In a recent New Yorker article, “A World Where Nothing Gets Lost,” Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu observes that “Thanks to G.P.S, Bluetooth, and the Internet, it is, day by day, becoming harder both to become lost and to lose things.” As a result, he argues, “This generation could be the last to have a real sense of what it means to get lost or to lose treasured objects.”
Wu does, at times, make light of this fairly monumental shift (“‘Get lost’ will become an archaic expression, like calling someone ‘Pecksniffian’”), but his piece has a bittersweet tone. While no one wants to lose a prized possession or end up disoriented in the desert, Wu asserts that “there’s something to be gained by losing things” and expresses unease about our movement towards a “Nearly-Never-Lost” existence.
In my experience, loss, or perceived loss, forces you to reorient yourself – to find new paths, new purposes or new objects to satisfy your needs. In some cases, it even encourages you to re-evaluate what those needs really are. My experience has also taught me that perceived loss (of an opportunity, for instance) can serve a greater purpose, as when you realize that a job you didn’t get would have been a poor cultural fit. Indeed, whether literal or metaphorical, being “lost” necessarily opens the door to being “found,” in a contrast that can both reinvigorate you and also remind you of what is really valuable.
In an industry that is extremely fluid, where colleagues and clients and even mediums of communication come and go (though hopefully not too often!), feelings of loss can be acute. Nevertheless, PR professionals too live in a time where the meaning of loss is shifting. Technology has placed information at our fingertips and we, like the rest of the world, have seemingly endless resources that help prevent us from ever becoming completely adrift.
Within this new order, notes Wu, “We’ll never be lost until we lose our tools, and then we’ll be much more lost than ever before.” In other words, though we rarely find ourselves truly at sea these days, when it does happen, we risk ending up there without a boat.
At Citizen, we strive for excellence, and, to me, real excellence is not just exceptional performance; it’s exceptional performance in any circumstance. It is facing a problem head on, embracing it and turning it into an opportunity. Some of the most creative and effective media relations I have seen, for instance, have occurred on campaigns that did not start out as strongly as anticipated. Having perhaps veered off course, I have seen teams not only rally but also push themselves to uncover new story angles, develop new insights and cultivate new relationships.
To truly strive for excellence, then, we must ensure that we don’t fear the possibility of becoming lost, whether that means taking a risk that may not pay off or simply pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
At the same time, we must remember to learn the basics, pass on the fundamentals and hone our instincts, so that we know how to cope with loss when it does occur. After all, if we develop strong core competencies – proficiency in writing, people skills, the ability to think critically and creatively – then even when we do feel lost, we will never truly be without a boat.
Hilary Sloan is an Account Executive at Citizen Relations.