Against loser talk
There is more opportunity than you're led to believe
In 2008, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank sat on a retail panel next to Mickey Drexler, an industry legend who led a renaissance at J.Crew. A fellow panelist spoke at length about the challenges of the economy when Mickey had heard enough.
“What a loser. Can you believe this loser? Listen to this loser talk,” he said in a not-so-whispering voice. Kevin implored him to keep it down…but he also knew he was onto something.
In the days after the panel, Kevin brought the motto “No loser talk” to Under Armour HQ. As he explained it, there’s no purpose to wasting time complaining about something that is “galactically obvious,” like a weak economy, when you could instead be finding ways around the problem.
In other words, spend time and energy on the things you can influence and leave the loser talk at the door.
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But in 2023, loser talk has become a lingua franca. It’s impossible to open any media platform, social or otherwise, without being slapped across the face by it. In the last six months, the YouTube homepage has greeted me with various iterations of the following:
“How to prepare for the coming economic collapse” – as explained by a disheveled man sitting in an old car
“Buy gold now!” - not an ETF or a gold miner stock, mind you, but gold bars from some mint you’ve never heard of with an oddly official sounding name
“The lower rungs on the economic ladder are gone” - this is a verbatim video title suggested to me last week. Meanwhile entry-level employees are getting paid over $20 an hour at my local Sonic (plus a signing bonus!)
An endless stream of ambition destroying venom. Ingest enough of it and you’ll grow numb. Too much time in YouTube Land will paralyze your goal seeking muscles.
If you want to get ahead in the real world then you need to heed Mr. Plank’s wisdom. Unless you are Joe Biden and you’re reading this for some reason, you need to spend way less time fretting over “economic uncertainty” and “debt ceilings” and way more time on the things you can influence.
Is the economy limping along? View it as an opportunity. Invest in systems or skills. Tweak your business’ go-to-market strategy. Have conversations with customers. Figure out their pain points and how you can alleviate them.
Let other people waste their time and energy debating whether or not “the Fed can execute a soft landing” while you get to work.
But I didn’t always buy into this mindset. I graduated college right around the time that loser was getting on Mickey Drexler’s last nerve. If I’d been in the audience, I would’ve given him my undivided attention.
Back then, I actively sought out the doomsayers. It wasn’t so much that I believed them, rather I wanted to indulge in self-pity. A woe-is-me attitude felt good in the face of monumental things outside of my control. I got pretty good at playing the world’s smallest violin.
While I was fine-tuning my Stradivarius, Kevin Plank was taking his own advice. He voluntarily cut his salary from $500k to $26,000 because Under Armour missed its sales targets. He might be a billionaire today, but this outcome was far from certain in 2008.
I actually read the initial reporting about loser talk when it happened. It struck a nerve! I’d become pretty good at citing all sorts of scary economic figures to convince people that it was “very bad out there.” Was I the loser?
There is a real chance that offhand comments between Mickey Drexler and Kevin Plank inspired me to become a more positive and proactive person. It didn’t happen overnight, a big change never does. But I eventually came to realize that self-pity was doing me no favors.
What’s more, I’ve come to see the doomsayers for what they are. Most are infotainment artists who take a few real facts and run wild. They build big audiences and turn genuine anxiety into a boatload of ad revenue.
Others pine for a world that no longer exists. They’ll blame the Baby Boomers for their problems when they’re really just mad that they weren’t around in 1970 to buy a house. I, too, do not enjoy inflation. But endless complaining doesn’t let you travel back in time.
They think in old paradigms and miss all of the opportunity that exists in the here and now. And there is so much more than they’d lead you to believe.
When Kevin Plank first told everyone to drop the loser talk, his company generated around $725 million in annual revenue. In 2022? It brought in almost $6 billion. A ban on loser talk grew his business eight times over.
Next time you find yourself fretting over the state of the economy, remember that it’s loser talk and go get to work on the things you can influence. Imagine the growth you could accomplish if you do.