The ABC/XYZ Theory

Ever gone on a date and thought you both really clicked, and then the promised phone call never came? Or had the perfect job interview, accept the job and find yourself looking for a new job within a year? Have the perfect solution for a client, only to have the client hate it right after delivery? What’s happening? Why do situations that seem perfect suddenly go bad?

It’s the ABC/XYZ theory at work. When faced with something new–a date, an applicant, a solution–it’s easy to slip into the ideal world. Your date behaves in the ideal way, mirroring your fondest characteristics. The HR person describes the ideal company with big vision and lots of creativity, exactly what she has always wanted the company to be. The client hears a good solution and is relieved. It fixes part of the problem, and the client approves it. In each of these cases, you have your hopes raised. Your date is perfect, the job the HR person is describing matches your expertise, and the client seems pleased with your idea. You feel accepted and perfect.

At the next step, reality sets in. The date realizes that it is too hard to keep up this ideal. He loved your snort/giggle on the first date, now it seems to embarrass him. The human resource person does not want someone who thinks outside the box. With the box open, there is too much yakking, too many choices, too much money being spent on ideas instead of results. The closed box is looking better. One with the lid nailed shut. Reality is XYZ. And it doesn’t ever match the ABC.
The client who at first liked the solution realizes that it doesn’t mesh with the corporate culture. It won’t solve every problem in the company. It’s not a Superman solution, just an ordinary one. Another XYZ.

The shadow of the tree was lovelier than the tree itself. Shadows don’t need to be watered, or trimmed, or repotted. The shadow, which looked so lovely in the glow of artificial light, fades when the sun moves away.

ABC and XYZ are at opposite ends of reality. ABC is the ideal, the hope for what might be. XYZ is what works, the reality of daily life. What seemed to be perfect in the ideal sense isn’t a good fit in the real, ordinary, scruffy world. It may be just what the client asked for, your resume might be a perfect match with the description HR sent the headhunter, you may match every request in the online dating search engine.

But the ideal will fade and reality will set in, and ABC will never be XYZ. No matter how much you’d like it to. It’s a good idea to learn the whole alphabet and use it, so you won’t be stuck at either end.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, certified creativity coach and artist. See her work at

One thought on “The ABC/XYZ Theory

  1. I agree with learning the whole alphabet but I view the ABC/XYZ thing a little differently. ABC is my dreams..I have to have my dreams to make life worth while. DEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVW is where I work to make my dreams as close to XYZ as I can. I guess what I’m saying is having my dreams makes reality bearable sometimes.

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