Even When the World Seems Like It’s Gone Crazy, We Must Remain Optimistic

In an article for OGGN Perspective, contributing writer Stephen Forrester talks about the current state of the world, looking at everything from the lingering vestiges of COVID-19 denial to gun control and the future of the office. Though few would argue that the times we’re living in aren’t a little crazy, the moment is ripe for us to cast aside our pettiness and come together to affect meaningful change.

When I look around me and really think about the world we’re living it, I’ve recently been coming back to a simple phrase: “What the hell is going on?” A celebrity getting slapped onstage at an awards show—only attended, of course, by the ultra-wealthy and hyper-privileged—garnered national attention akin to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, with other stars wailing in distress that they didn’t know if their lives would ever be the same after this horrific tragedy.

Meanwhile, the cracks in the real world have been growing deeper all around us, chinks in the armor that we’ve built for 30 years telling us that everything will always just be great. My thoughts on this topic were born from a recent talk Fareed Zakaria gave to Hines where he asserted that our current concept of reality—economic flourishing, a world without war, “life is good” on everyone’s lips—runs contrary to all human history. What we’ve been experiencing is the outlier. We must wake from the dream, but the thing about the world outside the dream is that it’s gone a bit crazy.

We’re living, as it were, in a strange time.

We’re looking across the ocean as a democratic country goes to war with a despot, and though the U.S. has been sending resources, most Americans have watched in helpless horror as the refugee crisis escalates and the innocent fall dead in the streets of once-beautiful cities, culture and history reduced to ash. Millions across the planet have perished due to the ravages of a pandemic that struck suddenly and violently two years ago, yet there still exist those who think it “fake news” and those who deny science and want to take medicine designed to treat parasitic roundworms.

The war in Ukraine has made many of us feel powerless.

It’s a strange time.

We watched as a group of children were mercilessly gunned down where they’ve often felt safest—the sacred halls of the school—in Uvalde, Texas by a lunatic who went to the store and bought assault rifles days before his grisly act. Sandy Hook, which the nation screamed about for years until sinking back into gun control complacency yet again, came to the front of the collective conscious. “Thoughts and prayers” were offered up ad nauseam by politicians with no desire whatsoever to change the status quo, even though mass shootings in the U.S. are at their worst point in recorded history. And though some legislation looks like it has the potential to pass, the question remains: is it too little, too late?

For some, this pile of firearms is their Second Amendment nirvana. For others, it’s a stark reminder of the challenges of gun control in the U.S.

We’re not even halfway through June and we’ve seen at least 246 mass shootings in the country—far more than have passed days in the year. This harrowing statistic, sadly, won’t cause a sudden change of heart. That’s why satire site The Onion changed every single news story to read “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” on its homepage after Uvalde—and every story was from a different mass shooting. There were enough mass shootings to take over the entire site. The only thing that roused me from my speechlessness as I scrolled on and on and on down the page toward oblivion was when I eventually came to an article with a different headline and chuckled a bit: “Bad Time for Greg Abbott to Reveal New Machine Gun Legs.”

Is this real? Yes, it is. Is it sad there were so many mass shootings that they could do this to the site? Yes, yes it is.

It’s a strange time.

Prices have risen through the roof due to unabated inflation, and supply chain and logistics nightmares are still making it difficult to transport and deliver goods. Shelves at any given store may look relatively barren due to various food and material-related shortages, and it seems no asset category is immune—you can’t even go into your local Spec’s and buy a bottle of Macallan anymore because of issues with glass. And don’t look at your 401k, because it probably isn’t doing too well—after years of growth, markets are staring down a recession, retreating from once-unheard of highs. “Everything will be fine” has become the inspirational mantra du jour, only it’s like that meme where the dog is drinking coffee while the room burns around him.

Everything is great, right? We’re all doing just fine here! Nothing to see, nothing wrong!

It is a strange time. But hey, we’re alive, right? I mean, we’re here on God’s green earth and given a chance to make a difference!

And look—not all is bad. Sure, it’s a strange time, but those high prices you’re paying at the pump—now eclipsing $5 for regular gasoline in some parts of Houston—mean that corresponding commodity prices are high, too. WTI and Brent crude benchmarks have achieved some sort of equilibrium well above $100 per barrel, and as I write this, they’re hovering around $120. Henry Hub natural gas is at a staggering $8.85.

Is it boom time, baby? Time to shout to the heavens, “Lawd, just give me one more boom in the oilfield—I promise not to blow it this time?” Let’s haul out the dusty Amex cards and get back to lunches, and hunting, and fishing?

I’d offer that it is, but it isn’t. The big boys are making money again, both on the operating side and on the service side. Shell earned somewhere around $9 billion in Q1 2022 with an adjusted EBITDA of $19 billion, and our friends at Big Blue saw higher revenue ($6 billion) and higher EPS than the prior quarter. I would caution being too quick to announce a new “boom,” though, until meaningful change trickles down to smaller OFS providers and, most critically, to employees at these companies.

The oil and gas industry did a lot of this over the past decade. Hopefully, it’s learned its lesson about capital stewardship.

Are we seeing change in talent attraction and retention? Do people want to work in oil and gas again? Some indicators show an openness to it, while others—declining petroleum engineering degree programs, declining membership in professional organizations—show otherwise. Progress, though, is even being able to attract any new talent to the sector, especially while it suffers from a battered reputation and horrible PR that makes it look like drillers are going into the forest themselves to burn down trees. The ridiculousness of the cross oil and gas must bear merely for existing is apparent to anyone who’s ever worked in the industry, but for the public—well, they still need a lot of help to get there.

The other aspect to talent is the obvious thing: money. Is oil and gas paying the big bucks again? What about the fat bonuses? I don’t know, honestly, but I would welcome that knowledge. Compensation and total rewards must catch up to other industries to ensure that oil and gas remains relevant, and I hope there’s some progress on that front happening as we speak. I hope that this thing the industry is experiencing now—something like a boom, but not really a boom—will help the sector continue to grow, until it truly booms again.

Tech, on the other hand, is as perplexing as ever. I covered the bizarre issues around hybrid working facing tech right now in an article I wrote for Hines. Apple, for example, was allowing full-time remote work throughout the worst days of the pandemic, but in April of this year switched its stance to requiring employees to come to the office one day a week. In late May, this changed to three days a week in the office. Employees are balking at these demands despite the fact that they are largely seen as reasonable by those in most other industries, threatening to quit and seek jobs at other tech firms. Meanwhile, Elon Musk has gone the other direction, wanting to eliminate remote work entirely. The billionaire owner, in a leaked memo, accused remote workers of “pretending” to work, saying that he would assume those who didn’t return to the office had resigned. And finally, you have companies like Salesforce that have prioritized flexibility above all else and are allowing employees to make decisions that best suit their personal and professional needs.

Which of these is the future of work? Probably some combination of the two.

So, whether you’re in oil and gas, or commercial real estate, or any other industry, you’ve got a lot to think about. The world around us can seem like it’s going crazy—hell, it seems like that frequently. You may feel powerless to affect meaningful change in this crazy world. You may feel anxiety and depression when you turn on the news and are met with death and sadness at every turn. You might be a fierce liberal or fierce conservative and want action to be taken that aligns with your views, yet constantly frustrated by things that go the opposite direction. You might be trapped in a dead-end job or work for a terrible boss or engage with companies that don’t represent your values. You might simply want more out of life than what it’s currently giving you.

To all this, I’d say that you’re not alone. Keep your chin up and walk forward proudly. You’re awesome, and I want you to stay that way. We all have things we must bear, but that’s why we’re stuck in this crazy world and these strange times together: to lean on one another. Let’s meet each other where we are and find common ground. Let’s chart a path, not meander blindly.

I believe in us—do you?

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Stephen Forrester

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