Do You Make Stuff Up?
When we do not have all of the information to make a decision, we often just “make stuff up”.
We can make stuff up when we fantasize about the future, or cause ourselves stress by imagining all of the worst things that could possibly happen – based on stuff we make up.
Do you make stuff up in your head?
I have coined the phrase “MSU Disorder” or “Make Stuff Up Disorder”.
(Note: You could replace the word “stuff” with a four-letter expletive.)
Note: This post was originally published in February of 2016 and updated in March of 2020.
Fantasy Companies and Positions
I met with a client who told me his dream job was to write for a specific magazine.
I asked him, “Do you know anyone who has actually worked there?”
He responded, “No.”
I said, “How the heck (another four-letter expletive can be replaced here) do you know what it is like to work there?”
He responded, “Well, I really don’t.”
He thought that just because he loved to read the magazine, it would be great to work there.
Have you done this?
If you say no, well, I might not believe you.
Predicting the Worst
Susan started a new job with a major drug company 5 months ago. Susan has knocked the ball out of the park! She has done an incredible job.
Early this week, it was announced that the organization where she worked (150-200 people) would have a 30% headcount reduction, and those affected would be told the next day.
Susan immediately went into panic mode. She fretted much of the next day.
The next day, her boss told her that not only would she still have her job, but she was also to lead a highly prized project. Remember I told you that she had hit the ball out of the park for the last 5 months.
She ignored every sign that she was highly valued, even though there were many signs. She just made stuff up in her head when she heard about the layoffs, which caused an enormous amount of stress.
Anytime you hear about layoffs in your organization, it will cause anxiety and stress. But Susan blew this way out of proportion.
Have you done this?
Meeting with the Boss
Sally has a regular meeting with her boss. She always brought in a list of her activities to the meeting. Her boss critiqued her list of activities at every meeting, often in an abusive manner.
Why did Sally bring the list to the meeting? She had always done this with previous bosses.
Sally told me that she was not going to bring the list to the meeting, but she predicted that her boss would criticize her for not having the list. This caused her to stress the entire next day.
What happened? NOTHING! Her boss just took notes. Sally’s boss had never asked her to bring any type of documentation to the meeting.
Sally made up the entire story in her head. She just made stuff up!
When People Do Not Respond
I was working with Matt, whom I wrote about previously in the post “Will I Ever Be Employed Again in a Job I Want?”.
Matt was a former CEO of a quasi-nonprofit who was either unemployed or underemployed for several years. He was in the running for a leadership position with a foundation. As he progressed through the hiring process, he got to know the lead headhunter the foundation had hired. This went on for months and months.
Then communication came to a complete halt. For a week there were no emails, texts or phone calls. The second week was a repeat performance. Nothing.
Matt was sure that he was no longer in the running. Matt had gotten his hopes so high that he was about to crash. I knew that Matt had friends on the board of directors and told him to give them a call to see that they could find out.
In the middle of the third week, he received an email to set up a phone interview with one of the board members. Matt was relieved but was also wondering what just happened.
Eventually, he learned that the headhunter had a family emergency that caused her to drop everything and take care of the situation. She was a one-person shop and was able to inform some of her clients, but not all of them.
Matt spent the better part of 3 weeks worrying and fretting. He made stuff up!
After my near-fatal bicycle accident in 2002 I decided to pursue my high math teaching certification. I applied to one of the only alternative teaching certification programs at the time. The application should have told me that the program was not interested in me and that schools would not be interested.
What is your college GPA? Huh? I had graduated 25 years earlier and had no idea what my GPA was. I had to request my transcripts to find out.
How many hours of math did you complete in college? Huh? I was going to teach Algebra. Who cares about multi-dimensional calculus or differential equations classes I took?
Please provide the names and telephone numbers of all of your previous supervisors. Huh? My first boss was Bob in 1976 while working for a nationwide linen supply company as a cost accounting programmer. Bob was in his early 50s and a heavy smoker. His telephone # was probably 1-800-HEAVEN.
I soon received a letter saying that I was not accepted in the program and not to call them. I ignored every sign that they were looking for new college graduates with degrees other than education.
This really ticked me off. I eventually found another program, but soon found out getting hired was extremely difficult. School districts were not interested in hiring an experienced corporate engineer.
Why, you may ask? I think this is because guys like me who have had a lot of responsibility in our careers do not do anything simply because we are told to do something. They are looking for young naive new graduates who will do exactly what they are told.
I had thought that because I was an engineer who had taught adults in 40 countries around the world, and because there was a shortage of math teachers, they would, of course, want me. Nope, I was suffering from Make Stuff Up Disorder.
Do You Make Stuff Up?
If you say no, I will not believe you. We all make stuff up!
I have caused myself more stress because of Make Stuff Up Disorder. I’ve predicted the worst or fantasized how things would be based on stuff I imagined.
In Judith Glaser’s book, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust & Get Extraordinary Results, she discusses how the stories we make up have a great impact on our career. With both Susan and Sally, I had them review the stuff they made up and compare it to what really happened. They then made a “mental bookmark.” The purpose of making a mental bookmark is to allow them to go back to these situations as an example to draw from when they start to make up stuff again.
When we realize that we make up stuff in our heads, it helps us to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment helps us reduce anxiety in difficult times.
Do you suffer from Make Stuff Up Disorder?Marc Miller
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K DuBois says
You hit the nail on the head, however politicians have been doing this for years
That is an interesting perspective. 8^)
Guilty. It started in my early days as “being prepared for the worse case scenario”. It has served me well many times. However, problems occur because what you pay attention becomes larger than those things you do not think about. So, as a “problem solver,” the looming problems have a tendency to take on a life of their own — and can become more real than just identified risks.
We all do this. I find I now catch myself but that does not mean I will stop.