Nation of Insecurity
By Adam Siegel
Chris Marshall, our Director of Operations, completed an Ironman race in Madison, Wisconsin on Sunday. For the uninitiated, that’s a 2.4mi swim, a 112mi bike “ride,” and a 26.2mi marathon. All completed in succession on the same day.
We’ve watched Chris train for this race for months, and before that, he was training for lesser races. He’s put in hundreds, if not thousands of hours building up enough base to even be able to train for an Ironman, let alone train for the race itself.
This past weekend was also Week 1 of the NFL. Millions of people tuned in to watch some of the most talented and prolific athletes in the world compete on the gridiron and sacrifice their bodies and minds. Talk radio and message boards are at this moment crackling with debate about player performance, coaches, and predictions for Week 2. Amongst the praise, one hears even more insult: “The guy’s a bum,” “He’s absolutely terrible,” “Put a fork in him, he’s done."
And then there’s the business world. A new crop of startups launches from an accelerator and most are dismissed by the peanut gallery as “dumb” or “going nowhere." A business hits $10M in profits and people are criticizing it for not being aggressive enough or not “getting it.” A small company that hasn’t scaled for some people’s tastes is derided as a “lifestyle” business, or questioned for not having quick enough growth and therefore not worthy of attention or “boring." A company launches an app and starts receiving negative reviews that are not just critical, but outright rude.
In society’s harsh klieg light, if you’re not a world class athlete with multiple Super Bowl rings, your company isn’t worth a billion dollars, you don't have rock hard abs 3 months after having a baby, or you’re a politician polling in single digits, you’re “middling.” 20 years ago, it was unheard of to meet anyone who had run a marathon, and rarer still to meet anyone who had completed an Ironman. Now you’re lucky to get a “nice job” on Facebook.
I’m as judgmental as anyone else, but it doesn't feel good to be so. In response, I’m trying to better understand: what’s wrong with us?
Every example I listed above has one thing in common: the people involved have worked their asses off to get where they are.
I know no one likes to celebrate people who don't come in first, and recognizing effort seems to be out of fashion these days as being too politically correct (e.g. participation ribbons,) but when I find myself dismissing an athlete as “sucking” or deriding a business for not meeting some arbitrary (and incredibly difficult) bar, or receiving a rant from an anonymous person calling our software "terrible," I think about where that dismissal is coming from. Being hard on yourself is your decision. Flippantly dismissing (and disrespecting) vast swaths of industries and populations is another.
Are we actually in a position of authority or knowledge to say anything at all? Have we trained like a professional athlete or spent the last 30 years getting from dog catcher to U.S. Senator? Have we built a business from scratch? Have we put that kind of time, effort, dedication, and sacrifice in to anything?
My own dismissiveness often comes from insecurity, jealousy, or something lacking in my own life that I take out on others. I suspect it’s the same for most other people.
If nothing else, can we agree on something seemingly lost on our armchair quarterback culture? Even in a small "lifestyle" business, an athlete who never sees the playing field, an online application you have some issue with, or a marathoner who finishes last, there is accomplishment and there's sacrifice.
Perhaps if we’re more cognizant of the effort it took for someone to get to where they are - especially when they are struggling or have just failed - we would be a more compassionate and supportive society. We would put less pressure on ourselves to achieve unrealistic goals and wouldn't be such assholes to others.
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