Pithy statements, too good to be true?

Ah, the one-liners of inspiration. We see them everyday on social media–meme’s with sayings meant to stir us to a better place.

It’s easy to under scrutinize and over emphasize pithy statements (including mine). “One liner ideas” that sound inspiring but are like a tic tac, good for a moment but gone too fast. I’m all for the short powerful statement or meme. But they can move us to believe or act on something without much reflection.

Take this popular pithy statement I’ve seen a number of times from a well-known author.

Working hard for something we don’t care about it is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.

Now what could possibly be wrong with that statement, you might ask. It’s a stirring  idea. It may cause us to examine what we’re doing to determine if there’s enough passion in our action. Maybe it would motivate us to make important changes. Sounds good, right? So what’s the problem. Well…

First, the statement positions “stress” as something to be avoided. It’s bad. Stress happens when we are working hard for something we don’t care about. Though that may sometimes be true, stress can be an immensely powerful dynamic that we need in order to achieve something we love. Stress, in fact, is necessary to overcome challenges and seize opportunities.

Second, sometimes working hard on something we love doesn’t evoke a strong and “barely controllable emotion” (the definition of passion). Sometimes even things we love to do are just hard, and create a stress that isn’t exhilarating or exciting. It’s just hard. It’s just a grind. Sometimes it’s just work. I don’t always have the underlying or overwhelming sense of passion. Does that mean I don’t care? Does this mean I should stop?

“Oh Dave, you’re just overdoing it here,” you might say. Well, maybe. But consider how pithy statements (including mine) may actually create a frame that ironically de-motivates or misdirects, which of course is likely not the intent of the author.

So, should we get rid of pithy statements. No. And meme’s aren’t going away any time soon. Instead, next time you see one (including mine), challenge it and reflect on it. Ask: What perspectives, other than the one put forth in the statement, may be important for me to consider? In doing so, you may get more out of the pithy statement. And who knows, you may come up with a better one.

2016-03-07T07:28:31-04:00

FREE DOWNLOAD! 

Sign up to download Section One of Dave Fleming’s book, Tribal Alchemy: Mining Your Team’s Collective Ingenuity. You will also receive a weekly newsletter with tips for infusing ingenuity into your work.  
Written by Dave Fleming