From the Gods that I called, Sir, deliver me!

Lately, I watched the latest Thor movie (”Thor: Love and Thunder”). For those of you who haven’t watched it and intend to do so, don’t worry. What follows only refers to the first 5 minutes of the film in detail, so no big spoilers there.

The film begins with the character introduction of the villain and his life before the actual story. Gorr worships the gods of their universe over the top. He is a very faithful and loyal man. He and his daughter are the last persons of their tribe to be alive and his daughter has fallen terminally ill. So he prays and prays to his God to keep her alive, but despite all his prayers she dies. He ends up meeting the God and finds out: This God doesn’t really care about the people. Instead of meeting this benevolent God he imagined, Gorr is cruelly mocked and strangled instead. Through a God-killing sword that suddenly appears he manages to escape the hold of the God and kill him. The rest of the film is Gorr’s personal revenge quest to kill all the Gods out of that feeling of deep hurt, disappointment and revenge.

So much for the synopsis. So why did I want to talk about it? Because this metaphor is strong and the patterns at play seem all too familiar. We tend to have a lot of Gods in our lives right now as well. We just don’t call them that. And we follow their rituals obediently.

On the one hand, we have human beings, who are made Gods. We call them Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Beyoncé, Tony Robbins, Lionel Messi. If you take the meaning of what a God is – a Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness – we worship them just like that. They become untouchable to every form of criticism.

On the other end, there is this group of people who see themselves as Gods and we supported that feeling for long enough. Some managers and bosses find themselves threatened to be kicked from the pedestal they stood on for so long. Their motivation for being a manager is the power they gain through that position.

In general, a lot of those who fall under the categorisation above are not in it to be benevolent to your personal cause and problems. Which is not a problem if we are aware of that and the fact that those people do not live to make our individual lives better. If we know how to use what they are offering for our means and causes we can build a symbiosis that serves both ends.

But what if we don’t know what our means and causes are? What if we are not sure what our own goals and values are? That’s where frameworks and systems come in. They promise to give us structure, clarity, and guidance. They offer step-by-step instructions, proven formulas, and success stories. They make our lives easier by reducing complexity and uncertainty. And most above-mentioned Gods are not short of frameworks to offer to us. A safe way to spot those frameworks: The little word “just”.

  • “Just wake up at 5 a.m. to set yourself up for success.”
  • “I became a self-made millionaire and so can you, if you just follow my 5 steps”
  • “Just focus on that one goal and hustle, hustle, hustle”

The problem is, those frameworks and systems will not work for everyone. What works for one person may not work for another. What resonates with one person may not resonate with another. Sometimes even worst: What works for one person, might have serious negative outcomes for another. We tend to fall back on frameworks and systems because they seem to make our lives easier.

But the thing that makes frameworks so appealing is also the thing that makes them so prone to what could be perceived as individual misery and failure. We tend to take success recipes as exactly that – a recipe: 150gr of hard work, 50gr of long nights, 100gr of capital and after a bit of baking time you get success. Tadaaa. But we rarely question the recipes and if we don’t like the taste of the dish we were just served, there must be something wrong with us, not the systems.

Think of the hustle culture that celebrates working long hours, sacrificing our well-being and our obsession with productivity. There are people out there who can work perfectly fine in a system like that. And some people break under the influence of such a regiment. And it becomes more and more obvious that actually, it is the majority of people who do not withstand the pressure. So is the problem on those people because “they just don’t want success hard enough”?

Systems and frameworks are fine, but we should also keep in mind what they encompass: over-generalizations, reductionisms, confirmation biases and an over-reliance on statistical significance. The moment we take the success recipe of one of our Gods and try to apply it to us without reflecting on the assumptions of the system, we set ourselves up for failure.

So, what should we do instead? Drink from the holy grail of context! Question the frameworks and systems. Don’t just blindly follow them because they seem to work for others. Recognize that everyone is different and what works for some may not work for you.

Let’s stop worshipping false gods and blindly following systems that may not work for us. Let’s get together at a table and instead of just receiving communion, actually live in community. Let’s exchange our plans, our struggles and our successes and let’s write our individual recipes. And let’s get those Gods down from their thrones and let them be what they actually are – human beings, with dreams, ideals – and flaws.