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One of the more interesting things about our lives is we’re continually seeking two diametrically opposed things. On the one hand, we seek the security and certainty we find in keeping things the way they are. On the other hand, we seek growth and progress, which change the way things are.
The outcome of change is almost always uncertain, and how you manage the elements of certainty and uncertainty can greatly affect your life. In some aspects, certainty and uncertainty have come to control virtually every waking moment of our lives.
No matter who you are, you probably have at least some interest in controlling your life and environment to an extent–i.e., you are seeking certainty. If you have an apartment or a place to which you come home every night, you have found one way of controlling your environment. If you have a job, or have had jobs in the past, this is a way to gain some security in your life. If you have friends or a mate, you have found yet another way to feel certain in your life. This craving for certainty and security is a driving factor in most of our lives:
I saw one of the most incredible things on Thursday night. I was returning from dinner in Malibu with my wife and a couple of friends, and there was a small traffic jam on Pacific Coast Highway at 8:45 in the evening. This seemed unusual, given the hour. I looked to the right side of the road and realized everyone in the traffic jam was pulling into a small medical center that was on the side of the road. There were people in uniforms helping to redirect traffic and it was a huge scene.
“What’s going on?” I asked my wife.
“Oh we should have gone to this,” she told me. “My Pilates teacher told me about this and invited me to it. There is a new plastic surgery center/day spa opening there and this is their opening party. We should have gone. We would have been able to see a lot of famous people.”
I couldn’t believe the opening of a plastic surgery center could create such a ruckus. Where I am from, Detroit, people used to be ashamed of things like plastic surgery and they would probably sneak in the back door of a clinic. Here, in Malibu, the opening of a local plastic surgery clinic is cause for a giant party.
Youth and looks are what are valued most in Hollywood, so work and money typically flows to the people who look the best and the youngest. Accordingly, anything that will help people maintain the “certainty” of a young age and so forth is highly valued. People want to stay young because this seems to be where all the love, money, and fame come from.
When you look at people’s lives around the world, you often see the same story, just different problems. People value different things and all have their own means of going after what they want. In Los Angeles, good looks and youthfulness may be most highly valued. In a different part of the world, age may be valued. In other parts of the world, the biggest value may be religious fundamentalism. We all simply have different values that motivate and define us. When we define ourselves, we seem to become fixed in one place, which heightens our sense of certainty.
On Friday evening, we were at another restaurant in Santa Monica and I was seated directly next to a guy who is a big time Internet entrepreneur. He told me he charges plastic surgeons $6,000 a year to list themselves in his online directory of doctors who perform breast implants. He was a very nice guy and I enjoyed the dinner conversation. However, I couldn’t help but thinking that everywhere I turn people seemed to be talking about plastic surgery.
As we drove home, I asked my wife about the party that had clogged the freeway on Thursday night in Malibu.
“Did you ask your Pilates teacher about the plastic surgeon’s party on Thursday?” I asked.
“Yeah, she told me the only famous person there was Suzanne Somers. It wasn’t as good as it seemed to be.”
My wife and I then proceeded to discuss Suzanne Somers and her career. Somers is someone who had an extremely interesting career in all respects. In fact, she is a perfect example of that continual tension between certainty and uncertainty, which exists in everyone’s lives.
Currently, Somers is promoting human growth hormone therapy in a book and all over the place, to help people stay young. As someone who became famous and whose career was in large part based on her looks, it’s not surprising the actress wants to stay young and keep things the way they are. However, Somers’s career, and the main role she became famous for, was anything but certain.
As many may remember, Somers played “Chrissy Snow” on the show Three’s Company, an extremely popular sitcom that ran in the United States from 1977 to 1984. In the show, Somers played a “dumb blonde,” who continually did things that weren’t very intelligent. For example, in one episode when a police officer came to investigate a robbery at the residence he stated “Who would leave an envelope marked ‘rent’ with money in it in plain sight? No one is that stupid,” to which Chrissy replied, “But we are!” The entire series and Somers’s entire character was based on her continually misunderstanding simple things and being extremely gullible. Her roommates, Jack Tripper (played by John Ritter) and Janet Wood (played by Joyce DeWitt), were continually having to protect Snow from her vulnerability, which came as a result of her being so ditzy and adorable. You never knew what Snow was going to do on the show, and her stupid antics created a great deal of uncertainty, which helped make the show extremely entertaining and successful.
How many of us have known characters like Chrissy Snow? I’ve known people who always forget this or that, often fall prey to easily avoidable circumstances, and constantly make one mistake after another.
So many of us chase “certainty” and consistency in our lives; however, certainty isn’t really what comprises the world, nor does it hold our attention. For many of us, when things get too stable, we seek to shake things up. That is, we try to make a situation more interesting by injecting uncertainty into it.
If you were to put two people of equal weight on a teeter totter, how long would they choose to sit there, staying balanced? They might stay balanced for a short time; however, for lack and want of motion they will eventually start the teeter totter bouncing up and down. People may claim and act as if they want things to remain steady and consistent; however, as the teeter totter example shows, when it comes right down to it we want motion and uncertainty. We value the uncertainty as much as we think we value certainty. Watching sports games or other entertainment, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, dealing with unpredictable people, having affairs, and so forth–are all methods we’ve used at one time or another to make life more interesting to us.
In every organization I’ve ever been a part of, there have been people who become easily bored by the status quo. They may attempt to stir the pot by creating rumors, or finding other ways to make things difficult for those around them. They may make stupid mistakes intentionally. The majority of people need some kind of uncertainty in order to be happy, and they will do whatever they can to create it.
Suzanne Somers was born to an alcoholic father and overall, had a very difficult life growing up. She often had to hide in the closet when her father was drunk and on a rampage. She’s dyslexic, and was once expelled from school. She left college after her sophomore year, when she became unexpectedly pregnant. In 1971 her son was hit by a car and was severely injured.
There’s no doubt that getting a starring role in 1977 in Three’s Company was the greatest thing that had ever happened to Ms. Somers. Within a short time, Somers was a very famous actress, having become a household name. She was earning a great deal of money and had a career that was on track in all respects. However, at the beginning of the fifth season, Somers demanded a raise from $30,000 to $150,000 an episode, plus 10% ownership of the show’s profits. ABC denied the request and Somers boycotted the second and fourth shows of the season. Her contract wasn’t renewed after the season ended and she was replaced.
After this incident, Somers became somewhat of a pariah in Hollywood, and didn’t land any new substantive acting roles. The demands she’d put on the show for more money and a percentage of the profits made people afraid to work with her. What I find interesting is that Somers had struggled for so many years, and had finally put herself in a situation where she had an amazingly steady job, and all the certainty that came with it. However, as I’ve discussed above, many people get bored with certainty and end up sabotaging it in some way. In this case, Somers sabotaged her own acting career, consequentially injecting a great deal of uncertainty into her life.
I’ve personally seen an incredible number of people do this in their careers. They have good careers and suddenly end up losing job after job by injecting uncertainty into the usual routine. This is something I’m sure you’ve done, just as it’s something most other people have done. This is often one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your career and life.
What I’m about to tell you could help you in an incredibly significant way. It might even end up changing your life.
My grandfather was a very well-known newspaper writer. When my father got out of college, he also wanted to be a writer. While he was interested in writing fiction, he was also quite interested in editorial and other sorts of writing. He got a job at the same paper where my grandfather had been working for over 40 years, The Detroit News. My father is a good writer and I’m sure he could have had an outstanding career at this paper just as his father had. Nevertheless, after some time working in the routine, my father got into a conflict with his boss over some very fundamental issues, which ended up getting him fired. He ended up getting a job doing something very different, working at the Yellow Pages as a manager, which he did for the rest of his career. I believe my father’s need for uncertainty in the face of certainty was largely responsible.
About a year ago, our company had a cadre of 10 or so people who made videos for us, all about how to find jobs. One of the broadcasters was particularly exceptional at her job. She walked into her boss’s office one day and demanded that the company quadruple her salary. She was denied, and ended up losing her job because she refused to work for less than four times her current salary. I know other people around Los Angeles who employ multiple broadcasters, many of whom have routinely had similar incidents.
I’m not creating an issue out of someone asking for a raise, because there’s nothing wrong with this. The issue here is that people in stable positions often create conflict and uncertainty because they want something different. They will find fault with their existing job and create problems out of thin air for no apparent reason. Hence, they may place outlandish and unrealistic demands on their employers.
I did this in my legal career. I got bored with the status quo at the first law firm I worked for, and I made up a myriad of reasons why I didn’t like the firm. I ended up leaving. This is something that, in retrospect, makes no sense, but I can now attest that it was probably born out of my need for uncertainty and variety.
Because Somers became largely shunned by Hollywood, she ended up becoming a Las Vegas performer and a spokeswoman for various products. For example, she became the spokeswoman for the Thighmaster, a piece of exercise equipment. Somers has since started lifestyle related companies ELO Somers and Port Carling, Inc. With these companies, Somers has branded hundreds of diet, beauty, fashion, and exercise products. In the summer of 2005, Somers also performed a one woman show on Broadway, The Blonde in the Thunderbird. Ultimately, when you examine Somers’s career, you see that it has been punctuated by a vast amount of uncertainty and variety. She has acted, she has written, and she has sold numerous different products. Ms. Somers has ultimately been extremely successful, and I’m sure it was due at least in large part to her need for variety.
However, as Somers has aged, she is also seeking to keep certainty in her career and life. Somers is a big supporter of bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). She wrote a book, Ageless, which interviews numerous people about the practice. (See Wikipedia article about BHRT)
What about you? What do you need? If you’re like most people, you’re also struggling with certainty and uncertainty in your career and life. Our need for uncertainty, however, can do us a tremendous amount of harm in our careers. We continually create pain in our careers and find reasons to be unhappy, even when it might not be the most appropriate response or the best thing for us. We may even end up knowingly undermining our careers.
Everyone needs to find a certain balance they need in order to be happy. It lies somewhere between mundane certainty and chaotic variety. You need to ensure that you, too, have this balance in your own career. The career of Somers is an example of how a person was able to find this desired balance in her career. Your own needs are similar. You need to be in a job and hone in on a career that gives you this balance. If you find yourself continually sabotaging your jobs or relationships, I would urge you to work harder at creating situations that meet your natural need for balance. Only in this manner will you find the career and life that give you the satisfaction you want.
People always seek the diametrically opposed goals of security and improvement. Security and stability necessitates keeping things the way they currently are, while growth and progress necessarily mean changing the status quo. Change always leads to uncertain outcomes. Balancing elements of certainty and uncertainty will greatly affect your life. You must find a balance in your life between certainty and uncertainty.