I love watching people lie. I know that I probably have the same feelings the liars do, the feeling of being stuck. I like to think about what I do when I have that feeling, how people cope with it, and how much pain we can handle before we become our worst selves.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about these lies and the feelings that provoke them:
1. The lie about expectations.
Have you heard of Ashley Madison? It’s the site that caters to married people who want to cheat on their spouse. We could debate about the ethics of that business model (or this one), but I think Ashley Madison might have made up for their questionable ethics by using their data to provide one of the biggest insights to marriage problems that I’ve read in a while:
Guess which is the second most popular day of the year for women to sign up for Ashley Madison?
I’m leaving a blank spot for you to guess.
The second most popular day of the year for women to sign up for Ashley Madison is the day after Mother’s Day. That report was a major surprise to me.
But just think: Women want to be appreciated for being a mom. In a world where women have more power and more opportunities than ever before, what they want, still, is to be appreciated for where they are devoting their time and energy. Whatever a woman is doing—working long hours outside the home, staying at home with one kid and a nanny, or anything in between—the woman perceives that she is putting a large amount of her intellectual and emotional energy into parenting and she wants recognition for that. The outside world does not value parenting openly, it only values earning money. So it’s up to a spouse to recognize a parent for parenting.
When I coach people and they tell me they want to focus on work issues instead of relationship issues, I remind them that if you get a divorce, your career options shrink fast because you have to support two families. Your earning power goes down and your power to control your own life goes down.
So Mother’s Day is really a career issue. If you want to keep your career options open, tell your spouse you appreciate her.
But the biggest lie in all of this is that women tell themselves Mother’s Day doesn’t matter. The reason men ignore Mother’s Day is because the women don’t say, “Mother’s Day is important and here’s what I want you to do.” That’s fine. It’s fine to tell your spouse what you want.
This is true in most of life—tell everyone what you want from them. You’re much more likely to get it. And much less likely to have to lie about the decisions you make later.
2. The lie about inadequacy.
It turns out that Scott Thompson, the new CEO of Yahoo, lied on his resume. That’s right. His degree is in accounting, but he added computer science, which is, of course, much more relevant to the high-flying jobs he’s held. Which goes to show that no one is immune to having feelings of inadequacy.
This is important to remember when you’re managing up. Making sure the people above you in your organization love you is probably the most important part of your career, because if you do great work but you annoy everyone, people won’t care that you do great work.
The key feature of managing up is finding your boss’s weakness. Many of you work for supremely confident types. But Thompson shows us that no one, really, is supremely confident. And while everyone wants help, not everyone asks for the help they need.
Thompson’s been lying on his resume for a long time. Which is, of course, how it goes with lying. You start the lie, when you think it’s a small, innocuous lie, but then you have to keep lying, and you never really know how big the lie will get. There’s a great children’s book about this topic, where the lie turns into a monster and follows the boy around.
3. The lie about fear.
I think a lot of people resist hearing what is true because they don’t want to have to face that they’re wrong. For example, people love to mock the idea of managing your personal brand. They say how stupid it is, and how transparently self-obsessed it is. But the truth is that people want to be able to find out about you easily, and the people who malign the idea of personal brand simply don’t want to take the time to help people find out about them. It requires learning to be good at something new and people don’t want to hear that they have to do that.
Homeschooling is another example of a truth people don’t want to hear. It’s so incredibly clear that the education reform movement favors individualized learning. And people pass over that information as if it’s impractical. But you can do whatever you want with your own kids. You can give your kids the opportunity to learn on their own, which is exactly what experts advocate that you do. It’s just that many people don’t want this to be true because it undermines how they planned on educating their kids. They don’t want to be wrong about what’s best.
The thing is, it’s okay for personal branding to be a must-have career skill and still you don’t have it. It’s okay for homeschooling to be definitely a better education for your kids and still you’re not doing it. It’s ok to be wrong. Admit you’re wrong and then consider a new choice.
Which brings me to plastic surgery. I was wrong about this. I looked at the research about good looks and drew the conclusion that since good looks give you an advantage in everything, everyone should get plastic surgery. But when I asked Gordon Patzer, the king of attractiveness research, about my theory, he said that in fact, plastic surgery does not make people better looking in other peoples’ eyes. You still are what you are to other people. Which means that plastic surgery is useless.
And, forget those self-esteem arguments as well. The Wall St. Journal reports that women who get plastic surgery are likely to have poorer body image than women who don’t get plastic surgery. And the plastic surgery does not help. Their poor body image persists.
Not that this information doesn’t stop me from obsessing about looks. And the photo up top is one of the 10,000 photos I’ve sent to Melissa to have her fix my outfit. But now I know that getting a chin implant is like getting a salary increase, really: You are happy for awhile, and then you go back to whatever happiness level you are usually at. Salary doesn’t increase your baseline happiness and neither does plastic surgery.
So I was wrong. And I’m telling you this to let you know that it’s okay. Because the first step to finding the truth is to realize that it is okay to be wrong.