Photo: Greg2600 via Flickr
When the HBO hit series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” returned to HBO earlier this month after a six-year hiatus, it brought with it the return of a host of cringe-inducing personal and professional confrontations that series creator Larry David gets himself into on screen.
Since pop culture can be a treasure trove of life and career inspiration, we thought we’d examine some of the finer points of channeling your inner misanthrope for good, and the unexpected ways that Larry David-level crankiness can actually benefit you.
In other words, sometimes it might be worth asking yourself, WWLD? (What Would Larry Do?)
Optimism is the enemy (at least some of the time)
According to an article in The Atlantic a few years back, positive thinking can actually be a bad thing if it zaps your motivation toward working toward your goals. The article references Dr. Gabriele Oettigen’s book Rethinking Positive Thinking, in which she mentions that optimism is a “critical component of conceiving goals” but it can actually become a barrier when trying to work toward them since it can ultimately, diminish your motivation to complete your task. “In other words, dreaming isn’t doing.”
Lesson learned from Larry: The glass really isn’t half full all the time. Try to plan beyond your goal to keep you working instead of giving up when you’re close to the finish line.
Cranky people get respect
Human Resources Analyst Laura Handrick has never been never been the cranky one in the workplace, but she has noticed and often admired them “Because they’re the ones that take a more cautious approach, glass half empty, ‘what might go wrong’ point of view — and often they’re not only correct, but people listen to them.”
For that reason, Handrick admits that “The cranky ones are the people I trust to vet my ideas and make sure I’m not too enthusiastic about a new process, software purchase, or approach. If I think something is a great idea (ice cream social!) they’re the first to tell me it’s not such a cool idea and why (lactose intolerant team members).”
Handrick explains that “The cranky ones are the people who typically have been in the company a while, seen it done before, (seen it fail before) and can steer me clear of mistakes and landmines.” More than that, “they’re the ones who know exactly how to complete the IT project proposal in just the right way to make it through to the steering committee… they know exactly what not to do. And they pride themselves on that knowledge.”
Lesson learned from Larry: Find a mentor who’s failed before succeeding. It’s easy to try to cozy up to the golden boy in the office, but sometimes it’s the people who have been around the longest who’ve seen everyone else’s rise and fall who can help you out the most.
Pessimists live longer
A few years back a German study of over 40,000 people reported that “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” I’m not suggesting you go full grouch all the time, but it makes sense. Feeling great about everything all the time might mean you’re missing warning signs or not taking them seriously enough…A lot like Larry David in his show.
Lesson learned from Larry: It’s fine to be inexplicably exuberant much of the time — as long as you’re paying attention to the potential stumbling blocks in your way.
Slow and steady wins the race
Curb Your Enthusiasm has had a particularly long shelf life by TV standards. In fact, it’s been about 17 years since the first episode aired and there’s no end in sight. With so many shows being canceled immediately after the pilot, it’s encouraging to know that a show about a mostly unlikeable man messing up repeatedly has been on the air in some form or another for close to two decades.
Lesson learned from Larry: Timing really is everything. If your project doesn’t seem to be working, head back to the drawing board and try to find a way to make it relevant for the here and now. Tweak. Revise. Rework as needed.
Don’t play by other people’s rules
It’s important to realize that despite his eponymous shlub of a character on the show, Larry David the man is not the TV character. In fact he’s one of the most successful producers of all time — guiding “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as on “Seinfeld” (co-created by David) — towards subject matter that examines the tiny details and annoyances that make up daily, if exaggerated versions of life. The dialogue on both shows is largely retroscripted, or improvised by the actors who are given an outline by David.
Lesson learned from Larry: There’s a way to do things in life, and then there’s the Larry David way — both the real man and the fictionalized version. David doesn’t seem to play by all of Hollywood’s rules and he’s still managed to carve out a niche career playing a guy who gets things wrong all the time.