You are not alone

I recently held a talk at my company covering stress management (which I‘ve also outlined in my last post).

One piece of feedback I‘ve got from a lot of the attendees was something along the lines of:

Wow, I didn‘t know that other people are also struggling with this.

One of the managers opened up and shared his experiences with the overwhelming pressure of trying to lead his team and the ensuing second-guessing, doubts and anxiety.

This was eye-opening, since we tend to forget that people in a higher position than ourselves are also struggling with their own problems and challenges. They just might be different from ours. But at the core, we all have a fear of failure, rejection and not living up to the expectations of ourselves and others.

The truth about our idols

I was a bit of a rebellious teenager. So very often, when I disagreed with my parents, I had the mindset of ‚Me against them‘.

But since getting married and recently becoming a father, this mindset has more shifted to a ‚We against the problem‘.

What lead to that change is a change in perspective on the people who I deemed to be in a higher position as me. This doesn’t stop with my parents but extends to role models, mentors, my managers at work, people with more experience.

When you are a kid, there is an immense trust that you put in your parents. There is no second guessing their words, usually until your teenage years when you start to become independent from them.

For me, and many people I’ve asked, this also extends to pretty much everybody that we look up to. We worship celebrities until the moment that they have a fall from grace, like legal issues or grave scandals. Even then, you get people rushing to their defence, because they’re blindly following their idols.

The realisation I had was that our role models don’t really have it figured out.

They preach you lessons about leading a better life and how to figure this out. But they’re often in the process themselves and just share the things that they have learned so far. Not necessarily what they have implemented or figured out themselves.

But I can’t blame them. They’re just trying to get their shit together – like everyone else. Ironically, when writing this, I’m in the very position.

And get this:

When everyone is trying to find their way and trying to figure their shit out, we’re ultimately all on the same side. We’re all human.

The power (and dangers) of group thinking

People have evolved to live in small communities, around the size of a hundred people. Everyone knew each other and people were looking out for others in the community.

This also means that word got around quickly and nothing was really secret.

Compare this to modern living in big cities.

I live in an apartment building with maybe 20 people total. I know almost nothing about my neighbors.

When I walk down the street, I see hundreds and thousands of faces. But I don’t see the people.

When I’m raging at other drivers in traffic, I don’t see that they’re real people who maybe have to get somewhere urgently. I’m too focused on my own inconvenience to look at the bigger picture.

When people become anonymous to each other, bad things will happen. Catastrophic things, sometimes.

You group people together by their ethnicity, nationality, religious and political beliefs or even just which sports team they support.

You can be best buddies with somebody until you find out that they voted for the other party in the election. Now he’s an idiot and your enemy.

But what if you turn this around?

What if you try to see people as people instead of anonymous blobs belonging to some group or the other?

Try to find human

In my work, I take part in a lot of meeting with lots of different companies.
It’s very interesting to see that the groups of people are very different, the meetings are usually very similar:

Useless and unproductive.

Shocker, right? But why is that, exactly?

I found that once a company grows to a certain size, they start to develop departments and sub-groups within those departments. And almost always, the people in those sub-groups look out for themselves and the people within their group. But they are not looking out for the company itself – very similar to society as a whole.

Once you have people segregated, it becomes nigh impossible to have everybody walk in the same direction. It’s like playing tug of war where everybody tugs in a different direction.

When you have people from different departments and groups together in a meeting, they start to represent their circles and see other people as either with them or against them. They’re not part of the community and are seen as anonymous blobs.

Thus, the whole spiel becomes an intricate, political shit show.

I bet half the people in the room are not even paying attention given their open laptops.

I was mentioning my talk about stress management in the beginning. And one of the attendees gave a fascinating insight.

She said that when she’s getting a but riled up or frustrated in a meeting or by a person, she’s trying to look for a small quirk in the other person.

That might be a weird way of holding or drinking from their coffee cup, a weird face they make or anything else which makes them human to you. Which allows you to see them as a person and empathize with them.

They probably have very good and relatable reasons for opposing you and acting up. They might be under a lot of pressure by their own higher-ups.
That other driver in traffic might have his wife in the car who’s currently in labor and screaming her lungs out.

Everyone is living their own lives with their own problems and joys. Try to remember that and you might ultimately come to the same conclusion as me – and to be honest, the whole world would be a better place if everyone came to that conclusion at some point.

Life is much easier when you’re working with others instead of against others.