The Choice to Die Early

Published: November 21, 2023

The growth mindset approach doesn’t work very well with people who have decided to stop growing. It’s the classic H.R. interview when the candidate claims ten years of experience only to discover they’ve accrued one year ten times. It happens with individuals, couples, teams, and organizations – they sacrifice development in lieu of whatever the benefits of staying the same are. Sadly, it equates to the choice to die early.

This happens in almost every industry when mediocrity gets sanctioned and employees are rewarded for mailing it in. It’s especially evident in education when a tenured teacher begins coasting toward retirement. Pedagogy in the art and science of teaching and learning is always advancing, yet there are still those who prefer to recycle worn out curriculum scribbled on an old legal pad.

As a professor in a local university, I once had a student who had recently moved to the United States from eastern Europe enter my classroom in frustration muttering “leniwa krowa“ under her breath. I asked her for a translation and she explained that the literal translation of “lazy cow” didn’t do justice to her anger. I became more curious.

She explained that in the rural areas of her home country, there were two types of cows. There were the robust ones willing to climb a steep hill to feast on lush grasses. And then there were the emaciated ones sprawled out in the mud where all the grass had been consumed, waiting for a blade to grow within reach without effort.

She had just come from a class where the “leniwa krowa“ professor hadn’t updated his syllabus, lesson plans, or teaching methods in decades. Facing a $50K/year tuition bill, she was incensed at the waste of her time and money, let alone the diluted quality of her learning opportunity.

With an average life expectancy of nearly eight decades with about 50% of that time spent in an active career role, we all get to decide how we want to show up. Everyone knows whether you’ve decided to thrive or fade out by the way you approach challenges. It’s wonderfully transparent.

Your level of engagement matters, whether you’ve decided to take up cello, invest in a partnership, contribute to a team, or shape organizational culture. It’s never a neutral impact. You’ll either illuminate or diminish anyone who happens to share your ecosystem. If you’ve decided to check out early, please don’t take others with you.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.