Episode Five: When Good Shows Stay Good

Episode 5

Welcome to Episode Five, the final episode in our week long series about jumping the shark in real life situations.  We started off the week talking about shows, such as How I Met Your Mother, that have jumped the shark.  While it’s fairly common for shows to jump the shark at some point, not all shows find themselves meeting that same fate.  Many believe that shows such as Newhart and The Dick Van Dyke Show successfully ended their runs without ever jumping the shark.  I would argue that The Good Wife has been going strong for 5 seasons now and has yet to jump the shark.  Here are three lessons we can learn from these non-shark-jumping shows.

Lesson:  Know when it’s time to go.

One way that shows avoid jumping the shark is by knowing when to quit.  While it’s possible to jump the shark early in a show’s run, most shows tend to jump the shark around Season 5 or later.  After five+ years of telling stories about the same characters, the writers appear to start running out of new things to say.  But instead of ending the show while it’s still relatively fresh, the show’s creative team starts relying on gimmicks, multiple guest stars, or odd story lines in the hopes of keeping the show alive a bit longer.  Staying too long can be a problem in real life too.  Even the most fabulous job can get stale if you stay too long.  It’s better to go out on top and be remembered for your successes than to end at the bottom and be remembered for your lesser moments  (Yes “The Roseanne Show,” I’m talking to you and your lottery-winning story throughout the last season).

Lesson:  Brief plateaus are normal, long plateaus can lead to problems.

Not every episode of every TV show is a winner.  Even the best shows have an oddball moment or two.  You may find one or two episodes that fall a little flat, but then the successful show continues to climb once again.  It’s a bad sign however, when a show plateaus into a long line of uneven story telling and less than exceptional writing.  Once mediocrity becomes the norm, it’s only a matter of time before the show starts to go downhill.  Successful shows, just like successful jobs or successful relationships, have steady growth with occasional and brief plateaus mixed in.

Lesson:  Don’t let money, praise, or glory blind you from reality.

Legend has it that Dick Van Dyke ended his very successful hit series after only 5 seasons specifically to avoid a decline in quality.  I can only imagine that the network and others associated with the show were less than pleased that their hit show would no longer be on the air and brining in money.  But Van Dyke stuck to his guns and ended the show.  If we want to avoid jumping the shark, we too must be realistic about our situation and not let others persuade us to stay for the wrong reasons.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this week’s “Jumping the Shark” series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it!  I would love to hear your thoughts about jumping the shark (in TV land or in real life!)

Episode Four: I’ve Jumped the Shark! Now What?

Episode 4

(If you are joining us for the first time today, you wish to go back and read Episode One, Episode Two, and Episode Three)

After reading yesterday’s post, you may have come to the conclusion that you have, in fact, already jumped the shark in some area of your life.  While you might be a little disheartened at this knowledge, let me assure you that recognizing that you’ve jumped the shark is a really important first step in changing your situation.  It allows you to make plans based on the reality of your situation rather than just bobbing along, oblivious to what’s happening around you.  Now that you know you’ve jumped the shark, there are three important questions to consider before moving forward.

  1. Why am I still here?  If you’ve already jumped the shark, then you have probably already noticed that your situation has been getting worse.  Maybe your boss has been criticizing your work more than before.  Maybe you and your significant other are fighting all the time.  You may be feeling anxious or unhappy at work or at home.  And yet you are still there.  So ask yourself “Why?”  Maybe it’s out of necessity.  You’ve been looking for another job but you need the income from this job until you land something else.  In the case of a relationship, maybe you still love your significant other and you have hope that you both can make it work.   These types of reasons aren’t bad, as long as you are being honest with yourself and you have a plan for moving forward.  But sometimes our reasons for staying in a bad situation are fear based.  We are afraid of the unknown.  What if a new job is worse than the current one?  What if I end my current relationship and never find another one.  Or you might find yourself staying in a difficult situation because of the time you’ve already invested into it.  You find yourself thinking things like, “But I’ve worked here for ten years.  I should just tough it out rather than start over somewhere else.”  If the only reason you are continuing down a dead end path is because you are already on it or because you are afraid of trying a different path, ask yourself if these reasons are good enough to justify your continued unhappiness.  In either case, once you understand your reasons for remaining in your current situation, consider question 2:
  2. Can anything here be salvaged?  The simple act of wanting something to work out doesn’t make it happen.  Take a good hard look at your situation and be honest with your assessment.  Can I turn this job around and save my career here?  Maybe your biggest problems at work involve a manager who you know is moving on very shortly.  If that manager is your problem, you have reason to hope that his or her departure has the potential of turning your situation around.  If you and your significant other are both committed to making the relationship work (emphasis on the word both) and are both willing to work hard at repairing the relationship (again, emphasis on the word both), then you have reason to believe that the relationship could be saved.  But sometimes after careful consideration, you realize that the situation cannot be saved.  You are committed to the relationship but your significant other isn’t.  Your career at your current company has fallen so far that there’s nothing you can do to save it. After you decide whether or not the situation is salvageable, move onto question 3:
  3. What’s my strategy?  There are two possible answers here: fix it or exit.  If you are planning to attempt to fix the situation, then create a solid strategy that includes a deadline.  If you know that the new boss is arriving in a month, think about what went wrong with the current boss and then decide how you can create a better relationship with the new boss.  But don’t stop there.  Decide how much time you think it should take for you to notice a positive change in your job situation.  Three months?  Six months?  Six weeks?  Pick a deadline and then reevaluate once the deadline arrives.  The same is true in a relationship.  Work out a plan with your significant other, perhaps considering counseling if you think that would help.  But commit to reevaluating the situation at a certain time to make sure that whatever strategy you decided upon is actually working.  For situations that are unsalvageable, you need a proactive exit strategy.  Start working on your resume, talk to everyone you know, and start applying to jobs you think would be a good fit for you.  You may also want to create a safety net in case your work environment becomes so bad that you lose your job.  Start putting some money aside and give some thought to what expenses you can cut should you need to do so.  If you know your relationship is over and that you are going to end it, figure out what you are going to say to the other person and how you will handle the split.  Are you living together?  Make sure you have somewhere to go or someone to stay with until you can work out new living arrangements.  Whatever the situation, work life or personal life, work out a strategy and then take steps to implement it.

Realizing that you’ve jumped the shark in your work life or personal life can be a little bit scary.  But being honest with yourself about your current situation and taking steps to either fix it or move on can give you the tools and the confidence you need to recover from a really difficult situation.

We’ve been talking all week about life situations and TV shows that have jumped the shark, but clearly there are instances (both on TV and in real life) when a jump the shark moment never happens.  Can we learn anything from those instances?  I’m so glad you asked!

To Be Continued…

Episode Three: Five Signs the Shark has Already Been Jumped

Episode 3

(If you are joining us for the first time, you may want check out Episode One and Episode Two)

Welcome to Episode Three!  At the end of yesterday’s episode, I mentioned that preventing a jump the shark moment takes a certain amount of awareness.  It requires you to really think about your situation and be honest with yourself about what you see happening.  Once you start doing that, you may find yourself wondering if the jump the shark moment has already happened.  To help you in determining the answer to this question, here are:

The Top Five Sign’s You’ve Jumped the Shark.

  1. Your primary responsibility has now become building office furniture. – One of Mark’s first jobs out of college involved working for a think tank.  At one point, Mark was assigned to research and write a paper in support of an issue that the think tank was already in favor of.  However, after doing the research, Mark felt that the information and facts he found did not actually support the think tank’s stance on the issue.  His boss was not happy about this at all.  So his boss assigned Mark’s research and writing projects to other people and started asking Mark to build office furniture instead.  At that moment, Mark knew that the ship had sailed on this job and it was definitely time to move on.  Anytime you are demoted within an organization it’s pretty safe to assume that you’ve jumped the shark and it’s time to move on.
  2. When disagreements no longer happen behind closed doors. – A few years ago, Mark and I were spending the evening with another married couple.  We had known this couple for a while but had recently been sensing a little tension between them.  We didn’t think too much of it, assuming that it was just a phase.  However, we knew we underestimated the problems in their relationship after that evening because they spent the entire night arguing with each other.  They weren’t screaming at each other or throwing things.  But they spent the entire evening pointing out the other’s flaws, taking every opportunity to disagree with each other, and were completely unable to speak to each other without an underlying tone of frustration and disgust.  They split up under a year later.  Most people prefer to argue in private rather than air their dirty laundry in front of the world.  The same is true in a work situation, where most managers would prefer to discipline their employees behind closed office doors rather than during the weekly morning meeting.  So when your boss starts yelling at you every week in front of the entire office, or when you and your significant other can’t stop fighting with each other long enough to spend a fun and peaceful evening out with family or friends, you should consider that a sign that the shark has been jumped.
  3. You must constantly compensate to survive. – Nothing is 100% pleasant, and it’s not abnormal for you or I to compensate a little to deal with things that are difficult.  If I’m having a particularly difficult day, I might distract myself by stopping at Starbucks to splurge on my favorite calorie rich coffee.  We all find ways to compensate some of the time.  The danger sign is when you are compensating all day, every day.  If you find yourself going in to work late, making multiple Starbucks runs throughout the day, taking extra long lunches, and finding every excuse possible to call in sick, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve jumped the shark at your job.  Other danger signs include significant increases in potentially unhealthy habits, such as smoking more, drinking more, eating more, shopping more…you get the idea.  We all have our methods of coping, and using them occasionally is one thing.  But excessive coping in any fashion is a sign that you are compensating for something.  If whatever situation you are in is so bad that you must do some serious compensating, it could be a sign that you’ve jumped the shark and it’s time to move on.
  4.  Respect is a thing of the past. – Mutual respect is an important part of any relationship, whether work or personal.  Without respect, things can go down hill very quickly.  An acquaintance of mine told me the story of how he started out at a company having a great deal of respect for the management and they showed him a tremendous amount of respect as well.  However, as time went by, it became clear to this person that his managers no longer respected his opinions or his work.  He was clearly upset and hurt by this turn of events, and he began to lose respect for his managers as well.  It only got worse from there.  You won’t always like your boss, the PTA president, or your neighbors.  But a certain amount of respect is essential in making a relationship work.  Once the respect is gone, so is the relationship.
  5.  You feel like you are free falling. – I remember going to Cedar Point as a kid and riding The Demon Drop.  The ride took you up 60 feet then dropped you at a speed so fast that you were back at the bottom in under 3 seconds.  I can still remember the way my stomach felt during those 3 seconds…like it had just jumped from my belly and into my chest.  It’s that same feeling you get on a big roller coaster or when an elevator moves up or down too quickly.  It’s also the same feeling you get after you jump the shark.  You start to feel anxious about going to work and your stomach is constantly tied up in knots.  You can sense that things aren’t going well…that your situation is getting worse instead of better.  You know at some point you will hit the bottom, but you can’t tell where the bottom is or how fast you hit it.  If you are trying to determine whether or not you’ve jumped the shark, stop thinking and start paying attention to how you feel when you are in the situation.  Do you spend eight hours a day at work with your shoulders tense and your head pounding?  Do you come home at night completely wiped out from an entire day spent waiting for the next thing to go wrong?  If so, you’ve probably jumped the shark and now it’s only a matter of time until you hit the bottom.

There you have it…five signs that you’ve jumped the shark.  But what do you do once you figure out that you’ve jumped the shark?  I’m so happy you asked!

To Be Continued…

Episode Two: How to Jump the Shark

Episode 2

Welcome to Episode Two of our week long series about jumping the shark.  In Episode One, I wrote about those “jump the shark” moments that happen so frequently in television shows.  When a show jumps the shark, it means that the show has reached its peak and is now on its way down.  It happens with television shows, but it also happens with bands, with products, and with companies.  And you know what?  It also happens in our every day lives.  You can jump the shark at work, in a relationship, or even while volunteering somewhere.  No matter where it happens, jumping the shark looks something like this:  In the beginning, you are working towards a goal, moving forward, and/or growing personally or professionally.  But after a while, you reach a plateau.  You aren’t growing or moving forward, you’re simply standing still.  At this point, one of two things will happen.  Either your plateau will end and you will begin to climb again, or you will jump the shark and begin a downhill slide.

Jump the Shark diagram 2

Consider this career example:  Bob is a hard working guy who has been loyally working for the same company for seven years.  For the first four years, he was moving up the corporate ladder.  He earned a few raises and even received a promotion.  He makes it to middle management, but then his career stalls.  The raises and promotions become less frequent.  He is still working hard but he is getting less recognition.  Then he gets a new boss who he doesn’t seem to like him or appreciate the work he’s doing.  But he stays with the company, thinking things will turn around.  As time goes on, he starts to feel bored and unsatisfied with his job because he isn’t learning anything new and doesn’t feel like he is contributing anything of value.  Then around year six, he hears that a high-level management spot has become available and he knows that he is extremely qualified for the job.  He updates his resume, lines up some good references, and lands an interview.  He knocks the interview out of the park and is completely convinced that the job is his.  So you can imagine his surprise and disappointment when he discovers that, not only has he been passed over for the job, but the job has gone to one of the people in his very own office who he was managing just last week.  In an ironic twist of fate, Bob is now working for someone who used to work for him. He becomes angry and dissatisfied.  His work suffers and he becomes much less productive.  The poor quality of his work means he receives zero raises and no recognition, which makes him even more unhappy.  The whole thing spirals down hill and at the end of year seven, Bob’s company lets him go.  When friends ask him what happened, he’ll say that it all seemed to fall apart when he was passed over for that big promotion.  Losing out on the promotion was Bob’s “Jump the Shark” moment.

The jump the shark moment is the turning point…the thing you’ll point to later on and say that was when “it” (the job, the marriage, the friendship) really started to fall apart.  So if the jump the shark moment is where it all goes bad, is there a way to avoid it?  Perhaps.  One way to prevent a jump the shark moment is to understand what causes it to happen in the first place.  In TV land, there are three main causes for jumping the shark:  longevity, cast changes, and a lack of something new to say.  These same three causes apply to the real world too.  Consider Bob’s example:  He stayed too long at a job where he didn’t feel like he was growing or contributing, while working for a new manager who didn’t like him.  When you look at that way, it’s no wonder the job didn’t work out in the end.

Besides knowing the causes, it’s also helpful to understand that jump the shark moments don’t just suddenly happen.  You aren’t growing one moment and free falling the next.  Your marriage isn’t wonderful one day and falling apart the very next one.  If you scroll back up and look at the diagram again, you’ll see that the jump the shark moment actually comes at the end of a plateau, after a period of stagnation or a period where things aren’t great but aren’t a complete failure either.  So if you are astute enough to spot the plateau, you may be able to avoid jumping the shark.  If you haven’t been promoted in a few years, it may be time to look for a new job rather than wait for things to fall apart at your current job.  If a once fabulous friendship is now stressful and filled with tension, maybe it’s time to talk it out with your friend before one  of you does or says something that will lead to the end of the friendship.

Of course, preventing the shark jumping moment requires a certain level of self-awareness and an ability to evaluate your current situation.  And in reflecting on your current situation, you may find yourself wondering “has my shark jumping moment  already happened?  What are the signs that I’ve already jumped the shark?”

I’m so glad you asked!

To Be Continued…

Episode One: When Good Shows Go Bad

Episode One image

Mark and I are big fans of the television show “How I Met Your Mother.”  We didn’t really discover the show until Season 3, but we liked it so much that we went back and bought the first two seasons on DVD in order to catch up.  We loved the characters and the writing.  We looked forward to Monday nights with great anticipation, rushing the kids to bed so we could sit down and watch one of our favorite shows.  But sadly, this is not the case anymore.  Our enthusiasm for this once great show has turned into apathy and disappointment.  At times, it’s become almost too painful to watch.  This is because HIMYM has suffered the same fate as so many other once great shows before it…HIMYM has jumped the shark.  You and I may disagree about when it happened.  I believe it was when Barney and Robin started dating, but you may feel that it was when Lily and Marshall had baby Marvin.  Either way, the shark jumping has happened and the best thing we can do now is to learn from it.

Yes, that’s right….learn from it.  Because “jumping the shark” doesn’t just happen in TV shows.  It happens in our lives too.  In fact, “jumping the shark” is such a common occurrence in our lives, that I’m dedicating this entire week to writing about it.  But let’s back up for just a minute.  What exactly is “jumping the shark?”

The phrase “jumping the shark” was first used to describe the moment that marks the beginning of a television show’s decline in quality and creativity.  The phrase itself refers to a Season 5 episode of Happy Days when Fonzie (Henry Winkler) literally jumps over a shark while waterskiing.  This scene was so gimmicky and bizarre that many people feel that it marked the beginning of a creative decline in the show.  If you Google the term “jumping the shark” you’ll find plenty of lists describing television shows and their shark jumping moments:  X-Files jumped the shark when star David Duchoveny left the show, Friends jumped the shark when Rachel and Ross had baby Emma, and Roseanne jumped the shark when the Connors won the lottery, just to name a few.

“Jumping the shark” has since taken on a broader usage and can be applied to almost anything (a product, a company, a band, etc…) that seems to have reached its peak in creativity and quality, and is now on a downhill slide into obscurity.  But this doesn’t just happen in TV shows and popular brands.  It can also happen in our careers, our relationships, and many other aspects of our personal lives.  Over the next few days, I’ll be discussing some signs that you’ve jumped the shark and what to do once the shark has been jumped.  But what does “jumping the shark” really mean in our day-to-day lives?  And can it be avoided?  I’m so glad you asked!

To Be Continued…