I hate snow days.
Let me be 100% clear on this: it’s not because of some anti-snow, grinch on a crusade against cold weather attitude. It’s not because I dislike the celebration or spontaneity of an unexpected event.
It’s because of the snow day mindset.
The mindset that school or learning is a dreary, boring activity that has to be imposed on students for their own good. I dislike that the unexpected event is celebrating a respite from something that has so much potential for happiness and fulfillment.
The fact that students everywhere are craving an escape from their life to the extent that fluctuating weather systems are appropriated as liberating armies who set them free from a prison of boredom, standardized testing, and weirdly-textured cafeteria food is an absolute catastrophe.
Unfortunately, we can’t isolate this mindset to cold weather climates.
It’s spreading and rampant everywhere. The weird part is this snow day mentality actually mutates when we enter our careers and is rearing its ugly head in many ways.
It’s Friday morning? The weekend is coming up, and I wouldn’t want to get started on a new project or make any important communications. Those can wait until next week.
It’s December? Christmas is coming soon. My colleagues and prospects are probably distracted anyway, so I better do busy work until the new year. Next year is going to be great!
The software I use to do my job is down, or my Wifi isn’t working? I guess I can’t work! I’ll shoot my supervisor an email and let them know that deadline needs extended. Time to check Twitter!
All of these have a common fallacy at the root. Work is something tedious you have to do as a sacrifice to get to a more desired, relaxing state in the future.
The snow day mindset is when we look for excuses to bring that future closer to the present by appropriating external events as liberating armies, like the student does with the weather system. When we start with the presupposition that work is tedious and boring, this is a rational decision.
When it’s exposed as a fallacy, we see how unhelpful it really is.
Why is the snow day mindset so enticing?
The easy answer is habit and conditioning. We’ve already talked about the concept of how the snow day mindset mutated as a way to escape from tests and weird food in school into the career world. And while this may be a factor for many people, it’s by no means the only factor or even the most pervasive one. There are a few elements of human psychology that help incubate and reproduce the snow day mindset.
Low frustration tolerance
There’s an important (and perhaps disappointing) clarification on my assessment on schooling. The problem is not that school challenges and creates frustration for students. The problem is that students have no agency in choosing what challenges and frustrations they get to overcome.
This where low frustration tolerance comes in. Without the agency to choose your own challenges and frustrations, you never have the ability to develop tolerance to resistance. It’s a habit that’s hard to break when it comes to transitioning out of the snow day mindset. You might recognize it as a panicky, anxious feeling you get as soon as something unexpected happens. You want to find certainty again as quickly as possible and not dwell in your discomfort.
This is why transforming external events into liberating armies as opposed to catalysts for personal growth is so common. It’s the path of least resistance back to certainty and comfort.
So how do you break out of the snow day mindset?
Break down (or move around) barriers to crush your career
Use the external events that challenge you in your work life as a catalyst to develop a crucial soft skill!
If I said, “problem solving is an important skill to master to thrive in your career” most folks would nod in agreement. But do we actually know what we’re talking about when we say “problem solving?” It hard to define without just stating the obvious. People who solve problems are great problem solvers.
Problem solving is one of those qualities that all hiring managers want, that is hard to define, and no credential can signal.
How can you signal it? Stories and battle scars.
When I want to signal my problem-solving abilities, there’s a story I tell about working overnights in hotel banquets. My job was to set up the tables, dishware, chairs, etc. for weddings that happened the following morning. One night, a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity at the hotel.
Weddings are hard to set up in the dark! But we had a family coming in 8 hours who had spent upwards of $10,000 and a lot of emotional energy on the upcoming day. For me, taking a snow day was an enticing but cowardly option.
I called my supervisor and told him that we can make this work, but we’re going to need to generators and plenty of extension cords. Long story short, we got the wedding set up with a few hiccups but overall happy feelings. We even earned a referral from the bride, and I earned a ton of social capital with my supervisor.
This is an extreme example of something that’s relatively easy to practice in our careers. There are plenty of more common examples as well.
Software not working? Use Google and find an alternative that is. Become the employee known for thinking outside the box.
Prospects unresponsive because of an upcoming holiday? Reframe the holiday as a way to generate buzz and attention. Become the salesperson known for transforming holidays into powerful sales copy.
When it comes to your career, one of the best things you can do to increase your performance and get closer to your goals is leave behind unhelpful ideas that are too common in society, work more skillfully with your own psychology, and remember that barriers and obstacles aren’t annoyances meant to prevent you from growing but rather are growth opportunities themselves. The next time you’re tempted to “take a snow day,” put your problem-solving skills to use and crush that obstacle instead.