Always ask for the order

This is a central message in Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale. It doesn’t just apply to sales. It is remarkable how often we don’t get what we want simply because we don’t ask. Are you trying to get buy-in from a department head on a new employee recognition program? Ask them at the end of the meeting, “So do you agree that we should be providing gifts for work milestones and major life events?” This ensures accountability and forces them to verbally affirm they’ve been sold on the idea.

In your personal life, this is particularly important. Often the only way you can improve aspects like communication, appreciation, sharing of responsibilities, or romance is simply to ask. This isn’t just a guy thing, my female friends. It doesn’t matter who you are, it is difficult to simply pick up on another individual’s desires if they are not clearly communicated.

Professionals, family relationships, and the challenge of a successful career

I know multiple people whose lives are strained by their professional desires. They and their partners:

  1. Live in different states because that’s where their careers took them;
  2. Have divorced because one was too focused on their career and neglected their family life; or
  3. Are forced to compromise because one person got offered their dream job.

Institutionalized professionalism is an outgrowth of capitalism that undermines the well-being of families and personal livelihood.

“If it were easy everyone would do it.”

If it were easy, graduate students wouldn’t have higher rates of mental illness. If it were easy, they could see their families, friends, and loved ones more often. If it were easy, we’d have more of a skilled workforce because people wouldn’t drop out of school because it was too much pressure or never enroll because they thought they couldn’t cut it.

In some careers, it gets easier after school. In many, it doesn’t. It can become consuming. You might work 60 or more hours a week or take on the profession as a lifestyle – allowing it to define you.

Non-committal and unreliable youth

“80% of success is showing up.” – Woody Allen

This is increasingly relevant and revealing itself to be true in my life. It seems that it is surprisingly difficult to find young people who you can get to commit to things (or work hard). And if you do get them to commit, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll flake.

It’s strange really. It could be that they’re just handed too much. They don’t need to persist. They don’t need to worry about integrity. It’s difficult for me to imagine that luxury. I guess they settle for average and don’t want the discomfort of asking more of themselves.

I hope eventually I’ll have more insights into what drives their motivations. Sure, they’re busy, but that’s no excuse for just blowing things off or, additionally, the increasingly popular and remarkably undecent “ghosting” in which they just start completely ignoring a potential romantic interest if they decide they’re no longer a serious contender.

Character speaks (loudly) for itself,  and, in time, they’ll reap what they’ve sown.

The power of appreciation and being a good person

Most people don’t have access to the kind of power that money brings or great connections. So, in these typical circumstances how do you gain influence?

According to Tom Peters in his book The Pursuit of Wow and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, perhaps unexpectedly, the answer seems to be to just act with genuine care, generosity, forgiveness, and empathy

By doing things like demonstrating you care through thank-you notes, voicing appreciation, sharing credit abundantly, and being sincerely interested in others, people who interact with us will experience a psychological affinity. We gravitate toward the good, and we want to follow people who seem to sincerely be seeking our best interests.

Denis Diderot, the Diderot Effect, and consumerist dissonance

Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

The War of Art continued, a lesson in professionalism

What is an artist? How does it relate to being a professional? Can you be both? What is the distinction between an amateur and a professional?

These are some of the most intriguing questions. I put them up there with “What’s it mean to be credible?” and “How do you cultivate credibility?” These are such entrenched social constructs, yet we often take them for granted and fail at realizing their fluidity.

The con artist realizes their fluidity. That’s how they manipulate. A masterful con artist can quickly hit all the right cues so you trust them to perform. Then, of course, they pull the carpet.

It’s because of Steven Pressfield’s revelations surrounding these questions that I fell in love with his book The War of Art. There are many definitions offered. Here is the one that has stuck with me most:

A PROFESSIONAL ACCEPTS NO EXCUSES

The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters; he believes the serpent’s voice in his head that says mailing off that manuscript is more important than doing the day’s work.

The professional has learned better. He respects Resistance. He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished. The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone. He stays at work.

I’ve thought about this every day since reading it. It’s so easy in theory though so difficult in practice: a professional doesn’t even pick up the phone. I encourage you to try to remember that line the next time you want to turn to a familiar vice.

The emotional labor of professionalism – revisited

I recently wrote adamantly against the idea that the difference between professionals and amateurs was that a professional puts aside their authenticity to do a job. I argued that this was inhuman. After more reflection, I can see the validity of the perspective more.

I don’t think it’s so much that you are silencing your humanity, but it’s true that you can’t just show up and decide to behave inconsistently just because that’s how you feel. If you want to be successful, you have to be consistent. You can change your mind, certainly, and you can have bad days. But you should be pretty much consistent.

The reason for this is that consistency builds trust, and trust is necessary for relationships to perform well, and positive, well-performing relationships are the cornerstone of good projects, and if you can’t produce a good project, you’re an amateur.

It is hard to imagine what it would be like trying to work with someone and they show up and say, “I don’t want to work today my mom is mad at me”. People have to work, and that work should be reliable. It’s simply true you can’t let your feelings get in the way of doing a good job when it’s necessary to do a good job. There is a time and a place for humanity to thrive. That can be somewhat on the job, for sure, but for the most part, you can’t be an emotional wreck and expect to make a good living.

Faith, it really is powerful

In human resources, you’re taught that the best way to treat employees is to trust them. Allow them broad discretion, believe they’ll make good decisions, and show it to them by involving them when possible in the decision-making process.

Autonomy creates satisfaction and productivity. If you don’t believe me, just Google “autonomy and productivity”.

It’s like this with personal relationships as well. Trust the people in your life to make good decisions. Dale Carnegie’s terrific book How to Win Friends and Influence People alludes to this idea when he says that you should “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to”. 

You might be thinking, “Kyle, but I know people in my life can’t be trusted!”

Here’s the deal: if you know someone in your life can’t be trusted, note the exception. And leave it at that.

The fact is that, despite what you see in media outlets, most people generally try to do the right thing, and if they’re doing the wrong thing, they’re probably misguided.

Sincerely believe in people, and most likely, they’ll wow you.