Back in 2005, Dr. Cliff Arnall worked out how a variety of factors including debt and weather come together in hellish harmony on a certain Monday in January of every year. This phenomenon is now widely known as ‘Blue Monday’. Using his intriguing – if not wholly scientific – formula, January 20, 2020 is supposedly the saddest day of the year for many people. How do we go from being able to “face unafraid the plans that we made” in a winter wonderland to wallowing in the slushy gutter in just under a month?
Note: This article was originally written to celebrate Community Manager Advancement Day for the CMX Blog
For starters, your Christmas cheer has worn off, it’s cold and dark outside for far too many hours of the day, and your post-holiday credit card statements are rolling in. Then comes the fallout from New Years’ Eve. A holiday heavy with expectation, overblown with optimism and quite often greased with one too many glasses of champagne. That giant, glittery Times Square ball plummeting earthward is apt foreshadowing for the post-holiday letdown many of us feel just a few weeks later.
Consciously or not, many people buy into the “new year, new you” mantra that may sell a lot of magazines and gym memberships but doesn’t necessarily hold up well over time. The New Year does intrinsically signify a fresh start and this year – with the arrival of a whole new decade – that sense of “turning the page” may have been even more compelling than usual. The truth is, that writing a new date on your notebooks doesn’t equate to getting a clean slate—personally or professionally.
We all came out of the winter break (if we were lucky enough to get one – people who worked through the holidays, we see you!) with the same families, childhood narratives and personal histories. At work, most of us are carrying on with the same teams and mandates, wrestling with the same tough problems, budget concerns, resourcing constraints, tech issues and myriad other challenges as last year.
We humans don’t really get clean slates. Ever. Christians know this. It’s why they douse newborn babies with holy water to cleanse them of the ‘original sin’ they’re saddled with from birth. Thanks a bunch, Adam and Eve. Biblical invocations aside, life is not an Etch-A-Sketch that we can shake clean and ‘do over’ when things aren’t turning out the way we’d pictured them in our heads. Everything is a work in progress; building on that which came before. And what a full-on relief that is when you really think about it! Here are just a few reasons to feel good about cutting yourself some slack and moving forward in all your gloriously imperfect undertakings as a community manager in 2020:
Starting over is overrated.
Let’s stop giving undue weight to the concept of a clean slate by admitting that starting from scratch would be a serious buzzkill. Think about it: would you really want to be 18 again? Besides the obvious upsides of bouncy skin and a faster metabolism – the answer is probably a resounding no. Why? Because you know so much more now than you did back then—and it was hard enough the first time around. You’ve seen so much, done so much, made so many mistakes and learned who you are and what you want. The same is true as we move forward in our roles as community managers. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and have learned some hard lessons along the way. We’ve chipped away at complex problems and made inroads that we shouldn’t be in such a hurry to backfill. Celebrate the successes you’ve racked up to date and focus on how you can build on what you’ve achieved. Sure, sometimes that means knowing when to say when. When to scrap a bad idea, admit something isn’t working or stop throwing good money after bad – but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many amazing works of art, technology, science and philosophy were the result of a long, ‘one step forward, two steps back’ process. The winding path is really the only path.
We are all monkeys on a rock.
The out-of-this-world brilliant Stephen Hawking has noted that, “we are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” Joe Rogan once similarly advised, “if you ever start taking things too seriously, just remember that we are talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe.” So it’s settled then. We are overdeveloped apes riding a galactic carousel. Add some calliope music and mediocre coffee and you have a typical day at the office.
Who are we to argue with our greatest (or averagest) modern minds? This is all to say that we don’t have to shoulder the weight of the world, let alone the galaxy. Obviously, some members of our species are out there working on saving the planet, eradicating poverty and curing cancer, which is awfully swell. This section doesn’t apply to you overachieving folks. But for most of us, doing our best in our own little corner of the planet is a good and noble enough pursuit. As community managers, we are helping people feel more heard, connected and fulfilled while helping businesses thrive and fuel a robust economy. When monkeys get frustrated, they fling poop. As long as you’re not doing that, we say you’re doing all right.
It’s tough going.
There’s no getting around it. You picked a hard job. Well done, you! Gathering people together is a hard thing to do. It is a big job usually done by a small group of people, often under-resourced and sometimes shoehorned into the org chart in ways that don’t always make sense. Yes, managing a community can be stressful, thankless, demanding and emotionally draining. Any role where you are dealing with the energy and needs of a large number of people carries an elevated risk of burnout. Community management professionals are no different than social workers, caregivers or police officers in that regard.
By nature, community managers tend to be the kind of folks who put their hearts and souls into their work. This is a wonderful trait when you’re tasked with building energy and excitement on a daily basis, but cheerleading can be exhausting even when there are no backflips or human pyramids involved. We don’t want to get mired in the negative, but there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the challenges we face. In fact, it’s the first step in giving ourselves permission to take care of our own needs and accept that not everything we do will be perfect. Some things will slip through the cracks some days, and that is a-okay. Because…
It’s not rocket surgery.
It may feel like we spend a lot of our time putting out fires – but we are not literally doing that. Most of us are not running communities with true life and death consequences. Very few of us are even running communities for, say, the first responders or cardiac surgeons who do shoulder huge mortal responsibility. And for certain, nobody is dying on our boardroom tables. But we are doing a little something to make our world more connected, and to help people find a sense of belonging, fulfillment and self-worth—and that is nothing to be scoffed at.
Of course, succeeding at our jobs is important to us and our communities help keep our employers afloat and food on the table for many of our colleagues. They can help our members do their jobs, learn, or find meaning, enjoyment, or escape. But if we have an off-day, week or month, people probably aren’t going to die. Focus on all the awesome stuff, instead of the less-than-awesome stuff that nobody is likely to remember in five days, let alone five years.
Haters are always gonna hate.
In the 90s, Notorious B.I.G alerted us to the dangers of haters and Taylor Swift coached us on how to deal with them back in 2014. Shaking it off is solid advice, but easier said than done.
For community managers, the pressure can come from the outside and from within. Not every company understands or values the community management function the way it should. The job description can be somewhat nebulous and the return on investment can be tricky to demonstrate to the executive team. Sometimes this leads community managers to bend over backwards, justifying their hours, effort and expenditures. It’s vital to be motivated and accountable, but this can also be a recipe for burnout, low confidence and insecurity in your role. Know that over time, the results of your hard work will speak for themselves. In the meantime, be careful not to waste precious energy trying to prove what you do all day. Your days are busy enough with real work!
Community members – wonderful as they are – can also be a source of stress. It’s not easy to spend your day caring for others’ emotions and needs. It’s not easy to absorb or deflect negative energy when you’re trying to keep spirits high and the mood positive. Some days will be harder than others. Take a little time to take care of your own needs and feelings, especially on those harder days. It’s going to take time to create the thriving community you want to build, and then it’s still going to take a lot of effort to keep it healthy. You’re doing your best, and that’s all any of us can do.
We’re all gonna die.
Presidents, world explorers, saints, inventors, scientists, astronauts and dinosaurs. Great! Amazing! So impressive! But also dead, dead and deader. Not to be morbid, but at the end of the day, we are all just well-dressed animals floating about at the outskirts of the galaxy. 99.99% of the things we do on a daily basis probably won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Truly.
The late blog post, the failed promotion, the underattended event, the newsletter typo, the poorly worded response, the lacklustre 3rd quarter report. All microscopic specks in the universal dustbin. We are only here for an impossibly short time, and we can all afford to be a little kinder and a little more forgiving of ourselves and each other during this brief cosmic flash in the pan.
The Good News
If the Blue Monday equation holds water, then the predestined worst day of the year will soon be behind us and things can only get sunnier from here. Dig just a little deeper though, and you’ll learn that Blue Monday started as nothing other than a clever marketing ploy. Dr. Cliff Arnall, a former Cardiff University lecturer, was commissioned by the now defunct Sky Travel holiday agency to pinpoint the most depressing day of the year as a way to help them market winter vacations.
This doesn’t mean that people don’t get the post-holiday blues, feel bad about their failed resolutions or experience the very real impacts of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it does mean that what we communicate to our audiences can have a profound effect on their beliefs, attitudes and even wellbeing. And that maybe you were right about shady Susan in marketing all along.