Don’t Waste Your Days

In 2002, I saw Rivers Cuomo and his band, Weezer, play an amphitheater outside Columbus, Ohio. It was part of the band’s Maladroit tour, and 32-year-old Cuomo showed up on a hot summer evening wearing a full suit and tie. The raucous and inattentive crowd was a strange juxtaposition to a dressed up, notoriuosly tortured indie rock musician laying out a technically interesting but unusually impersonal set.

The whole thing felt like a remarkable contrivance in which everyone had somehow willingly agreed to participate. At the time, it felt like everyone at the concert was in on it except me, and I wasn’t quite sure where to find the Andon bullshit cord. (In case, at this point, you are wondering if I am about to make an argument that I knew Weezer was jumping the shark a full decade before anyone else, the rest of this post may disappoint you—but your spirits may be lifted if you give yourself permission to enjoy Weezer’s cover of TLC’s No Scrubs while you finish reading. Oh yes, son. I’m talking to you.)

Twenty years have passed since that concert, and in the intervening years I have been amazed by the number of times the experience has served as an apt metaphor for situations that arise in the workplace: everyone seems to willfully ignore, or otherwise willingly accept a clearly absurd performance in lieu of what could be a profoundly meaningful, transformative experience. Actually, forget profound. People seem to accept a lot of BS when they should be demanding that their bosses, colleagues, consultants, or conference presenters just get real.

Meetings in which things could be getting done become a series of orations about how things are not getting done. Events that could be unique learning moments become platforms for bloviation. Reports that could proffer an honest accounting and decisive advice become pages of inactionable information. Presenters who could distill one critical idea into a core takeaway read slides instead. And, my own private worst case scenario, an idea that could be well articulated in ten pages somehow morphs into a 220 page book!

Wait, but WHY?

What begins as an effort to be nice to others, to not tell the full truth about what we did or did not glean from their work, quickly slides down the slippery slope from protecting other peoples’ feelings to protecting our own comfort. The price we pay for that is respectful use of our time, energy, and capacity.

Even in the best cases, our time on Earth is limited, and our time at work is limited further. If you’re feeling overtaxed and underserved by the way your days at work are going, consider asking yourself: could I make this better if I were more honest with myself and the people I work with? What truth could I (with kindness and respect) share with them that would help make better use of all of our precious time? Try offering more candid (and, in kind delivery, caring) feedback to someone just one time tomorrow. It’s the least you can do to save you from yourself.