The Dung Beetle Fallacy
The vast difference between pieces of flair & specializing in your passion.
We need to talk.
Being the person in the room with the most degrees that someone else paid for; the most certifications in a generic subject just for show; the longest commute to prove how committed you are; the biggest collection of passive-aggressive platitudes to disguise how dismissive we’ve all become of any new thought; having the loudest opinion or the last word does not make you smart.
As an industry — and a society— we’ve fallen for the Dung Beetle Fallacy.
Somewhere along the way we prioritized (and applauded and rewarded) the collecting of random crap as a way to prove our expertise. The marketing industry is particularly guilty. Gone are the days of spending years honing a specialized skill set but let us miss not even one opportunity to mention (again) that minor in communications from [insert party school here].
Whatever happened to the mentors who helped us build bullet-proof career paths with succession planning and exit strategies? I suppose we really aren’t to blame for this oversight—who has the time to focus and specialize when we’re all so busy watching animated lectures on our lunch breaks, Christmas-treeing through the quiz of yet another free “academy”, and shushing the dog as we log onto yet another virtual conference. But what have all those extra hours gotten us?
You guessed it—highly-prized and neurotically-groomed giant balls of completely random crap.
Please understand, I am not maligning the pursuit of knowledge. My phone is a nerdy oasis of apps for just that: a thoughts-starter for contemplative writing; NYTimes for the whats and what-ifs; Dictionary.com; Libby; Medium; and, of course, LinkedIn. I love new perspectives and I love learning. But that’s the problem. We’ve lost sight of the fact that gathering information is not the same as gaining knowledge.
Let that sink in.
So many of those awards, badges, certificates and diplomas (most of which are gathering dust) are just piles of Chuck E. Cheese tokens dumped in front of perspective clients only to be traded in for a handful of glass case junk prizes. Until you make the effort to examine the information you’ve collected and filter it through the lens of what you’re actually passionate about you simply cannot gain knowledge.
That’s the scary part—over the last few decades, our industry has spent so much time collecting crap in futile efforts to anticipate what others might think that it, and we in it, have completely forgotten how to think for ourselves. Much like the process of analog note-taking (confession: I am absolutely that girl in the corner with a notebook and a backup pencil), identifying key takeaways, themes, and the overarching point of view is not accomplished by taking dictation. It relies on the realtime process of listening, filtering, paraphrasing, reframing and forming your own thoughts. Spoiler alert: speed-typing the CEO’s presentation verbatim is not going to get you there. Nor will it win you any points with the 40 other people in that Zoom who are trying to listen through the lagging and clacking.
Last week, I finished an exhausting five-month gap-fill job at a grocery store. For the first six weeks I apologized nightly to my husband, my parents, and my dog for taking a job that didn’t support us and for sure did not support my career goals. I felt like a failure for helping keep food on the table and money in our savings. Every day I asked myself, and the universe at large, why I was there. Once I stopped talking and started listening I realized how much I had to learn. Until last week I was hell-bent that ember in the Great 2020 Dumpster Fire would never appear on my resume. Until last week I was still processing all the information I’ve absorbed.
Nope, I’m not talking about the what and how of the job. As a Copywriter, I hope I will never again need to know how to order 10,512 eggs on a Thursday before noon. I’m talking about team dynamics, the economics of a living wage, the difference between straw-boss management and true leadership, and the underlying effects of being perceived as an uneducated, unaccomplished no one. I filtered all of that (over many late nights and a few too many vodka lemonades) through the lens of what I’m passionate about. I am no longer ashamed to say I’ve learned that I prefer to influence from the inside — I am not forcing myself into a management track, creative or otherwise. I am no longer ashamed to say I’ve learned how to lay down boundaries, stand up for my colleagues when they need me, to accept that giving 110% every single day will only serve to raise the bar even higher and, sometimes, simply doing the work is the only way to get the job done.
You bet your ass I’m adding that to my resume.
Friends, whether you’re looking for a job or hiring for a role, please remember that a patchwork resume is not indicative of an inability to commit, a lack of expertise, or loss of purpose. There is a vast difference between the job-hopping, credit-grabbing, 37 pieces of flair-wearing Dung Beetle and the self-driven, relentless march of specializing in your passion.