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Are You In or Out?

We try so hard to get “in”, until we’re in, and then we try hard to stay in, even at the exclusion of people still “out”.

Recently, I thought how funny it was that, when it comes to a pool in the summer who can only let 50 people in at a time (no thanks, Coronavirus), if you want a line, you should start a line, keying into the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that plays so deeply in human nature.

In fact, an interesting thing I noticed is that when everyone was in line, people talked and joked with each other amiably — a sort of communal suffering brought us all together while standing in a line for a pool.

But the moment the gate to the pool was about to be opened, the very intention of the line changed. Like a physical change happened, the gate was not a resting place any more. It was a vehicle. A means to an end.

The game was now afoot and, I imagined to myself the gears turning in others’ heads as they sized up the lady two feet in front of them with three small kids and a Target store’s worth of pool toys, or the grandmotherly woman they were exchanging now-vacant pleasantries with, grinning to themselves as they deduced they could easily beat her to one of the scarce poolside umbrellas that were just out of reach, past the pearly (wrought iron) gates blocking our access to Shangri-La.

Marketers Play on our FOMO

In fact, marketers are so savvy to this primal need of ours to fit in, they often position their products with this exact pitch, letting you know you’re out unless you know that Choosy moms choose Jif, you could be saving 15% or more on your car insurance, that hipper, more active/creative people than you wear the Apple Watch, that going to McDonald’s is actually a lifestyle choice, and that wearing this makeup is not only good for your skin (spf 15!) but if your daily walk to work accidentally turns into a photo shoot for Vogue, you’ll be ready.

We see this constant us vs them show up in so many forms throughout life:

  • Graduating from the kids table at grandma’s Thanksgiving Dinner!
  • Being invited to the cool kids table at lunch.
  • Being on the (insert sport/club) team in high school.
  • Acceptance to your college of choice.
  • Receiving a highly contested scholarship.
  • Getting the job you know so many others applied for.
  • Receiving a raise when you know others did not.
  • Keeping your job when others lose theirs.

Even silly things make us feel important when, really, we’re absolutely no different than anyone else. Here’s a few I have to admit to:

  • My GPS app getting me around traffic smartly, saving me exactly 37 second of drive time. Suckers.
  • Checking out of the big club discount store using their app, skipping the 30-minute checkout line. Smiling condescendingly down on others from around my cinnamon dusted churro.
  • Being able to use the HOV lane on my commute, mocking the unwashed masses stuck in traffic as I comparatively and arrogantly fly by.
  • TSA Pre-Check enabling me to skip the slower airport security lines for the common-folk.

Comedian Brian Regan got it right when he noted that what we’re really saying about ourselves in situations like this is “I think I’m more important than I really am.”

In fact, in life, it seems the only constant is that in every sphere we are in, we are, by definition, out of some others, and that can be a source of intense unseen bias if we are not aware of it.

  • People who retort “all lives matter” to Black Lives Matter sentiments because, in their spheres of influence, they have never experienced the haunting systematic injustice many minorities live with as a daily backdrop to their lives.
  • Not having empathy that its hard to get a job sometimes when you, yourself, have always been employed.
  • Recruiters ghosting candidates because they are very busy getting offers out to the successful candidates.
  • Demanding VIP treatment because of your past donations or “platinum status” or some other so-called qualification.

If you are employed today, with 40 Million unemployed in the United States, you are a very lucky member of a very “in” crowd right now.

What can you do to avoid thinking you are more important than you really are?

By @AskRobMerrill

I'm Robert Merrill. I am the founder and principal consultant at ConnectedWell Recruiting and Talent Advisors, a boutique recruitment consulting agency. I have more than 15 years technical and professional recruiting experience across the US and fourteen other countries, globally.

Beside my writing here, I am working on helping make hiring more human again, publishing a newsletter, and Helping 1 Million people get better jobs in 5 years. The clock is ticking.

I also write on linkedin and medium, answer questions on quora, am funnier on twitter @askrobmerrill and trying to figure out instagram as well. Give us a follow, if you like.

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