I have a guilty pleasure. I like hearing the stories of all of my single friends who are dating. I have been married for nearly two decades which means I can’t recall what it was like to date. Even if I could, today’s dating world is very different than when I was out there. So hearing the stories of my friends’ experiences in the world of being single and trying to find a partner is like listening to a soap opera. It seems the soap opera analogy is apt because like those daytime dramas of yore, it’s a never-ending existence for them. Part of the reason is because my friends are in their 30s and 40s and have kids and everything that goes along with being a single parent. Part of the reason is a lack of good options. Let’s face it, if you are great long-term relationship material, the odds are you’re probably in a long-term relationship. By default this leaves a population of dating adults with emotional baggage and personality quirks that make long-term relationships difficult to maintain.
The story is mostly the same every time. Boy meets girl, usually on a dating app, they start talking and it generally moves into the realm of x-rated conversations fairly quickly. Then starts the real world dating. Because of the previous introduction to intimacy as well as base human desires, the couple usually becomes physically involved fairly quickly. They date some more, and then they break up because they realize they don’t have the same things in common or one member of the couple decides they are seeing red flags in the other. The cycle usually lasts a few months. There is always some interesting flavor to the story of the relationship based upon the unique personalities of the nascent couple.
In one of the more recent ones, the cycle took only a few days. Part of this trucuntated experience was because the couple in question had been a couple in the past and moved quickly through the steps the second time around. The other part was that one member of the couple had a background in psychology. After being made privy to the conversational gobbledygook, I realized what was happening. She was using the reunion to do a dipstick test.
I first heard the term dipstick test at a board meeting several years ago when we were going over some employment numbers my group had to report out on. The term was used in a question to identify if the results were just for the moment, i.e. that we had checked in on a status, or if it was a representation of employment over a period of time. It was a good question because it properly identified a challenge with our reporting tools. For example, somebody could go through training, and then got a job, and then move to a different job. If we happen to take the test while they were between the two employers, the dipstick result would show that the training did not result in employment when in fact it did. If we looked at income over time, then it would clearly show employment and that the training worked.
That was the same problem that my friends have to deal with in their personal lives. When they’re dating, the people they are with aren’t taking measurements over a longer period of time. They are not seeing trends develop in their partner because they’re not around long enough. In my experience humans typically don’t change their personality overnight. We grow and modify who we are over time because of our life experiences. You have to be around for years to see if someone really is a good fit, but the dating world of thirty and forty somethings doesn’t typically think in terms of years.
I have another, much more personal example on the other end of this spectrum. If you look at my wife, you would be shocked at who she is today versus the person she was when we first got married. It’s only because I’ve been around so long that I can see the changes over time. When we are in the moment I forget that she is advancing in certain areas. It’s only when I reflect on analogous historical situations we were in together I realize how far she’s come with some of her goals relating to her own personal development.
My writing is about the collision points between work and life. A continuing theme in the writing is to know who you are. It’s by understanding your base nature that you can identify tactics to achieve your goals. What I haven’t really talked about is the idea of knowing your trend. Dipstick tests don’t really help with trends and knowing your trendline, i.e. who you are slowly becoming, is just as important as knowing who you are.
Many of us who wish to get ahead in life make plans. It doesn’t matter if it’s career or lifestyle related. Sometimes we achieve our goals sometimes we don’t. The question then becomes, how often do you stick to your plans? Are you getting better at it over time, are you the same or are you worse? Your trends can tell you if you’re on the right path.
A good example is seen in asking yourself where are you in your work and with your career? We tend to look at the job opportunity of the moment, not the career progression. If you look at my own progress as an example, I haven’t gotten to where I want to go. Some of that has been on me as I didn’t jump at opportunities and sometimes opportunities just simply didn’t present themselves when I thought they would. That being said I can see where my long-term trend line is showing dramatic improvement in my current position. It’s not just what I understand, it’s building my network and little opportunities within what I do. I may not be the boss but I know I’m much more valued in our system as a whole today than I was 5 years ago. That thought can be comforting if I get a rejection for a promotion I may have attempted. It’s also a good indicator that I will eventually get to where I want to go. It’s just taking me much longer than expected. It’s for this reason that I think there is real value in understanding your own trend lines.
It’s also hard to see it when we live through the moment or the issue of the day. There is a similarity to raising children. As a parent you don’t see the kids changing over time nearly as clearly as an aunty or a grandparent who comes around once every few years. This means seeing the trend line is something we should be practicing. It requires being able to pull ourselves out of the moment and looking at the broad movement.
There’s another analogous example from the investing world. I regularly listen to the Exchanges at Goldman Sachs podcast. Often their research people are talking about the economy, and economic cycles, in terms of decades. Just the other day they were talking about inflationary cycles that last about 18 years. The researcher explained about how it takes years to get into a bad inflationary cycle and years to get out of it. This is because there are so many macro trends in the economy that are associated with inflation. It’s not something that hits overnight. To me it put the current business news cycle worries about massive inflation next year into perspective. It was especially salient when the researcher was able to pinpoint exactly where we are on the multi-decade inflation cycle.
Another example comes from the politics of the day. I have friends who are vehemently against a single-payer health system. I understand where they’re coming from in so much as I was ideologically aligned to that sort of thinking for much of my life. I would get as emotionally charged as they do if I didn’t step out of the realm of political thought and take a look at where we are. I ask myself what do employers really want with regards to healthcare? What’s happening with healthcare costs? What changes are happening in the system over the last 10 to 30 years? In the end I believe some version of a single-payer system will exist in my lifetime. I honestly don’t think anything will stop it. Because of that I have become numb to the hand wringing on both sides of the debate. I still identify with my friends but I stopped letting the whole process bother me.
It’s not just emotional, it’s tactical too. If we can see that our industry is getting weaker and weaker, even if our individual company is strong we know that we have to prepare for an eventual change. Anybody who owned a traditional taxi business with an eye to long-term trends would have looked at Uber and said it’s time to sell my medallions. If you’re in retail, you need to get away from something like a big box store and get into some ultra high-end retailer. At the rate we’re going with retail it’s either Walmart, Dollar general, or online. The last 15 years have taught us that the only things that seem to be surviving in retail are the high end, the ultra high end. In my own career, I would want to get far away from university teaching and stick with the community college and trade schools. It may take 10 or 20 years but I feel like the University System as we know it today is going to crumble under its own weight.
Ultimately the lesson of the day, no matter if it’s from Goldman Sachs researchers or my buddy sitting across from me at the local tap room telling me about his breakup text, is the same. In our world, in the world of business, and the world of life, there are trends that we sometimes don’t see because we are experiencing the emotion of the day. A great practice in life and our careers is to force ourselves out of that moment and look at the long-term. For myself, I hope there is a meta component in that I want my personal trend to be looking at the long-term trends more frequently as I move forward through life. That’s definitely one benefit of getting a little bit older, it’s easier to see the longer term trends because you’ve been around to see them. I know one thing, I don’t see any long term changes happening to the singles scene, which means one trend that shows no sign of stopping for me is my front row seat to the local dating game.