We all want to be happy and successful, learning, growing and doing what we love. Yet as we approach Labor Day 2013 and the end of year five – beginning with an acute financial meltdown in 2008 to an economy that’s currently recovering but still under performing – there might be some things we can learn from the Coyote and the Roadrunner about how to move forward in an uncertain world.
Remember those Chuck Jones cartoons? With an assist from ACME products our Coyote was always falling off a mile high desert cliff, getting creamed by a rushing locomotive or, my favorite, finding himself at the wrong end of an explosive device while the Roadrunner jets by uttering his signature mock “Beep, beep!” as the hapless Coyote gets smoked again.
My theory is that during boom times we are more likely to see ourselves as the Roadrunner, leaving everyone in the dust with the calm and righteous certainty that comes from truly believing we know how this cartoon will end; with us as the winners, of course.
But now the tables have turned and we’re in a new cartoon, one where we’re not so sure about the outcome anymore and one where we’ve become the Coyote who just can’t seem to catch a break. Mark Twain once described the coyote as “… a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry!” Whatever the optics, our world has changed and so must we.
Various new studies indicate there are “big picture” reasons why so many of our citizens are feeling that the American Dream – our country’s defining metaphor – looks like a mirage. The belief that one can be successful despite the economic conditions of one’s birth seems as elusive as the Roadrunner; today signaling a “catch-me-if-you-can” version of the American Dream.
So what does the two-lane desert highway look like?
* Recent Gallup polls tell us that 70 million Americans are consistently disengaged from their work, with 20 million of those who outright hate going to work. The primary cause for this malaise is having a boss from hell – a boss who has no concern for their employees or in creating a positive workplace, doesn’t track their performance and motivate them, or invest in their development so they can do what they do best. The price for this discontent is staggering.
* The American Psychological Association reported in 2011 that 36% of workers are stressed out due to low salaries, few advancement opportunities, overwork, unclear job expectations, and job insecurity.
* Drilling down deeper, a team of economists at Harvard and Berkeley studied millions of anonymous earnings records and compared them across the metropolitan areas of this country. It turns out that upward income mobility – like real estate – depends upon location, location, location. Where you live matters.
* Finally, new research by economist Miles Corak from the University of Ottawa concludes that having successful parents is now the primary factor in achieving the American Dream. While most people understand why a person born on third base might actually believe they’ve hit a triple, the reality of privilege is now more acute than ever. Rags-to-riches is now looking more like riches-to-more riches, or rags-to-rags.
With the accident of birth and where one lives stacking the deck on our chances to realize our dreams, no wonder so many are feeling like Wile E. Coyote. Having a boss from hell doesn’t help either. Sure, it’s hard not to admire Coyote’s cleverness and persistence. He’ll go anywhere and try anything to get that bird. Yet he always fails, which means he’s really not so wily after all. Cleverness and persistence are not enough.
If you’re feeling like Coyote, on an endless loop of bad results, what can you do to break the cycle? Here are a few tips:
* Stop and Take a Breath – Coyote is obsessed and single-minded at the expense of reaching his goal. Atypically, he has no peripheral vision. Plus, he never stops to wonder why things always blow up in his face. First, take a breath. Remember who you are. Sometimes you have to slow down before you can speed up.
* Connect the Dots – Coyote’s a clever tactician but his strategy is flawed, and he never learns from his mistakes. Painful though it may be, nothing changes unless you’re honest with yourself and question your core assumptions. That means being inquisitive, asking tough questions and facing your demons. With a new set of lenses you can see reality more clearly and critically, and move forward with renewed confidence.
* Change the Context – Coyote is always in the desert, a stark and unforgiving place where there are few options. To change the context and rewrite your story means opening your mind to new possibilities – to thinking differently, taking responsibility and assuming some calculated risk. Reconsider your objectives and your strategy, and make sure you have both the assets and the will to succeed.
* It’s Tough Being a Loner – Most coyotes travel in packs, yet Wile E. travels alone. Not so smart. There is strength in numbers. We all need help and support, and a chance to return the favor. Find your tribe, expand your networks and increase your chances of success. There are only two characters in Coyote’s world but countless others in your own. Decide what you want and work with others to make it happen.
* Find Your Voice – Do you notice how Coyote almost never speaks? He never howls or expresses himself. Rather, he toils silently alone pursuing an elusive goal that’s become his obsession. To change his fortune and find his voice Coyote needs to change himself. He needs to ask for help. You can’t shape your future unless you declare your intentions, and that means having the confidence and clarity to do so.
* Take Action – We can’t fault Coyote for not taking action. The old dog is always in motion, except for when he’s getting clobbered time and again. He’s stuck. Taking action is ultimately rewarding when you’ve done your homework – sized up your situation, clarified your objectives and committed to goals based on reality.
So if you’re one of millions of Americans enduring a boss from hell, not emotionally connected to your work, stressed out by your situation, living in the wrong place or not born into privilege, don’t despair. Pull your inner Coyote over to the side of the road for a pow-wow to consider how you might change both the landscape and the approach to get what you really want. In so doing you can learn from your experience, define success on your own terms and with some good fortune, reclaim your dreams if you so choose.