The idea virus: A brief look at the epidemic of Utah teen suicide rates

In Utah, the leading cause of death for 10-17-year-olds is suicide. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

I am often asked, “Why does this keep happening?”

The challenge is the way ideas spread. Sticky ideas move from one person to the next like a virus.

Malcolm Gladwell describes this in his brilliant book, The Tipping Point, on how ideas penetrate the masses like epidemics.

The first thing we must see is:

Social movements, like how rumors spread, or smoking, and yes, suicide, rely on “three agents of change.” These agents are attributed with 80% of the work of spreading an idea while only representing 20% of the population.

These three influencers are:

Connectors – people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.

Mavens – people we rely upon to connect us with new information.

Salesman – people who can persuade us.

The second thing we need to understand is:

Teenagers in the back of their minds struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. And when you factor in these agents of change making suicide appear to be a viable option, you have the environment to tip the scales.

It’s like standing on a street corner, most of us in the back of our mind think about jaywalking. But we hesitate, until we see someone else do it. It gives us “permission” to follow.

When you combine these two factors, ideas have a way of spreading quickly. Even if there is no intention to do so.

The idea virus isn’t the only explanation of why we are where we are (biology, chemicals in the brain, culture…there are a plethora of reasons, some of which are out of our control). But it does offer one of the best explanations of how these ideas continue spread across the masses.

[There is always someone to talk to. In addition, Pivot Adventure helps students develop a compass to navigate through life’s challenges. We are putting an end to the teen suicide epidemic.]

Being more does not necessarily equate to doing more

At times, we must muster up the courage to hold on to this tension of not knowing what it is we are to do next and resist doing things for the sake of doing.

It’s frightening to sit and wait, to dance with this fear and to tell the critics, “Not yet.”

Not yet because we are pondering, testing, measuring, considering all of the options available.

Not because we are afraid of being wrong. Because we are professionals.

Professionals learn to seek out and hold this tension. The amateur is working to make it go away as soon as possible.

Professionals set deadlines

Today, this blog post was due.

Tomorrow, there’s another one that needs to be published. 

Professionals set deadlines not because it is convenient. No, it’s because we don’t want to end up as someone else.

An amateur.

Or as Zig Ziglar liked to say, “A wondering generality instead of a meaningful specific.”

Professionals understand that projects are never perfect.

So, they set goals to make it good enough (as close to perfect as possible) until money runs dry or time runs out.

Deadlines creates urgency to ship. That tension gets the Professional off the bench and into the game.

Write your own story

“My boss won’t let me.”

“I can’t afford this.”

“I don’t have the time.”

“I’m too old (or young) for that kind of stuff.”

“I don’t have permission.”

Quit writing someone else’s story.

Those things don’t have to be you.

Write the life you are supposed to live.

You are the hero of your story.

Start acting like one.

Interesting enough to point out. Every single story follows these seven elements:

  1. A character
  2. With a conflict
  3. Meets a guide
  4. Who gives them a plan
  5. Is called to action
  6. Engages with conflict
  7. Results as a comedy or tragedy

Dreams take guts to pursue

That very act moves us from the seat on the bench and into the game. From bystander to player.

That decision to take responsibility instead of giving it, is an enormous weight.

After all, it might not work. And then what?

Luckily, your dreams don’t stop every time we fall short. 

The real risk does not lie on following your dream but to the bystander who figures out down the road it’s too late for them.

Follow your dreams. Because no one else will.

Artists find the guts to say, “Good enough”

Christopher Nolan in his magnum-opus, Memento, is considered by many critics to be one of the best movies of the century.

Yet, it is riddled with mistakes.

There are 54 errors throughout the complicated film. Despite Nolan’s best work. It wasn’t perfect. We have to accept that mistakes are part of the creative process.

The good news is, no one goes to the movies to find mistakes. We go to be connected, entertained, changed.

It is impossible for your work to be perfect.

If we refuse to ship in the name of perfection, we will never change things for the better.

I’ve written nearly a thousand blogs, I can tell you first hand that this work is riddled with mistakes. But with a couple of clicks, I can make it better. More importantly, I learn for the next attempt. Because tomorrow, there is another blog due. Another chance to change someone’s mind and to raise the bar.

Your work is just too important to sit back and wait for the perfect blog post to appear before you publish.

Yes, a good editor will make your work better. But it takes an artist with guts to ship your best and then do it again. And again…

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

The teacher passes out a pop quiz, what’s the worst that can happen?

You had a rough quarter and the boss isn’t happy, what’s the worst that can happen?

You’re hanging 40 feet off the ground, tied into a rope, what’s the worst that can happen?

“What’s the worst that can happen?” is something that we can ask ourselves every time adversity rises. (Which happens a lot.)

If the worst that can happen is discomfort or a change in status or a loss in time or energy, then the worst that can happen, isn’t that bad.

Our perception of risk doesn’t match the reality.

When the two mix, we create more anxiety and more stress, distracting ourselves from solving the problem.