A lot has changed since the 2008 financial crisis.
Some of the aftershocks are more obvious. There are fewer jobs. Fewer opportunities.
Wealth and abundance flow into Wall Street, while capital and resources are siphoned from Main Street.
Yet some of the effects are more abstract — harder to define. People sense there’s something off, but they’re not sure how to put it in words.
It’s vague, and harder to pin down, but there’s a definite difference in the way we do business.
I thought about it for a while, and out of nowhere, it hit me:
There’s less of a commitment to quality these days, and more of a focus on volume.
You see it everywhere, from the way we communicate to the products we buy to the superficial summaries we hear on the news.
Instead of forging a few meaningful relationships, we’re firing off friend requests to everyone online.
Rather than reading an article in-depth, we’re glancing at our phone and skimming the headlines.
Instead of fine-tuning the tiniest of details, we’re glossing over the aggregated data.
Like I said, it’s abstract and murky, but it’s a general sense that we’re not doing things as well as we could.
And I’ll be the first to admit: Maybe it’s just my perception. Maybe I’m turning into a crusty, old curmudgeon who grouses about social media and laments the good-old days when every phone had a cord.
But I don’t think so. I’m an older Millennial — just on the verge of being in Generation X — and I remember when things were different.
It’s not a dramatic change — like Marty McFly traveling to an alternate 1985 — but it’s there. It’s noticeable.
Details used to matter. Meticulousness used to count.
Go-getters would seek methods to add value to their jobs, and their motivation would be recognized and rewarded.
I’ve had some unpleasant experiences in the past. I was a receptionist for a small office, so I endeavored to create value for my employer. I was tasked only with answering the phone, but I offered to write ad copy, shoot video, start a blog, design intricate flyers.
I wasn’t looking only to advance. I wanted to develop a reputation as a valuable go-to and a knowledgable resource. I wanted people to regard me as an indispensable member of the team.
Yet that didn’t happen. The effort went nowhere. The details didn’t matter.
Despite my asking, the position didn’t expand to encompass all my skills.
Now granted, that’s only one bad experience. And it encouraged me to seek employment with my current company, where grit and heavy-lifting are appreciated.
But there’s a general malaise these days — and not just among Millennials like me. People in generations before mine feel the same way.
How do I know? I talk to them.
I’ve always felt more comfortable with people older than myself — which is a huge benefit in the workplace. Experienced professionals have stood in your shoes, and they can advise you on how to avoid the mistakes that they had to learn on their own.
I’d rather someone instruct me on the wisdom of tying my shoes, rather than falling flat on my face and finding out for myself.
I’ve heard many Baby Boomers talk about how things aren’t as good as they used to be. People cared more, they say. A job well-done was a badge of honor.
People aren’t as invested now, they tell me. Employees show up, but they shovel work onto others, or they make pompous declarations without considering all the facts.
These aren’t burned-out cubicle-dwellers on the verge of retirement. These are people I admire and trust. They’re not begrudging change, or holding their era in higher esteem.
When they tell me that things used to be better, I believe them. And I agree.
We’re living in a high-gloss, low-wattage society. There’s no substance beneath the surface. The perception of competency is paramount, but actual experience is scarce.
We pad our LinkedIn profiles with buzz-terms and jargon, but there’s no actual wizard behind the curtain. We build dense, keyword-specific resumes, but there’s no character beneath the clutter.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether it’s technology making us complacent, or the aftershocks of an all-embracing recession, we can choose to be the indispensable go-to who’d do anything to help out a colleague.
We can decide to be the master of details who’s known for accuracy and efficiency.
We can elect to be the resourceful collaborator who’s always seeking new ways to add value.
This doesn’t have to be the Period of Post-Quality. But it’s up to us.
If we can shake off all the malaise and complacency and rediscover our entrepreneurial roots, we could be living in a golden age where character counts, hard work is appreciated, and demonstrated proficiency is valued higher than smooth-talking swagger.
Details should matter. Competency should count. Hard work and resourcefulness should be rewarded.
That’s the way things used to be. And I’m hopeful that one day — once again, with any luck — that will be the way things are.