The Act of Inaction
How Ron Swanson shed some light on job culture today
An IT guy walks into a potential client’s office. Politely, my business partner and I give the team some space to speak with this IT professional. After a quote has been given and the IT guy has left, the client asks us to review his recommendations and suggest any iterations.
My business partner and I having some experience with technology reviewed the work recommended by the IT professional and while this particular professional was honest and experienced, he was suggesting solutions that were over 10 years old and way past their expiration date. We gave our honest opinion — find a different IT person.
That day, my business partner and I landed the client but the IT professional lingered in the back of my mind. From my understanding of his line of work he NEEDED to stay ahead of the game at all times….Didn’t he? How long could he possibly keep his job with technology moving as quickly as it has been…five years?
Oddly enough, I found some resolve in an episode of Parks and Recreation — an ensemble comedy that follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), a mid-level bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, and her tireless efforts to make her quintessentially American town just a little bit more fun.
It’s human nature to be curious. You start as a child with a need to learn. Over time, however people find loop holes to bypass life and the amount of work it takes to earn your keep. I believe that for the most part people aren’t lazy and it’s not as though they don’t want to learn. It just gets to a point when it’s easier to continue doing the same thing than it is to try.
I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Smart, hard-working people like this IT guy who seem to get stuck in a loop. Who seemingly just don’t care anymore. Much like the beloved Parks and Rec. character, Ron Swanson — a surly and disgruntled employee of the system. These people are weekenders, PTO hoarders and always out the door at 5 p.m. These people sit back in their day job, finding happiness only in their hobbies — I refer to them as the Swansons…
Swansoning (verb) —the act of inaction.
Lack of ambition in a professional sense seems to be a growing epidemic and it’s not always the individual to blame. I’m not going to deny it…the system is rigged. So much so that sometimes you can’t get around it, so you might as well just play along. This is Swansoning and it’s easy to tell who has already Swansoned and who is headed toward it in the workplace — here’s what I’ve observed:
Three Signs That You’ve Swansoned…
#1 “That’s just how we’ve always done it.”
These are individuals who have been in the company for a while and don’t want to cause trouble. One reason that this person would fall back on the tried and true, “I do it this way because it’s how I was trained to do it.” 10-year-old process, is because it’s secure. You know doing your job the same way you were taught won’t get you punished. You’re safe because you’re just following procedure.
#2 “What has doing more ever gotten me?”
There are only so many times a person can try to make a difference and see nothing change. These employees came into the company with a smile on their face and a spring in their step. Over time, their failed attempts and lack of recognition has left the bitter.
For this employee it’s just easier to “keep your head down” and get your honest paycheck because there’s nothing in it for you to put in extra effort.
#3 “I’ve been here too long.”
These are often mid-level employees who stalled out long ago, or occasionally senior-level employees who have climbed the ladder to their dream job only to discover it’s not what they wanted. They’ve been there so long and know the system so well that they don’t have it in them to try something different. It’s too risky and risk is a young man’s game.
They bite the bullet and put up with it until retirement.
For incoming, young professionals seeing this attitude among so many hard-working, experienced co-workers and potential mentors is deflating. To see our peers exhausted, strung out and zombie-like is terrifying to, but they weren’t always this way…
It starts with fear.
Mark Petkovski wrote an article called, “It’s ok to fail.” In it, Mark discusses the connection between fear and failure.
“Fear, is the thing that keeps us from pursuing the best solution and sticking to the easiest solution. “It’s fear that we’ll discover that our work isn’t as good as we think it is, fear that the very thing we have hung our skilled hats on is really an illusion.”
Fear keeps us from trying. No one likes to be proven wrong or take blame. It’s uncomfortable.The good news is, we can get over this fear or hesitation to change by allowing ourselves to make little mistakes and being ok with them.
Use failures as opportunities to learn and become more confident, secure with yourself and valuable to your peers. It’s ok to fail as long as you have the courage to look past the failure and make the changes to discover your solution.
Conclusion: We need more Leslie Knopes
No matter how many pickles this character from Parks and Rec. finds herself in. No matter how much the people of her town complain or refuse to give recognition. She never stops trying to make her world a better place:
“My strategy is to win.” — Leslie Knope
She is a civil servant who just keeps giving. This is the attitude that young professionals should be looking up to when entering their career path. By ending the expectation that the world happens to you and instilling the mentality that incoming professionals have what it takes to make it happen for you. We can give them a strength to take challenges and failures as opportunities to rise above it.
If younger generations can keep that frame of mind at the forefront of everything they do, eventually, maybe we can get beyond ourselves and start thinking about the good of our society as a whole.