It’s a common scenario – after a hard day of strategizing, problem solving and battling with your non-cooperative corporate printer, you melt into your couch and get ready to enjoy some mindless reality TV. The stresses that were plaguing you no longer seem to matter, and you become engrossed in a trek across the globe where travelers battle for a cash prize, or yet another dysfunctional “Real Housewives” reunion.
But what if the TV we write off as mindlessly unimportant isn’t so mindless after all? Just like anything in life, with a closer look – the scripted scenarios and vapid characters might actually offer some pretty profound lessons to incorporate into your personal and professional life.
I know what you’re thinking – what can you possibly learn from reality TV?
As a self-proclaimed TV aficionado, I’d like to offer up five professionally-relevant insights I’ve gained from just the kind of TV shows many would argue are melting the brains of our youth. I think you’ll agree that there’s something to be learned from a medium that, in all reality, might just be misunderstood.
1) Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch; And Don’t Leave Opportunities On The “Kitchen Counter.”
On the cooking show “Chopped,” you’re given a box full of zany ingredients and mere minutes to whip up a culinary delight that will dazzle the judges. Time is precious. Anyone who’s ever seen the show knows that when a contestant is cocky enough to complete their dish with minutes to spare – they’ll see repercussions. Often they’ve forgotten a key ingredient, or the fancy sauce that would set off their dish has been carelessly left sitting on the kitchen counter.
As professionals, we’ve all observed an employee who rushes through a project, so eager to complete it ahead of deadline to earn kudos from their boss or their colleagues that they end up making the most rookie and careless mistakes in the book.
At every turn, we should slow down, ensure we’re using all of the tools provided to us, and take the necessary time to create a final product that’s going to exceed expectations. After all, turning that report in a full week before it’s due will really lose its luster when it’s riddled with typos or is missing a key section.
2) Read Instructions – Make Sure You Know What’s Expected Before You Dive In.
On “The Amazing Race,” a frenzied travel experience where contestants compete complicated challenges in a race across the globe for a million dollar prize, reading instructions is everything. There is no worse sin than assuming you know the rules of the challenge, when in fact you’ve missed a key detail.
It’s cringe-worthy to watch as a team, for example, finally figures out how to carry umpteen pitchers of beer across a German beer garden without spilling a drop – only to discover they were first supposed to put on a pair of lederhosen and must now repeat the challenge. A classic and unfortunate error.
In a professional setting, such a faux pas can cost you a client relationship or might result in redoing a project you put a lot of time and effort into. It’s a reminder to ask the right questions, like “what’s the expected outcome” or “what internal constraints might we need to navigate around” before you dive into putting together a presentation or project that’s incomplete and sends you back to square one.
3) Don’t Burn Bridges.
Maintaining healthy relationships is not a skill that’s highly-prized among reality TV stars, often accentuated by the high premium placed on competition. Take MTV’s “The Challenge” – where past “Real World” contestants compete against each other for a cash prize, often letting politics and greed convince them to turn on their loyal alliances (think also “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” and the list goes on). In an ironic twist this past season, previously-ousted contestants secretly returned to the game – and don’t think they didn’t exact revenge on their so-called friends.
The working world is full of challenges and scenarios that might make it feel like you’re pitted against a colleague, or competing for a promotion that everyone wants. While sometimes self-promotion is an inevitable and healthy part of your career, it’s important to remember that these colleagues (or Clients in some cases) might be great future allies.
In many fields, professional circles are small, and anything you can do to maintain and nurture these relationships could be extremely beneficial down the road.
4) Trust Your Instincts.
On a show like “The Bachelor,” where romance is orchestrated down to every last detail, it’s easy for contestants to get swept away and convince themselves that the bachelor or bachelorette in question is meant for them. However, every once in a while you have the chance to witness someone who doesn’t buy into the hype, who rather than waiting for “the rose” actually sends themselves home because they just don’t feel the chemistry.
Trusting your gut comes into play in many professional situations. Perhaps you’re in the process of interviewing for a new job – remember that it’s just as much your opportunity to evaluate the employer as it’s their opportunity to evaluate you. If you don’t see yourself in the job, it might be worth pausing before moving forward.
Maybe you’re reviewing vendor options and you get the feeling that one of your options is a little more “snake oil salesman” than the next guy – you’re probably right. Go with your gut and move on.
5) Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew – Set Attainable Goals.
The transformations seen on the hit weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser” have been known to inspire radical New Year’s resolutions and drastic diets that are nothing if not unsustainable. Yes it’s true that the show’s contestants have achieved unbelievable weight loss goals, but what the cameras don’t show is hours upon hours in the gym and a steady diet of steamed chicken and broccoli.
In any job there are times where you decide you’ll do more, promise more or attain more. It might be that you feel you need to step up your game in order to earn a promotion, or maybe you have a new client that you want to impress.
Promising the moon and failing to deliver won’t get you anywhere, and it might in fact cost you that very promotion or make a client think twice before hiring you again. Instead, focus on achieving reasonable goals – going above and beyond but in a way that won’t set you up for failure. Each time you venture a little more outside of your comfort zone, you’ll build new skills and can continue to grow as you hit the milestones you’ve set for yourself.
So, the next time you park yourself in front of your flat screen for some much-deserved R&R, look at it as an opportunity to draw a little bit of unexpected insight into your professional life – you might be surprised at what you can learn.
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