Society May Be Crumbling, But You Don’t Have To

After a long hiatus from writing, I’m back. While additional new blogs will appear shortly, I thought nothing would be more appropriate for my first of 2022 than the sorry, sad state of life in the U.S.A. and what means for us as professional marketers and human beings.

Let’s start with a recent column by New York Times writer David Brooks, America Is Falling Apart at the Seams.  Here, in no particular order, are just some of the current phenomena he describes:

  • Motor vehicle deaths are up 18.4% due to driving under the influence, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt.
  • The murder rate is surging in cities.
  • Hate crime has surged to the highest level in 12 years.
  • The number of altercations on airplanes has exploded.
  • Drug overdoses are increasing and Americans are drinking more.
  • Disruptive behavior in classrooms, including fights and gun possession, are up.

And then there was another fascinating piece from the New York Times talking about how “cigarettes, once shunned, have made a comeback with a younger crowd who knows better.”

What’s going on? Like you have to ask! The never-ending pandemic, inflation, worker shortages, polarized politics and the very real possibility that American democracy may be coming to an end are all quite depressing.

Despite coming off one of the best years of my life, it’s sure affecting me. I should be happier than ever, and in many ways I am.  Then again, the heavy weight of dystopia, always lurking just beneath the surface that sometimes pops up to stare me in the face can be outright scary.

I am not alone. It’s well-documented that the underlying stress levels of everyday life are off the charts. My meditation practice does its best to allow me to live in the present moment, but it’s not a panacea. While my personal future will likely be just fine, I could have a lot to lose in a civil war followed by a full-on Orwellian takeover by the Trumpers. And I worry even more about my children and future grandchildren living in a country on the decline and a planet overwhelmed by climate change.

According to the article on the resurgence of cigarette smoking, inhaling toxins is self-medication to ease the pain and quell the anxiety of the moment. Young people were also said to be looking for “something to do” and a way to socialize to counter the isolating nature of the pandemic.

But the two reasons that explain everything best to me are a “rejection of wellness culture” and a sense of nihilism.

“We all have this flamboyant death wish, if you will,” said Ryan Matera, a 25-year-old agent’s assistant in Los Angeles. “We just look to the north and see fires, and the ground shakes beneath us, and they tell us the waters are rising. So we ask, ‘What the hell is the difference?’”

We’ve entered our WTF? stage.

I can’t say that I was unproductive in the 4th quarter of 2021. I worked on some big projects while teaching two courses at USC and all went very well. But I didn’t write a word, which is highly unusual for me. I wish I could put the blame on my busy schedule, but that would just be a lame excuse. It was classic writer’s block, which will all know has nothing to do with being “blocked” and everything to do with the “why bother” feelings that many of us are experiencing.

I scroll through my LinkedIn feed every day, marveling at all the happy posts. We just rolled out our first fully organic, non-GMO, aged for 24 years bourbon with a hint of chocolate and a dash of CBD! I couldn’t be more proud of my team!  Really? If that imaginary CMO is stoked, God bless her. She takes pride in her work, as do I, but it’s tough to get excited about silly new consumer products when states are rolling back voting rights and actively plotting to steal the 2024 election.

As 2021 wound down, I just wasn’t feeling the joy I generally associate with my work (even if it’s on a ridiculously trivial product or service). It was more of a feeling of “let’s get through this and see what happens. Maybe next year will be better.” At least I was teaching, which is almost always rewarding.

Still, I found that my attitude was no different from the 25-year-old cigarette smoker quoted above. Write blogs about marketing? Pitch new business? Why bother? Who cares?

Even in the best of times, I understand that the majority of my target cares are so inundated with work and overwhelmed with day-to-day life that they care as little about my blogs as I do about the recent overhaul of the M&M characters. (The green one doesn’t wear high heels anymore!)

None of that matters. The lesson – one that I learn over and over again in life – is that the only one who needs to care is me.

With so much of our world out of control, our focus needs to be on what we can control. This starts with our minds and bodies.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but the end of the holiday season is always a good time for a reset. The days are getting longer, and the increased sunlight is proven to lighten our moods. Baseball will be back soon! The slog of bad eating – warming up on Thanksgiving Day with vast amounts of rich, fat and carbo-laden foods and continuing to snarf down cake, candy and other bad-for-you “treats” through New Year’s – runs its course. Work starts up again in earnest.

I find myself now getting up early to exercise, (usually a 3-mile walk with our dogs), stretch and meditate, followed by a healthy breakfast where I peruse several newspapers, finish the New York Times Crossword and get started on my favorite new word game, Spelling Bee, also form the Times.  With Omicron receding, I’ll head back to the gym in a week or two to get back to my life-long weight-lifting routine. The mindful eating habits that start with breakfast then continue through the day with smart, lean, nutritious choices.

And I’m finally feeling creative again, not to mention optimistic over the things I can control – my relationships (personal and business), my work, my eating and my behavior overall.

These are all “big things” that start with small things. This is well expressed by a quote from one of my favorite podcasts, The Knowledge Project, where guest Naval Ravikant, CEO co-founder of AngelList: “Hard life, easy choices. Hard choices, easy life.” Ravikant explains that making the “hard choice” to drag yourself out of bed to exercise or to eat well will not only allow you to feel as best you can but will significantly enhance your chances of living a long, high-quality life while reducing the risks of serious disease.

So, as we dig back into the formidable challenges of marketing products and services in a very messy and uncertain world (the focus on another blog for another day), its best we start with ourselves. Just as I believe that healthy relationships without self-love and self-understanding is impossible, we have to make sure that we are as “whole,” sane and healthy as we can be.

There’s the belief, sometimes justified, that depression, addiction, alienation or other mental health issues inspire creative people to reach down deep and do their best, most heartfelt work. But I’m not writing songs here. We work in a collaborative ecosystem that thrives on cooperation, patience and understanding. Coming up with the big idea is just part of the challenge. Equally important is our ability to sell our ideas through “the system” in sprawling organizations characterized by ego and personal agendas.

If that’s your goal, it’s best that you start getting yourself in a better mood. You know what to do.

  • Craig Martin
    Posted at 15:25h, 27 January Reply

    Jeff, I value your admonition for us all to strengthen ourselves in the face of crumbing civility and societal bonds. These are scary times made scarier by the news. I would add that an antidote to increased polarization is to not get sucked into it. This takes mindfulness, courage and willpower.

  • Jean-Pierre Lacroix
    Posted at 17:15h, 31 January Reply

    Hey Jeff, great to see you are back writing and sharing your thoughts.

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