Like many hiring execs, I still have an employer account with Monster.com, even though the time when they dominated the job-hunting market has passed. Nowadays, they are not even at the top of the industry leaders list. Still, we got used to them in the 17 years they've been around. And they do try their best to provide the paying clients with value-added bells and whistles beyond the standard ad posting: resume matching, database searching, description writing, HR Resource Center, and whatnot.
One of these add-ons is the email service that blasts recruitment articles to all registered users. I usually ignore these emails, but the last one had an article with an enticing title The Real Reason Millennials are Leaving Your Company.
The first thing that caught my eye was the singular "Reason." I thought, "The author was able to identify a single, most fundamental cause of what appears to be a case of chronic pins and needles in the millennial butts? That's remarkable!"
I got even more curious reading the logline. It talked about an abundance of options, "a plethora of jobs" that allow millennials to be "super selective" in their career choices. Moreover, it promised expert advice to employers on how to keep the "valuable millennials" in the work seats. I was like: This must be one of those sci-fi imagine-if humorous thingies, because these statements, if not drenched in undiluted sarcasm, can only refer to some remote planet in an unknown universe. Here on Earth, right now, most of the millennials you and I know are either unemployed, or work jobs that have nothing to do with their chosen professions (let alone vocations), or stretch their schooling to avoid facing the bleakness of the job market. I mean, there are premium cable shows and broadcast sitcoms about it.
And, "valuable millennials?" Yes, they exist, in small numbers and tiny clusters, and you ought to be very lucky to have them around. But generally speaking: the state of our arts and entertainment is a testimony of young people's value and their values. And when it comes to hiring, you need to go through 800 entry-level resumes to find 3 candidates who can write a coherent sentence, even though (I'm talking to you, senator Sanders!), all of the applicants have college degrees.
Opening the article immediately dispelled all enthusiasm. Firstly, no pinnacle reasoning was crystallized. The piece was divided into subsections addressing different causes for millennials' job mobility. Since the author is not a Canadian afflicted by the national inability to pluralize words, I can only attribute the use of the single form in the title to writing and editing sloppiness. And, of course, there was not a single whiff of alien or any other humor.
In fact, the self-branded Talent Maximizer® Roberta Matuson, who wrote the article, takes herself and her "advisory" role very seriously. In complete solemnity she lists the following as the reasons why the millennials don't want to hold on to their jobs (with my commentaries):
To paraphrase Woody Allen, "What's wrong with this? Everything!"
First of all, what does the lame formula "improved society" mean? What's a "better society" for one person, is hell for another. The massive support of Bernie Sanders by young voters clearly shows that they want to live in a welfare state. I, on the other hand, have been preaching no government interference and market economy my whole life. I would understand if the focus was more specific - let's say on environmental issues. If employees of different ages boycotted the fracking industry, for example, our society would seriously benefit in the long run. But I doubt we are talking about future impact here. I'm pretty sure that if the fracking industry started providing free daily lunches to local people, the millennials would think of them as employers with a positive mission! Never mind the explosions and the fiery faucets.
And what happened to the old-fashioned purpose of being profitable, staying in business, and continuously providing jobs? It's not good enough? Do all millennials want to work for non-profits spending grants, or public companies depleting investors' pension and college funds?
Well, this is not the first time I am confronted with the suggestion that what I call "hugging motivation" is more important to younger people than fairness, objectivity, professional growth, adequate compensation, etc. Don't get me wrong, the acknowledgement of one's achievement is incredibly important, but only if it's deserved. Constantly patting on the back some unimpressive, low-value jackass out of fear that they will leave - that would be a betrayal of my work ethics and a violation of my fiduciary duty as a CFO. Merit-based rewards, people! That's what made America great in the first place and that's what will bring the greatness back!
And here she goes again with the sci-fi twist: the recession is over! Where? In Alpha Centauri? Oh, wait - on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and in government reports. In real life, we are in the permanently recessive stage of economic decline with no prospects for upward turn. This slow sliding may feel to the uninitiated as a flat plateau, but just you wait - we are bound to experience some dramatic crashes as well.
So, no matter how much you praise them, and hug them, and take them to lunch, the old-school paycheck still matters! Except there is nothing old-school about it either. Back in the day, wages were determined by clear and tangible factors: the sophistication of the job, the level of expertise, the scarcity of QUALIFIED professionals on the market. But apparently it doesn't work like that with the generation of people who were born after The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future came out. The key to their adequate compensation is their own self-worth. We must pay them whatever they think we must pay them. And don't forget, the employers need to account for the student loans! Essentially the implication is that we have to pay them what they NEED and not what they earn. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" maybe sounds right to Sanders's supporters, but it is not the principle that lies in the American foundation. You know whose principle that is? Marxists-communists!
Just the millennials? Is that what the article's author actually believes? That millennials should be treated preferentially when it comes to working hours, paid time-off, etc.? That there should be two different HR policies in every company, one for millennials and another for the rest of us chickens? That's age-based discrimination, isn't it?
I've always believed in the importance of work-life balance and regularly wrestle with the owners to ensure that every employee has access to the same set of benefits and perks. And what my experience shows is that the millennials take the full advantage of these packages like no one else; sometimes to the point of abuse. 90% run out of the office the minute the clock strikes the official end time, no matter what's happening with the work. Many don't even spare a few seconds to shut down their computers (yet all of them fancy themselves "environmentalists"). Just last year, I had a millennial employee who was out for 15 working days in the 5 months I tolerated her bullshit. I've never had to deal with that kind of attitude before the millennials entered the workforce.
The truth is that you don't need to be an HR expert to formulate your ideas about the reasons behind the millennials' prevalent job discontent. Any experienced manager with a keen eye and some human insight can draw up a comprehensive list. And here is mine (in no particular order):
We used to complain about our country being divided into two colors, red and blue. Boy, I miss those clear-cut times when we had a few personal liberties to fight about! Now we are a fucking Pollock's painting! Social, monetary, ideological, intellectual, and cultural (some even say micro-cultural) differences create a broad variety of political blends and affiliations. At this point, we have pretty much slid off the two-party platform; we are now swimming (or drowning) in a multi-faction cesspool.
It definitely looks to me like the 2016 primaries are far more divisive and tumultuous than the presidential election will be in November. Each candidate, on both sides of the partisan divide, represents a very distinct combination of views and positions that categorically separate him/her from others. Accordingly, the supporters are broken up into a multitude of tiny puddles, not two oceans.
This made Politics into a more dangerous and touchy subject than it has ever been. I always tried to uphold the propriety rules and stay clear of the political discussions in public, particularly with co-workers, business relations, perfunctory acquaintances, etc. But nowadays, I am literally left with only one place where I can express my opinions openly - my own home. Even in this blog I keep myself in check.
But there are people who will talk politics anywhere. They are usually either (i) very brave and willing to take a stand; (ii) too powerful or confident to care; or (iii) absolutely tactless and have no idea that they make others uncomfortable. The combination of (ii) and (iii) is also very typical. And, of course, I happened to work with one of those. It seems that this business owner believes the impossible - that everyone in the room shares his opinions on... everything.
When I end up in one of the awkward situations he creates (usually during business dinners), my choice of actions is simple: ignore (just get myself busy with food or something) or deflect (hopefully there are people with little kids at the table - trumps all other topics). Sometimes I find a reason to avoid going to an event with this dude altogether; which is what I did the other week during the company's Annual Sales Summit.
And dammit! He actually managed to instigate a rare political exposé: he asked everyone around the table (two other business owners and five sales directors) to declare their choices of Presidential Candidates! I cannot tell you at what level of intoxication these people agreed to basically reveal their political stands ("No judgement!" was guaranteed, by the way); nor can I warranty the truthfulness of the disclosures. However, I can testify to the fact that everyone was surprised and/or traumatized by their own unusual candor: one by one, all eight participants came to my office the next day to confide their bewilderment and share the results of this bizarre poll. And now I am sharing them with you, my readers (in the order they came through my door):
So, here you go, ladies and gentlemen! By most statistical parameters this group is not even all that diverse! Yet, the results are all over the place; with some totally surprising picks (Ted Cruz? Really?!). I mean, some respondents have named people who are not running at all or are out of the running already. Moreover, the leading Republic and Democratic candidates only got one vote each. It's remarkable how uncertain and confused our political landscape is!
But I have to say: that last one actually broke my heart a little. It is unfathomable to me that someone who fought North Vietnamese commies in hand-to-hand combat; who saw with his own eyes the devastation and poverty of the people under socialist regime; who enjoyed the benefits of booming American capitalism during some of our country's most prosperous periods would vote for a socialist. What veteran would support a senatorial failure that is Bernie Sanders? And why? If I had to guess, it's because his daughter and son-in-law are not doing all that great financially up there in Vermont, but they had two kids nevertheless. The man is afraid that he will be the one paying for his granddaughters' college tuition.
And isn't this typical? A demagogue promises people something free (without even laying down the actual plan of actions) and everyone's principles go out of the window. History repeats itself.
Olivia Pope: Twice as good as them to get a half of what they have.
Scandal, Season 3, Episode 1
The Frustrated CFO's Comment:
I'm not placing this excerpt into quotation marks. First of all, it's not an exact citation - on screen it gets all broken up, because the characters interrupt each other with anger, frustration, exasperation, and all other similar feelings; Eli is yelling, and Liv is sort of shudders and attempts to shy away - all those over-the-top dramatics and stuff. More importantly, though, it's not an original phrase. Shonda Rhimes, who actually penned this episode herself, is brilliantly entertaining, but she didn't come up with this maxim. Many African-American journalists, bloggers, and celebrities commented on its wide-spread popularity in their families and communities. Some even tried to date it - 70s, 50s...
The truth is, however, this concept doesn't belong exclusively to black people of the United States. In fact, everywhere around the world similar formulas are spoken in different languages to bright and promising children who will have to spend their lives jumping over the barriers raised in front of them for no other reason than their minority status: Kurds in Turkey, Chinese in Indonesia, Hui in China, Indians in Uganda, Rohingyas in Burma, Jews and Gypsies wherever they are, etc., etc., etc.
Furthermore, the applicability of this mandate goes way beyond race and ethnicity. The same mantra is adapted as a way of life by every marginalized overachiever even in our blessed land we call "Free Country:" women going into "men's" professions; immigrants with strong accents attempting to climb corporate ladders; members of LGBT community trying to get a job outside of the fashion and the entertainment industries; overweight and deformed individuals applying for any position; young talented people without connections trying to break into especially nepotistic fields - the list is long.
Growing up a Jewish girl in one of the most anti-Semitic of European countries, I was barred from many professional careers and life opportunities. And in those that were permissible, someone like me had one chance in a thousand. My personal slogan was even more maximal: I had to be the best just to get in. Was I able to completely shake off the disenfranchised complex after nearly three decades in America? Fat chance! For starters, I'm a woman...
Tags: Eli Pope, ethnic minority, minority groups, Olivia Pope, racial minority, Scandal, Shonda Rhimes, you have to be twice as good
| | |
In the TV business, summer traditionally has been considered an off-season. Primarily because the broadcast networks' prime series go on a 4-month hiatus after completing their 20+ episode seasons. Nowadays, of course, it's not all that relevant for TV viewers, because... Well, for multiple reasons, really, but to name a few:
First of all, if you prefer edgier premium cable series, your TV viewing patterns are driven by 2-3 month seasons scheduled at different times throughout the year: Shameless airs January through March, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley - April -June, Masters of Sex - July-September, Homeland - October-December, etc. Even if you are into blending your TV cocktail out of cable and broadcast ingredients, you most likely use on-demand and DVR options to accommodate your personal schedules and to fill the airing gaps. Plus, some broadcast networks now have "summer shows" - short-seasoned and "limited" series aired specifically to cover the off-season void: Hannibal, Wayward Pines, Under the Dome, Aquarius, etc.
The most important factor, however, is that we've stopped being restricted by conventional TV ever since Netflix came along. First, they made the idea of going to video stores and looking for something to watch unnecessary. We were so grateful for digital searching, online ordering, and USPS drop-ins and drop-offs. But then even walking to the mailbox became unnecessary, because they made a tremendous volume of content available for IP streaming, including rare and obscure movies, shows, documentaries, anime, etc. from all over the world!
They didn't stop there either - they got into creating their own original programming. And then Amazon followed suit! As a result, we got access to gems that make me feel as if I am living through some sort of an indie renaissance via the Internet: House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Peaky Blinders, Grace and Frankie, Sense8 (Netflix originals), Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon's originals). It's fucking incredible!
Moreover, not only that streaming content is available everywhere you can go online, it's available in whole seasons. There is no waiting for weeks at a time until the next episode; no mid-season separation anxiety; no loss of vital details from previous weeks. Technically you can watch a 12-episode season in one day. It is my understanding that some people actually do that.
Netflix had at their hands the best market-testing sample imaginable - their entire subscription base. They must've noticed early on that a large percentage of the viewing population doesn't restrict itself to one episode at a time. They even installed a special probe at the start of the third consecutively watched episode to test whether you are actually binging or have simply fallen asleep on your couch. Brilliant!
Yes, binging - as in excessive indulgence, as in manifestation of addictive personality traits. Not a new thing, really. TV networks (USA especially) have been scheduling rebroadcasting marathons since the 80s. By offering this opportunity to audiences with pretty much any kind of preferences, Netflix forever altered the cultural lives of millions of people.
The phenomenon itself became a marketing tool for Netflix's competitors, who want you to know that you can replicate this experience with them as well: This summer, Amazon actually used the phrase "binge on your favorite shows for free" in its promotional messages for Premium subscriptions. HBO, still holding onto their highbrow status, softens it by offering you to "feast" on your past and present favorite shows on HBO GO.
Poor David Foster Wallace warned, way before streaming had become a household concept, that Television is the one and only true American addiction. He predicted that catering to user demand for content of their choice whenever and wherever they wanted it (remember the "direct dissemination"?) may irrevocably alter us and potentially result in the crumbling of human will.
But who am I to judge? Yes, my life is too busy for hardcore binging and I refuse to watch an episode of anything on my goddamned iPhone, but I've been taking advantage of on-demand entertainment ever since it was first introduced by American cable providers 15 years ago. Then came iTunes 6.0 (2005). Today - Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime - I've got them all, including a Fire Stick to carry them with me wherever I go.
But that was not the topic of this post, was it? (Too bad you cannot hear me laughing at myself.) This was meant to be a brief introduction to the shocking fact that, even with all that variety of quality entertainment on hand, at some point in July I found myself with my personal TV time-slot empty. And let me tell you, that made it hard to ignore the binging and feasting callings of the content pushers.
I browsed the variety of offerings and ended up with The Good Wife on Amazon Prime. It used to be one of the shows I watched during its active seasons - all the way through the middle of Season 4. But then, 2013 announced its arrival to Netflix with their first two major originals, plus Top of the Lake, plus The Fall, the first season of Broadchurch, etc., etc. I'm a busy woman - something had to go. Now I picked up where I left off.
I have to admit, assuming you manage not to paralyze your life or degrade your mental and motoric agility, watching multi-season, multi-episode shows without gaps measured in weeks and months has its undeniable benefits. Complex and intricate storytelling loses some of its power when it's broken up into weekly installments and then gets shelved away for 4 or more months. Reducing these gaps not only allows for a more detail-oriented viewing, it also gives you an opportunity to assess the show's merits and values in a more coherent way.
Aside from the most obvious and well acknowledged attributes of The Good Wife - strive for realism; acute attention to the impact of technology on our lives; honest depiction of shifting morality; head-on tackling of race, class, gender, sex, and all other divides - what I like the most about the show is its refusal to label itself as a single genre. We can definitely identify it as a Drama, but the range of applicable modifiers is quite long - family, political, crime, legal, courtroom.
But what I realized while watching seasons 4 through 6 now, was that in it's wardrobe full of genres, The Good Wife's favorite outfit was the Workplace Drama. One law firm, another law firm, State's Attorney's office, governor's office, clients' businesses (including a drug-distribution organization), you name it - all of them are depicted as places of employment. And the human relationships inside these businesses play essential roles in the show's storytelling. The office politics, alliances, squabbles, hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, peers' competition, subordination, fraternizing, partnerships, resignations, harassment, even telecommuting - all of them have been used as plot points.
Once I started noticing, I've found so many typical and easily recognizable Human Resources issues, it was hard to pick the following ten:
But the most valuable life lesson one should take away from The Good Wife is that you should never ever burn all the bridges and cut all the ties, because you never know with whom you may need to partner next.
Tags: Alicia Florrick, Amazon Prime, binge-watching, Cary Agos, Lockhart & Gardner, Netflix, original programming, streaming content, streaming TV, summer TV, The Good Wife
| | |
On Saturday, August 22nd, internationally famous British street artist and social rebel Banksy declared his latest project Dismaland open to the public.
I've noticed that many commentators rushed to label the large-scale art installation dystopian, but I tend to disagree. Dystopia is an imaginary place where everything is scary and bad. But Banksy's mini "park" in Weston-super-Mare (UK) is an artistic re-imagining of a fairy-tale theme park in the harsh light of our miserable reality. From what I've seen, instead of saying, "Imagine if everything was horrible," the site screams, "Take off your pink glasses and see the horrors around you. Look in the mirror and see who you are."
While Dismaland is basically a collective art show (50 artists in total) and Banksy himself contributed only 10 pieces of his own into the mix, it is first and foremost his aesthetic concept, his political declaration, his social commentary. And even if you never bothered yourself with an interpretive analysis of art and know very little about this artist and his work, as long as you know something you most likely know that
Knowing this makes it hard to resist a thought that, regardless of the artistic merits and social significance of the individual pieces inside, a stationary installation with a six-week limited run and a daily allotment of only 2000 tickets priced at a laughable £3 is Banksy's latest experiment in human behavior. His name itself is a perfect sensationalistic stimulus required to initiate the chain reaction ripe with observational material. He already knows what an attraction he is - his 2009 Banksy vs. Bristol Museum show was attended by 300,000 people in 12 weeks.
It started immediately. As soon as Dismaland's site came to life the day before yesterday, 6 million people attacked it trying to pre-book the admission tickets; crushing the site. We cannot know what proportion of these people were scalpers, but a few tickets (most likely fake) are being offered on eBay for $700. (It's worth noting that the "park" would have to stay open for over 8 years to accommodate 6 million people).
Now that the online ticketing is disabled (supposedly temporarily - until Tuesday), people are queuing in person and there are definite reports of ticket hopefuls camping out around the site. Of course, it is only the second day of the show, but it is easy to imagine that the number of campers will only increase.
For those of us who stayed for hours and sometimes days in front of museums just to get in, or concert venues to win a place by the stage, it is easy to envision further developments: lists organized by orderly art-lovers, marks on hands, attempts to join a "party of friends" upfront, offers to buy someone's place for an exorbitant amount of money, yelling matches, and fist fights.
Things like that happen around events that only last for a few hours. This one will be open for six weeks. So, those with the especially strong propensity for an escalation of commitment may be there for days upon days with limited access to food and hygiene - dirty, unfed, angry, and semi-violent "art lovers."
Remember? Dismaland is an absurd version of a Disney park and the most dismal part of a Disney experience is the lines. Recreating that in an extreme way is an art piece of its own right. Every single person trying to get in becomes a part of Banksy's art project and even more so when they finally get inside and start wandering among the attractions.
So, ask yourself: Do you want to be a part of Banksy's social experiment? It's up to you to decide whether it's more important to attend and be a subject in it, to watch from the sidelines through media, or to purposely not engage. Banksy's Cinderella's Castle centerpiece seems to be asking the question - what will it take for people to look away?
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Y.A. Crow for invaluable advice and inspiring editing
Three weeks ago, my 81-year-old father had to go to a hospital for angioplasty. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of my parents, but the tearful monster of the inevitable guilt demanded my dutiful attendance there.
Aside from keeping company with someone who is forced to be in a scary medical place, where everyone's job is to cause you pain and discomfort for the sake of possible betterment, my presence there was actually useful in multiple ways. As sharp as my Dad still is and as good as the hospital staff turned out to be, the situation does call for a third-party facilitator: faster paperwork and check-in, better understanding of medical terminology, firmer grasp on the authority structure, timelier requests for assistance, etc. - little things that help. I hope they did.
(I have to make a CFO's aside here. In the past 30 years I've observed and directly dealt with many profit, non-profit, and government organizations, in professional capacity and as a functioning individual; in different countries around the world, in various social and economic systems. Based on my cumulative personal experience, I am strongly inclined to conclude that Mount Sinai Heart - the internationally celebrated cardiology division of Mount Sinai Hospital - is one of the most organized, efficient, smoothly functioning business establishments I've ever seen, with the most sensible technology utilization to boot. Considering that most of our existence nowadays takes place in the vile swamp of unmanaged laziness and pervasive unprofessionalism, being there was like a breath of fresh air. I honestly didn't think that it was possible to have such an experience in our times.)
Everything went quite well and we were getting discharged in the early afternoon of the day after the procedure. All documents that my Dad needed to take with him, for his personal records and to pass onto his referring doctors, were organized for him in a folio: surgeon's summary, nuclear images, blood work, EKG's, follow-up instructions (i.e. important documents) in the right-side pocket; hospital's legal documents, releases, disclaimers, general recommendations for cardiac patients (i.e. generic bullshit) in the left-side pocket.
I checked thoroughly everything on the right and glanced through the other side without intending to actually read anything there. But a sheet of paper right on the top of the left-side pile caught my attention. Not I only did I read it, but I also pulled it out of the folder and kept it, because it contained
Seven Tips for Healthy Living
First, the list amused me with its glorious banality and brevity. I mean, all that sophisticated and extraordinarily expensive research and diagnostic equipment in the hands of doctors with international renown and exorbitant fees - and it all comes down to just these seven items?! Where do I even start or end? We are being fried by the unfiltered UV rays all year round. We breathe the air that exponentially increases annual asthma statistics. Everyone has some sort of an allergy and the skin conditions have intensified to the point of Desonide shortage on the market. We don't know what we eat anymore. Yes, there is information on the packaged food, but there is none on the tomatoes or any other loose vegetables. Even if they carry the "certified organic" stickers, do you really trust USDA? By the way, what about smoking, drinking, overmedication? Is all of that less important than flossing? That's hilarious!
On the second glance, the list bewildered me by its ambiguity and the fact that even as is, with all those missing pieces, it's absolutely unattainable.
Okay, maybe I'm over-thinking it. I showed it to someone incredibly level-headed and unruffled. She was curious and unfazed: "Is this in order of importance?" she asked. "Well, dear, I cannot really fucking tell!" Let's say it is. Some people I know would be appalled by the bottom placement of the water consumption. Others (also personally known to me) would rejoice in seeing that their running two miles a day at a sprinter speed for the past 50 years appears to be at the top of the list.
But I personally would definitely like to ask for more clarification. And not only about the ranking of the tips. Move more how? Any type of movement? Running, walking, flapping your hands in exasperation? Fat - cut it down or cut it out? All kinds of fats? What about the ones that help the absorption of vitamins and nutrients? And are people okay holding their phones in their hands while driving as long as they are wearing seat belts? Even flossing! After every meal like I do; once a day at night; before or after brushing?
Never mind the individual interpretations, however! At least items 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 can be actively controlled by a person striving for a healthy living. But the numbers 3 and 6 are totally different animals altogether! Any doctor who gives a "reduce stress" advice is an equivalent of an accountant whose business recommendations amount to "buy low and sell high." Dah! Any other bright ideas? There are so many factors that contribute to our stress levels, it would be stressful even to attempt listing all of them. You can meditate for an hour, decompress, and whatever, but you cannot stop your mind from reacting to your reality: as soon as the first thought about your life, and never-ending obligations, and overwhelming responsibilities, and guilt, and uncertainties creeps onto that clarified canvas, the stress is back on!
And don't even get me started on the Positive Mental Outlook! Look around yourself - you literally have to be mental to be positive right now. Didn't you notice how the people with supposedly the most positive of outlooks, i.e. pregnant women with small children in tow, actually look completely deranged?
So, let's not worry about the silly list from the famous hospital. I choose to believe it to be a joke from some humorous nerd in the hospital's administrative offices. The good news is that we most likely don't need to work too hard on trying to stay healthy anyway. The probability of the damage we caused this planet hitting us back real hard with one or another pandemic extermination is way too high. And I'm pretty sure that doctors know that as well.
"She had always known that in making certain choices one committed oneself to a sequence of actions - which inevitably meant a switch from being master of one's fate to being its slave - but she had hoped that she could decide when to make that switch, instead of having it forced upon her."
Collectors: A Novel
The book I am reading right now is written from inside of its female protagonist's head. Not in a floody stream-of-consciousness sort of way and not in a first-person POV either, but rather something in the middle - a third-person narrative that's interested only in what this woman sees and how exactly she feels about it. Everything and everybody else is sketchy. She is an interesting woman, though - an ad exec with a disturbing past and an uncertain future, severely unhappy and alone, and I am fascinated by the nuanced way the book's author (a man) depicts her impulses, reactions, and emotions. Her feelings, if not her character, are quite relatable.
About one-third into the book, there is this scene: The protagonist just spent several hours on a sailboat with a man she met only a few weeks ago. This outing was their first date and it went quite well in all expected and unexpected ways. She is sure that the wonderful day will smoothly roll into a fantastic evening. (We are in her head, remember? So, we are following various promising scenarios she envisions.) They are walking along the dock towards her car and she feels incredibly elated.
Now, without changing his stride and still holding her hand, the guy tells her that cleaning the boat after the trip is a big job and he'd better get on it right away. Basically, he is dismissing her and, as far as she is concerned, for no good reason. Internally she is dismayed, but she keeps her cool - still holds his hand and says calmly, "I understand perfectly. I've work to do myself."
As I said, I am sympathetic to this character. Plus, situations like that, when reality totally clashes with your expectations and you have to find the best way out in a matter of seconds - they are not specific to intimate relationships; they are universal and I encounter them practically daily. So, my ears got pricked up by the behavioral subtlety of the moment and I mentally congratulated the heroine on not falling into a socially awkward disaster and handling it well, without showing her actual emotions. I'm hoping here that she gets into her car, smiles goodbye, doesn't say a word, and drives off.
Bzzzzzzzzz! My compliments were premature! Right in the next paragraph, she let's go of the man's hand, starts walking faster to pull ahead of him and says over her shoulder, "I probably shouldn't have come at all."
Oh my God, overcompensation to the nth degree! By trying to be excessively cool in order to cover her embarrassment, she made it only too obvious. (I must state here that, from the literary standpoint and for the sake of the character's true nature, this faux pas was the only possible action and it foreshadowed the novel's resolution. But let's get back to the overcompensating issue.)
Whether in intimate encounters like this one or in any other interactions with our partners, coworkers, bosses, subordinates, clients, casual acquaintances, and accidental contacts (e.g. a coffee shop's barista or a waiter), the true damage of overcompensating in social situations is the fact that it produces an effect exactly opposite to what you are trying to achieve. Instead of concealing your weaknesses and insecurities, you blow your cover and display your anxiety in its full nakedness to the very person whom you are trying to impress with your strength, power, independence, composure, superiority, or whatever.
This manifestation of one's social anxiety is incredibly hard to control. For self-aware people it's like the mortal battle between the consciousness and the subliminal impulses. And because the latter work faster, there is frequently not enough time to bite your tongue or correct your attitude. You say to yourself, "When you see her, smile sweetly as if everything is fine. She doesn't need to know that you feel tortured." But then you actually see her, and the pain comes all over your face without you even registering it.
It doesn't matter how cocky and confident you appear most of the time. If from time to time your tendency to overcompensate gets out of control, everyone exposed will know that you have weaknesses and buttons that can be pushed. In fact, the worst cases of overcompensating I ever observed were presented by individuals who are generally perceived as self-assured and even arrogant (yours truly is included).
I don't know whether people like me, who are really afflicted with the propensity to overcompensate, should be giving any advices on the matter. Still, I would like to share my thoughts.
When I analyze the situations, in which I managed to have a full grip on my compensatory urges, I find that not saying anything at all works the best - just staring without letting your eyes show any emotions at all, not uttering a word. For me personally, it turns out to be even better than coming up with a seemingly appropriate response, because what appears witty and so fucking right at the moment, may seem dull, stupid, inappropriate, and powerless after the retrospective self-analysis that will, no doubt, come sooner or later. And it doesn't matter if what you said actually worked on the other person. Insecurity is incredibly self-centered. For us, it is not about what actually happened, it's about how it makes Us feel.
So, silentium est aurum. In fact, I have various short and long "Stop Talking" notes to myself placed in strategic locations everywhere - a note in my iPhone, an enveloped card in my pocketbook, a letter in my office diary, an earmarked entry in my desktop notebook at home, a sticky in my pencil drawer, etc., etc. Do they help? 95% of the time in professional situations; 50% with strangers; almost never with those who cause me personal pain - that's where we are the weakest.
C. G. Jung: The Red Book (*****)