Tuning out

Career Opportunities podcast logoTuning out
By Douglas E. Welch



There was a screech of tires, a blast of a horn and I was thrown forward hard, only being stopped by the bus’s hangstrap and a quick grab for a bar to my left. Thankfully I hadn’t been fiddling with my iPhone or both it and I would have been thrown to the floor or on top of a fellow bus rider. I looked out the front window of the bus and saw a guy toodling by on a bicycle, riding against traffic, headphones on — never realizing that he was nearly killed and countless people on the bus nearly injured. This is what can happen when you tune out the world. You can make life very dangerous for both yourself and those around you. Unfortunately, tuning out seems to be very common in today’s world.

These columns are often effected by what is happening in my life and this is no exception. As soon as I had recovered my balance and made my transfer to the Metro Red Line Subway (yes, LA has a subway) I pulled out my journal and made a note to talk about my experience. Not only are people tuning out in personal aspects of their lives, they are also tuning out of their work and career.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, of course. Today we are faced with more of everything. More people, more technology, more change. While I believe that humans have an infinite ability to deal with complexity, it often takes us some time to catch up with the amount of complexity as it leapfrogs every day. When a new technology enters our lives, like Twitter or Facebook, it can take us a while to integrate into our lives and work. This is the danger zone for most people. Too often, when faced with complexity, we start to tune out — simply ignore — the complexity of the new technology, often to our peril. While we can always turn off technology when we choose, to ignore it completely can be foolhardy.

Like the cyclist in my bus anecdote, going through life oblivious is a recipe for disaster. Whether you like it or not, life will eventually catch up with you. Looking to the automotive industry as an example, many car makers simply ignored the changes happening in their industry, or tried to deny them. They went along as if everything would be the same as it had always been. No amount of wishful thinking could change the future, though, and we see the mess they are dealing with today. The only thing that could have averted this crisis is adapting to change. Had they faced the issues, faced the changes that seemed obvious to many, we might be witnessing a very different story.

This also takes place on an individual level. Sometimes, in the midst of a crisis, we keep our head down and hope that the world and its issues will pass us by. Like a child sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “la, la, la, — I don’t hear you” we willfully ignore the world around us. Sure, it can seem like self-preservation to tune out all the negative, worrisome and downright scary things we face each day, but they must be faced eventually. Ignoring them makes them worse — makes them more damaging than had we faced them on our own terms. If we continue riding along, listening to our iPod, life (in the form of a large bus) will make a dramatic change for us. This is no way to live our lives or build our careers — changing only when forced.

As much as it might scare us, there comes a time when we need to wake up to the world around us instead of trying to hide from it. Life has a way of finding us, wherever we go — even inside our own minds. Taking breaks from your life can be healing, but also make sure you come back and engage in life again, once you have that break. We all love to go to the cabin by the lake, but eventually you have to return to the real world once again. In fact, it is the contrast between the two that allows us to appreciate the difference even more. Don’t wait for the bus of life to forces big changes upon you. Wake up, take off your headphones and face the world around you head on. Then you can continue building the career you deserve.

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