Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Telling someone to give their maximum effort all of the time is toxic messaging at best.

As I watched the Tony Awards air on television on Sunday, something one of the award winners said resonated with me. In this tearful, emotional, acceptance speech, he advocated for everyone to always give their maximum effort, because all the hard work was worth it.

I was like...what in the f*ck? Giving "your maximum effort" all the time is not a sustainable thing. I have a car that can go 160 miles per hour, but if I drove that fast all the time, it would not be sustainable. I'd run out of gas, I'd burn through tires, the car would eventually fall apart and this isn't even counting the legal logistics and the actual hazards of driving at maximum speed ALL OF THE TIME. This analogy is directly relevant to work. No one can work at 100% all of the time. That's the difference between being flesh and blood and being a machine.

I would argue that the Tony Awards message was a toxic one at best. I get that the person wanted to express that they were superior, and that somehow they found gratitude for all the hell they have been through for this sweet, sweet reward. But encouraging others to burn as brightly as can be and never settle for anything less is one of the many things that is wrong with the United States of America. We have a word for this: perfectionism. And perfectionism isn't achievable. The only thing perfectionism does is damage self-esteem, and the self-esteem of others who are in your orbit who grow to hate you for your unrelenting psychosis.

Why, as Americans, are we constantly looking for "the max?" I think this dissatisfaction with anything less is why relationships fall apart. No one in any relationship can "sustain the max." It's also behind job burnout and job dissatisfaction. The American Dream used to be way different than it is today. Now young people dream of taking the private jet to their fourth home in Aspen, Colorado. not realistic at all for many folks. In my opinion, perfectionism is the worst kind of ableism.

I think that this toxic message of "expecting the max" is also behind our population of temporarily embarrassed millionaires. People here in the states don't mind preferential treatment of the super wealthy because they expect to someday join their ranks. This also isn't true for probably 99% of the population at large.

I wonder if the mental illness that we see that is so prevalent in younger people, i.e., epidemic rates of anxiety and depression, are linked to the perfectionist message that our society seems so in love with these days. My particular frustration over the existence of such widespread perfectionist messaging has to do with an invisible end game. As in, "What's the end game, here?" If you do this and this and this, and you operate at 100%, is this so that someday you can own a house in suburbia and afford food? Is this your end game?

I think the answer would be a resounding "No" for a lot of people.  In fact, owning just a regular home and eating regular food and going to work at the plant for 30 years is a "nightmarish existence I cannot even contemplate." This is stunning to me, because my schmuck of a lifestyle and my banal life working for the State of Utah is actually quite comfortable. Why do people eschew comfort so much? What is wrong with being comfortable and satisfied?

"Mike, I don't want a home in suburbia with Netflix and food. I want palaces, and super cars, and gorgeous boyfriends/girlfriends, and lunch in Italy and then dinner in Monaco. My time on this earth is limited so every day needs to be lived TO THE MAX! I want to travel the world, and wear the best designer clothes, and sip champagne on a yacht." I would reply, best of luck to you. But I don't think that is achievable without uncanny luck. And you can't perfectionism your way into luck. You either have it, or you don't. I think we are headed for a prolonged time (an age in fact) in which tons of people in our country are unhappy and depressed because they have no way to achieve the lifestyle of their dreams, which they tricked themselves into believing was doable.


  1. I'm glad I don't know people like that. Advice like that speech is like a lot of advice probably well-meaning people give like in how-to-write books. A lot of it is based on what worked for them, but in the arts there are so many factors and so many ways to have success that advocating your method is really pointless. I think I've talked about that on my blog a few times. Some people write longhand or use a typewriter or use a computer. Some people write early in the morning or in the afternoon or at night. Some people have an office or work in a Starbucks or work outside. And yet different combinations for all of these are successful. So whenever someone says, "Do what I do," people really need to take it with a grain of salt.

  2. It's not even that it's perfectionism, it's...
    I don't know that I have a word for it. It's the ethos of working as hard as possible for your corporate masters. Not taking vacations, staying late, "being on time is late," all of that bullshit. Perfection isn't the goal but wearing your corporate chains is. Making money for your overlords. And they don't care if they burn you out because, guess what, they have plenty of other cogs waiting to be fit into your place.
    And the entertainment industry is no different. Perform till you drop. But don't drop because there is someone else waiting for your spot.

    1. Then employers wonder why as soon as employees got the chance, they quit in droves.

  3. This is already being expressed in the culture. Why do you think we have all these shooters all over the place? They're so miserable and then want to take some people with them.