Weekly Thoughts


High Heels on the Beach

Perfect on the surface, but…

We vividly recall a conversation we had at graduate school with a classmate who attended Stanford as an undergraduate. He likened his college experience to being a “duck”, where everything is seemingly perfect and peaceful on the surface, but under the water, the legs are working like crazy just to keep afloat. The comment struck us as quite odd but it turns out the Stanford Duck Syndrome is an actual thing. From Stanford’s Department of Student Affairs:

“The Stanford Duck Syndrome is the idea that students are struggling to survive the pressures of a competitive environment while presenting the image of a relaxed student, like a calm duck gliding across a fountain. The truth is that it is an unrealistic expectation to have everything all together all of the time. Oftentimes, social media can be deceiving with people posting only the filtered version of their life and how they want to present themselves. As a result of this facade, we fall into this trap thinking that we are alone in this journey and that others aren’t feeling the same challenges of returning back to campus.”

Speaking of returning to campus, we have a graduate school reunion coming up in June and are looking forward to reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen for years. However, we were saddened to hear from the event organizers that the Duck Syndrome is alive outside of Palo Alto: many alumni do not want to attend the reunion because they feel their careers or personal lives have been sub-par relative to their classmates’ achievements. We loved the organizers encouraging response:

“Some of us are hesitant to attend the reunion, feeling that the last 10 years haven’t exactly gone according to our plans or that we haven’t achieved as much as we would have liked or expected. If that’s a thought you’ve had – not to worry – it’s true for many of us! Life is full of twists and turns, and one thing I am sure of is that we all have had our unique journeys filled with ups and downs. Success comes in many forms, and we are not defined by our accomplishments alone.

Our classmates will be excited to see each other and reconnect, regardless of how you believe the last 10 years have gone for you. It is a unique opportunity to be with a community of incredible human beings that will be overjoyed to see you and whom we can count on to support one another.”

We get that it’s easy to only look at external markers of accomplishment. We also get that it’s easy to see oneself only through a critical lens. The result of actually believing that everybody – except you – has life “all figured out” can be devastating. High levels of anxiety, withdrawal from relationships, isolation from social events, and bouts of depression are self-reinforcing and have a negative compounding effect. This isn’t anecdotal; rates of anxiety and depression, particularly among youth, are at concerning levels.

This whole dynamic reminded us of the song High Heels, which has been stuck in our head for the past couple of weeks. The song, a collaboration between country singer Walker Hayes and rapper Flo Rida, speaks to the artists’ struggles with having a successful public image despite internal struggles with self-worth and confidence. From the song:

I wake up like a billion dollars in the morning
I pick and choose from twenty cars on Mr. Foreigns
I’ll take my whisky neat to hide my mixed emotions
And they don’t got a clue

My life is like parties over sleep
Monkey in the middle of my money and my dreams
My life is like high heels on the beach
Perfect on the surface, but I’m sinkin’ underneath

The same false perceptions occur in the world of small business. Companies can seem like they have everything figured out because they get accolades, speak at prominent conferences, and post a lot on LinkedIn about their successes. We have been around long enough to agree with our friend Brent Beshore, who says that “All businesses are loosely functioning disasters, and some are profitable despite it. At 30,000 feet, the world is beautiful and orderly. On the ground, it’s chaotic and confusing.”

We are not particularly active on social media. However, since 2014, we have tried to make Weekly Thoughts as transparent as possible about the realities of working in small business. We can attest to the fact that we certainly don’t have it all “figured out” and anybody who thinks otherwise is sorely mistaken. The important thing is that our insecurities don’t stop us from engaging with the world around us. We understand that results, good or bad, are just snapshots and not final judgments, and we Chase Better regardless. We also just wear flip-flops to the beach, even if it makes our legs look nubby in pictures.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark Team

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