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Charles Lammam: Quiet quitting is not the answer

Commentary

I have long been fascinated with ideas about self-improvement and peak performance. Truth is, that fascination probably has to do with my own failure to realize my full potential. But curiosity around what makes people perform better and reach better versions of themselves is a line of inquiry that I have been drawn to for many years.

To satisfy this curiosity, I spend a lot of time reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching expert videos. I’m the first to admit that learning about the psychology of self-improvement is a lot easier than putting the various techniques into practice. While I’m imperfect, the pursuit, I think, is still a worthwhile one. Having the self-awareness to realize one’s shortfalls and recognize areas of improvement is at least half the battle.

The latest book in my educational journey is Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness by Tim Grover, famed trainer to elite athletes including Michael Jordan (his first ever professional client), Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade among others. It’s a phenomenal read. And highly motivating. At the same time, it will rub some people the wrong way and may even be perceived as harsh, extreme, and unhealthy. 

There’s some truth to that. The book isn’t for everyone. It’s a brutally honest perspective about what it takes to be an elite performer—not just in sports but in all facets of life. To be clear: it’s not a book about self-improvement per se. It’s about superstar performance and the obsession required to be the best at what you do. And Grover doesn’t sugarcoat what it takes.

At the outset, he asks readers to think about how they define “winning.” While the uninitiated might use terms like happy, glorious, and other positive descriptors, Grover bluntly describes winning as hard, unpolished, and unforgiving. According to his late client Kobe Bryant, winning is simply: everything.

Grover has done multiple interviews on his book and many articles summarizing the book’s insights are available on the web, so I won’t go into much detail here. The road to greatness, according to Grover, is based on 13 principles that he calls the Winning 13. He ranks all principles as number one because each is equally as important as the others. In other words, winning requires following all principles. And winning can’t be owned; you can only “rent it”—staying on top is a never-ending cycle.

If I try to succinctly summarize Grover’s winning mentality, the word sacrifice immediately comes to mind. There are no shortcuts. Trade-offs abound on the path to winning. You need belief in yourself, discipline, and an unwavering focus on your craft; often that comes at the expense of other life priorities. In Grover’s framework, “winning wants all of you; there’s no balance.” 

If it sounds extreme, it’s because it is. Sometimes we romanticize what it takes to achieve superstar status in sports, music, the arts, and business. Grover aims to instill realism by describing his observations, from his own experiences and the athletes he has trained, about the hardships and compromises needed to be the best. 

It’s against the backdrop of the book that I find myself perturbed by the growing meme of “quiet quitting.” I felt compelled to write about it because of the meme’s potentially troubling implications for both individuals who practice it and society at large. Quiet quitting is not only antithetical to Grover’s winning mentality but also, in my view, to how ordinary people actually achieve success in their professional and personal lives.

What is quiet quitting anyway?

It’s a new way of describing an old idea. It encourages people not to quit their jobs but to do the bare minimum at work. In other words, the message is: don’t go above and beyond the call of duty. The root of this cultural fad is a Tik Tok video popularized by Gen Z (those currently in the age range 9 to 24), although it’s gaining wider societal traction.

At some level, I get it. The pandemic has been hard for many of us—and especially Gen Z-ers. They’ve lost years of in-person schooling and in-person job experience (often their first professional job out of university), not to mention experiencing prolonged periods of social isolation and a lifestyle that arguably is anti-human. We are, after all, social beings.

The workplace effects of this now two-and-a-half-year shock are profound. Without in-person interactions, many Gen Z-ers have missed out on early-career experiences that, traditionally, have shaped our professional lives.

To be sure, remote work has its benefits. It allows us to avoid punishing commutes and unproductive office distractions while providing greater flexibility over our day-to-day schedules. But there are drawbacks too. 

The experiences you get from face-to-face interactions are hard to substitute via Zoom calls. For instance, it’s harder to build strong teams and workplace bonds when you’re not in the room together with your colleagues. It’s also harder to network professionally. But one of the biggest drawbacks of remote work is the impact on young people’s ability to observe and emulate effective behaviour and habits from their successful colleagues and mentors. 

It’s no wonder why some Gen Z-ers are less attached to their workplaces and employers. Their apathy makes some sense.

At the same time, however, buying into the mantra of quiet quitting isn’t necessarily the answer. It can be corrosive to our workplace cultures and national economic outcomes. Quiet quitting breeds complacency and stagnation at a time when we need more ambition in our society to improve our productivity, innovate, and solve major social, environmental, and economic challenges.

Now, I don’t think Grover’s winning approach is the path for everyone. We shouldn’t all be workaholics who sacrifice everything for our jobs and toss away our personal goals as parents, spouses, friends, and community members. That’s of course unhealthy and unsustainable. Besides, not everyone wants—or is willing to put in the work—to become the next MJ in their chosen field. 

But a little more drive and ambition would help us reach our individual potential and, collectively, the benefits would include more innovation, dynamism, and greater economic progress. At our core, we all want to grow and make a better life for our families. A stagnation philosophy kills that impulse.

There’s much to learn from Grover’s observations about peak performance, even if workplace supremacy isn’t your thing. If your goal is more ordinary workplace success, it’s hard to get around putting in the work and making some trade-offs along the way. The trade-offs can be calculated and within reason; you don’t have to risk everything else you care about. The point is that trade-offs are effectively a short-term struggle for long-term success. The quiet quitting mantra espouses the exact opposite philosophy.

Beyond the harshness and extremism, Grover’s book is filled with rich advice on how we can perform better. Take, for instance, the notion of constant learning in chasing the next win. As Grover notes: “Winning requires you to learn, question what you learned, and then learn more. You have to be willing to challenge what you’ve been taught, and learn it again with a different perspective.” This is just good advice if you believe in continuous self-improvement. 

Or take the distinction he makes between fear and doubt. Fear is natural while doubt is in the mind. “Fear heightens your awareness; it makes you alert. Doubt is the opposite; it slows you down and paralyzes your thinking,” writes Grover. The antidote to doubt is confidence. You need to bet on yourself.

A last insight I’ll mention here is Grover’s idea of leveraging our “dark side”—the feelings of anger, fear, and inadequacy from previous experiences. It’s about using negative emotions (for example, stemming from the time someone told us we weren’t good enough) to fuel greater focus and performance. When harnessed productively, our dark side can be an energy spark, instead of a drain, in our pursuits. 

More broadly, for Gen Z-ers thinking about quiet quitting, here’s some additional unsolicited advice.

Ideally, you want to start by finding a job that you enjoy doing and where you see an opportunity for long-term progress. There’s nothing worse than getting up in the morning to do something you hate. Passion makes the road to success slightly more tolerable. Try to limit staying at a job you hate; lingering with a quiet quitting mindset can be worse than quitting altogether.

Assuming you’re in a position you enjoy, adopt a strong work ethic and develop what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. View challenges as opportunities. When no one else wants to do a task or take on a project, put your hand up. In other words, do the things others are unwilling to do. That’s how you grow, develop, and become indispensable. Ultimately, going above and beyond will increase your promotional opportunities and career prospects.  

Or don’t. If you buy into the quiet quitting meme, just realize that the trade-off is complacency and a lack of growth. Practice a stagnation philosophy at your own peril and practice it with realistic expectations. No one is entitled to success. You can’t expect to succeed if you’re not willing to put in the work and make some trade-offs along the way.

Howard Anglin: Canada and the Constitution: A success, but on whose terms?

Commentary

Earlier this year, to mark the 40th anniversary of the patriation of the Canadian Constitution, UBC law professor Brian Bird wrote a four-part series1 for The Hub tracing Canada’s constitutional history from Confederation to the present, ending with some thoughts about our constitutional future. It is an erudite and accessible journey through more than a century and a half of legal history, which I recommend to anyone interested in understanding the significance of 1982 as an inflection point in the modern history of Canada. In my own rather more polemical series, I make the case that by 1982 Pierre Trudeau’s constitutional vision, which was grounded in the Enlightenment values of liberal rationalism, was already outdated and that Canada’s new Constitution has thrived not on Trudeau’s intended terms, but as a broadly illiberal exercise of irrational judicial power. Here is the final installment in the series. Click here for parts onetwo, and three.


Defenders of the Canadian Constitution believe that its liberal principles are the best—and probably the only—way to accommodate differences of political opinion in a post-modern society Or, perhaps, “liquid modern” society. and to reconcile the interests of minorities and majorities. For this to work, they say, we need the courts constantly tugging and prodding governments to adhere to these liberal principles, even if that means limiting the scope of political choice in the democratic process and removing some controversies from the political sphere altogether.In practice, those controversies that the polity stubbornly refuses to resolve once and for all along the lines preferred by liberal philosophy or neoliberal interests. Their argument assumes, of course, that the process of judicial review that we currently have is itself rational. It is not. 

In Canada, courts reviewing legislation apply what is called the principle of proportionality, which it first announced and framed in the 1986 case of R. v. Oakes.See parts two and three of this series for more discussion and background. Briefly stated, proportionality requires that a law furthering an important social goal must not limit a protected right more than is necessary to achieve that goal. To do this, the court applies a three-part balancing test.The test is variously described as having three or four parts. A standard statement of it can be found here. 

First, the law must be rationally connected to the important and necessary (“pressing and substantial”) objective the government wants to achieve. Second, the law must be likely to achieve its objective in a way that minimally limits protected rights. Finally, the law must be proportionate stricto senso (“in a strict sense”). That is, the government must strike the right balance between limiting protected rights and furthering social goods. 

This all sounds good in theory; the problem is that, in reality, it’s a little more complicated. Those of you who escaped indoctrination into the cult of proportionality at law school may have noticed a niggling flaw in the method described above: the metrics are essentially arbitrary. The relative weights of benefit and harm are not fixed by a common and objective standard. The judge has no yardstick by which to measure the limitation of an individual right (on the one hand) and the diffuse benefits of the law to the common good (on the other). This is called the incommensurability problem, or the impossibility of comparing fundamentally different goods. 

The incommensurability problem has been illustrated by the challenge of being asked to choose the fastest car at the lowest price: which car you choose will depend on how much value you choose to assign to speed and how much to price. Those choices are, if not exactly arbitrary, invariably subjective. There is not only no right or wrong answer, one can’t even say that there are better or worse answers. 

This makes the incommensurability problem a different challenge entirely than the proverbially difficult comparison of apples and oranges; compared with the hardest questions of law and public policy, apples and oranges are actually comparable along many lines (size, price, colour, ripeness). Courts will sometimes attempt to turn the incommensurability problem into a relatively more soluble “apples and oranges” problem by describing both individual rights and public goods using a neutral term, just as price can be used to compare different fruits. 

For example, a court may refer to both rights and goods as “interests” and then weigh the competing “interests” against another. But this doesn’t solve the problem; it avoids it.Using price to compare apples and oranges may also avoid the problem of comparison if price is not a contextually relevant measure, but it is at least an objective standard. This kind of proportionality analysis “succeeds” only by distorting the nature of both individual rights and the common good. Calling rights mere personal “interests” neuters their moral force, and reducing the public good to a social “interest” misunderstands the purpose of government. In any event, the distortions are in vain. A judge can still only pretend to balance these illusory interests on an imaginary scale.

Even if one could establish a common metric for both individual rights and public goods, how would you start to assign weights to each side of the equation so that they could be usefully compared? Each judge must do this according to his or her personal judgement. Although most judges do this in good faith and with the best of intentions, the inherent subjectivity of the exercise explains why panels of judges so often disagree in Charter cases, despite working from the same facts and law. Proportionality, in practice, provides only illusory escape from the hard business of governing. Constitutional balancing tests “solve” the incommensurability problem in hard cases by producing judgements that are, as legal scholar Richard Ekins has written, “underdetermined by reason.” R Ekins, “Legislating Proportionally” in G Huscroft, B Miller and G Webber, Proportionality and the Rule of Law (CUP 2014). 

As a rough and ready heuristic for political decision-making, the idea of proportionality is helpful, but it can’t escape the fact that governing requires us to make decisions involving incommensurable interests, immeasurable effects, and unknowable outcomes. The degree to which these things are incommensurable, immeasurable, and unknowable in a specific case will vary, but only in the easiest of cases will there be clear answers that most reasonable people can agree on—and we do not need courts for easy cases. 

For the hard cases, a society needs a decision-making process intimately attuned to its unique pre-political religious and moral intuitions, stories and legends, social structures, geographic pressures, and economic organisation. One can imagine different forms of government that could do this; none would look like a courtroom under the formal constraints of modern litigation. 

We had such a system of government before 1982, and we could have had a modified but still recognizable version after 1982 if the courts had chosen a path of self-restraint. When this alternative is put to Canadian judges, however, the most common response is a shrug and a half-hearted protest that amounts to: “We didn’t choose the powers the new constitution gave, and we can’t simply choose not to exercise them.”Three examples among many will suffice. “Beverley McLachlin on her controversies, activism, Supreme Court legacy” (CBC interview with Rosemary Barton, Dec 17, 2017) (“But the fact is [the Charter] became the law of the land. It became the Constitution, and the judiciary had no choice but to uphold that law.”); Rt Hon Beverley McLachlin, “Respecting Democratic Roles” (Speech, Nov 22, 2004) (“Where a legal issue is properly before a court, not deciding is not an option.”); Vriend v. Alberta, 1998 (“[I]t should be emphasized again that our Charter’s introduction and the consequential remedial role of the courts were choices of the Canadian people through their elected representatives as part of a redefinition of our democracy.  … So courts in their trustee or arbiter role must perforce scrutinize the work of the legislature and executive not in the name of the courts, but in the interests of the new social contract that was democratically chosen. All of this is implied in the power given to the courts under s. 24 of the Charter and s. 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”) Hand-waving at “all of this”—by which Justice Iacobucci includes many specific and not at all obvious jurisprudential choices and precedents—and blaming the democratic bodies that empowered the courts rather than the choices the courts made in exercising that power, hardly qualifies as a justification. It is the intellectual equivalent of a policeman clubbing an innocent bystander shrugging and saying “well, I was empowered to enforce the law.” But they did and they still could. 

The adoption of the Oakes test and proportionality review was not pre-ordained; it was a choice. So was the decision to reject the more obvious procedural meaning of “principles of fundamental justice” in favour of interpreting it as a new judicial authority to impose new substantive limits on parliament’s legislative power. And so were the cramped reading of Section 1’s “reasonable limits” that clipped parliament’s wings and, later, the expansion of the already-stretched limits of Charter rights to include an obscure penumbra of “Charter values.” Each of these was a choice that took us further from the old Constitution but also, ironically, further from Trudeau’s vision.   

Sometime between 1789 and 1968, the children of the Enlightenment lost their faith. As with Woolf’s diagnosis of Modernism in 1910, the change “was not sudden and definite,” but in hindsight, we can see that by 1982 that our society was badly fractured. The Enlightenment belief in progress and trust in science to guide (rather than serve) society had mostly evaporated. The corrosive logic of liberalism had dissolved the ancient bonds of family, culture, and religion, leaving a residue of confusion waiting for a new order to be born.

That was the moment Pierre Trudeau chose to enact his rationalist Constitution. It was a bold gambit, and a naïve one. To the extent it has succeeded it has done so, ironically, through an irrational exercise of judicial power that he should have predicted but almost certainly did not intend. Nevertheless, Trudeau’s constitutional legacy remains broadly popular. This is partly because it is ferociously defended by the powerful interests it serves, but mostly because, until we better understand our still-inchoate post-rational, post-liberal present, it feels safer than the alternative. For most of us, an anachronistic vision is better than no vision.