The glamorization of urgency

Way back in 1992, I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom in Alabama’s, “I’m in a hurry [and don’t know why].”

I rediscovered the song a few days ago, and really listened to the lyrics. Man! Those boys from Fort Payne were on to something.

Our culture glamorizes urgency. I recently saw About Time, a wonderful film about a man who can travel back in time and relive moments. The movie is sort of like an inverted take on Groundhog Day, but rather than being forced to relive the same day, he can choose to relive any moment at any time (with some important limitations). And like that Bill Murray classic, the protagonist in About Time uses his situation to become a better person – particularly a better friend, son, brother, father, and husband.

But even our super-gifted hero – who can go back in time as often as he wants – happily and frenetically rushes through breakfast with his family as if the world will end if he doesn’t get everyone out the door by 7:30!

Why would he do that? This glamorization of urgency is starting to feel to me like a grand conspiracy.

Think about every morning scene from every movie or TV show that features a family at home: The alarm rattles mom and dad awake, people hop down the stairs pushing a leg into their pants, toast explodes from toasters, orange juices spills across tables, dogs bark, people run out the door with a piece of bacon dangling from their mouths. Everyone off to catch the bus, beat the bell, make the train, or whatever. Everyone off trying to live their lives according to some arbitrary schedule set by no one that everyone follows because that’s what everyone else does.

Can’t be late
I leave in plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock
I can’t stop
I’m on a roll and I’m ready to rock.

I’m in a hurry to get things done
I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

I hear a voice
That says I’m running behind
I better pick up my pace
It’s a race
And there ain’t no room
For someone in second place.

And all the while, everyone is smiling the sort of smile that conveys a sense of pride in their urgency. It’s like they’re trying to convince us (and themselves) that, “I am hurrying because I have an important place in society. Other people need me to do things that are more important to me than being present here with these people.”

The ideal condition, it would seem, is frenetic urgency in service to an arbitrary time keeper. But why?

Don’t buy what they are selling


This afternoon, I stopped into a very small (ie 20′ x 40′) drug store in a little NC town. Half their shelves are dedicated to normal over-the-counter stuff like hydrogen peroxide, band aids, and decongestant. The pictures above are from the other half of their shelves.

There is a lot of talk out there about gluten free, paleo, and low carb, and, honestly, I buy most of it. Following a contrarian nutrition path has helped my health. And in my journey, I’ve come to believe that the most dastardly villain of all – the one that increases susceptibility to and amplifies just about every illness from depression to cancer – is not carbs or gluten, and it’s certainly not saturated fat. It’s refined sugar.

Refined sugar in all its forms is in just about all packaged foods, most baked goods, and practically every condiment except mustard.

Read labels, avoid refined sugar, eat real food, and you’ll find yourself needing the stuff they sell behind the counter less and less.

Policy is like a cast

Policies and procedures, hierarchy, and bureaucracy are similar to a cast, a brace, or a splint. They’re incredibly useful to immobilize a broken bone so that it will heal. They remove judgment from the equation: If you want to move beyond the limits of your hobble, you can’t. That sort of limitation is something you need if your culture is broken and you’re trying to help it heal, but it’s something you definitely don’t want if you’re healthy.

Earlier this year, Marissa Mayer recognized this when she began restricting Yahoo employees’ freedom to work remotely. Remote employees were struggling to be productive, and their results clearly showed it. That represented systemic failures across the board in hiring, onboarding new folks, leadership, and communication, and those failures had injured the organization so severely that the first step in repairing the damage was to introduce restrictions that would allow Yahoo’s bones to heal. If Yahoo does well, that healing will come via the departure of people who aren’t committed to the company’s success, through improved communication, through better leadership, through more selective hiring, and through more diligent onboarding.

For a healthy limb, broad range of movement is critical to strength. Artificial restrictions on motion weaken muscles, and the lack of use eventually causes bone brittleness. So if you are relying on a cast, splint, or brace to prevent injury from happening, you’re making yourself more susceptible to injury.

Once Yahoo has healed its bones, Mayer can (and hopefully will) strip off the cast, and focus on strengthening muscles.