people into groups. In order for people to accept the classifications, two elements must be apparent: the majority of each group must:
identify in some way with the description of their group, and
be content with how they are different from the other groups.
The Generational Myth promotes feelings of how we are better than other groups. This is called superiority.
The Generational Myth also promotes resentment, because it highlights things we don’t like about people who are older or younger than us.
The Generational Myth also leaves people feeling unaccounted for, if they feel they don’t identify with the description of their group. These people can feel a little superior or a little resentful of their group.
What can you do with people who are resentful or superior?
TELL THEM THINGS!
Once a common enemy is well defined, it is possible to spread messages across groups of people. Now, we might not think of Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers as enemies, but in each generation, there is an obvious message to rally around: we are us! We are not them! And people like us believe this!
SELL THEM THINGS!
This is obvious. Kurt Cobain wrote music that was resentful and individualistic, and people who were resentful and individualistic bought it. Now, Cobain was an honest artist, but marketers didn’t take long to catch on to his popularity and were able to sell a lot of things to a lot of people based on the fact that they all wanted to buck authority.
So if you seem to be alienating another generation, the best thing to do is to quit seeing them as a generation!
Just try to think of them as people, and ask yourself, “What are we doing (or not doing) that may make it hard for some people to identify with us?”
People — not Millennials, not Baby Boomers, not Gen-Xers — are the key.
There is a glut of material floating around the interwebs about the so-called millennial generation and how the entire generation is little more than an impedance to the progress of the human race. The fact that the entire generation — which includes people under 36 years of age — lives completely inside of a world created and directed by individuals from the previous generation notwithstanding, millennials have recently been blamed for everything from the death of the American Church to the imminent collapse of capitalism.
We are lazy. We are self-absorbed. We are inexperienced. We are soft.
The stereotype is unflattering. Millennials are an entire generation that grew up with technology and wealth that previous generations could have only dreamed of, and it made them soft, selfish, and somehow incomplete. They did not have to pay their dues in order to gain a middle-class life — not the way that their forebears did.
Life used to be harder. They’ve got it so easy. They didn’t have to sacrifice. They didn’t have to give up anything.
I hope the reader will by now have an inkling of my intention with this post (as if the title did not already give away my intentions). The further we go down the road of millennial-bashing, does it not become obvious that all arguments devolve into the mere “us-versus-them” language that we see in every book, every superhero movie, every plot of every story known to man? I’ll cut to the chase: you need a villain, and so you create one based on any kind of stereotype or characteristic you can muster, in order to cast yourself as the hero.
When we compare movies to real life, what is the number one thing we usually learn?
Movies can be finished in two hours because they are simple. There is usually good versus bad, they face off, and one side wins. Real life, however, does not have a screenwriter. And while there are often many losers in the world’s big conflicts, there are rarely any true winners.
The millennial/boomer dichotomy is not real.
The weakness inherent in most of the millennial-bashing “literature” can be brought out with a single question: Who are the parents of the so-called millennials?
(It’s easy to figure out — just subtract about 25 years from the so-called Millennial range of 1980-1995, and you get 1955-1970. Younger Baby boomers and older Gen-Xers.)
One could easily say that we should have never expected anything from the children of pot-smoking, free-loving, anti-authoritarian hippies who never paid back their student loans and reaped huge (and undeserved) gains from the post-war growth of Western economies.
But that perspective doesn’t get expounded because most of the people doing all the writing about so-called millennials are not themselves millennials. Simon Sinek — not a millennial. Joel Stein (the man who wrote this article) — not a millennial. Up to now, mostly because many millennials are still just entering the workforce — the vast majority of voices contributing to the noise surrounding the millennial myths on the internet are not themselves millennials.
But there’s a better reason as well: Baby boomers (and some old Gen-Xers) are our parents. We know that our parents worked hard, whether in a factory or in an office. We also know, thanks to the hours of documentaries we watched on their cable, that some of them made some bad decisions. But to say that our parents by-and-large are “lazy”? “Pot smokers”? “Hippies”? That’s not something that anyone is really able to say. The real world, it turns out, is a lot more complex than that.
So, IMHO, when we participate in the Millennial/Gen-X/Boomer rivalry, we are not commenting on modern culture. We’re advancing a myth.
Basically, the Millennial stereotype — just like the Baby boomer and the Gen-Xer — is a caricature. It may have some element of reality in it, but it is mostly an inaccurate, insulting representation of an enormous group of people. Just ask any actual Baby boomer.
When we attribute real problems to simplified caricatures, three things happen.
First, we harm our ability to build meaningful relationships with the people we have caricatured. Who wants to be friends with someone who assumes they are lazy, based on merely their birthdate?
Second, we rob ourselves of a more objective perspective on the world. The truth is, for every story about the laziness and self-interested nature of Millennials, one can easily produce a matchingstorytosaytheopposite. Laziness? Every generation has always considered the next one lazy. Maybe they are lazy, but in comparison to what? See — it’s subjective, not objective. They probably aren’t actually any more lazy than their parents were at the same age. Once we come to realize that, it enables us to relate to each other without pretense. But we never come to that place if we insist on keeping up the stereotypes.
Third, social structures begin to crumble. The fact that we all — Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials — choose to think in terms of those stereotypes is a reason that we don’t want to be in groups together. It’s one of the reasons that, once people get to be adults, they leave things that their parents made them participate in. They realize that as long as they stay around, it’ll be hard for the group to view them as adults. It’s something that they never saw their parents have to deal with, and something they would rather not deal with, either.
Conclusion: So what then?
First, abstain, as hard as it might be, from the building of the myth. No generation is really better than another — just different. Generalizing is not wrong, but this post isn’t about mere generalizing — it’s about pitting gross generalizations against each other, to try and justify some form of superiority in comparison to others.
Seek knowledge. The more we read, listen, and talk to others, the more we will understand just how complex our world is, and how much it is different from a movie. We will become more comfortable with the complexity around us, and stop trying to blame the world’s problems on any one group of people.
Be friendly. The more friends we have, the more we will understand about different perspectives. Go out, find someone from a different generation, and be friendly to them — you will not regret it.
I’ve been a Falcons fan for as long as I can remember. When the Superbowls came each year, I’d always just pick the team with the best jerseys or the player that I liked the most; I never could find the will to really truly pull for a team from another city. And then this year came. This was the year. All the other teams (well, almost all) had had their time; this was going to be our time.
Then it happened. Defeat. It still hurts to talk about, and I’m just a fan. For the players, it must hurt on another level. It’s hard to go on — to get back into the game and try again. You just want time to stand still for a while, so you can just go hide and not have to face that situation again.
Put yourself in that situation.
We’ve all probably had a similar experience. Mine was at an old job. My boss called me into his office one day.
“Yeah… it’s not really working out for you here like we thought it would,” he said.
I can still remember going home and kind of curling up on the couch next to my wife and saying, “I don’t want to go back there.” I was defeated.
How did it turn out?
Two years later, I went into the same boss’s office to tell him I was leaving. He had given me three raises and a good deal more responsibility over the past two years. Things had changed. He sat back in his chair, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. He called his wife into the room (this was a small company).
“Are you sure?” He said.
“We were thinking you’d be a candidate for long-term management.”
“Sorry,” I said. “The decision has been made.”
How do you take a bad situation and turn it around?
Looking at that situation from my current perspective, I can see it as a growing experience. I can see the things I should have done in the beginning, and how I started to change things, and I can understand how I moved forward. But when you are in the middle of those situations, it’s usually really, really hard to see how they can ever be changed.
So here are a few things that I can see now, now that I have been able to put some distance between myself and that experience.
This too shall pass.
I can remember sitting on that couch, feeling worthless. I didn’t want to go back to that office, see those people again, because I didn’t see how I would ever get out from under the failures of that day. But the truth was that that situation would eventually be but a distant memory — a minuscule drop of the vast sea of experiences of life.
As it was, I went back into work the next day, and I kept on trying, even though I didn’t really understand why. This understanding would’ve given me more motivation.
You can come back from anything.
I believe in redemption; I believe in reconciliation. I believe in it in all circumstances, in relationships, in work, in play. The first thing that is necessary in coming back and seeking redemption is to admit one’s failures. If you can admit to yourself, and to other relevant people, that you failed and you want to make things right, you can come back from any situation, and emerge stronger than before.
Only a few things truly matter.
There are only a few things that are of ultimate importance and you have to decide what those things are. The placement of one’s desk, a nice expense account, the office pecking order, a company car, social status in the workplace — these are things that people spend lots of money on, and lose a lot of sleep over, but ultimately, at the end of one’s life, won’t matter a whole lot. When you have that perspective on your circumstances, it brings a lot of clarity to the question of what to do next.
So what do you do next?
Remember that all circumstances will eventually come to an end. If you lose sleep, lose sleep over the things that truly matter, and let everything else sort itself out. And make a decision that you can come back from anything. That is how you can turn defeat into success.
We’ve all scrolled down on Facebook and seen the great speeches, the infographics, and the emotional appeals that accompany everyday social media. Most people share articles without actually reading them themselves, research has shown (proven by stories I have yet to read here, here, and here).
Whether it’s Tony Robbins, some story about a dog rescuing someone, or something else, we all know we don’t really have much control over what our friends choose to share, and most of it is not really that important, anyway. However, it seems like much of the viral content out there has to do with positivity and motivation.
We know social media usually doesn’t have the power to actually change anyone. But at the same time, why is it that so much of the material posted has to do with simply keeping a positive perspective?
We’ve all got plenty to do; does it matter if we’re “positive” about it all?
To cut to the chase, it matters. It matters, because it does. That’s about as much as anybody knows. We know that people who have a negative outlook end up doing less, because they are convinced that their efforts will end up failing. But we also know that a positive outlook doesn’t guarantee success. It’ll always be a bit mysterious, but one thing is for sure: just about everyone who believes they’ll fail ends up failing. Meanwhile, some of the people who believe they’ll succeed actually make it.
When you work with people, you can’t lose your grip on reality. But perhaps even more important, you can’t lose your grip on possibility.
I think we are wired this way, as human beings, because of our longing for redemption. We know that the world is broken; we know that somewhere inside, we’re broken too, and our greatest desire is to see that brokenness fixed somehow. If we can get our minds around that, it seems to me that we start to look for the possibility in people, instead of focusing on the negative.
Progress, both in my world and in the business world, is often slow. I’m told that five percent annual growth, for an entrepreneur, is great success. At that rate, the size of one’s business doubles in 20 years. Perhaps that’s the best way to see a parallel between charity work and the for-profit world.
At every step, at every turn, we’ve got to see the God-given potential in people with whom we work. Otherwise, we would surely quit — people change incredibly slowly!
We believe that setbacks are opportunities for growth, because if we didn’t, we’d surely close up shop and leave.
And we’ve got to see the value in deepening relationships; because change that doesn’t have a deep foundation won’t last.
So, there are some reasons why we tend to gravitate to all of those posts about positivity and motivation. A positive outlook is what keeps us going forward, and what keeps us looking inward and upward.
In order to understand this post, you’ve got to understand a little about lost causes.
I struggled with the title of this post, until I remembered my earlier thoughts about the idea of lost causes. The events of the past few days have caused people to say things — on social media, on national television, and on radio, no less — that should not be said. People have stooped to namecalling and labelling in a way that I have not seen in the public discourse in my lifetime. And it needs to stop — on all sides, it needs to stop.
You are addicted to your narrative.
The Lost Cause Narrative is an accepted story, resulting from disputed version of events supported by an individual or by a group, that is not universally accepted by other neighboring individuals or groups, which later comes to define the behavior of that individual or group.
The narrative is an addiction, an obsession, that we usually dismiss as a grudge. The thing about grudges is that they come to define our life, and they enable the discourse — or lack thereof — that we have been privy to in the past several days.
Lost causes don’t do damage — it’s the resulting narrative that destroys people.
In order to catch the idea, you’ve got to catch the distinction between the lost cause and the narrative. The lost cause is not in itself bad. I’ve championed innumerable lost causes in my career. Operational changes, training programs, advertising schemes — you name it. They may have all been perfectly good ideas, but when taken to the discussion table, for whatever reason they weren’t adopted.
The narrative comes later, when resentment is allowed to breed, fester, and create a story — an alternate narrative — that comes to define our behavior in subsequent interactions with opposing parties.
In this narrative, the discussion has never ended, and it becomes part of a larger story — one where the opposing parties are not just in opposition to my idea, but they are in some way a threat to my existence. They opposed my idea, not out of rational disagreement, but out of a deeper plot to damage my reputation or effectiveness, and prevent me from being successful. In this narrative, success becomes a zero sum game, where their success necessitates my failure, and vice versa.
The narrative necessitates a label. And labels kill.
The only way to operate within a lost cause narrative is by virtue of labels. People who don’t see the value of an idea must be labeled “stupid”, “selfish”, or worse. We’ve all heard it in the past few days on the radio, on social media, and on television. Our detractors detract, not because they have conscientious objections, but because they are actually ___.
Labels are good in an actual war. The enemy is labeled “enemy”, and that’s the end of it — we try to kill them. But as our world becomes more and more connected, it behooves us to not think of all our rhetorical, economic, and political disagreements as wars. Our adversaries are real people, with real lives that continue on long after the dispute has ended. When we choose to live within narratives that lend apocalyptic qualities to our disputes, we reduce the chances of real engagement and peaceful existence in the aftermath to near zero.
Labelling cheats you — not them.
Labelling others in the midst of a dispute cuts off our ability to relate to them. It assigns them to a box, inside of which, they are no longer significant as a rational, independent entity. They are now “stupid”, or “awful”, or worse — ignorant and unenlightened.
The problem with that is that it’s not true. People with whom you disagree are, nonetheless, still people. And who is to say that you are more informed? When you place a label, what you’ve actually done is cut yourself off from the possibility of engagement and persuasion. You’ve ensured that person will not come to see things from your point of view — because nobody is convinced of anything if they are not first engaged as a rational actor.
Understanding enables us to have the life we were meant to have.
We were not meant to label our everyday adversaries. Children engage in such activities — and parents do their best to help bring children into the word of adults, where complex situations require people to make hard decisions. People who disagree with us are not bad. They are not bad, and they deserve our time, consideration, and respect.
If we are to ever get time, consideration, and respect from others, we must first be givers, and not takers.