Tipping Sacred Cows

By | March 23, 2018

There are many “sacred cows” within both the workplace and in society in general. Before we go onto that though, let’s define what a sacred cow is. It can be classified as something untouchable, an idea or belief that is held above criticism and becomes accepted practice. One of the immediate ones that comes to mind is the question often asked in job interviews – “what’s your greatest weakness”. Most interviewers don’t even know why they ask that question, but it is still a item that needs to be checked off (thankfully as a recruitment trainer, I found that this question is being asked less and less). So that’s basically what a sacred cow is, an untouchable belief that is adhered to without question.

This post will tackle one sacred cow which can also be argued as not being a sacred cow – the belief that in order to achieve something in life, you need to be obsessed. Being obsessed about something is great right? It propels us forward and increases the chances that we will complete what we set out to do. But what of the drawbacks? I suppose it’s logical to state that being obsessive may actually not be that great, as it can lead to emotional exhaustion. One study of professional dancers found a direct correlation between their passion for their craft and chronic injuries. When the “obsessed” dancers got injured, they continued to dance and made their condition worse. Furthermore, they over-estimated the time they needed to recover, as their obsession took their attention away from their health.

In many cases, being obsessed about something shows that you are totally committed, and would do whatever it takes to achieve your goal. However, there needs to be a fine balance between finding the right amount of obsession and allowing yourself sufficient recovery time (in which for everybody is different). This balance can be found in something called “harmonious passion”, meaning that you show passion for something that you like to do, but not to the point where it becomes all consuming. These things need to bring you joy, bring you satisfaction, and bring you happiness even if you don’t become fully obsessed with it. As long as you continue to move forward at an active pace, you will make progress whilst achieving a good balance with the other things that are going on with your life.

Serena Williams, one of the most successful tennis players in history, is a good example of somebody displaying this harmonious passion. Apart from tennis being her full time job, she is actually a qualified nail technician and devotes time to this passion even though it isn’t the focus of her career. This balance leads to her being happier, and provides something for her to look forward to when she is away from her main profession.

So really, can obsession be a considered a sacred cow? For some people it may be, for others it may not be – the balance and acceptance needs to be made by yourself. If you need to complete something quickly, then perhaps obsession over that “something” is needed to push you over the edge so that you complete what you need to complete. Understanding trade-offs and your willingness to accept those trade-offs however, is key for further progression on whatever you want to do. So in conclusion, it’s not really important about whether or not obsession should be considered a sacred cow. The important thing is to question if something adds value if you do that thing, and not just do it because….you know, I should…..

Apart from the topic of obsession, other examples of sacred cows include: the “co-CEO” structure, routine check-ins to check if everybody is on the same page, and the often touted “work/life balance”.

For business development:

Think about the “sacred cows” holding back your organization. Are you or your team doing something just for the sake of doing something without thinking about the disruption that it brings? Examples could be weekly meetings just to share information (without action points to move forward), emphasizing collaboration when it slows progress, and doing things because “it’s always been done this way”.

For personal development:

This is a simple question to ponder but a biggie. What is actually preventing you from moving forward to live the life that you want? Many people answer that they don’t have enough time or not enough money, when in reality it could actually be a fear of failure.

Bonus question: what would you do if there is no chance of failure? Answering this second question can help you come up with the answer to the first question.

Do you find this article valuable? If so, check out the book “Tipping Sacred Cows – Kick The Bad Work Habits That Masquerade As Virtues” by Jake Breeden. You can receive the book immediately via e-book format (Kindle).