slippery slopes & “just this once” behavior
“Sliding down the slippery slope of mediocrity.”
Ok. I believe the actual quote was “the slippery surface of irrelevant brilliance”, but I thought I saw somewhere he said what I wrote above.
Regardless. This is a Life and business lesson. So let’s just call it “truth.” Its a truth about work, effort, decisions, compromise, lies (or “half-truths”) and almost anything else I can think of.
Slippery slopes are incredibly easy to step onto AND get stuck on. What do I mean?
“Just this once” you say to yourself when you are tired. Whatever the decision or action we are discussing, to you, in the moment … it is mentally “an exception”.
“Just this once” when you are asked a question and you ponder your answer. Maybe you embellish.
“Just this once” you say to yourself when you put off that thing you wanted to do. A workout. A chore. A book. A project. A diet. A decision.
“Just this once” you say to yourself when it is a silly rule or it isn’t really unethical, but its not 100% ethical, it’s just in the margins of “okay to do.”
Before you know it <after some “just this onces“> you have edged on to that slippery slope. Once has become many and many becomes the standard.
Life is funny that way. Its sneaky. It permits you to look at things in a mutually exclusive way so that you don’t really see the accumulation of events & decisions.
Think of it maybe this way. In that incomparable <and totally underrated> movie The Replacements there is a scene where Keanu Reeves talks about it as “quicksand”.
It’s the same thing. You get in it. And you fight hard but you just can’t stop sliding down. In fact the harder you try to fight it … the worse it seems to get. And it is a truly helpless feeling. That’s quicksand in life. That is the slippery slope.
Oh. Maybe the worst thing about the slippery slope is that most people don’t realize they have started sliding until it is too late. Because the slippery slope is tricky smart. Sly in fact. It teases you with some easy low consequence decisions upfront. For example … you are on a diet and just have one dessert. One occasion, one time <some people are tempted to call this “reward for good behavior” which is simply another trick the slippery slope plays upon you>.
Maybe the slope even tempts you with permitting a small embellishment. Just a small addition at the end of a thought. Just a couple of words you wish you hadn’t said but didn’t seem to be that big. And the next time it becomes a few more words. And then … before you know it … the embellishment has taken on a life of its own.
Does that mean I am better than mediocrity? Shit no.
I just recognize that sense of helplessness and I like people to have hope for something better then the helpless feeling found on some stupid slippery slope.
I also believe there are a shitload of really good people … and I mean good as in talented and good as in heart & soul … who just get caught on the slope and life makes it even more difficult to figure out a way to get off the fucking slope.
Anyway. This quote reminds me of two things.
1. Pay attention to everything. It’s the only way to insure mediocrity can’t gain momentum (because we all have to compromise on occasion)
2. Help those who have that look of “how the hell did I get so far down this slope” by grabbing their hand and pulling them back up whenever you have a chance. There are some incredible people and some incredible talent out there that just got caught on life’s slippery slope. It doesn’t mean they are mediocre by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply that they got caught on the slippery slope and didn’t know how to get off.
Ok. Because I used a Replacements scene as an example of the slippery slope <and a really good scene in the overall perspective of the movie with a good message about second chances and shit like that> I want to end with one more Replacements reference.
“Greatness, no matter how short, stays with a person forever.”
gene hackman (replacements)
We all seek t do something great – be it big or small. For most of us greatness will never be a lifetime tag. In fact for many of us <me for sure> this is a Truth.
But. A great moment? A great action? A great thing? Yeah. We all have it in us. And maybe that is where the slippery slope is such a bastard. Once you have done a couple of ‘just onces’ and you are on the slippery slope that one moment of greatness may appear and, well, that greatness slips by. All your ‘just onces’ cost you a chance at the one ‘once’ that really matters. How does that happen? When you are buried in the suckhole of mediocrity 2 things happen:
(1) your doubt with regard to whether you can actually do the great increases (and doubt creates hesitancy and hesitancy creates, well, missed opportunities),
(2) your slow side into mediocrity convinces everyone around you that you are, well, mediocre – only capable of doing that which is mediocre. this matters because 99% of greatness is attained only with oethr’s assistance. No assistance, no greatness.
All that said.
We shouldn’t dwell on greatness nor that one moment or thing (for a life is never defined by one moment of greatness). We should invest that ‘dwelling energy’ at doing our best to avoid the slippery slope of mediocrity.
However, I will point out an easy moment of greatness. When someone who has been stuck on the slippery slope and is struggling to get off and just can’t see how to get off and out of the mediocre suckhole, well, reach out, give them a hand, remind them what greatness looks like, point out what makes it happen and what they are capable of. I would argue if you did that, in that moment, in some magical way, you may also have achieved your own moment of greatness.