What would you do with your last three weeks on earth? If you knew the date certain for your departure, how would you spend your remaining time? Would your answers change if you knew it was not only your last three weeks, but also the last three weeks of earth? Everyone, everywhere is in on the last big send off.
These questions are explored in a new movie Seeking a Friend for the End of The World. The film illustrates deep insights into human nature, because it strips us down to who we really are when we think there is little left to gain or lose. It caused me to reflect on our behavior in difficult times, with challenges far less final.
“Normal” has a strong gravitational pull
Even with the certainty of three weeks of Earth left, people wanted to maintain “normal.” Not only did they go to work, they had staff meetings. Police officers ticketed speeders. Domestic help showed up on Wednesday. The friendly wait staff at the franchise food place sang “Happy Birthday.” As any of you who have tried to institutionalize organizational change know, the allure of “normal” is a powerful barrier to change.
The pull of “normal” can squash a true value of disruption: Innovation. As Jeremy Gutsche, author of Exploiting Chaos, reminds us, “normal never returns.” Once disruption has happened, things never return to the way they were. They settle and we figure them out. Or, the brilliant see possibilities to create something better out of the destruction of the past. They follow Albert Einstein’s rule: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Our values always show up
With nothing left to lose and nothing to gain that’s going to last, characters in the movie were stripped bare to reveal what was really important to them. The hedonists indulged, the selfish took, the cowardly ran (to where?), the diligent worked, and the caring cared. There was no one left to impress, no one left to manage. In the end, who they were was who they were.
It seems to me that values also show up in our extreme times, when there is the most to gain or the most to lose. Or, when there are no rules except self-governing ones. If I were ever in the situations to make hiring decisions again, understanding someone’s values would be the most important information I could get. The Motives, Values and Preferences Report from Hogan Leadership Series Forecast would be a requirement. I can figure out how to leverage strengths. I can figure out how to develop or mitigate weaknesses. But what governs someone’s behavior when they think nothing matters is everything that matters to me.
Find More Gratitude and Joy
It’s no surprise that there was little joy on Earth with three weeks left; except among the hedonists. But what did surprise me was the extent of misery and bitterness people held onto until the end. In one scene, a character is asked how she’ll spend her remaining two weeks. She revealed her plans to drive across country to tell her stepfather to “F” off. Really? You both have two weeks left and you’ll spend them so the last words he hears from you are “F” off? Have you ever heard of “let it go?” Aside from this extreme example, there was only one character with an authentic sense of joy in the end. But, you’ll have to see the movie to know who and why.
It doesn’t take any more chaos than a bad day to show our propensity to focus on the negative and miss the joy in each day. (And yes, I resemble this remark.) Think of what we tell people about a bad day. We recount in detail the incompetence, laziness, selfishness and general cluelessness that diminished our brilliance. But seldom do we recall the smile and hug from a loved one, the extra mile effort of a co-worker, encouragement from a friend, and the contributions of strangers that make our productivity possible. And, the fact that we’re here to describe our day in lurid detail. We forget about that, too.
The film reminded me of how I did not want to end, by recounting every misdeed done to me. Maybe that’s good practice for ending each day, too.
Gutsche, Jeremy (2011). Exploiting Chaos: 150 Ways to Spark Innovation During Times of Change. Self Published.
Hogan Leadership Forecast Series information