Too Cool for Yourself

We are obsessed…

Hipsters pose in black-and-white formation, their funny grins and smirks trying too hard to look casual and thrilled with their work. Flannels abound, as does facial hair, and I’m looking at websites of companies that seem to be playhouses for the twenty something set looking to work in an environment that doesn’t feel like work.

We are obsessed…

That’s how many websites begin. They are obsessed with culture, with innovation, with cutting-edge, with being unique.

They say so much without saying anything, and I am left not knowing what, exactly, the company does, nor why I should care. It’s websites shouting to themselves, their own veritable cheerleaders, but not understanding the key principle of engagement.

That you must engage with another human being.

In writing business stories about winning companies, I’m noticing a sad trend of companies trying too hard to be too cool, and forgetting the basics of good storytelling.

Which is, that you must understand your audience, speak to their needs and worries and fears and desires, and build a relationship.

Yes, even online.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I am just not impressed with this too-cool persona. The black-and-white images of co-workers tap-dancing on tabletops and standing on their heads. Good for you. What are you accomplishing in the world?

It’s mostly in those types of companies that deal in intellectual endeavors all day long, as opposed to those seeking to save the world, or serve it. In the latter, the website is about the problems we face and how they can solve them.

But we are overall too obsessed with being obsessed. With finding the meaning of it all. With being inspired to go to work.

Can it be enough to do a job well and get it done? To return home at day’s end and cook a pot of soup and sit down to table without phones buzzing or kids scurrying away to stick out their tongues on Instagram?

Tonight we will announce to the kids that all phones go into a basket on the kitchen counter when they return from school and stay there until morning. They can check with us if they want to make plans with a friend, but no more pouty-lipped-selfies when we are supposed to be connecting.

This was inspired by my step-daughter’s phone being taken away for bad behavior to her mother. And she’s a really good kid.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s the phones that are to blame. I mean, really. If we weren’t so obsessed with wanting to stand on our heads and prove to the world that we are the coolest workplace ever, we might take to a wooded path and listen to the birds in the leaf-less trees and feel ultimately satisfied that we live in a beautiful place where there is fresh air and freedom to roam.

When I make the time to blend flour and eggs and water and yeast together to make challah for our Sabbath table, it is a good day. And a good week. And then we come together at the end of it all to sit and breathe and sign a familiar song and love one another fully.

That’s what it’s all about.

Yesterday, a potential client used the term BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It’s catchy and meaningful, and I’ve heard it used by cool startups and entrepreneurs alike.

We are obsessed with finding that BHAG, when we could be content with setting meaningful goals and finding ways to achieve them.

We are a culture obsessed with being obsessed. We want to be cool and hip and cutting edge and change the way everything is done. And there are times when that is definitely needed.

Innovation is fun. It ignites a spark in the blood coursing through our veins. It gives us that firework-burst of purpose in the workplace.

But sometimes a job is just a job. There are days you love and days you hate and days when you wonder why you took the job in the first place.

Days when coworkers gripe and act like hurt spouses and you have to deal with the ever-present drama even though you’d rather not.

Days when there is so much work on the to-do list that you fear you’ll never get it all done.

And you won’t.

In that setting, there is no room for being obsessed. Just room for doing a good job and doing it well and feeling satisfied that you have what you need and you are doing your part in this crazy world.

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