Cover image of Strong Feelings
(93)
Business
Society & Culture
Careers
Personal Journals

Strong Feelings

Updated 7 days ago

Business
Society & Culture
Careers
Personal Journals
Read more

Best friends and business partners Katel and Sara let it all out in a weekly show about work, friendship, and feminism. Plus, intimate conversations with authors, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs about how they got where they are, what they learned in the process, and what they do to find joy. Because life’s too short to bottle things up.

Read more

Best friends and business partners Katel and Sara let it all out in a weekly show about work, friendship, and feminism. Plus, intimate conversations with authors, artists, activists, and entrepreneurs about how they got where they are, what they learned in the process, and what they do to find joy. Because life’s too short to bottle things up.

iTunes Ratings

93 Ratings
Average Ratings
85
1
4
1
2

Soooooo good!!

By brianna todaro - Jun 06 2019
Read more
I am in love with this podcast! Such great topics and very intelligent and fascinating women who lead it. I LOVE IT!!!

Smart, engaging, high quality

By Schmeevie29 - May 25 2019
Read more
Love this podcast! It's so well done. It's interesting, engaging, and I'm learning so much.

iTunes Ratings

93 Ratings
Average Ratings
85
1
4
1
2

Soooooo good!!

By brianna todaro - Jun 06 2019
Read more
I am in love with this podcast! Such great topics and very intelligent and fascinating women who lead it. I LOVE IT!!!

Smart, engaging, high quality

By Schmeevie29 - May 25 2019
Read more
Love this podcast! It's so well done. It's interesting, engaging, and I'm learning so much.
Cover image of Strong Feelings

Strong Feelings

Latest release on Feb 20, 2020

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail 7 days ago

Rank #1: Excuse Me with Liana Finck

Podcast cover
Read more

How do you make space for yourself in the world when you’re shy and a little bit weird? If you’re cartoonist Liana Finck, you channel the stuff stuck in your brain into your art—and find out a lot of people actually feel like you, too.

Liana is a regular contributor to the New Yorker and a wildly popular cartoonist on Instagram. Her newest book, Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self, is a collection of drawings about dating, love, sexism, anxiety, and all the absurdities of city life. We talk with her about getting comfortable with a public persona, processing feelings through drawing, and...crying at job interviews. She’s a delight, and you are gonna love this episode.

There’s a real good feeling in sharing something with strangers... I’m saying, “this is no longer my private shame, this is something we all share.”
—Liana Finck, cartoonist and author of Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Notes to Self | Photo of Liana by: Jorge Colombo

On the agenda:

  • Drawing as a form of understanding yourself. “I’m trying to explain something to myself that I didn’t have words or pictures for before.”
  • Being a shy person. “I think I was shy because I knew I was strange in a way that I couldn’t quite define and I was very afraid of being found out. And the sadness I think arose from the shyness... I was afraid of showing myself and I felt trapped and helpless and out of control. And I think that has a lot to do with something that society didn’t find me exactly what they ordered.”
  • Putting yourself out there. “If I only did what was comfortable to me, I wouldn’t be able to make a life at all. I’m so used to stretching myself that I’m always doing it.”
  • Breaking into the New Yorker. “I would come into the New Yorker once a year for many, many years… I would be the only newbie, and also the only woman, and also the only young person. And also of the young people—if there were any young people—the only one who didn’t go to Harvard.”

Plus: Handling professional rejection, rejecting others, and what to do when you wake up and realize…you’re a gatekeeper in your field.

Oct 31 2019

50mins

Play

Rank #2: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable with Erika Hall

Podcast cover
Read more

Let’s be real: writing is hard. We’ve written and rewritten this intro seven times. Taking on any new challenge or project that requires deep thought, passion, and creativity, can push us outside of our comfort zones. It can make us feel anxious about succeeding—but it can also force us to grow and take on new challenges.

In this episode, Erika Hall talks with us about starting a design agency, the power of empathy in everything we do, and her brand-new book.

> People are actually terrified of asking questions — and especially people who end up in positions of leadership. To say, “Oh, we don’t know this and we have to find something out, and I don’t have the answer” is really scary, and that’s nothing that we’ve been rewarded for our entire lives. And if you want to have a research mindset or just use evidence to make decisions, you have to be in a constant state of admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
>
> —Erika Hall, Mule Design

Here’s what we get into—and of course, there’s a full transcript, too.

Show Notes

First, Katel shares a secret: when she started working for A Book Apart, she’d never worked on a book before. But neither had the first author she worked with! And it all worked out ok. We discuss getting used to big new challenges, and how to decide when it’s time to take the leap and write a book—and then give the middle finger to imposter syndrome.

Interview: Erika Hall

Designer, author, and all-around smarty Erika Hall fills us in on how she spent the last year: writing a book (and getting stuck, and writing some more), teaching people how to make better design decisions, and taking on gender bias in the workplace. We talk about:

  • How she started Mule Design and how the agency—and their work—has changed since 2001.
  • Being outspoken online and fighting the trolls who live in our review systems.
  • Why it’s critical to bring empathy into our working relationships as well as our personal ones—and how feeling comfortable being uncomfortable can be the most powerful thing you can do.
    Why we won’t solve gender bias with education alone; we have to change our own habits and help others learn to do the same.
  • Her new book, Conversational Design, all about how to use conversation as a model for designing interactive digital products and services that are less robotic and more real.
  • The joys and horrors of writing: making it through 2017, surviving the myth that your second book will be easier than your first, overcoming a health setback—but getting through it all to launch a book.
  • Finding inspiration IRL—no, really, sometimes stepping away from our screens and talking to our neighbors is the best way to rediscover the good in the world. And listening to Oprah. And Ru Paul.

Fuck Yeah of the Week

We end the show with heartfelt appreciation and admiration for Emma Gonzalez (@emma4change) and the massive student activism movement that has been ongoing in the wake of Parkland.To all the people, young and old, who are standing up and speaking out: fuck yeah and thank you.

Links:

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a diverse, intelligent, and motivated team—and they  want to apply to you. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.

_WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you. _

Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher Do you want to work with a diverse, passionate team that likes to get shit done? Then you should talk to Shopify. Shopify is the leading global commerce platform for entrepreneurs. And they’re growing! And they don’t just want you to apply to them. They want to apply to you. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re all about [music fades in].

Jenn Lukas Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.

SWB And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

JL Whether it’s a blog post, a conference talk, or a book, writing is hard. Finding inspiration to create is hard, but how do we get through it? On today’s episode we’ll talk with Erika Hall, co-founder of Mule Design and author of Just Enough Research and, the brand new book, Conversational Design. We’ll hear about what motivates her to write, and how she manages everyday bumps in the road to large-scale challenges. But before we hear from Erika, let’s talk about this whole publishing thing.

KL So … when I started at A Book Apart, I had never worked on a book before … and neither had Erika.

SWB Wait, hold on. You started being in charge of a publishing company after not having ever worked on a book before?

KL Yeah, no, shhh, don’t tell anyone that.

SWB So, first up: like, uh, I don’t know that anybody could tell because you did great. But, like. how did that happen?

KL So while I was jumping into publishing into a book, I was also getting acclimated to the role, and figuring out what I was doing with A Book Apart. And like really, truly, the company was also sort of figuring that out. Which is good. We were growing together. But it was something I had never done before and I was absolutely terrified. I was basically supposed to be the leader on this project. I was supposed to know what I was doing, I was supposed to keep everything going. I was also supposed to establish myself and get a bunch of people to trust me and to work with me and to know that I was going to lead them in the right direction. Um and [chuckles] I felt like I was starting from scratch and completely flailing. There was also no one I could really talk to because I, all of a sudden, didn’t have any colleagues. I had always worked for companies that were large. I had always worked for organizations where I went into an office every day and, all of a sudden, I was, you know, working from home. I was completely by myself and we didn’t have a team. I was the first full-time employee with A Book Apart. So it was really strange to kind of go from being around a bunch of people all the time to being alone. It took me like a good year to just like get used to it.

[2:45]

SWB Yeah, I mean, something I was really thinking about as you were talking was like, ok, how much I think we often … underestimate how long it should take to get used to something. And big changes take a really long time. You know they talk about like what are the most stressful moments in people’s lives? And some of them are, you know, grief of a close — you know, losing somebody close to them and going through grief, or going through a divorce, but also things like moving is one of the most stressful things. All of those like high-stress things — new jobs are definitely part of that. And I think like — I don’t know, at least I do this to myself where I’m like, “I should be over this by now.” Or like, “This shouldn’t be that big of a deal,” and then it is a big deal and you end up kind of beating yourself up about why aren’t you comfortable yet or why aren’t feeling more in the groove of things yet? And then like you know [sighs] looking at it from the outside though and being like, “Uh Katel! Of course that took a fucking year [laughing] that sounds really hard!”

KL Yeah.

SWB You get a different perspective.

KL Yeah well and even thinking about like the, you know, the question that you asked in the beginning of kind of like, how did you start at this, you know, at this thing that you hadn’t done before? I had like so many fears about that … because I spent, and again, because I was sort of on my own and didn’t have like an ongoing feedback loop, I was always in my head about like, did I make the right choice? And am I gonna do this job well? Like am I gonna serve this company and these people, you know, to the best of my ability? … I was actually just talking to Erika the other day because, you know, her book is launching and she was like, “Oh my gosh, I hadn’t really realized that was both our first time working on a book.” And she was like, “Well, you know what? It worked out.” [Laughing] And I was like, “Yeah, it totally worked out. It worked out well.”

JL I — [laughs] I love this because this is like the quintessential fuck of imposter syndrome [laughter]. Like essentially you were just like, “You know what?” You said it. You said you felt like you were flailing but I mean, spoiler alert, because we’re years ahead now. I mean, you weren’t! I mean, you published a slew of great books! So obviously you took this and you got through and you did do an awesome job. So I love it because I feel like we can now look back and talk a little bit about how you were feeling but you still took on that job. You still did it, even with potentially these doubts that you had, or these feelings of flailing, you took it and you were like, “I’m gonna do this.” There had to be this part of you that was like, “I know I can do this,” because you did it, right?

SWB Also, this is the obligatory moment where I have to remind everybody that Katel is now the CEO of A Book Apart [KL laughs], where, that wasn’t where you started, right? Like you were the managing editor when you started there?

[5:35]

KL Managing director.

SWB Managing director, sure [yeah]. Um so, right, going from being the managing director, which is obviously still kind of running the show and getting books out the door, to being the CEO means that the people who founded the company saw that you were doing an excellent job and that you not only could lead publishing but that you needed to be at an executive level of the organization. Like … so … yeah. Like you can do it, obviously. I think we have a lot of evidence at this point [laughing] that you can do it.

KL Yeah. Here I’m like wiping my brow. I mean, yeah, and I think while I was stepping into having only been in very structured environments, I was like, “Ok, this might be a little more difficult for me.” But it was also a chance for me to be like, “I can make this something that I want it to be.” Which is amazing. That’s an amazing opportunity. But yeah, I mean I think you have to look for those openings and kind of say, “Alright, I can do this job. You know, I have these skills. And it might just be a little bit of different scenario or the set up might be different but I’m gonna apply that.”

JL Yeah, I love this. I feel like a lot of times people feel like if they’re in a path with a specific direction there’s no how do they move over. I love that you did that [KL yeah]. You took those and you applied them to a different direction.

SWB I think there’s something else thought that maybe also is a parallel to what happens when you write a book which is like, you also have to be able to look at your past experience and have some faith that you maybe know more than you give yourself credit for, or that things that you learned in the past really do apply. And I think some of the time that takes some experience to be able to look at what you’ve done in the past and imagine it kind of coming together in a different way. I mean I know when it comes to writing, going back to thinking about from the author perspective: nobody goes into writing a book for the first time having ever written a book before — like you have to do it for the first time! Right? [Agreeable sounds from others] That’s — that can feel very daunting and I know it feels daunting for probably most people and I think one of the things that really helped me when I thought about writing a book was like, “What are the strengths that I already have that have led me here?” And I mean obviously part of it is like having subject matter expertise that somebody wants to publish a book about. Ok that’s one piece of the strengths. But it’s not just that. It’s not just like your knowledge, it’s actually also about having the ability to take something big and break it down into small chunks … the ability to kind of think about that macro picture of like what’s the whole arc of this thing going to be and then zoom in on the details. Or maybe it’s skills that people already have in things like just doggedly getting stuff done, checking things off the list, like project management skills are massive. Or perhaps it’s just, you know, you can start out thinking like, “I can do this because I know that I have a voice that’s really compelling for people and I’m gonna have to get much better at [laughing] project management,” which I think is true for a lot of authors. You know whatever it is, you have to be able to kind of identify like, “I don’t just have an idea or a topical expertise, I also have some skills that I can apply to this particular kind of problem.” And I think sometimes it’s like … I don’t know, I feel like we work in a culture that really is quick to label people as this or that and it’s like, you know, so you end up in these — these modes of thinking where you’re very defined by the job titles you’ve had before and it can be hard, I think, to remember that those are just combinations of skills and you could combine those skills in another way and end up with a totally different job title that you’re totally qualified for.

[9:11]

JL Yeah. I can’t think of like how many people in the past have been like, “I don’t really care what title you put on your LinkedIn, this is what you’re going to be doing here.” And I feel that’s like a common sentiment from employers sometimes.

KL Yeah. One of the things I love about A Book Apart is that we really look for authors to have — to come with like not just potentially subject matter expertise but like a point of view. Right like some kind of way they’re going to approach or present the thing that they’re writing about that is different or has some kind of meaning that we really identify with. And, I don’t know, I will just say that you know as many doubts as someone might have about whether — whether they can write a book about something, or they are, you know, the right person to write a book about it. It’s like, “We haven’t read a book about that by you.” So I mean that’s a shameless plug to say that, you know, I love hearing from people about their book ideas so, please, write to us, but [laughs] —

JL This episode is not sponsored by A Book Apart.

KL [Laughs] It’s not! Sorry [laughs].

SWB Um no I think that um I think that that’s a really important thing to keep in mind because I know that going into whether it’s writing or speaking or just in general like kind of … putting yourself out there and talking about your profession and talking about things you know, trying teach other people things you know, it can often feel like — it feels very daunting if there’s other people have written stuff or said stuff before and I have to be totally new and original and then you start feeling like, “Well, gosh, everything’s already been said.” And of course it hasn’t. And you know for me it’s — I’m always thinking like, “What are the problems that I’m seeing out there that my peers are experiencing? And what are the issues that I think people should be talking about more than they are?” And then figuring out what that perspective is and once you have that perspective, I think things really click into place and you end up with a different kind of book, and a different kind of result than the kind of like “Insert Topic for Dummies.” Right? Like which is a different kind of book which might be helpful [KL right] for some people but [yeah] that’s such a limited view on what a professional book could be. Um you know I always think of it as like — I wanna influence how people think about their work and that’s — versus just saying, “I wanna teach them how to do a thing.”

KL Yeah.

[11:26]

SWB I think that’s something that [laughing] Erika does really well, as well. I think that she definitely understands that teaching people about issues in design and research is also all about having that point of view and that point of view is informed by all of the experiences that she has both professionally and personally and I really value that when I read her work.

KL Yeah, I mean, she really brings that and her personality to it. So, I mean, she’s also just really fun to read which is a huge bonus.

SWB Well, speaking of her being fun to read, I think she’s also fun to listen to. Are we ready to hear from Erika?

KL Yeah, let’s do it! [Music fades in.]

From our sponsors

JL [Music fades out] Whether you have a business, a project, or a podcast, a website is vital. Here at No, You Go, we use wordpress.com because it gives us the freedom and flexibility to share our work our way. Make your site your own when you built it on wordpress.com. You don’t need to do the coding or the design, the WordPress customer support team is there 24/7 to help you get your site working. WordPress offers powerful ecommerce options ranging from a simple and effective buy button to a complete online store. Plans start at just four dollars a month. Start building your website today! Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new plan purchase. That’s wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent your brand new website [music fades in].

Interview: Erika Hall

KL [Music fades out] Erika Hall is a co-founder of Mule Design in San Francisco. She and I met when she was working on her first book, Just Enough Research, with us at A Book Apart and I had just joined the company. I have since been in awe of how Erika advocates for good design work through her own practice, that she generously shares her expertise, and how she does it all with fierceness and wit. Erika, we are so happy to have you on the show today. Welcome to No, You Go.

Erika Hall Hi! Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.

KL Yay! You co-founded Mule Design in 2001. How did you and your partner, Mike Monteiro, decide to start Mule?

EH [Laughs] wow. The origin story [KL yeah] in that — the mist of time. Well we’d uh we’d been working together and … we had developed a, you know, as has become apparent: we have strong opinions about things, and each of us, independently, I think our entire lives has had strong opinions about things, and we were doing design consulting and we said, “Hey, we have strong opinions about how this should go and we would like uh be in charge of our own choices and especially choosing clients because, I think, that’s where our dissatisfaction with working for other people really came from is we saw that the clients you choose make you the sort of designers you become,” and we saw how those choices had been made and we were like, “Oh we don’t really — this work can be really, really hard and demands, to do it well, it demands a lot of commitment … at every level, really.” So we were like, “Ok we wanna choose our clients … and we wanna this control over how we work with them and control over the client relationship. Hey!! Let’s start a company.” So that’s sort of how it started.

14:40 KL How has running that company changed over time for you?

EH Oh boy. Uh … we ourselves became less stupid, I think, because [laughter] when we started we really, really had no idea what we were doing. So the great part — and we talked to a lot of people uh doing our research before we started who had started companies to say, “What should we look out for?” And, “Do you have any advice?” But then over the course as we talked to other people running their own companies we really learned — it’s like what you learn when you grow up, between being a child and being an adult, is you learn that no adults actually know what they’re doing. We really learned that everyone running a company, like at every level, feels like they’re making it up as they’re going along. So, I think, our experience wasn’t unique or that unusual but over time we really found, you know, we’d get in these challenging situations and have this experience to fall back on, and the conversations with clients that used to be terrifying, all of a sudden I had all this experience, and we developed all this experience around working with organizations, and so that part became easier. And then over time we really found that the business has been changing because organizations are building their own internal design teams and so it has worked out, I think, well, in the sense that what we have become particularly good at … is also the set of things that are much more in demand which has to do with dealing with the organizations and creating the conditions for good design, not just providing design services.

KL Were there any things that you ran up against that were really difficult for Mule or just challenging in a way that you were like, “How are we gonna help clients with this specific thing?”

EH Oh boy. Um [exhales deeply] I mean the thing that makes the work most challenging is how humans make decisions. And what we’ve found is that sometimes we come in and we say, especially now that we say, “We’ve been doing this since late 2001.” We say, you know, “We’ve worked with organizations of every description, from a two-person startup to, you know, an enormous multinational organization.” And it all comes down to how the individual humans communicate and make decisions, that’s what makes a project go well or go badly. And the nature of people is that we actually — we hate change, right? This is something I talk about all the time: we’re creatures of habit. And we like to be comfortable. And doing new things, and going into territories that you don’t understand very well is really uncomfortable. And the thing that’s hardest for us, and the place that we still feel like, “How do we help you?” Is if people hire us and they say, “Oh we wanna do things differently, we wanna change, we wanna be innovative … but we don’t want to be challenged … and we don’t wanna change how we work as an organization.” And then there are limits to how much we can help them if they are still — if we say, “Ok we have to come to this and be really collaborative.” And they say, “Oh we wanna hold onto our fear and hold onto our hierarchy … and we still wanna make decisions based on what the person with the most power in the organizations prefers, rather than what the evidence supports,” then they’re really — there’s a limit … to like if the organ— if the people in the organization don’t want to engage at that level, there’s only so much we can do … because that’s what the work requires.

18:19 KL Speaking of, you know, just working with people and, [chuckles] you know, interaction with humans, like you’re really vocal on Twitter about a lot of things like design research, the political climate, and feminism. Have — do you feel repercussions from that? Or do you like worry about alienating clients or attracting trolls?

EH Nope! [Laughs, KL joins in].

KL [Laughing] I mean how has that — I feel like being active there is [yeah] you know it’s a part of your work, I think, and it’s [mm hmm] a part of just not being able to separate politics from design and vice versa. Like, how do you deal with that?

EH I mean it is a part — like we would not have like named our company Mule if we didn’t want to establish a certain [clears throat, chuckles] sensibility. And I — I have and I — this is something that I’ve spoken about privately but haven’t said publicly, and now I’m afraid I will say it, but who knows what will happen, is that uh … personally … I have [hesitates] not experienced bad repercussions from being online and being outspoken online. I don’t know why that is and I hope I’m not welcoming it now … but it’s — it’s sort of been a mystery because I say things and it’s fine. Uh we have gotten some repercussions from things Mike has said, particularly about guns, but those repercussions are — it — like I’ve learned a lot about how online reviews systems work … uh and the trolls have come at us. Like every place that we can get sort of a star rating, trolls have come at us to downvote us and so we’ve learned is that those systems work better or worse at um filtering out trolls. For example, Yelp is really good … for obvious they’ve really developed a practice about highlighting reviews that are more legitimate. Amazon is pretty good at this. Google is terrible! So if you google “Mule Design” you will see an amazing set of what I call fan fiction reviews … which — which describe scenarios that have never happened but because they’re indistinguishable, from Google’s perspective, from legitimate reviews, there is no way to remove them [KL right] and — and if you go on Amazon and you look at the reviews for Just Enough Research, they’re divided between — like they’re half five-star reviews and half one-star reviews, and the one-star reviews have nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with us being outspoken, particularly, I think, for things around um gun control.

KL Right.

SWB You know, Erika, that’s really interesting. Um I think both what you’re saying about not having felt like you’ve been particularly targeted in the way that women are so often targeted online for being outspoken, and I felt a little bit of the same where … I get some but I haven’t had the sort of like coordinated attacks or — or just overwhelming quantity of abuse that so many people I know, particularly women and then, of course [mm hmm], particularly the most marginalized women [yeah] have had, and I — I’ve wondered a lot about that myself too, and then I’ve been like, “Ok well, what does it mean for me to sit here and, like … wonder why I haven’t had more of that? Am I inviting it?” You know, “Should I knock on wood right now?” [Yeah] you know I think a lot of it, for me, I’ve thought about like, well what does that have to do with my level of like privilege and power and sort of, like, a sense of, like, do I seem to be better connected or better protected than the people who are getting more abuse? Is it dumb luck? I’m not totally sure but I’m really interested if you’ve thought about how that’s played a role in how you’re perceived?

[22:07]

EH [Inhales sharply] yeah! And one of the reasons I’ve been really reticent to say anything about this is because it feels like victim blaming to say, “Oh I’m doing something right! And the people who are … getting a lot of abuse are doing something wrong.” Like that is something I don’t believe in and don’t want to promote that idea in any way. But this is just been generally true in my offline life as well. So yeah, I don’t — I don’t know. I mean [KL yeah] maybe I am that personally terrifying … maybe that’s it.

SWB I like to — I like to think that. I like to think that [EH definitely] — that people are a little scared of you and that maybe people are a little scared of me [yeah] and I’m very ok with that.

EH Yup. Exactly. Like, “Take me on!”

KL Right, if that protects you, that’s ok … Erika, one of the many things that I admire you for is that you talk about empathy as a piece of the design process, but actually also part of the working process, how we work with other people. Can you talk about why that’s so important?

EH We don’t talk a lot — enough about empathy for our coworkers and colleagues, and this also ties into the work we do around gender bias and collaboration and all of the organizational stuff about design … is that so often you get in organizations where people treat each other terribly or have a lot of fear … about their colleagues or their — the leadership, and there’s a lot of politics. And so I think we really need to think about empathy for our coworkers and seeing the people that we go to work with every day as human beings. And that’s actually more difficult because it’s — a lot of times organizations in the way that they provide incentives or recognition, even though they talk about, “Oh! We’re a team-centered environment. Yay!” Are really incentivizing to be very competitive and terrible to one another, and that’s the part, I think, solving that … will really help … bring better things into the world. And you have to do that. You have to be able to be honest with each other, and so something that [sucks teeth] um I’ve talked [hesitates] about before and is uh, I think, a few people have been talking about the concept of psychological safety that Google really promoted after they did this project, Aristotle, to look at what made teams work. The idea that you have to feel comfortable … being vulnerable in front of your coworkers and you have to be — feel like you can admit you don’t know things and you can make mistakes and you won’t be attacked for that or diminished for that in the workplace is such an important concept and, I think, that’s — all designers should be looking more inward and looking at that context in which they’re doing their work.

[25:02]

KL I think about this in every corner of my life. I mean I think about it, you know, in my interactions day to day with just, like, people I’m, you know, working with or talking with or on the street, whatever. And [sighs] I just feel like the more we can do to — to, you know, propagate that, the better. Like if we can start to feel a little bit more vulnerable with each other, [sighs] I just feel like we can do better work. I mean I know that sounds cheesy but [yeah!][laughs].

EH It’s absolutely true and I think this works at every level, like this is how, I think, decisions should be evidence based and we should each other as individual humans with value. And I think the what’s going on politically … connects to how we are in our work lives, and how we are in our personal lives, and our neighborhoods. It’s all the same. It’s like if you’re acting based on fear and myth … um and you’re treating people as though they aren’t individual humans but part of a category that you can stereotype and demonize, that’s true in the workplace. If you’re talking about, “Oh designers versus engineers versus marketing people!” And it’s true in society.

KL Yeah, completely. In a recent piece you wrote, actually, “The Nine Rules of Design Research,” which is awesome, the first thing you write is: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” What do you mean by that?

EH This is something I found in talking to a lot of people and thinking about research after writing Just Enough Research is you hear about all of these … barriers to doing research, a lot of times it’s, “Oh that costs too much money to do a research study or it takes too much time.” And this is all cover for the fact that people are actually terrified of asking questions — and especially people who end up in, like, positions of leadership. To say like, “Oh, we don’t know this and we have to find something out, and I don’t have the answer,” is really scary and that’s nothing that we’ve been rewarded for our entire lives. And if you want to, you know, have a research mindset or just use evidence to make decisions, you have to be in a constant state of admitting that you don’t have all the answers. That has to be where you live in order to continue to learn. You have to walk in to work every day and say, “I don’t have all the answers,” and that just has to be kind of your mantra … and that’s terrifying and uncomfortable. It’s much more comfortable to say, “Oh I have the answer and I’m gonna hang onto this answer,” because you have certainty and certainty is really comfortable. And if you have — if you have a way of looking at things, you don’t want that to be challenged by new information. And that’s very uncomfortable. So if you start by saying, “Ok! I’m just going to be uncomfortable because I’m going to recognize that I have an opportunity to learn something new every day and I’m never going to be done,” then once you get comfortable with that mindset, then it becomes a lot easier to — to accept new information and have really good arguments and discussions with your colleagues about the best course of action, because it’s not going to take away that certainty that you need to cling to and defend.

SWB Yeah, I’d love to dig into something that you mentioned a little bit: so when it comes to being vulnerable at work and sort of like having to have that start from within in order to get anywhere, something I’m curious about is how does somebody who maybe isn’t in a position where they have um a huge amount of power at their organization, like how do they find space to do that without sort of making themselves vulnerable in ways that are maybe more negative? I guess what I mean is if you don’t have a ton at work, showing up and kind of putting that vulnerability out there may not create — you know, you doing that by yourself is not going to work if the environment is not [chuckling] uh prepared for it and like so like what does somebody do about that to kind of try to make space for that in their life and in their work and foster that in a work environment that they don’t necessarily control?

[29:09]

EH That is a great question because it’s absolutely true that if you’re in a more toxic work culture and you admit you don’t know know something, right? Like right off the bat? Then that’s gonna be like fresh meat for the vultures sort of thing. The best way to handle that is to ask questions because I think there’s so much concern with making a good argument and offering a lot of reasons for things, and it’s much better — and this is something you can — I think you can do from any position but it’s still, in some organizations, risky. Uh to just ask. Like if somebody puts forward something with a lot of certainty and you’re like, “Huh! I’m not so sure about that.” Find a way to just ask — asking questions is really powerful and then you can help without yourself starting by saying, “Hey! I’m the person who knows the least around here.” You can create a culture of asking questions and that will kind of shake that sense of false certainty a little bit.

KL You also started writing about the impact of gender bias in the workplace and how to be a good ally. Can you tell us … just about that and what made you write it?

EH We started … doing a workshop around gender bias and the reason we started doing the workshop around gender bias, it came from the observation that we’ve been talking about gender bias in the workplace, well, for my entire life, but especially in like the last … uh 20 years it seems like the conversation has gone nowhere because we all recognize, “Oh! Huh! Especially in the sciences and in academia,” but, it turns out, in every industry there’s a tremendous amount of gender bias. And the thing I observed having, you know, worked in web-related things for the last 20 years is that it’s gotten worse for women. When I started out in my career, I felt totally supported. I felt like we were all learning things together. When I worked um … at — I started at a more technical position and when I was just learning things about um building websites and running web servers, I would hang out with the nerds. They would invite me to the LAN parties, right? Where you all get on your computer and shoot at each other, playing Quake, or whatever. And they — I had root on the server and that was fine and they would — they were like, “Oh you wanna learn more about Unix? Cool!” And … it seems like i the recent years it’s not that sort of paradise, apparently, that I experienced. And so we started asking the question like, “Why did it get worse?” Um and why is all of this training — cuz you’re like, “Oh people are talking about unconscious bias and we’re doing these trainings.” And I’m like, “This is not working,” and when we talked about it, the core problem we identified is that organizations were treating this like it was a knowledge problem. Like, “Oh this is just something people don’t know.” And they’d do these trainings that would say, “Hey, everyone! Did you know that people act out of these unconscious biases and stereotypes and that’s making it hard for people who are less well represented in the workplace to get fair treatment?” And then everybody goes to these trainings and they’re like, “Oh cool, so everybody does it. So I don’t have to change.” And we said, “Oh what if we … look at the problem another way?” And it really is a problem of changing habits, not just giving people new information. And once you look at the problem like that, it’s a much different problem and it’s much harder to solve in the sense that you can’t just put a thousand employees in a room, show a presentation, and say, “Go forth and be unbiased.” And uh and so we developed a training around, “Ok, how do we help women who are experiencing this in their workplace, do less work?” Right? Because women are often doing a lot more work to deal with the amount of bias that they encounter. And so we said, “Ok, we’ll do a workshop that says, ‘You can change — you can kind of change the habits around this and you can also personally do less work.’” And one of the comments we received was, “What about the guys? Why aren’t they participating in this?” And the reason is that if you’re in a position of — of power and privilege, you have no incentive to change your habits, to change the way things work. This is why, you know, you look at Apple and their diversity numbers are terrible. And they’re like, “Oh yeah yeah, we wanna work on that.” But why should they? They have billions of dollars and what they’ve been doing is really worked for them … but I recognize that there are a lot of men out there who do believe that gender bias is a bad thing because it, you know, it’s like they don’t feel like they need their mediocrity protected. So I wrote that piece to say, “Ok, if you’re one of the guys who recognizes that this is a bad situation and doesn’t feel threatened by people saying that it should change, here’s some really concrete things that you can do to support this type of change.”

[34:25]

KL I think back on earlier in my career and I had similar thoughts to what you were saying at the beginning of this and I look back on it and I’m like, “I don’t know if it was better.” Like I think that I felt more supported and I’m not sure that I actually was. Like I think it may just not have been a good enough or a big enough conversation at that point and the fact that it is way more out in the open and people who are afraid and have that fear of sort of like holding onto what they’ve, you know, the habits that they have had over the years are — that’s why that just seems like so much more uh glaring.

SWB I think a lot about how at the beginning of my career I … did not think that much about some of those dynamics at work because I was really busy trying to like establish professional footing, and figure out what I was doing, and create some credibility, and some sort of space for myself to get things done. And as part of that, I worked with a bunch of dudes who I largely liked and I liked to be able to hang out with them and sort of feel like I was one of them and, you know, hang out at the beer bar, and … laugh at the dirty jokes and whatever. And that was fine and I mean like it wasn’t like a particular horror story or anything but, I think, one of the things that I’ve since very much realized for myself is that a lot of my sense of like, “Yeah ok this is fine,” was coming from a place of … subverting some things about myself in order to create space in an environment that wasn’t necessarily supportive to me and so it’s like I didn’t think that it was a big deal but I’ve since realized that there were a lot of pieces of myself that I had to turn off in order for myself to kind of fit in. And — and then at some point that became like not enough for me [yeah] and not acceptable to me.

[36:20]

KL Yeah it’s like we — we all had to do that because we had to like try to focus on doing the actual work, right? To get us to the next level or to, you know, start managing bigger teams or get into the meetings or whatever and it’s like, yeah, I totally agree with you, Sara.

SWB Yeah so I wonder if it’s like it seems better, like it seems like it was better only because if you didn’t ask for enough, you know? [Laughing] like we weren’t ask— I wasn’t asking for enough, I would say.

EH Yeah, I think that’s part of it and, I think, specifically just talking about web related things. Like when that all started in San Francisco, it was a more welcoming community because it was something — it was a new endeavor that wasn’t part of any industry that I would say was institutionalized enough to also have institutionalized sexism. So I really feel like it was welcoming to women, I don’t think it was ever particularly racially diverse. I will say that. But I think what happened is that there was sort of a — this web culture. This like nerdy, little web culture … that was sort of an alternative culture and then, I think, finance culture took it over. I think that’s also a part of it … because I think that’s really what’s changed … is that it’s not like, “Oh we’re doing this thing that makes no money! … that is cool and we’re figuring it out and it’s like a whacky little science project that people who like doing whacky little science projects like.” And then these companies became investment vehicles. And then I think that brought all of that “Wolf of Wall Street” bro culture into it. So I think I absolutely agree with what both of you have said in terms of like, “Oh! We were being the cool girls.” But I didn’t feel as much of that, I felt like, “Oh we’re all doing this neat thing and building this new world and — and having a fun time together,” to, “Oh! Here are people who want to use this to transfer wealth in huge ways and who cares what we’re actually building.” And so I think that is also part of it.

KL So we are talking to you at a very, I think, exciting moment, um you have a brand new book coming out. Can you tell us just a little bit about that?

EH Yeah, Conversational Design — it’s about using human conversation which humans have been doing for oh a hundred thousand years, kind of as long as we’ve been human, we’ve been conversing. And using that as a model for designing interactive, digital products and services, and really looking beyond the surface because I know everything around chatbots and the speakers you talk to you like the Alexa and Google Home — that’s really been operating on the surface and I think what people are finding now is that it’s not necessarily easier to talk to a system like that and so it goes — I try to go a little deeper to say, “Ok what makes it so easy? Like we’re having this conversation and it’s easy and natural. And what makes that work? And how can we look at that to say, ‘Oh how can we really make these systems work in a device independent that feels more human and humane?’”

KL Well as your publisher, I’m very excited about it [laughter]. Um I also know that writing a book and that process is really fucking hard, what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered?

[39:53]

EH Whoo! Well 2017 just as a whole! That was really hard because well the genesis for this book was a set of things I was thinking about and talking about like ten years ago about language and the interface and all of that. So first there’s the idea that, “Oh this is going to be much easier than my first book.” That’s like the first myth that you get right out of the way [KL chuckles]. And then everything seemed to be changing in the industry so often around this stuff because I started with, “Oh I’m just going to talk about using language,” and then I felt like, “Oh I’ve gotta incorporate these things that are happening around messaging and AI and voice interfaces and things like that.” And then the 2016 election happened [laughing] um and then it felt very difficult to get it together to write a book about interaction design when the world was on fire, and that led to a lot of just sitting in my office, staring at my screen, not doing anything, and feeling terrible. And so that made it hard [KL laughs].

SWB I don’t think you were alone [laughter] in that I mean like I had literally that same problem, but I think everybody I know had some variation of that problem where it’s like, “Is what I’m doing even a thing anymore? Like who cares?” I think, Katel, you talked about this on a recent episode where you were like, you would think about something that you really wanted to do at A Book Apart, right? Like you talked about wanting to build out, you know, the marketing campaigns more effectively and then being like, “Well [sighs], does work even matter? [KL laughs] Do books matter?” [KL yeah] And of course books fucking matter. But it can feel sometimes like they don’t.

KL And I think there’s that, you know, like we talked about with Eileen Webb in her interview there’s this like sort of overcast of are we feeling up to ourselves? Like are we feeling ok? And I know, for me, like I often underplay how much it affects me when I’m dealing with a health issue, you know, not just physically and mentally but emotionally, and I really feel like I get slowed down easily, and I used to not think that that was the case. Erika, you went through some health stuff in the last year too. How did you navigate, you know, going through that and healing and just trying to stay on top of running a studio, and writing a book, and just, you know, finishing?

EH [Laughs] That was the icing on the glory that was 2017 is, yeah, I’m generally a pretty healthy person and I had a situation and I had to suddenly realize I had to have some pretty major surgery. I haven’t really talked about this much. So yeah, right when I was finishing the book, I was going through this stuff and … so I felt very, very lucky to be like where I am geographically and to have like to have the support and tools I have, and to have the health insurance I have. So it really was a like, “Ok, hey! It’s a thing I have to deal with.” And in some ways, it was great because it was so concrete … and um, and yeah, fortunately like Mike was super supportive and did a great job of hiding how he was freaking out. And it was just like a series of steps. And it’s one of those things like in crisis situations, like I get super matter of fact, like, “Ok. Here are the things that are happening. These things are happening now. Ok.” And so I did that and I was just lucky that everything went great because like you — bay area has the best healthcare in the world, because my insurance was good, because everything went super smooth, and the whole like kind of let’s call it “the ordeal” was like less than two months.

[43:38]

KL Mmm. Well, I have one last question: where do you find inspiration and optimism these days?

EH What helped me, when things got really dark, is to like step away from the computer and just go to my grocer, and go to my dry cleaner, and have these like friendly interactions and say, “Oh this is really where life happens.” Like it’s really easy to get caught up in these — because right now, thanks to the internet, we can know about everything terrible thing going on in the world at all times. And so it’s like, “Oh hey! People are still like living their lives [laughs] and it’s ok in some places on the ground.” And then just with the people I know and the people who are finding the strength to do positive things and a lot of that is also in books, as Sara mentioned. Like books are really important! There are a lot of books that were written during really terrible times in history. Like you look at what was going on, you know, during the twentieth century … all of these like horrible wars and uprisings and then the fight for civil rights in America. And dealing with everything going on there and you’re like, “Wow! Throughout these periods which are arguably as bad or worse than what the crises that we’re dealing with now, people still found the strength and the ability to put something out there into the world that’s positive and enduring,” and I think looking at that is really fantastic. Because it’s so easy to react. Right? There’s so much to react to every single day. There are like ten horrible things to react to, that like pull you down into this really primal fear place [KL chuckles] and I think you find these ideas and these people that lift you up out of it. Man, I’ve started listening to Oprah’s podcast [laughs]. I highly recommend her conversation with RuPaul! All we watch in our household now is RuPaul’s Drag Race, and that really helps. And I listen to BBC In Our Time, which is a fantastic podcast where academics talk about, like, concepts in science, or notable thinkers, or periods in history, and it gives you that historical context, which I think can help crystalize—like, it helps to look backwards a little bit to think about positive ideas for the future, and get out of this corner of “everything is on fire and the world is ending.”

KL Yeah. Well I’ve written down all of these recommendations and I’m going to do the same thing. Thank you so much for joining us. It was so great to talk to you.

EH Oh thank you! I love talking with fantastic people such as yourselves! [Music fades in.]

Fuck Yeah of the Week

JL When we plan our shows, we talk a lot about what the Fuck Yeah of the Week’s going to be. And this week we were talking about a few different things. And the thing that kept coming to my mind was Emma Gonzales and the students’ work in the wake of Parkland. I’ve been following some of this work and @emmaforchange is her Twitter account and you start following this Twitter account and you start seeing all of these powerful voices … and all of these powerful thoughts that are coming out of … you know, the children and youth in our country right now. And, for me, that’s … so amazing to look at. And — and it does inspire a “Fuck Yeah!” and a, “Thank you.” A thank you to see that people are speaking out about this right now. There has been — I don’t know if any one of us can look at this and not get emotional but everything that’s been happening, and it’s not that this was the first that anything has brought up these emotions in our country, um gun violence is definitely nothing new. But I think [sighs] every time I see it, I get a little … the sigh is so heavy, I just don’t know what to do. Um I feel very lost, I think now, I think about my one-year-old son. And I think, “Fuck! You know?” Like you start like, “Should we homeschool? Should we move to Canada?” There’s like a gazillion thoughts that come through my head at all time and I just get like a little bit lost and a little bit um, not a little bit, a lot depressed. And like what do we do? What do we do for our kids? What do we do? And when I see this group of people that are fighting for themselves, that, to me … [sighs] … it makes me feel like I could potentially believe in something and that there might — that there will be change.

[48:13]

SWB Every time there’s a school shooting, I think about my friend, Teresa. My friend Teresa was one of my best friends growing up, and we eventually both moved to kind of different parts of town, so we were in different high schools. And in 1998 she was shot in a shooting at Thurston High School. Um she was shot in the head. And every time. Every time. Right? There’s a shooting in the news, I imagine [fighting tears] myself back at the hospital, visiting her, and talking to her mom at the ICU. I mean. and she was there for weeks, I mean she — she was like … this is such a terrible distinction to have to even make, but she was basically the most severely injured person who lived. I think a lot about her but I also think a lot about, what did I think and what did I go through during that time in my life? And I will be perfectly honest, it didn’t occur to me to protest. Like it didn’t cross my mind … I knew that … America’s gun culture was a problem. I understood that this was not okay or normal. I mean this was earlier, like this was before Columbine, even. I — I knew that, but it didn’t really occur to me that there was a thing that I might say or do about it beyond … beyond just saying like, “Wow, guns are fucked up,” to my friends. And beyond going to hospital and, like, being there. So I think a lot about like [sighs] how much presence of mind it takes from these kids to be able to do that at this moment, and I also think about sort of like what’s changed since then? Like what’s different in the world? And part of it is things like, you know, social media, and access to these tools to really get out to a lot of people really quickly. Part of this is the fact that there’s just been so many of these shootings in the time period between Thurston High School in 1998 and today. I mean that’s going to be 20 years ago this May. But I also think a lot about who these kids are able to learn from, and the kinds of techniques that they learned, and something I’ve been really — I’ve been really paying close attention to, and really thankful for, is that as these kids are stepping up and refusing to be silenced and — and really … doing remarkable work. So many of them have also said that they didn’t just come up with this on their own, that they learned tactics and techniques from people who’ve been doing organizing work, activist work for years, and specifically, you know Black Lives Matter … which did not get the kinds of positive publicity that these kids are getting and doesn’t mean these kids don’t des— like these kids deserve every single second of positive publicity for the work that they are doing. But I think it’s really important that they’re able to also say like, “We didn’t just make this up ourselves. Like there’s people who have done this before us.” And, you know, I think about how much different … my reaction might’ve been if I had had more of a connection to activist groups that existed then, and the work that they were doing, and the skills in organizing, and just sort of understanding the power of protest that I just didn’t know that much about. And so I’m — you know, I’m so — I’m so [sighs] sad that we are at this moment, and in terms of gun violence in this country, and in terms of like so many other issues, but I am Fuck Yeah excited at the kind of like way in which I think so many of us are getting more comfortable with protest, with pushback, with being vocal about the things that matter. I like to see so many people getting out of their comfort zone and sort of like stretching that muscle a bit. And being willing to stand up and say what is important to them. And it makes me hopeful that is a time that is like … hard to be hopeful during.

[52:25]

JL Yeah, agreed, I mean there was um, you know, students that were in Riverview Gardens High School in Saint Louis that did the walk-out and were told that they would not be let back into school. There was a tweet from David Hogg that said, “To those of you not let back into school. One: that’s a great college essay, and two: your schools will be on the wrong side of history, you won’t be.”

KL The people who are saying, “This is going to go on your record, you’re going to be suspended, you’re going to be expelled.” Like, that’s not even going to be a thing if this doesn’t get solved.

SWB Your permanent record is a myth, first off.

KL Exactly.

SWB Um, like guess what’s on my permanent record? Like, you know, like I got in a fight with Pauline Dungan in the sixth grade [laughter] and I got suspended and look at me now, motherfuckers! I’m fine. It’s fine. But I also — you know but yeah I think that it’s — it’s definitely all of these like fear tactics to try to kind of keep kids in their place. And I look at those kids and I’m like, “Man, those kids’ place is in the front!” Like, that is their place. They’re in their right place right now.

KL They see straight through that fucking bullshit! That’s the thing, that’s one of the biggest powers they have.

JL So thank you for everyone that is working on the march for our lives and for speaking out and for fighting for yourselves, and I hope that, you know, we all can find ways to fight for our kids also today, and find ways to constantly, you know, be advocates for ourself, and be advocates for those around us.

SWB Fuck Yeah for the teenagers. Like …

KL Yeah.

SWB Fuck Yeah!

KL Fuck Yeah!

[53:55]

SWB The kids are all right.

KL That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia, and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Erika Hall for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe and rate us on Apple Podcasts. Your support helps us spread the word. We’ll be back next week [music fading in] with another great guest [music ramps up to end].

Mar 06 2018

55mins

Play

Rank #3: Pleasure is Virtuous with Sonalee Rashatwar

Podcast cover
Read more

Body-positivity sure seems popular right now—but that conversation is often limited to celebrating slightly larger bodies and slightly broader sizing options. Our guest today challenges those ideas—ands helps us understand what real liberation would look like.

Sonalee Rashatwar is a fat, queer, non-binary therapist, community organizer, and donut queen based in Philly. Katel first found out about her as @thefatsextherapist on Instagram, where she posts about body image, fat positivity, and delicious food.

> Pleasure is very virtuous. We need food pleasure and sexual pleasure to survive this capitalist nightmare. And it’s okay. I give you permission.
>
> —Sonalee Rashatwar , The Fat Sex Therapist

Sonalee provides counseling to people navigating sexual trauma, body image issues, racial or immigrant identity issues, and South Asian family systems, and she holds workshops on topics like unlearning body image issues.

Follow Sonalee:Instagram | Twitter

We talk about:

  • Reclaiming slurs that have been used against you—with a shout out to Jes Baker’s new book, Landwhale
  • Being featured on Breitbart for saying that “thinness is a white supremacist beauty ideal” while speaking at the University of Vermont
  • Expanding our idea of body image issues “beyond body size, eating disorders, and self esteem” using Megan J. Smith’s Repeal Hyde Art Project as a parallel
  • Decolonizing sex and pleasure
  • Triaging trauma responses during this seemingly endless sexual-assault-filled news cycle
  • Getting hyped about “boring self care”

Plus:

  • Katel looks great in a $7 metallic jumpsuit
  • Sara’s done eating $14 airport chicken wraps
  • 7–11 sells quinoa?
  • It’s okay to skip the boozie slushies (unless that’s your jam—no judgement!)

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers for more.

Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher When I want to look like I have it all together, I look to Harvest. Harvest makes awesome software that helps me track my time, manage schedules, and send invoices. I love how easy it is to use on the desktop or on my phone and it’s perfect for freelancers, agencies, or anybody who needs to manage projects and client work. So, go to getharvest.com to try it for free and if you’re ready for a paid account, use code “noyougo” to get 50% off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, code “noyougo.” [intro music plays for 12 seconds]

Katel LeDû Hey everyone, I’m Katel.

SWB And I’m Sara!

KL And you’re listening to No, You Go, the show about building satisfying careers and businesses—

SWB —getting free of toxic bullshit—

KL —and living your best feminist life at work.

SWB Hell yeah it is! Katel, who is on the show today?

KL Our guest is Sonalee Rashatwar, aka “The Fat Sex Therapist.” We’re going to ask her just how she got that name and why her work as a fat, queer sex therapist is more important now than ever. Before we get to our interview with Sonalee, Sara, you are about to get surgery.

SWB Uhh yes, I am about to get surgery. I’m finally getting my torn ACL fixed, and so by the time this episode comes out, I’ll actually be back home recovering. So, that means that I’ve been spending the last few days really trying to tie up some loose ends. So, I actually just got back from my last business trip for a while. I was in Dallas.

KL Uh yee-haw, that sounds like a perfect way to tie things up.

SWB You know, actually it was perfect, and I’m going to tell you why. So—okay, so I’m in Dallas, right? And I was speaking at this conference and then I get back to the airport, I’m on my way home and I’d been wearing these heels to speak in and I should have changed out of them earlier and I didn’t, so my feet are killing me. I’m in the security line, the security line is really long. And then there is a canine unit there that’s checking people, sniffing for drugs, right? I’m like, “okay great.” So, now there’s also this agent there who is barking orders at people—where to stand, “no, stop, no, wait,” you know? And like, “take everything out of your hands, you can’t have your phone in your hands, but you need your boarding pass in your hands, but oh your boarding pass is your phone, so okay you can have your phone in your hand now.” And he was just gruff, you know how this is, right?

KL Yeah.

SWB So, he’s gruff and barking orders and it’s like, “okay, so you need to walk by the dog, but not too fast. Make sure your bag is out of the way so it’s not going to hit the dog in the head.” It was this whole thing, right? Okay, so we go through that, it takes forever. And so then finally I get to the other end of security and it’s like 5pm, I’m not going to get home until like 9, and I am a human person who likes to usually eat food at some point between 5 and 9. And I’m like, okay, I’m in Dallas. It’s a massive hub, right? So I’m like, there’s going to be some options. I can get some food to go, no problem. This terminal I happen to be in was—there were a few restaurant restaurants where I could sit down there, but I didn’t have time for that. And then the to-go options, there was almost nothing. Part of it was under construction. And so I look around and quickly realize that my best to-go food option, my best to-go food option—is an airport 7-Eleven that also sells salads and wraps.

[3:23]

KL Wow, wow, wow, wow.

SWB And I—so, I pick up my salad and then I get on the plane, right? And then the plane is just jammed full and there’s no room for people’s bags, and then we’re in the air and the woman sitting next to me accidentally spills her glass of water all over my laptop keyboard. And she’s apologizing profusely. I’m not even mad at her, but I’m just like, “I just need napkins,” right? [KL laughs quietly] And so—you know—I’m sitting on this plane and I’m just freaking miserable and I finally pull out my 7-Eleven salad. [KL laughs] And I start eating the salad and then I’m like, you know what? This salad is actually kind of okay. It seemed really freshly made, it was full of kale and quinoa, and—you know—nothing was actually wrong, right? I have a decent seat, I have food to eat, I just came from a paid speaking gig, I made it through security without being harassed or profiled. There’s lots of things that weren’t super fun about it, but I am fine. The problem is just that I am done. I am done with being in airports and I am done with looking at sad $14 chicken wraps. I am just done. And so that’s actually why that was the best trip, because the good news is that I am literally done, right? I looked around and I thought, “I don’t want to have to do this,” and then I realized [laughing] I don’t for a while, because I don’t have to go anywhere! [KL laughs]

KL That’s right. I mean, that is good. And let me just say that I am shocked and encouraged that 7-Eleven has a salad that not only has kale, but also quinoa in it. Mental note for the next time.

SWB I mean, I make no promises about future 7-Eleven salads. [KL laughs]

KL That’s fair, that’s fair. But you know, that does make me think of, you know, when I left my last job to—to come to A Book Apart, it was this time where I was all of a sudden seeing this concrete finish line in sight, and I was starting to deprioritize some of the stuff I was doing at Nat Geo. And because I had one foot out the door and I was excited about this new thing that I was going to do, this thing that was coming up, and I was starting to plan for that and think about it. But you kind of can’t really do all of those things at once, so you have to wrap up some loose ends and—so you can get excited about that, or so that you can take a break and—you know—move onto the next thing. So, I totally get that.

[5:46]

SWB Yeah and then, you know, that’s the thing about my life, is that the way that my work life is set up—or the way I should say that I have set up my work life—is that I don’t really have those kinds of clean starts and stops. Projects come and go, but I don’t have any moments where I can be like, “oh, I used to work at x place and now I work at y place” because I haven’t worked anywhere except or myself for like seven years, and so, you know, during that time it’s like my work has changed dramatically in terms of the types of projects I do or how my days actually look, but there aren’t a lot of finite moments like that where I feel like “okay, done with x, time to move on.” And instead what I tend to do is I tend to add a new thing in, and then at some point if the new thing starts taking up more of my time—like speaking, for example—then I have to start doing less of something else in order to make that happen. But it tends to be kind of gradual, and it tends to feel like a lot of juggling in the moment.

KL I know I run into challenges with this because my ongoing day-to-day doesn’t really have these sort of clean boundaries, you know. Yes, I’m running this business, but I’m doing this podcast as a—you know—as a side project right now, and so I always think there’s time and space for more new things [laughing] as they come along and I think it’s really easy to think that, even though it might not be true.

SWB Yeah, so I’m kind of looking forward to having a little bit of time after surgery, even though I need to be recovering and that’s not necessarily fun purely. [KL laughs] But—but I like that it’s almost giving me a little bit more of a concrete boundary and the ability to kind of reflect back on what I’ve been spending my time on and then look forward at what I want to be spending my time on. Because I have been running really fast this year. Obviously, we launched the podcast earlier this year and it’s a lot of work to get this off the ground and it’s—you know—it’s really, really great, but it is…it took a lot of time. And then I think about in the past six months, like just six months since I tore my ACL and put off surgery because I had too many things already scheduled. Okay, I looked at my calendar and I actually wrote down where are all the places that I have been, and I’m going to run through them for you real fast. Okay, so first up right after I tore it—I tore it at the beginning of March—right after I tore it, I went to Australia. Right after I got back from Australia, my grandmother died, which was not unexpected, but still tough. And then I turned around and immediately flew to Munich for that to spend a few days with my family and go to the memorial, which was really important to me. So then after that, I had trips to Minneapolis, Paris, Boston, Vancouver British Columbia, and before and after Vancouver I actually made stops in Oregon for various family events. And then I went to Madison, Wisconsin. I went to San Francisco. I went to England. I went to Amsterdam. I went to Atlanta. And then now Dallas.

[8:30]

KL [laughing] Sara, that’s so much!

SWB It is so much! And I didn’t quite realize how much it was until I sat down and wrote that list! And when I realized I needed to have this surgery, but that I had a lot of things scheduled that was going to make it hard to slot it in anywhere, I actually packed my schedule even tighter, so that I could get a lot done before the surgery and then not have to do anything. So, now I have a calendar that is very open. I have to do things like physical therapy. And that is giving me a chance to think about my work life in a little bit more of a before and after kind of way. So, I can think about it like, “what do I want my work life to look like after Thanksgiving when I’m picking up steam again? Where do I want that steam to be going?” You know?

KL You know, I think this is great. And it’s—for me, I know it’s hard to run a business and to work for yourself and put boundaries around time that you need for yourself to recoup from surgery or—you know—just take a rest or slow things down. And I feel like even though we are always checking in with each other about how we’re doing and how much we’re doing and how we’re feeling about everything, nothing really ever feels done, and it always feels like we could be doing more and I think it’s really tough to navigate that.

SWB Yeah and I think I also have realized that I tend to be a little bit scared of being idle. You know, I grew up feeling like I needed to kind of hustle and always be productive, both because I knew—you know—we didn’t have a lot of money, and I knew I needed to do well in school to get a scholarship, so that I could really afford to go to college. I knew that I also needed to have a job so that I could have a shitty car so that I could get out of the town I hated living in and also have enough money to buy some cigarettes and smoke with my friends. [KL laughs] But—you know—I definitely always felt this need to kind of like, make sure that I was being productive and taking care of things, right? And part of it is that we never had any money—my family never had any money. I remember my mom working so hard pursuing this dream that she had of going to graduate school, getting her PHD—she’s a biochemist now—and so we spent actually a bunch of my childhood with her in graduate school and us living off of her $12,000-a-year stipend as a researcher. And that was basically the money we supported the family with. And so—this was only in the ‘90s, this wasn’t that long ago. $12,000 was not very much money.

[10:53]

KL Yeah.

SWB And so I think some of that history means that I’m used to not giving myself a lot of breaks because I’m used to seeing that modeled around me, but also because I just like to work. I do fundamentally really enjoy it, but being kind of full-speed all the time doesn’t really give you time to reflect or evolve, or to focus on how you want to evolve. And so I’m really looking forward to kind of having this season where I can clear out some headspace and—you know—break out of some of the cycles or patterns that are maybe keeping me stuck in one way of looking at my work and preventing me from really thinking clearly about what I want next.

KL Yeah, this makes me think of hearing Sonalee talk about recognizing thought patterns we have—you know—around biases, or race, or body, and unlearning the ones that are not really healthy for us or not helping us succeed. And so maybe some of this is about unlearning beliefs about productivity and idleness.

SWB Yes! I absolutely want to think more about that, and I think there’s a lot in that interview that we should be thinking about. So, why don’t we get to it? [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]

Career Chat with Shopify

SWB So, you know we love to talk about careers here on NYG—and so do our friends at Shopify. This week, they’ve sent us a tip from Daniella Niyonkuru, a production engineer. And—sidebar—I just watched a talk by Daniella called “How Tech Almost Missed Out On Me,” which is such a freaking awesome sentiment. So today, Daniella has three lessons she learned as someone entering tech from an underrepresented background. Let’s hear them!

Daniella Niyonkuru First, you should always take chances on the things you want to achieve. I’m currently working in a role that I almost didn’t apply for because I felt like I didn’t tick every box I needed to in the position. You don’t have to be absolutely perfect at what you’re aiming for, so don’t sell yourself short. Second, don’t be afraid to raise your hand. Your opinions are valid. It’s important to find your own safe spaces to practice sharing your ideas. You’ll hone this skill as you go. And lastly, looks, age, race, and gender are not a burden, and these things will never prevent my code from running—but syntax errors will.

SWB Daniella’s story is super inspiring. So, if you want to take a chance on something new and work alongside amazing people like Daniella, you should head to shopify.com/careers. [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]

[13:00]

Interview: Sonalee Rashatwar

KL Sonalee Rashatwar is a seemingly endless source of positivity and inspiration, and I only know this from following her on Instagram since late this summer. She’s a fat, queer, non-binary therapist who specializes in treating sexual trauma and body image issues, and she’s a community organizer right here in Philly. There is so much we can’t wait to talk to her about. Sonalee, thank you so much for joining us on No, You Go.

SR Thank you so much for inviting me.

KL So, you’re known as “The Fat Sex Therapist” on Instagram. This really piqued our interest because all of those things—fat, therapy, much less sex therapy—are topics that really don’t get enough attention or conversation. How did that moniker come to be?

SR Earlier this year, I was invited to The University of Vermont to do my workshop on race and body image, where we kind of talk about expanding our body image issues beyond body size in talking about things like race, class, documentation status, and understanding body image issues as ways that the state polices and surveils our individual bodies. In this workshop at University of Vermont, I stated that thinness is a white supremacist beauty ideal. And it got picked up by Breitbart, and I was featured on Breitbart in a surprisingly unbiased article. [laughs] But—but what happened after being featured was Breitbart readers descended on my Instagram page and that was when I became known as “the fat sex therapist.”

SWB Do you feel like it was almost a reclamation, or just an owning, of what Breitbart wanted to label you as in a way that they had perceived as negative, and you’re like “no, no, no, no, no. That’s me and that’s fine.” [SR & KL laugh]

SR Yes! I find it really similar to what Jes Baker has done. She recently published her second book called Landwhale. And “landwhale” is a slur that was used against her, and in this book she essentially talks about all the ways that you can reverse slurs used against us to be like “yeah, this is something that I find hilarious and I wear it like a badge. And if I wear it like a badge, then you can’t hurt me with it anymore.”

SWB So, it’s interesting—you know—you talked at the beginning about the work that you’ve been doing around sort of intersections between race and size and body positivity. What are some of the specific things that you work on in your workshop that focus in on race?

[16:41]

SR One of the first things that we do in my workshop is we expand the idea of body image beyond body size, eating disorders, and self esteem. Those are usually the three suggestions I will get from an audience before doing this workshop on what they think of as body image issues. And what I try to do is trouble that assumption of what the limits of that assumption can be—that they’re really just thinking about this individual experience of the size of my body and the way that it moves through different spaces. So, in the workshop, what I do is expand our understanding of body image issues by presenting some of the artwork created by Megan J. Smith. They have created art—a beautiful art series—for the Repeal Hyde Art Project. And that is their art project. The Repeal Hyde Art Project has created these stunning images that expand our understanding of what reproductive justice and reproductive rights should look like. So, usually when we think about reproductive rights, we think about birth control access or abortion access, contraception. But that’s the limit of usually what we think of as reproductive justice. But what Megan J. Smith does is kind of recenter reproductive justice around marginalized communities like communities of color, indigenous communities, communities under deportation risk. And when Megan J. Smith does this, we identify issues that are—like police brutality. Police brutality is actually an issue that disrupts a healthy, black family because we see that there are super-high rates of black incarceration and indigenous incarceration in the US, and that disrupts a healthy, black family. And that should be considered a reproductive rights issue because reproductive rights and reproductive justice should be the freedom for your family to exist in a way that you think is healthy and good for the entirety of that family’s existence—from birth to death. When we expand our understanding of reproductive justice issues to include all things that harm a family from living its fullest, freest life, then we should be thinking about racism and structural issues too. And this is what we do with body image as well. We expand our understanding of body image issues beyond this individual experience within our body to also think about the ways that the body—sometimes non-consensually—is coded by folks on the outside looking at our bodies. So, when we think about police brutality, oftentimes we see the narrative of a white cop shooting an unarmed, black person. Or an unarmed disabled person, or an unarmed indigenous person. And it is in those cases when a cop is looking at someone’s body and saying their blackness to me is coded as a threat. Their disability is coded to me as this chaotic threat that needs to be quelled. And the same thing for an indigenous person. The indigeneity of someone’s body is coded as “this is a threat.” And so when we think of body image issues beyond individual experience, we get to see these systematic layers that are placed on top of our body that we don’t have control over. And that is the way that we need to expand our understanding of body image issues beyond just body size and thinking about documentation status. If I look like a Latinx person, I am more likely to be stopped and asked for papers—my documentation papers. And that’s a body image issue. Based on my body image and the way it’s coded, I am at more risk for violence and harm, and my body is experiencing a lack of safety when I move through public spaces, unlike other people’s bodies.

KL We know that you’re teaching workshops on body issues and unlearning body image issues and breaking down diet culture. I think when you think about that abstractly, it’s like how do we unlearn that and where can we start?”

[20:00]

SR The first step is always becoming aware of it. So, I live in a black neighborhood in North Philadelphia and it is being gentrified by Temple University students, by me—as someone who is not indigenous to this neighborhood—and I am aware of my anti-black racism every time I get out of my car. I am aware of the ways in which I am more likely to look over my shoulder, to be hyper-aware of my surroundings, in ways that I wouldn’t be if I was walking to my car in the white suburb that I work in. And so the better I can become aware of the ways in which I am presuming risk when I move through the world based on nothing else but racism, I’m better able to check that and say “this is not a real risk. This is based in racism.” Awareness of it helps us to move it and shift it because then we get to change the way that we behave based on that feeling.

SWB When you’re talking about things that are specific to body image, do you find that you’re also kind of doing the same thing? So, okay, so what about these feelings about—you know—how I look, or these feelings about how somebody else looks, where are those based, and sort of, what do I need to unlearn there?

SR Yes. So, that is a great way for us to understand, where is my discomfort coming from? And when we apply it to body image, when we see a fat person walking around our neighborhood in an outfit that we are usually told fat people shouldn’t be wearing like a bodycon dress or something that is tight fitting or something that shows skin, or something like short shorts—we have usually thought to ourselves, “ugh, why is that person wearing that? That is—don’t they know that’s a fashion don’t?” But sometimes it’s actually an internal projection of “I don’t feel like I am allowed to wear that, or I am deserving of wearing that, and so that person shouldn’t be either.” But that’s really punitive. That’s actually a replication of carcerality, which is this idea that if I commit a crime and I get in trouble for it, then you should too. This retributive justice—you know—eye for an eye. And that’s not actually the way that we’re going to get to a more liberated place, a more liberated version of this shithole of capitalism that we’re in now. There has to be abundance. You can dress like that, and I can dress like that too.

[23:35]

SWB Yeah—you know—it’s interesting. This reminded me of this realization I personally had several years ago where I realized that I kind of hyper-focused on other women’s midsections. That I would think about whether they were—you know—did they have love handles sticking out of their pants or something like that, right? And I realized, oh, this is something I am hyperconscious of for myself. And oh, why is that? Well, because I had a father who thought it was fun to poke at my belly when I was a kid [SR sighs], and made a big deal about whether or not—you know—you had a chubby belly, right? A chubby belly was a thing that was very ashamed. Well, and that’s all—I mean, okay, he shouldn’t have done that, that was a poor choice—

SR Yeah!

SWB —but that I was like, “oh, that is a weird shame feeling you are projecting onto other random people out there living their lives—

SR Yes.

SWB —and man, what if we just let them live their fucking lives?” And when I realized that [SR laughs quietly] then I just like—it changed my whole perspective where I was like—I still sometimes think about it, but I think about it much more from the perspective of like “look at them out there living their life!”

KL Yeah.

SWB And it was really helpful for me to recognize what that really was and where it was coming from. You know, looking at the world in that way is so small.

SR Yes it is. It’s so restrictive. We don’t have to continually replicate this behavior in a way that I experienced and I’m going to pass it on. We don’t have to—you know—continue with the behavior that way. We have a choice. We have a choice to restrict those thoughts, to address those thoughts and challenge them before we replicate the behavior. And I also want to name that this is body image trauma. So, even though it feels like—you know—this is something that I’ve been able to absorb and challenge and reframe and move on from, if you have experienced body shaming, being put on nonconsensual diets as a child, feeling like an eating disorder was passed down to you from a parent or some elder in your family—you know—these are things that are—I would consider are body image trauma. And I also expand it to include relationships that can have this abusive, coercive dynamic to it where—I’ve worked with a client who, there was really explicit conversations within her relationship that included, “if you’re not going to the gym every day, if you increase from this size to this size…” I name these things as body image abuse. When it feels like if your body changes in a way, that the relationship is over, that the love was conditional and we have to throw it all away: you’re no longer attractive to me and it’s over. That’s body—that is abuse, that is abusive.

[25:12]

KL So, you’ve written also a lot of decolonizing sex. Can you tell us about what that means?

SR So first I want to parse out sexuality and gender. So, sometimes folks think of sexuality as just intercourse, but sexuality is so much bigger and includes things like gender. It includes things like body image, type of affection that we like, whether or not we like intimacy or romance. And my work in decolonizing our understanding of sexuality and gender is primarily focused on us becoming aware that the norms and assumptions that we’ve been taught through our parents, our families, grade school, offers us a really narrow set of selections, and that is a form of colonialism, because at least in the US pre-colonialism, indigenous options were way more bountiful. And I’m not trying to claim that all of us should appropriate indigenous ideas or genders or family systems, but depending on where we come from—I’m an immigrant, my family is Indian-American, they’re from India, I grew up Hindu—pre-British colonialism, we had more than two genders, we had more than two sexual orientation options, we had more than one option for our family system where there’s a mom, a dad, and some kids. We just had more options for the ways that families already exist. So, if you think of here in the States, we have families where grandparents raise the children, we have families where an aunt might raise the children, we have families where there are multiple adults. Decolonizing our understanding of normalcy really helps us to understand whatever rigidity we are thinking is automatic or should continue the way it is, it doesn’t have to be that way, especially if that definition or the box isn’t fitting for us. So, if I don’t feel totally female or male, I can pick a different box. There are more options and that’s okay.

KL Yeah, I mean I think there are obviously—you know—some very main or obvious ways colonialism has affected the way we think about sex, but what are ways we can reject some of those?

SR So, some of the ways that Christianity has been used as colonialism here in the US includes the ways that we think about sex, as well as food. So, when you think about some of the times that you might have thought of yourself as someone better than someone else who was quote-unquote “sluttier” than you—or having more sex than you, or having more kinkier sex than you, or more alternative sex than you, or gayer sex than you—if you thought of yourself as better than the other person, that sense of morality comes from Christian colonialism. The same goes for this idea that if any man enjoys any type of anal penetration, that makes him gay. This is also a form of colonialism, this is a colonial thought. Enjoying stuff up your butt just makes you enjoy stuff up your butt, it doesn’t [all laugh]… we don’t have to shift orientation labels, you just like what you like. [laughs] Another one includes this idea of martyrdom, or kind of like asceticism: if you are starving or if you are abstaining from sex, that that makes you closer to God or holier or better than someone else. These are ideas that also come from Christian colonialism. This idea that gluttony is a sin. This idea that indulging in things that are pleasurable is sinful. Pleasure is very virtuous. We need food pleasure and sexual pleasure to survive this capitalist nightmare. And it’s okay. I give you permission.

[29:12]

SWB Yes! So I love this connection between sort of like a decadent appetite and a decadent sexual appetite, and the way that those things are so policed, and pushing back against that and recognizing that as part of the Christian colonialist mentality I think is so powerful. You know, I also wanted to ask you about your work as a sexual assault counselor. And specifically, you know, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into doing that work, and what specifically—what areas—of dealing with sexual trauma you focus on.
SR So I’ve been working in the field of broadly anti-violence work for the last seven to eight years. And anti-violence includes the fields of addressing or offering services for folks who have experienced domestic violence, sexual violence of any kind, as well as human trafficking. So, I came into sexual violence work through my volunteering and through social work school. I specialized in trauma to understand my own trauma, and that is usually the case for most folks who work in anti-violence. Not to out anybody, but everyone who works—everyone who I know who works in anti-violence or gender-based violence work—has usually experienced some type of gender-based violence, whether it’s domestic or sexual violence, I’ve experienced both. And we sometimes look for those trajectories in careers because we’re trying to better understand our own lives. That is what sociology and psychology has always helped me to do and in my work as a therapist, most of what I do is just offer those insights. A lot of permission giving, a lot of acceptance work, self acceptance work, self compassion, things like that.
SWB Have you found that as you’ve been sort of working in this space over the course of the me too movement, the Supreme Court nomination, the endless news cycle of extremely triggering stories about sexual violence…have you found that that has impacted your work or impacted the people who you are working with?

SR Absolutely. For trauma clinicians everywhere, it has been a harrowing two to three weeks.

SWB Yes, me and my therapist just talked about it [all laugh]. I mean, for her, she was talking about how she felt like she needed to bear witness, and she needed to hold space for her clients. And then she had a moment where she fell apart herself, and she needed to have that time for herself. Yeah, but, it’s been rough for me as someone who’s experienced sexual violence, and it continues to be a whole shitty rollercoaster. So, what are you doing to help them navigate this? How do you help them sort of deal with the—you know—the increase in triggering moments, or just the increase in kind of like, I don’t know, general stress and anxiety, as they’re also trying to handle their own trauma?

SR Absolutely. So, I use a two-step approach. And this is like triage work, so [laughs] it might feel shitty, because you have other areas in your life that are experiencing these explosions, but we really just need to work on reducing the anxiety of being exposed to graphic details about someone else’s sexual assault on the news. Graphic details about Kava-nope and all that nonsense, and anything else that can be related to increasing anxiety. So, the first step is reducing or eliminating the exposure to the thing that’s—the stimulus—that’s causing the anxiety. So, that might mean taking breaks from any news, even if you’re in the doctor’s office, sitting in a waiting room—you know—asking the receptionist to turn off the monitor. Becoming aware of how much screen time you are visually consuming though social media and looking at and reading the news. How much are your friends talking about it and are you actively letting folks know—you know—coworkers as well, “hey that’s not something that I want to talk about. Can we change the subject?” So, as much as we can, reducing exposure to the thing that is causing us stress. And it might make us feel shitty, because we feel like we have to bear witness, and we should stay informed. But we can’t pour from an empty bucket. So, if exposure to that stuff is actively causing us harm, for the temporary moment—so for a couple of weeks, a couple of months—it’s okay. You’ll catch up on it eventually. If it’s really super important, someone will text you that something really wild happened. The information will get to you. But it’s okay. It’s okay to stay small and isolated and walled off.

KL I know that we’re all going through cycles of this, so I just really appreciate you saying that because I think it’s important to hear [laughs] especially right now, so thank you for saying that. Something you share fairly frequently are posts about “boring self care” [KL and SR laugh], and I love this so much. Because [laughs] it seems like even hashtag self care now feels like a competition, so [laughs] I just really love that a lot. What are some of your favorite things to do for self care, boring or otherwise?

SR When I tell you what I do for self care, you’re going to be like, “oh, you just take care of yourself!” Uhh yeah, that’s all boring self care is. So, things like if I know that I have to be at work at a certain time the next day, making sure that I’m in bed so that I can get eight to nine hours if I really, really am exhausted that day. So, making sure I have enough sleep, making sure that I pack lunch and snacks for the day so that I—so which also means that I do some grocery shopping a couple times a week. What are some other boring self care? Oh my gosh, doing laundry before I run out of clean underwear!

[35:18]

KL Yes! [SWB laughs] I love—I love that one! Yes! [all laugh]

SWB It’s like literal self care.

SR Preparing myself a dinner with fresh vegetables.

SWB Yeah!

KL Yeah.

SR Yes.

SWB It’s like these mundane tasks—you know—they’re super mundane, it’s not exciting, it’s not a fancy face mask. But I think that a lot of the stuff it’s like—it’s the kind of stuff where when you’re feeling anxious or depressed or whatever is going on in your life and you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s like those are the things that are really easy to not do, but then by not doing them, you ultimately feel worse. And so I like this idea of sort of holding space for that and then—I’m going to hold space to make sure I don’t screw up my bedtime rituals just because I’m feeling overwhelmed, because I know that that’s actually better for me in the long run. So, I love boring self care.

SR Yeah, it’s like how can your now me take care of future me?

SWB Okay, so Katel also was bragging to me [KL laughs] before this interview—straight up bragging—that she is going to a workshop with you that is about unlearning all of these body image issues, and it happens to be on the day that I am getting a very exciting knee surgery. So, I will not be able to join her, which I’m very bummed about. And so, I’m curious, where else can people learn more about your body image work?

SR I will be releasing a webinar in December or January for anyone who is outside of Philadelphia and you can keep an eye on my website or my Instagram. I will be releasing opportunities to purchase $20 to $30 tickets for a pretty small-sized intimate workshop that would cover unlearning diet culture, working through body image issues, and expanding your understanding of body image beyond just body size or self esteem.

KL Sonalee, it’s been so great talking with you and we hope everyone listening today starts following your work. Where can folks keep up with what you’re doing next?

SR The greatest place to keep up with me is on Instagram, and you can find me at Instagram as @thefatsextherapist. If you like or hate something that I said today on the podcast, you can always reach out to me and let me know through my website, and that’s sonaleer.com. S-o-n-a-l-e-e-r dot com. And I have a contact form and I will reply to your email, no matter what.
SWB Well, Sonalee, it has been so great to have you, and you will get nothing but love letters from us.

KL Yes. [SR laughs] Thank you so much for being on with us today.

SR Thank you so much for having me, it’s been such a pleasure. [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]

KL Hi everyone. Are you getting “I Love That” yet? That’s our biweekly newsletter and it’s real good.

SWB Every other Friday we send out personal letters from one of us, plus product recommendations, links to what we’re reading, and more. We also profile an activist, a writer, an entrepreneur, an artist, a candidate, or somebody else who is inspiring us right now.

KL So, come on and add a little bit more fuck yeah to your inbox. Head to noyougoshow.com/ilovethat right now and sign up. That’s noyougoshow.com/ilovethat. [music fades in, plays for five seconds, and fades out]

FYOTW

SWB Hey Katel, what are we fuck yeah-ing this week?

KL So, I just hosted a bachelorette weekend in New York City with about a dozen women. It was two nights all weekend, we all hung out in this one big loft and it was great. We had one night where we kind of did a cocktails, happy hour thing, and then the second night where we kind of went all out and did a big hoopla where we went out on the town, we got all dressed up and it was really great, we all looked really wonderful.

SWB Yeah, is the fuck yeah that metallic gaucho pant jumpsuit number that you sent me a photo of? You told me that you got it for seven dollars.

KL I mean yes, but also my fuck yeah is actually that—so even though I went all out on, you know, the outfit and getting all gussied up and, you know, just making sure we all were having a great time over the weekend—which we did—that night when we all went out and sort of the big night out, I actually decided around 11pm to go back to bed. And I even skipped the boozie slushies that came round—and the shots.

SWB I mean, fuck yeah to that actually! [laughing] It sounds like you made a really good choice!

KL [laughing] I did! I will say, I felt great Sunday morning and—you know—I feel like most of the time I probably have a little bit of fomo where—you know—it pushes me to have that extra drink or stay out a little later than I should. And that is totally the right time to do it—you know—when you’re hanging out and celebrating with your friends. But I don’t know, in this moment I just needed to do that for myself, and I did. And so yeah, fuck yeah to listening to myself and heading back in!

[40:02]

SWB Yeah, fuck yeah for listening to yourself, and fuck yeah for taking care of your needs and knowing sort of how much is right for you. Because also you did a lot of organizing. I know that Katel did a ton of work for this thing, because she was telling me about all the different plans and spreadsheets. And so there’s a moment when you’re like, you know what? When you’re done, you’re done. And you did great. So, fuck yeah to you!

KL Thanks. Thank you. Well, that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by the Diaphone. Thanks to Sonalee Rashatwar for being our guest today.

SWB If you like today’s show, then make sure to take a moment and give us a rating or even leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, or wherever it is that you listen to your favorite shows. Your support really helps us and helps us spread the word to more people.

KL See you again next week! [music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, and fades out]

Oct 16 2018

41mins

Play

Rank #4: You Don’t Have to be Nice with Caroline Criado Perez

Podcast cover
Read more

Did you know that women are 17 percent more likely to die in a car crash than men—and 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured? That’s because cars are designed for the average male, not the average human. This week’s guest is Caroline Criado Perez, and she’s on a mission to change that.

Caroline Criado Perez is a journalist, a feminist campaigner, and the author of a new book called Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. It’s an in-depth look at the ways everything from heart-attack symptoms to snow-clearing routes put men first—and what needs to happen to change that. Caroline is also a fierce campaigner for women’s rights, and has a certain knack for making her feminist campaigns go viral. As you might guess, we absolutely love her.

You don't have to be nice all the time. Women are always taught we have to be nice and everyone has to love us. And actually, if you're trying to make change, that is impossible and you have to be okay with that.
—Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

Caroline chats with us about:

  • Gender bias and how it’s dangerous for women, even (and especially!) in medical situations.
  • The invisibility of women in data, including in medical tests and medication, unpaid labor, disaster relief, car designs, and more.
  • How a gender audit of policies in Sweden led to a change in how they clear the snow to best allow citizens to go about their day, instead of continuing to automatically favor men to the detriment of women.
  • Why having women in the room when designing things for massive public use—like Twitter—is essential if you’re aiming to create something that will work for more people, not just white men.

Links:

Plus:

May 23 2019

52mins

Play

Rank #5: Miraculous Bodies with Kimberly Dark

Podcast cover
Read more

It’s time for riots, not diets. This week we talk about bodies, health, food, and fatness with Kimberly Dark, author of the new book, Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old.

Kimberly is a writer, a storyteller, a performance artist, a professor, a yoga teacher, a queer mother, and so much more—and she delves into all of it in this interview. From being shamed as a fat child to starving her way through her teens to finally leaving diets behind forever, we loved hearing how Kimberly learned to love and nurture her body—and how we can all change the way we think and talk about fatness, beauty, and aging.

You can’t hate a person’s body and claim to want to help them.
—Kimberly Dark, author, Fat, Pretty, and Soon to be Old

We talk about:

  • How our healthcare system fails fat people. “I don’t use the word ‘obesity’ because it’s a medicalized term to describe a fat body, which, fat bodies are not inherently diseased.”
  • Why eating well and exercising shouldn’t be prerequisites to respect. “There should be no requirement for anyone to have to uphold health practices in order to be considered a worthy human being.”
  • Coming out as fat: “If you want to know me, if you want to know me in my full humanity as a human being, then I should be able to talk about my experiences in the world.”
  • How to sit next to a fat person on a plane: “We’re going to occupy this space together; let’s acknowledge it, and let’s treat each other nicely.”
  • The double-bind of beauty expectations. “Women are supposed to be on a quest for prettiness and we’re not ever supposed to acknowledge it.”

Plus:

  • Unpacking our own relationship to weight, food, and health
  • How anti-fatness affects people at work
  • Getting dressed up for the abortion ball

Links:

Oct 17 2019

52mins

Play

Rank #6: I Gotta Make Art with Carmen Maria Machado

Podcast cover
Read more

It’s not every day we chat with someone the New York Times has listed as part of “the new vanguard” in fiction. But today’s our day: Carmen Maria Machado is live on NYG!

We sit down with the badass author, National Book Award finalist, and fellow Philly resident for a conversation about writing, working retail, believing in your own work, craving the company of other women, and so much more.

> The art of non-dominant groups can be trendy, but we think of men and whiteness and straightness as, like, eternal… And of course that’s fake, right? Like, that’s not real: men, and white, and straight, and cis, and all those things… are not neutral, but we think of them as neutral.
> —Carmen Maria Machado, author, Her Body and Other Parties

Here’s what we cover:

  • The “fat women with fat minds” of Carmen’s “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” essay in Guernica
  • How a retreat at the Millay Colony for the Arts kickstarted her writing career
  • The wild popularity of “The Husband Stitch,” Carmen’s story in Granta (which, like, just read it already)
  • What it’s like to go from working at the mall to full-fledged famous author in a few short years
  • The exploitative mess of the adjunct teaching market
  • Carmen’s review of Danielle Lazarin’s new book, Backtalk, and how women internalize the “slow, invisible grind” of misogyny
  • Why Claire Vaye Watkins’ essay “On Pandering” and Kristen Roupenian’s short story “Cat Person” struck such a nerve
  • Craving the company of women in a culture full of far too much bullshit
  • Finding the confidence to divest from sexist culture, take up space, and acknowledge your talents out loud

Plus: why city snobbery is bullshit, the incredible joys and health benefits of naps (seriously, just thinking about a nap can even lower your blood pressure)—and why y’all should just visit Philly already.

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.

WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you.

_ _

Transcript

Katel LeDû [Ad spot] Shopify is leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs with software that helps anyone with a great idea build a successful business. More than 50 percent of the business owners they power are women—across 175 countries. And they’re growing their world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to find out how they work [music fades in, ramps up, plays alone for ten seconds.]

Jenn Lukas Hi! And welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

KL I’m Katel LeDû.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher. Today on No, You Go we’re talking with one of my favorite authors, Carmen Maria Machado. This first book of stories, Her Body and Other Parties, was just listed as one of 15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century by the New York Times. Like, seriously. Carmen’s also a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, which means she lives right here in Philly. And that got me thinking a lot about place. You know, like in a lot of industries we sort of expect people who are ambitious to live in a specific location. Like, you’re a writer, gotta move to New York! Oh you’re in tech? Well why aren’t you in San Francisco? But, like, Philly is great. There’s so much amazing stuff happening here, and I wish more people knew that.

JL Ugh! I love Philadelphia. You should see the Philadelphia tattoo I have across my abs. Just kidding [all laughing].

KL I was like, “What?!? Show me!!!”

SWB My god.

JL But I do in spirit. In spirit it’s there. Just, uh, just Ben Franklin hanging out [KL chuckles] eating a—Ben Franklin eating a pretzel right on my bicep.

KL Love it. Very on brand [laughs].

SWB Can we all get like matching Ben Franklin eating a pretzel tattoos?

KL Or just like a Liberty Bell? Something small, tasteful.

SWB What do you love so much about Philly, Jenn?

JL Ugh. I’ve been in Philadelphia for… woah. 18 years?

SWB Wow!

KL Woah!

JL How’d that happen?

[2:04]

SWB Like your whole adult life!

JL Yeah, pretty much, pretty much. And at first I didn’t love Philadelphia. I came here from Boston and I was just like, “Why—what am I doing still in the cold?” I guess is what I was thinking. And, I don’t know, I felt like there’s just something that wasn’t great and then within like two years it just grew on me. I loved that it’s flat, it’s cheap, and it’s got a lot of great people, and so much good food. But it’s got that—Philadelphia has this interesting thing in that uh it has like, people will say like this inferiority complex of a city of where, you know, we’re between DC, New York, Boston, and always something to prove. I feel like there’s a lot of that which I think has led to a lot of great innovation. A lot of people just like building lots of stuff to be like, “No, look! Look at all this amazing things that like that we have here.” I had the chance once to work for visitphilly.com website, which was probably one of the best projects I ever worked on because there was just having a chance every day to come in and work on something that showcased our fine city. And I think it’s so important to have pride in where you live, because it’s where you [chuckles] spend your time.

KL I feel like—I lived in New York for five years of my life, like my late twenties, and I loved it, it was great. And coming from DC it was sort of like I got the sense that people were kind of like, “Oh, you finally moved to like a real city,” which totally felt like not at all. And then when I got back to DC after living in New York, people were kind of like, “Why would you ever leave New York?” And there are, you know, personally a lot—a million reasons why I left New York. I feel like it’s odd to get that reaction depending on where you live. And when I was in DC for that second time, I was working at National Geographic. So when I told people where I worked they were like, “Oh! Well that’s amazing.” And I’m like, “Yeah. That’s where HQ is. It’s in DC.” Like—

SWB I think one of the things that’s so frustrating to me about talking places is that—is that kind of reaction that you’re talking about, that like, “Oh! You live there!?” I remember this one time I was having brunch with a friend of a friend in New York, we were in Brooklyn, and she—this woman, I didn’t know her very well, she asked me where I lived, and I said I lived in Philly, and she goes, “Oh Philly? Well, it’s a good starter city for New York.” And I looked at her and I was just like, I just like dead-eyed her, and I was like, “Or it’s a place that people live by choice?” It was so—it was just like one of those throwaway comments for her, because in her head, her assumption was like basically everybody was just trying to move to New York, and, like, you would only live somewhere else if you like couldn’t make it in New York or whatever. And I’m like, “I don’t want to live in New York.” I like New York. It’s fine. But I—what I think is—is important to remember and I think about this a lot for the podcast is like there are people doing awesome shit literally everywhere, and one of the things that we can do is do a better job of seeking that out. You know? Finding folks in all kinds of places. Like, way back I think in our second episode we talked to Eileen Webb who lives in northern New Hampshire and is doing all of this awesome work on accessibility, and strategy, and the web, and like… she lives on a farm. And like why not? Why the hell not? Why can’t we look at people doing great stuff everywhere.

[5:25]

SWB [Continued] So that brings me back to something that I loved about talking with Carmen, who is doing this amazing work as an author and becoming like straight up a famous writer. And she’s right here in Philly! And I suspect in like all kinds of cities out there you would find people who are just like top of their game in their fields, working from all kinds of unexpected places.

JL And not just cities. I mean more rural areas, towns, I think one of the things that we always have to keep in mind that we do here is that there’s things about Philly that I love, obviously, and then there’s things about Philly that I don’t like, and that’s true of any place. And so I think the trick is finding that balance of someplace that you really like to be that helps you be the best you.

KL Thinking about the idea of a “starter city” assumes that, you know, everyone has the same resources or lifestyle that would allow you to just like move wherever you want to go and move to, you know, a really potentially expensive city or place that, you know, you might just not have the resources that kind of work in that area that you can—that you can really have access to. So, I don’t know, I think it’s—I want to pay more attention to, like Sara said, you know, the work that people are doing that aren’t on the coasts or aren’t, in the places that we know are networks and all of our friends are. I think it’s kinda cool that we start looking at that.

SWB Well, with that, can we go ahead and get to the interview because I am super hyped to have everybody listen to this interview with Carmen.

KL Agh! I can’t wait [music fades in, ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, ramps down].

KL [Ad spot] We want to be able to share our voices our way through our website, and we use WordPress to help us do that because it gives us freedom and flexibility. Make your site your own when you build it with WordPress. They offer powerful ecommerce options from a simple yet effective buy button to a complete online store, and WordPress customer support is there for you 24/7 to help you get your site working smoothly. Plans start at just four dollars per month, so start building your website today. Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new plan purchase. That’s wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off your brand new website [music fades in, ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out].

SWB Over a year ago I read this amazing essay in Guernica called “The Trash Heap Has Spoken” about women refuse to apologize for taking up space. “Fat woman with fat minds”, as the author, Carmen Maria Machado, put it. It was a gorgeous essay and it’s one that I actually still think about all the time. So when her book came out last year I devoured it immediately. Fast forward just a few months and Her Body and Other Parties, a book of stories that defy genre, that are fantastical, and erotic, and queer, and just were really captivating to me, has been awarded about a zillion prizes. It’s been a bestseller, it was a finalist for the National Book Award, and somehow, despite all of that huge success, we still managed to get Carmen Maria Machado here to be interviewed on No, You Go. And literally she is here today. She is in our studio, also known as my office in south Philadelphia, and I am extremely excited to chat with her and also a little bit nervous [laughter]. Carmen, welcome to No, You Go.

[8:33]

Carmen Maria Machado Thank you for having me.

SWB So, first up, ok, after I read that essay in Guernica I found out that you went to college with a friend of the show, Lara Hogan. And she said that you did photography together. So, first up, like when did you start pursuing writing as a career, and sort of what was that path for you?

CMM Yeah! Well, I’ve always sort of—I’ve been a writer or a person who writes, or sort of organizes her mind around writing, for my entire life. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. Um and when I got to college I thought to my—like I wanted to be a journalist, that was sort of my way out. Like, “Oh, I’ll have health insurance and also, you know, have a job, and like be a writer.” And of course this was like 2004, I got to school, I started journalism classes and I did not like them. I was like, “This is not me, I don’t like—I do not have a nose for news. I don’t like hunting news stories. I don’t like talking to people on the phone.” Like all of these things that would be required of me as a journalist are things that just bore me or make me too anxious, and I don’t want to do it, even though I like writing. So I sort of moved around, I switched majors a few times. I was like lit for a hot second, and then I switched to something else, and then finally I took a photography class and I absolutely loved, and so I ended up getting like an independent study major where I sort of combined a lot of things including writing and photography and fine arts, where I met Lara. And so, yeah, so then like I had this idea of like being a photographer [smacks lips] that did not last for long [laughs] but I’ve never supported myself doing it. I worked all kinds of jobs [chuckles] um it’s just never been a thing that really like worked out for me. So I have a really nice Instagram account. That’s like the way that my student loans that I’m still paying off [laughing] that’s what they’re still going towards is a really well curated Instagram account and that’s about it. And then after school I was living in California, just sort of working some random jobs, and it wasn’t until I went to grad school which would’ve been in 2010 that I really started thinking about writing as a career, and as a thing that I could pursue sort of more professionally.

SWB And you were in grad school in Iowa, right?

[10:30]

CMM Yes. Mm hmm.

SWB What was that experience because it’s a pretty intense program, right?

CMM Yeah I mean it’s the—so it’s the oldest program in the country which is sort of where it gets its reputation from. Um, you know, there’s a lot of really wonderful who’ve gone there. Uh I had a really good time. It was really nice to be able to go to a program that was funded, that I was able to just like write, and like not have to worry about work, and not have to worry about anything else. Like I was just—I had to do a little bit of teaching which also was nice because then I discovered that I really liked teaching um which before I did not realize.

SWB Speaking of teaching [mm hmm], I saw that after grad school you had ended up kind of back in the Philly area, adjuncting uh while also working at the mall, and—and I’m curious like when do you feel like it all started to come together for you, career wise?

CMM That’s a really good question. I mean it sort of happened in stages. So while I was in grad school, I— through a friend I met my now wife and we were dating long distance and decided after I was finished that we wanted to move in together wherever we would live. So she was living in Boston at the time, I was living in Iowa City, and we decided to do—to come to Philadelphia because it was like an affordable city we could live in and we had both—she had lived here before, I had never had but I grew up in Allentown. So not too far away. So yeah so we got here and in the beginning I mean, yeah, I was really struggling. Like she was working full-time and was more or less supporting us. I was, you know, adjuncting and working a retail job, and making like barely anything. I was really struggling. Yeah, I was going to King of Prussia mall… I was driving back and forth every week. And it was horrible. And I was very stressed out and sad and was, you know, sort of plugging away at some work, and was just writing some stories and, I don’t know, feeling like maybe I had made a mistake, or maybe like writing wasn’t in the cards for me professionally. And… it was really hard to write because I was physically exhausted all the time, just from the—from standing like teaching, you know, it is exhausting in its own way but like with working at the mall, I was just like on my feet all day, I was driving really really far back and forth and I was exhausted. So um at some point I applied for a writing residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts which is up in upstate New York and I got in for a session. So I quit my job, went there for a month, and like wrote a bunch of stuff. And that actually got me [smacks lips] back in this really nice headspace where I suddenly found myself able to be like, “I have a whole book here, and I can just kind of get it all pulled together.” And so I had written this story called “The Husband Stitch,” which is probably my most famous short story. I have a friend—someone has called it my hit single [laughter and laughing:] Like it is kind of like my hit single. It’s like the story people usually know of mine and so, yeah, and I had an agent at this point, and I sent it to him, and he submitted it to magazines and Granta ended up picking it up. And putting it on their website. And so that became—that was sort of like the trying point for me because that story did really well, people really responded to it, because it was online people were able to share it, and there was like a lot of sort of movement around that story. And, in fact, I believe last year they told me it was still their most read story at their website. But even though it’s three years old. Like it’s been out for three years but like, they were like, “Oh yeah, no, like there’s just a ton of traffic to that story. It’s like—it’s like a really highly trafficked page on the site.” So um so yeah so that was sort of the moment, like once I had that, and then I started putting together this collection and then, yeah, in about a year. So that would’ve been in 2014, so then I sold the book in 2015. Like in the fall.

[14:03]

CMM [Continued] So yeah and then once that happened and then I started—and then got like this offer at Penn where I’m now the Writer in Residence. So I suddenly had a teaching job where I had like health insurance. And like [laughs] a living salary [laughs], and like all these other things. Um and that was pretty awesome. So… so yeah. So that’s—it just ended up sort of working out nicely where that became like the place where my career sort of turned, and people started to pay attention, and sort of knew who I was, and everything has sort of followed from there.

SWB And I think for listeners who don’t know about the adjunct teaching market, it’s a, I don’t know, exploitative nightmare. I would say [chuckles]. So like if you’re curious what the difference is between adjuncting and having a fellowship at Penn where you have benefits, it’s like night and day. A lot of adjuncts are contingent faculty and it’s like a couple thousand dollars a semester to teach a course, and you end up making, I don’t know, probably less than minimum wage at a lot of places?

CMM Oh—oh absolutely! Absolutely you’re making less than that, because like you usually have office hours, and all the grading, everything you do outside of class, and prepping for class. Yeah, no, it’s actually really bad. And it’s funny because I think sometimes students—I’ll ask occasionally like see if students have a sense of what adjuncts—like who they are or what their situation is, and even now they really don’t. And, you know, when I was in college I also did not understand what adjuncts were. Like I had adjuncts and I didn’t realize it because like to a student it’s like, “Oh you’re my teacher! Like what’s the difference?” Well it’s like, oh the difference is huge. Like adjuncts are, you know, often like broke as hell, like they’re getting food stamps and they can like barely make ends meet. So, yeah, it’s like really—it’s one of those—you know it’s a labor issue that’s like getting a lot of traction and like in Philadelphia they’re actually like the—there’s an adjunct union that’s been um unionizing various schools and they’ve been actually pretty successful which is pretty awesome but, yeah, it’s a bad situation for sure.

SWB And I’m curious like you mentioned that you really loved teaching and was it difficult to balance out this feeling of like loving teaching but knowing that you’re doing it in this like kind of exploitative environment where you—you can’t actually make a living off of it?

[15:58]

CMM Yeah, I mean I think the hardest thing for me was that I couldn’t be there for my students in the way I wanted to be because I was just—it was just unpaid labor. So like… you know like I would grade, and I would do workshops, and I would prep lectures, and I would all this stuff, but then like if a student wanted like more feedback on something, like I wasn’t getting paid for that, you know? And so I had to say no to things. And the students didn’t understand, and some of them would be like, “Well, why can’t you do that thing for me? Like you’re my teacher.” And I was like, “Well, in normal circumstances, yes, certainly, like you know?” Yes, as a teacher, like for example if a student come to you for like a letter of recommendation or something like that—that’s part of the process, right? Of being a teacher. Is being like, “Yes, like I am at least open to the idea of writing a letter of recommendation,” for example. Um or like, “Talking to you, you know, within the semester about certain things.” Um but when you’re an adjunct like all bets are off because you’re not making any—You’re making, yeah, 3,000 dollars a class. Right? So it’s like what are you supposed to do? Like how are you supposed to like value and manage your time? That part is really, really hard and—and when students don’t understand that—and you can’t just say like, “Oh, by the way, like I’m an adjunct. Like your school does not care enough to like pay me a living wage and you need to take that up with them. It has nothing to do with me.” You know? Um so I think it’s a combination of like just because students don’t know um and then yeah, and then just like trying to decide like where do you value your time, you know, if you’re a good teacher like you want to be there for your students. Like you want to be able to help them during the semester in the way that you can but yeah like when you’re not making money or—I’m just giving them free time. Like I’m not… you know I’m not doing—So yeah it’s a bad, it’s a really bad situation.

SWB Well, so your situation has changed pretty [chuckles][yeah] dramatically since then and I would like to talk about that. So, in addition to be being a National Book Award Finalist which I like to say over and over again because I think it’s fucking awesome [laughter]. Um you were just called part of “the New Vanguard” by the New York Times… uh what’s—what’s that like?

CMM [Chuckles] That—well that was shock—that I was—I mean nothing that’s happened to me have I—have I expected any of it. Like if you told me like, “Oh, your weird, genre-bending short story collection that’s going to be out from an independent press is going to like do just crazily well in every respect.” I would’ve never ever ever, in a million years, I would’ve been like, “You’re crazy. That’s ridiculous. There’s no way.” Um but yeah everything that’s been happening and then, yeah, that New York Times piece where they were sort of talking about like women writers of the 21st century who have like—who are sort of showing us how we read and write—like and that my book being one of those 15 books is just completely unbelievable [chuckles]. Um—

SWB So, I mean when that happens, I assume you also have a lot of sudden like demands on your time and attention. How do you negotiate that? Like how do you figure out what you’re gonna say yes to?

[18:41]

CMM Oh, that’s a really good question. I mean you have to, like I’m learning to be more protective of my time. The thing is that what’s weird in the beginning was that, you know, I wasn’t sure how the book was gonna do and so I said yes to everything. And then at some point you have to—right, decided like I’m not going to do this, or I’m not going to do this. And I was lucky that my wife is actually very—she’s brilliant. And very, very good at knowing all my weak spots. So, for example, this spring, she made me build in three weekends where like I was not allowed to schedule anything and it was just weekends that I have off. And at the time, I was like very grouchy about that. I was like, “Oh I don’t want to do that.” But I’m so grateful that she did that because now there are weekends where I’m like, “I don’t have do anything. I can just— I can just relax. I can do laundry!” Right. I can just like do what I have to do.

SWB You can have a weekend.

CMM I can have a weekend!

SWB That’s called a weekend.

CMM Right, yeah, it’s called a weekend. Right [laughter], where I’m not traveling. But I’ve been traveling. Except for those weekends, I’ve traveled every single weekend for the last like six months. Like I’ve just been—you know, so it’s—it’s—it’s hard. And I think it’s also like remembering, right? Like it’s ok that right now I’m doing that, but then like knowing that this summer I’m going to a residency and I’m gonna go back to working because like I haven’t been writing and that’s been making me really sad. So like knowing that I have that on the horizon, you know, saying no to things. Like saying, you know, and like I sort of have a set of criteria so if I get asked to do something. It’s like, you know, do I know the person whose asking me? Is it something that I really want to do? Like I’m like, “Oh I want to be with that publication, or I want to—” You know there’s like a reason. Sometimes I think it’s just—it fun. Where it’s like, “Ooh that sounds really cool. Yeah I do want to try that.” Um so right now I’m judging this cookbook contest for Food52 and they like asked me to do it and I was like, “That’s so weird! Yes! I do want to do that!” [Laughter] Because like [laughs] I love cooking, and like they’re like, “We’ll send you these cookbooks and you can cook from them.” And there’s like a tournament—it’s like a tournament of cookbooks or whatever. And I was like, “Yeah! Yeah I do want to do that. That’s so weird.” So like I’ll say yes to that sort of thing. So it just becomes a matter of like figuring out what my priorities are, like, you know, so I sort of run every opportunity through like a little set of filters where I’m like, “Does it have this? Does it have this? Does it have this?” And I’ll say yes or no.

SWB Yes I’ve had those periods. I mean I travel a lot for work things and conferences and book things and it’s like… I’m mostly pretty good at it, and then I realize, I’m like, “Oh no. I have limits.” And like I need to remember them. I used to do things like book those like multi-stop trips. Like [yeah] three stops [yeah yeah yeah] and then I realized like, I’m fucking miserable every time I do it and it was like, “What if you just didn’t do that anymore?” [Right, right] “What if you just said no to things that would require that?” And I found that—that was like when you talk about finding criteria and stuff it’s like, oh, notice those patterns. Like, “what are the patterns that are making you unhappy?” and getting rid of them.

[21:19]

CMM Yeah, or like I had someone once tell me like, “You should never do anything where the amount of money you’re being paid to do it, you’re not excited to go.” So like if you are like—if you’re like, “I don’t want to get on a plane, go to this place, do all this work, get uh go on a plane back, lose a weekend, and it’s for like 500 bucks or whatever.” Like you know like learning what is it that you actually want. Um what is worth it to you to like get out of the house or like and like leave your loved ones, and like get a on a fucking airplane which is like it’s fucking hell, [laughter and laughing] you know?

SWB Yeah, I mean I also feel like um I definitely will say yes to things sometimes. I—I don’t do this anymore, but I used to have this problem where I would say yes to something and like, as I was writing the email saying yes, I had that like tight knot in my stomach—

CMM Yeah, you’re like, “I don’t want to do this.”

SWB Where yeah, like deep down [yeah] I didn’t actually want to say yes. And so now I try to be way more aware and like also let those emails sit a little longer.

CMM Yes! Yeah this is also a thing I’ve noticed is, right, if I like—if I like don’t answer it right away, and also like it—I sort of went through this phase where I felt a little guilty about this but I said yes to some things and then I actually thought about it and then I wrote them back and I’d write them back and I’d be like, “You know I’m so sorry. Like I know I agreed to do this yesterday but I’ve been thinking about it more and I think I actually don’t have the time.” And I did that—I did that earlier this year and I was so—I almost like cried from relief and she was—and the person was super nice about it. They were like, “Don’t even worry about it. Like you’re obviously so busy. It’s totally fine.” And then I was like so happy, I was like [cries out], “Oh I’m free! Free!” Like I could’ve been stressing about this for two weeks and instead I just like said, “Nope, actually I can’t do it. Sorry.” Uh—

KL And that feeling of relief is such a huge [chuckles][right! Right!] And it’s not like—it’s not like you’re waiting until the day before this thing [right, right, exactly, exactly] is going on, it’s like you are, you know, you’re—you’re paying attention to it and you’re like, “Ok, I need to just take this—remove this from my plate and my future for, you know, whatever reasons. And that’s ok.”

[23:10]

SWB There’s also like just the incredible unmatched joy of canceling plans [laughter]. So good. But yeah so I read a book review the other day of yours for Danielle Lazarin’s Backtalk [mm hmm] and I would love to talk about it a little bit because in there you know you talk about how it explores the “exhausting, slow poison of masculine power, the grind of the patriarchy on even the most privileged of women,” and you pose kind of a question in there, like, “How do writers divest themselves from the pressures of the dominant culture while also addressing the burdensome weight of that dominant culture?” And I think that piece and your—your Guernica essay last year, all of those things are sort of like attempting to wrangle with internalized misogyny, on some level, um and that’s something I feel like is sort of cropping up a—a good bit among feminist writers. So I’m wondering if you could talk more about that. Like, I feel like in that article you started to… you started to answer that question a little bit of like, “How do we divest ourselves of” that internalized misogyny is like… “Don’t be pleasant or easy to teach. Look mean for the camera. Just get up and go.” What does that look like? Like how do you get up and go?

CMM Ugh! That’s a really huge question. I mean I think [sighs] this is the—it’s so funny I feel like there’s this, right? This idea about like you become more conservative as you get older. And I think that’s a really weird idea because I feel like every woman I know gets more and more radical the older they get because it’s like the world—the bullshit of being a woman in today’s culture, or in any culture, or any time, or whatever, is so awful that like just the longer you’re alive, the more radical you become. So I feel like I’m way more radical in terms of like my thoughts about gender than I was like ten years ago which is amazing to me, and I think is sort of the opposite of what most people would expect. Yeah so I mean I think—yeah I think right now this topic of internalized misogyny and like I—I talk about in that essay like Claire Vaye Watkins essay “On Pandering,” and I also talk about “Cat Person” the—that story in The New Yorker. All of which also deal with concept of like internalized misogyny. So like I think what’s really interesting is that right now I have a lot of thoughts about like Hillary Clinton—like I feel—I feel like there’s like a lot of… what’s in the air right now is—is like post this election and like regardless of how you feel about… Bernie Sanders or Hillary specifically, I think we can all agree like the way that misogyny played out on this really massive scale during the election was like really traumatic for women. And I think we actually have not fully addressed that trauma and I think we just went to pure panic mode because, like Trump is president and suddenly like, you know, we just gotta get past it. But like I think there’s something about… like people talk about like women—like white women voting for Trump and I think it—that is interesting not just because obviously like it’s this way in which like race—like race alliances, racism sort of trump, no pun intended, this like gender element. And the way in which women loathe themselves so deeply, on this like deep sort of cultural level, right, that like even though Hillary Clinton is like the most privileged woman probably to ever walk the fucking planet [laughter]. That she couldn’t win that election against this like incompetent, blowhard, like caricature of a sexist guy from like an ’80s cartoon. Like that to me is just an illustration of like how broken it is. Again, regardless of how you think about her specifically. And I think that like “Cat Person” is another really good example of that, in terms of that story, like where it’s all about like… it’s like, again, not about rape exactly but it’s about like what does it mean that like women—it’s like easier to have sex with a man that you’re not really that into than to like say no and walk away… because it is! And like I have been there. I have personally been there. Where it’s like [absolutely!], “I don’t want to do this.” And most women I know have been there where there like, “I really don’t want to do this but I’d rather like just not have to deal with not saying no.” And literally like that Stormy Daniels interview, I don’t know if you guys have watched it but like—

[27:06]

SWB I specifically did not watch it but I read about it later. But yeah that’s kinda the story too, right, it’s like, [crosstalk] “Well, I might as well do this ’cause…”

CMM He’s like, “Were you attracted to him?” And she was like, “Oh no!” It’s just like [laughs] and then she was like—and then he was like, “Well, why’d you do it?” And she’s like, “Well I found myself like, ‘Here I am, like I’m stupid enough to get into his room like I might as well just like do this.’” And it’s the same like absolute like res—where it’s like ugh the resolve. It’s like, “I can’t fight this anymore. Like it just is what it is. It’s easier to have sex with this totally odious man than it to like just get out of here because he could do god knows what.” And so I feel like there’s something about that that’s really interesting and I feel like the Claire Vaye Watkins essay, again, dealing with with this idea of like women trying to align themselves with men which I think is also like a massive problem that we don’t really talk about a lot. And I feel like this narrative of sort of like, you know, women being like, “I’m just one of the guys!” I’m like I knew a woman like that in college, it was this woman who like that was literally like she was just like, “I’m just one of the dudes! Like I don’t know nuh nuh nuh,” and it always struck me as like deeply, profoundly sad and I feel like it—the more I sort of live like the more I’m like, “God! That’s the [yells] saddest, worst thing!” Um so, you know, like feminis—femininity and femaleness is so odious to somebody that they would just be like, “I reject that. Women are—” She was like, “Women are just drama queens. I rather like align myself with men.” And even queer women align themselves with like male power, so that women who aren’t even attracted to men necessarily being like, “Oh I need to like align myself in that way.” And so that to me is really interesting and I think that there’s something in there that we’re—we’re coming to this like… I don’t know if it’ll actually be a catharsis but I feel like [mm hmm]—we’re sort of—this is like sort of what’s in the air right now and I feel like we’re arriving in this place where we’re having to reckon with like… again, like not just like this cartoonish like male villainy that’s so—The problem is that like Trump is like… cartoonish male villainy, but what’s actually way worse is like, again, this slow, almost invisible grind, and the ways in which women then within themselves reinforce that, even when the, sort of, the power’s not directly not on them in that moment [mm hmm]. And I feel like that is something that we like need to figure out. And I don’t know if we will, I don’t know if that’s possible, but it’s something that is—is very interesting to me as a writer and so it’s like what I write about and so of course that book—that essay—you know, writing that review gave me a little space to like talk about that because it was—I was like, “Oh this is exactly what this book is about so like [mm hmm]. Here, I’m also gonna like talk about this idea that I have.”

[29:20]

SWB Yeah I mean I feel like this comes up in all kinds of fields. I mean I definitely know early in my career I… spent a lot of time hanging out with the dudes in my office because the dudes in my office were like in positions of more power, oftentimes. And they were fun! They were nice. I mean they were—they were in lots of ways great people but I definitely had a couple of years in there where it was almost like I set aside a lot of the more… like overt feminist work that I had done prior to that and was like, “I’m kinda—I’m here to, you know, get shit done and move up and make space for myself and, you know, I’ll do that by fitting in at—for a round of beers with these dudes.” And I couldn’t really see it that way at the time. Like I could not have explained that was what I was doing but looking back it’s like that was definitely what I was doing. And there came this moment where I was just like, “I don’t fucking want to.” And then I realized is that over the past several years, I mean definitely since the election but even before that, I was going through a process of sort of like… reevaluating the men in my life [mm hmm]. Um like I have a husband. I love him. His great [laughter]. Still in my life. He stayed. Um but like I definitely cut out a lot of people who I thought I was like “supposed to” like [mm hmm], or people who were “important” in my field, or whatever. Right? Like I was just like, “Oh. Is this actually bringing me anything in my life?”

CMM And I do think that’s also—I think that’s part of getting older. I do feel like as you get older you’re like, “Well life is short, I will die one day [chuckling in background], I need—I can’t like waste time on people who are like making me miserable or like don’t—or don’t—you know they don’t, not that you like, not in like a self-serving way where you’ll like, ‘Only people who can help me,’ but like just being like, ‘No, like that person doesn’t give me any joy. That person like makes me feel bad about myself.’” You know, whoever. Like I want to—but then yeah, there’s this element also of like my tolerance for like, male masculine bullshit is like this big. People who are listening, you can’t see. I’m making a very tiny little notch [chuckling in background] with my fingers. It’s like almost nothing because I’m just like, “I can’t. I don’t have time for your weird shit.” [Laughter] Like, I don’t want to deal with that. I gotta live my life. I gotta make art. I got a life. But I—but I crave the company of other women. And I mean I’m queer but also like I just crave like… I think women are more interesting [laughs]. I think women are just more interesting and I feel like the—yeah, it’s like I don’t have to explain myself to women [yes]. I don’t have to explain… we just know.

KL Yeah, you don’t have to explain about being or existing in—in [right]—in small facets of [right]—of ways that like seem like they should be obvious but [yeah].

SWB Right. Like when you’re like, “Well, you know, sometimes you just had sex with somebody because it was easier than leaving.” And everybody’s just like [crosstalk and laughter], “Oh yeah—I get it.”

[32:00]

CMM [Inaudible][Laughter]—no man. Almost no—well, I’m sure some men. But almost [sure]. Probably a very tiny percentage but every woman knows what that’s like, every single woman. It’s like, “Oh yeah,” where you’re like, “I’d rather—I don’t know what this—I don’t know this guy, I don’t know what he’ll do if I say no.” Or having to deal with like the whining and the inevitable like bullshit that’s gonna come with me saying no is just like easier for me to just like have sex and then like go away. So like that, right, well woman know that and—and I think it’s really nice to have that um and I think what’s really nice about what’s happening sort of in terms of art and writing right now is like you are getting a lot of these narratives are sort of being presented um like well before like “Cat Person” and like all these other stuff that’s been in the last couple of years. There was this really amazing piece I want to say in Buzzfeed maybe like two or three years ago that was also about this idea where it’s like not rape… but it’s like what about this exact phenomenon where it’s like it’s not rape, it’s not sexual assault, like you consent, technically, but you’re consenting because of this like larger power structure that like is totally out of your control and like, all things being equal, you would say no but like you just don’t want to deal with—You know so it’s like I’ve—this is like a thing that’s just in the air and I think we’re just like thinking about it a lot.

SWB Well I think that there’s kind of a lot of stuff in the air right, you know, you touched on some of it and one of the things that—that seems to be like definitely in the air is just I mean women’s stories are—are selling now. Like in a way that, I don’t know, maybe they probably never had the opportunity to before, they probably [chuckles] would’ve sold if they had been out there in the world [mm hmm] but I feel like there’s—there’s suddenly a lot more space? I’m not sure if that’s the way right way to look at it though but I feel like there’s um so many more women authors from all kinds of backgrounds who are like getting a lot of attention and who are kind of becoming, well like “the new vanguard” or whatever, right? Like there’s like—there’s—there’s sort of an appetite for that and a—and a—more of a, I don’t know, there’s an appetite for it which maybe was always there but there’s maybe more of a willingness to publish it and more of a willingness to promote it?

CMM Yeah I mean it—I feel like it’s sort of actually a bunch of different things, like I mean on one hand, not to be um, not to be cynical, but like feminism is a brand that sells. Like there is a sort of level of like… it is accept—it is a thing that is acceptable… for like companies to make money on, you know? And like so the reason, for example, that we’re seeing like so many like gay st—we’re seeing more like gay stories and more feminist stories is because right now, we’re in a place where that sort of thing is permissible and is even, like, profitable. But I don’t think that necessarily means that like, it—I don’t know if that’s as much as changing, it’s just like technology’s permitting this, certain sort of independent groups but there’s like just sort of weird little pockets that like are permitting it, and so it is like happening, but I don’t necessarily know if that means that like it’s different now, “everything’s better,” like I don’t—I don’t actually know if that’s the case. I’m also very cynical about all this.

[35:03]

SWB And I wonder, right, like I wonder if there’s a moment where people are like, “Oooh! We can—if we buy this book, right, like if we buy this author’s work, we think that’s gonna sell because it’s going to fit into this like group of like [totally] women of color writers who’ve sold well in previous years.” That’s a moment. That may not be a change that lasts.

CMM Right. The problem is that we think, and by we I just mean like culture. We think of like, minority—the art of non-dominant groups can be trendy, but we think of men and whiteness and straightness as, like, eternal and not trendy, and just like that is—that is the natural baseline, and anything else is like a trend. So like publishing—and publishing and other sorts of art forms—might follow those trends, but ultimately we will always return to this baseline. And of course that’s fake, right? Like, that’s not real: men, and white, and straight, and cis, and all those things are not like—are not neutral, but we think of them as neutral. So I feel like, yeah, I feel like we’re in this place where like, you know, there are these like spikes, but it’s because of this trendiness that—but it doesn’t mean that’s gonna be that way forever, right? So until we re-conceive of what is neutral, like, what is the center? And if we keep thinking of maleness and whiteness, et cetera, et cetera as the center, then we’re gonna keep like cycling back to that, you know? And so I think there’s like a different way to conceive of it that is like—but again, that’s about divesting. That’s about, like, rejecting the structure altogether, of everything, which is like really different than just being like, “Rah rah!” Like, “yay!” Like it’s actually more about like pulling everything out from the roots and like starting again, and how do we that? And I don’t know. Look, I don’t know how we do that. I think that’s like a big question and I think um… you know, we’ll see.

SWB Yeah. If—if the question is basically like, ok, well if we redefine what neutral is or like sort of what—what normal is and we cannot do that unless we can deal with our internalized misogyny. [Right] Right? And so it’s like, ok, well then how do we deal with that? And that’s such a huge question. Then—then, you know, it’s like—it’s a long haul to get back around to like, ok then what—what—what does the world look like after that [right] and like who the hell knows. But I’m—I’m curious: what has that meant in your personal work in your life? So, like, how did you get to a place where you felt like you had the confidence to show up with, you know, your, I’ll use your quote from earlier, with your “fat mind,” [chuckling in background and chuckles] and like and to say like, “I’m here and I’m going to take up space and I’m going to tell the stories that I want to tell, and I’m going to do them in these genres that don’t—that haven’t really been recognized, or I’m going to take genre and I’m gonna do whatever the fuck I want with it.” Like how did you get to a place where you felt like that was something that you could do?

[37:51]

CMM I wish I could say that it was all internal because certainly part of the process is like, being like, “I am going to do this thing.” Part of it was actually—but part—a lot of it was other people, you know? I was lucky in that like I had like my girlfriend slash wife who’s like brilliant and I trust and love, like being like, “This is really awesome. This is really different.” There were other people in my life like really encouraging me and like, you know, readers who read my work and wrote to me and, you know, so there were like these other sort of forces working. And then at some point I—I feel like I was looking at what I was doing and I was like, “I have something to say.” And, you know, the interesting thing about being like a writer or being any kind of artist is like you have to have an ego. Because, you know, you have to say like, “What I’m creating is important enough that I think other people should pay for it, should read it. It should be published, or it should be presented,” or whatever, and like that requires an amount of ego where you’re like, “I think that what I have to say is that important.” Um and I think sometimes people forget that element of it or they—or they—they’re like, “Oh like this person is so arrogant,” or whatever but it’s like no, no, you have to believe that, or else why the fuck are you writing? What’s the point? Or why are you making whatever art? So at some point I had to be like, “Yes, like I’m really good at this. I’m gonna—I’m gonna do it and I’m just gonna make this happen.” And that felt really amazing, and it felt really—and it felt right. And now—so it’s like I had to get over this hump, and then at some point, like obviously like the books are doing really well and I was like, “Ok so I wasn’t—” But even the book hadn’t done well I think I still would’ve felt that way like, “I’m good at what I do.” Like I know that I’m good at—I’m not good at a lot of things. Like, you know, I can’t draw to save my life. Like, you know, I’m really bad at dancing, like I’m not a fast runner, when I paint walls it’s always really crooked, like there I do not have a lot of skills but I know that I’m a good writer. And that—I can say that and like I know that’s true. And I would never—you know, I don’t ever say things like I, yeah, I would never claim to be anything that I’m not and like—but I know I’m a good writer. And I have that. I have that. And so… I can sort of move forward that and that’s like in my arsenal of like getting through my life and like getting through everything um and knowing that and believing that. So… yeah. I don’t know. So I think it is like—it’s, yeah, it’s partially like sort of taking from other people what they are handing to you because I think oftentimes people will say to you like, “You’re really good at this thing.” And you want to be like—especially women want to be like, [uptalking:] “No, no, no. Like I’m not—I’m not—oh, oh, you know, like I—thank you. I’m just doing what I do.” You know? And it’s like you want to—because you’re trained to like minimize yourself in that way and it’s like—it’s like saying, “Oh thank you, I worked really hard on that. So thanks so much. I really appreciate it.” And it can be scary and also for me like I get really scared when I have to admit like—Like, for example, like right now I’m working on this new book and I’m really scared that I’m not smart enough to write it and that’s really hard to admit. Because it’s like, oh my god, like, what if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew? Like what if, you know? And so now I’ve gotta like rapidly make myself the kind of writer who can get through this project, and that’s like a very terrifying challenge. But also, that’s how I know I’m getting better, because I’m like pushing myself through like these new stages of—of art and of—you know, and I read my book—my book came out in October. When I read it I’m like, “I’m already a better writer than I was when I wrote this book.” And that’s really exciting too, being like, “Oh no, like I, you know, I’m already better.” … Like I’m already sick of reading from it because I’m like, “Oh I can do better than this,” you know? [Laughs] So yeah so I feel like it’s like taking what people give you… sort of, you know, challenging yourself and pushing yourself and, you know, knowing what you’re good at, and I think also like a lot of that in—involves like being bad at things. Like, I don’t know, my dad is a chemical engineer and the poor man was trying to get me to be a scientist for like my entire life and of course I like at every turn just resisted him in [chuckles] in every way [chuckling in background].

[41:29]

CMM [Continued] And I’m ba—I’m not good at math, I’m not good at, you know? [Laughs] You know like I’m not good at any of that stuff. Um but I do remember like getting I think a C in chemistry in high school and I had like a—I had like a conniption, like I was having like a nervous breakdown, and my dad was like, “Look,” he said, “Ye—did you do your best?” And I said, “I did!” Like I was going to school, I was like. He’s like, “That’s all you can do. It’s ok. You don’t—you’re not good—no one’s—no one’s good at everything.” He’s like, “I never trust people who have like straight As in absolutely everything because it’s like… it’s like you’ve gotta fail, you’ve gotta,” well he didn’t say—he didn’t say “fuck up” but I would say you gotta fuck up sometimes. You gotta be like, “I’m gonna try this thing, maybe I’ll get a little better, maybe not. Like, I’m—but also I can do this.” Or, “This thing gives me pleasure, I’m gonna do it anyway.” And I feel like there’s this way of just like figuring out like, yeah, like how you occupy your space and like being ok with bad at things and also being comfortable with being good at something and men are good at both those things. Men are really good at being like super confident in everything that they’re doing and also like fucking up royally at the same time.

SWB And they just move on!

CMM They’re just going on! Right! And like women are just like, “Aaaaaah!” [Laughter in background] And I feel like it’s like because we’re just taught to do that, we’re taught to like [inaudible crosstalk] freak out and agonize at every turn. And it’s like you don’t have to live your life that way. That’s like a prison. That’s fake. So, yeah, so I don’t know, and this is all stuff that I’ve only realized in the last like few years of my life, you know? And so there’s something really freeing about that.

SWB I love it so much.

CMM I’m so glad [laughs].

SWB I love it so much because, you know, we talk about this a lot on the show. This sort of like… having other—like when other people come to you and tell you you’re doing great, and like how important it is to actually listen to them and take that seriously because it’s so easy to brush it off and, again, like to come back to what—what I mentioned at the beginning, like, to reduce your own successes to luck, right? [Yeah] And to like, “Oh yeah I wasn’t—” No, like, sure, I mean, it’s not to say like there are some ways in which we all get lucky, there are ways in which we happen to have this moment, and the right thing at the right time but like, things have happened for me in ways that were good because I worked my ass off, right? [Right, yes] Like I’m good at things and that is why I’ve gotten a lot of it.

[43:28]

CMM And I think also recognizing because for me like people will ask me like, “What is—you’re having this moment, what does that mean?” And I’m like, “Well, like it’s a lot of things.” Like it is some amount of luck. Like there’s timing. Timing is a thing you often can’t but like good timing. Yes, I’ve worked my ass off. I’m also really privileged in a lot of ways. Like I grew up, you know, I was educated, like I grew up in a certain kind of household. Like I’ve never like been hungry, I’ve never like been homeless. Like there’s like all these things sort of working for me um so it’s like, you know, and also, yeah, I’m working really hard, and also I have some talent. And I think there’s like, like saying like, “I have a talent,” which is a thing that like is sort of nebulous and is hard to pin down and like where does it come from? And can you teach it and like I mean that’s kind of beyond purview and I could talk about that for like ten hours but there’s like that element, there’s privilege which you can’t control, there’s luck which you also can’t control, all you can control is like the hard work element.

SWB Yeah, I mean I don’t know if you can teach this necessarily but it seems like something you can give to someone.

CMM Or like—yeah or like let someone know about it. Yeah, no, for sure.

KL Talk about it more like you’re saying, I mean I think talking to each other and talking to other women who may not just may not ha—have experience talking about this stuff or listening to people who have experienced it [yeah]. It’s, you know.

SWB Or also it’s like we’ve sort of been taught to be ashamed of it. Like something [exactly] we talk about a lot is how common it is for women to feel like they shouldn’t talk about their ambitions, or talk [yes] about things they want, or like to like—yeah, like to—to—to be able to say out loud like the intentionality that they have [yeah] and put into things [yeah].

CMM Right it’s—it’s very gauche to be like, “This is what I want.” Or, “This is my goal.”

SWB And I’m kind of fucking tired of that [yeah] like I don’t—I’m not interested in that. I want to hear what—what women want and [yeah] like what they’re—what they’re doing—

CMM But not like in a Mel Gibson kind of way [boisterous laughter].

KL No. Never.

[45:00]

SWB Never. Literally never in a Mel Gibson kind of way. Carmen, thank you so much for being on the show today.

CMM Oh of course! No problem, thank you [music fades in, ramps up, plays for five seconds alone, fades out].

SWB Is everybody ready for the Fuck Yeah of the Week?

JL I’m so ready.

SWB I’m always ready for the Fuck Yeah this week, because the Fuck Yeah this week is: naps.

KL Aaaah!

SWB Ugh uh do you—ok…

JL How do you feel right now just saying the word “naps”?

SWB I feel like I want a nap.

JL You know what thinking about napping does? It can reduce your blood pressure.

KL Just thinking about it?

JL Just thinking about a nap!

KL Oh my god.

JL There was a recent study that found that just people anticipating naps was enough to lower your blood pressure.

KL So we should be thinking more about snoozing.

SWB Maybe this is why my blood pressure is so great because I think about naps a lot [KL laughs].

JL Everyone just stop for a second… think about a nap [sigh of relief from KL]…

SWB So I don’t nap like all people nap. Like some people are like, “Oh my gosh, if I sit down for a nap it’s like two hours.” And I’m like I don’t have that kinda time. But when I take a nap, I—I take a micro nap. And—

[46:13]

JL What is a micro nap? And tell me more!

SWB Ok. So, you know, I work at home, and, you know, sometimes you get like that afternoon lull where your brain doesn’t work that well, it’s like after lunch and you just need a minute. If I have a little bit of time something that I’ll often do is I will set my alarm for 12 or 15 minutes, and… I’ll just kind of doze off. And when I wake back up 12 to 15 minutes later, I feel so much better. And I know it sounds wild. Right? Like I know it sounds wild to be like, “Wait, you nap for 12 minutes?”

JL Stop. Does this work? Is this real?

SWB So it works for me and—and I’ll tell you when it works: it works when I’m having an afternoon where I’m just—I get that sluggish, tired feeling and where I’m feeling so sleepy already that I’m like, “I just can’t.” So I’m already like already pretty sleepy feeling and I figure like, instead of trying to fight it, I just lean into it, and then come back bounced back. And so for me, when I’m in that zone, I found that that kind of little break is much more productive than like trying to fight through it. So—so here’s my 12-minute story, ok: two minutes to fall asleep. Ten minutes of napping.

JL And it wor—and you fall asleep within those two minutes?

SWB Oftentimes I can fall into like a light sleep.

JL Mmm… I’m—I feel like my blood pressure’s dropped just listening to you tell that story.

KL I know! I—yeah, I have not usually been able to do that and I think now I’m listening to you say this and I’m wondering if it’s something that I could maybe just like try to practice a little bit more because when I have napped and just like been able to do it for like half an hour or something, even that is, you know, really nice and—and I feel refreshed. But I feel like I was always one of those people who I would go to sl—like go to sleep to nap and I would two hours later I would [chuckles] wake up and I’d be like, “Ah! Everything’s shot!” And then you feel terrible.

SWB Yeah, I mean I can do that if I lie down for that long it’s like you’re just you’re brain foggy because you go into those deep sleep cycles. I don’t do that—it’s just like a real quick thing. Here’s the thing: you know my number one tip for getting good at the micro nap? I mean I don’t know if micro naps are gonna work for you or not, maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But my tip is like, first up… learn to feel really good about the idea. Like don’t feel bad or guilty about taking a little nap [KL absolutely].  Don’t feel like you should be doing something else, don’t feel like it’s sort of like indulgent. Feel like sometimes that is the most productive way that you could spending your time.

[48:49]

JL There’s so many studies about how good naps are for you. I mean like things like just being more alert, increasing your patience, reducing heart disease.

SWB Oh my god, I need way more patience. So should I take a lot more naps [laughs]?

JL Maybe you need to up it to [inaudible over crosstalk]—

KL Yeah, definitely.

SWB You know the other thing I think, though, like you were saying, Katel, like you need to practice a little bit. I do think it’s the kind of thing, like, even if you’ve mentally given yourself permission, you may not have kind of physically let go of this idea that—that taking nap is a—is, like, a weird thing to be doing. So like normalize it, and then it might get easier to fall asleep.

KL Completely. I think that is absolutely true. And I think also just doing some sort of physical hygiene around that, where, you know, I’m putting myself in like a very comfortable place, and making it conducive to doing that instead of being like, “I’m gonna—I’m sitting on couch already, I’m just gonna like lay my head down,” that doesn’t always work.

JL One of the things that always frustrated me as a new mom is everyone was like, “Sleep when baby sleeps.” And I’m like, “Buuut I can’t just sleep on demand,” and that would be so annoying because you can’t predict the sleep schedule of your newborn or toddler, it turns out um [laughs] and so he would go to sleep and I’d be like, “Well, I want to sleep,” but I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep and so like and I would give myself two minutes, ten minutes, 15 and I wouldn’t fall asleep and then I would just get frustrated and think about that and then I would just give up and—and do something else like eat or shower which was fine. Other necessities. But I—then I eventually realized that for me it wasn’t just about falling asleep, the idea of just lying down and giving my body and sometimes my mind a chance to just relax also was really refreshing. So I’ve gotten way better at that. So maybe not falling asleep but this idea of just breaks and resting and giving myself a chance to do that. And like you were saying, Sara, being ok with that. And also being ok if I don’t fall asleep. And I think that was one of the thing that was one of my biggest battles is I’d be like, “Napping’s not working. I’m not falling asleep.” But being like, “You know what? I’m just gonna lie here for ten minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whenever he decided to wake back up and I’m just gonna—I’m just gonna be.”

[51:04]

SWB Did you ever think that you would be just like looking forward to when he’s like a surly tween or teen [laughter] and like won’t get up until 11:30 or [laughs]? So yeah, naps. I recommend it. They are Sara approved. I think you should take ‘em. I think you should feel good about them. I recognize if you work like in a traditional office, you may not be able to do what I do in the middle of the day as easily, and that’s ok. But I do think giving yourself those little breaks and like letting yourself try to relax. It’s like, I had to get over the feeling of like I was wasting time and to think like, “Man, I’m actually saving time because I’m not gonna be productive for the next like 90 minutes if I try to push through this tired period.”

JL That reset button is so important.

SWB Fuck yeah naps!

KL Fuck yeah!

JL I’m gonna take a nap now [laughter].

KL That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together, and naps. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Carmen Maria Machado for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe and rate us on your podcast provider. Your support helps us spread the word. We’ll be back again next week [music fades in, ramps up, plays alone for 32 seconds, fades out to end].

Apr 24 2018

52mins

Play

Rank #7: Therapeutic Tarot with Jessica Dore

Podcast cover
Read more

Self reflection. Emotional care. Therapy. And...tarot? Hell yeah. The woman behind a wildly popular daily tarot reading on Twitter, Jessica Dore, shows us how mysticism and science can meet—and bring us all opportunities for healing and self-discovery.

Jessica is a writer and graduate student of social work who reads tarot as a tool for therapeutic healing. Through her spiritual side hustle, she gathers a weekly tarot circle, leads workshops, and helps thousands of people access feelings, thoughts, and life questions to better understand themselves.

> The cards have a unique way of cutting right to the core of things with people. I’ll have people often tell me, “wow, this is worth ten sessions of therapy.” And that’s anecdotal, that’s not to say that tarot reading is a replacement for therapy at all. But people will say that they can just get right to the heart of things.

> —Jessica Dore, writer and healer

We talk about:

  • Jessica’s path from working in self-help book publishing to tarot reader to social work grad student
  • How her daily Twitter card pull gained her a huge following, and helps people connect with her—and themselves
  • How tarot can help us access deeper feelings—and feel less alone
  • Why it’s important to feel mentally and emotionally prepared when you’re helping people get in touch with themselves
  • How to get started with tarot!

Links:

Plus:

  • Sara and Katel have an overdue friend date
  • We check in with each other using an empirical rating system, and it's super helpful—for real!
  • Fuck yeah to great roles for women and more diversity of women on screen in some of our favorite shows right now

Feb 21 2019

48mins

Play

Rank #8: Be Your Full Amazing Self with Sydette Harry

Podcast cover
Read more

Have a love-hate relationship with social media? So do we. In Episode 7, we explore the joys and perils of visibility, and talk with Sydette Harry, an expert in online communities.

Trolls, randos, and straight-up neo-Nazis: being a woman online can be tough. This week, we’re exploring how we make choices about what and whether to share online.

Our guest this week is the inimitable writer, editor, and tech/media critic, Sydette Harry, also known as @blackamazon. She’s an editor at Mozilla and part of the Coral Project, which is working to create healthier communities and comments sections. She’s also smart as hell, exquisitely blunt, and committed to talking about what’s wrong online in the voice she grew up with.

> Yes, in a lot of ways I am more diverse than the average person who shows up to a lot of these things. We’re not going to lie about that. I am, by virtue of being black and female, even though I am a cis, able-bodied person, I am more diverse than the people you usually have in there. That being said, I’m still an Ivy League graduate. I’m still a person of a certain education… So when you say that I am “diversity,” let’s all be clear here: you ain’t doin’ that well, fam. You’re not doing that good.
>
> —Sydette Harry

Here’s what we cover—and of course, we’ve got a full transcript, too.

Show notes

A year ago, Lindy West quit Twitter—and she’s not coming back. We miss her voice, but we’re also a little jealous.

Plus: Jenn moves her sports talk to Facebook, Katel closes the tab and never looks back, and we all wonder whether Klout still exists. (Sara used to be influential in burritos. Just saying.)

Interview: Sydette Harry

Get comfortable, because you won’t want to miss a second of Sydette’s searing commentary on tech culture, Twitter, journalism, race, gender, and weight. We talk about:

Fuck Yeah of the Week: Ladies Get Paid

We’ve talked a lot on the show about wages, being underpaid, and how hard it can be to negotiate at work. So this week, we give a fuck yeah to a group educating and empowering cis and trans women and non-binary or gender non-conforming folks to get paid fairly.

Check out Ladies Get Paid for workshops, town hall conversations, and more.

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a diverse, intelligent, and motivated team—and they  want to apply to you. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.

_WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you. _

Transcript

Katel LeDû [Ad spot] This episode of No, You Go is brought to you by our friends at Shopify, the leading global commerce platform for entrepreneurs like me! And A Book Apart. Are you looking to join forces with a diverse, intelligent, and motivated team? Well Shopify has great news: they’re hiring more awesome people to join them and they don’t just want you to apply to them, they want to apply you. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re all about [music fades in].

Jenn Lukas [Music fades out] Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

KL I’m Katel LeDû

Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

JL Today we’re talking about online personas, communities, and our love/hate relationship with social media. What do we want out of it? And how do we decide how visible to be in a world that’s full of trolls and randos constantly popping into your mentions to tell you that you’re wrong? We’re also joined by Sydette Harry, who works with Mozilla and the Coral Project on building healthier online communities and comments sections. We’ll talk about how race and gender play a role in what happens online.

SWB Hey, do you all remember last year when Lindy West quit Twitter?

JL No, what happened?

SWB Ok, so Lindy is a writer and a comedian, and she had this book come out called Shrill, which is a memoir. And she’s awesome. And she was one of my favorite voices on Twitter, and then one day last January she just deactivated, and she ended up writing about it in The Guardian. She did it on the day that, at the time, our president-elect was taunting North Korea about nuclear weapons on Twitter. And she was just like, I’ve had enough. So she wrote in The Guardian that, you know, “For the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out.” She talks about how she’s used it to write jokes for free, post political commentary for free, answer questions for free, do feminism 101 for free, and she wrote that, you know, “Off Twitter these are all things by which I make my living, but on Twitter I do them pro bono. And in return I’m micromanaged in real time by strangers, neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit, and men enjoy unfettered direct access to my brain, so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.”

So she’s been off Twitter for a year, and I’ve been wondering, is Lindy going to come back? Because she was also somebody who I really looked to for interesting insight and conversation. And as much as I really understand everything she’s saying and I agree with it, quitting Twitter also feels impossible to me because it’s something I’ve relied on for such a long time, sort of personally and professionally. Well, Lindy is not coming back. So earlier this month she wrote a new piece called “I Quit Twitter and it Feels Great.” And she wrote about what her life is like now. She’s like, “I don’t wake up with a pit in my stomach every day… I don’t get dragged into protracted, bad-faith arguments with teenage boys about whether poor people deserve medical care… I don’t spend hours every week blocking and reporting trolls.” And I think about this a lot because like I also am spending more time than I would like to on that kind of shit. But at the same time, I love so much about Twitter, and about social media in general, there’s a lot of stuff that it’s really connected me to. And so it made me really curious, like, how are you all negotiating this? How do you think about your visibility online? Do you feel like you’re making choices as a result of all of that crap?

JL Well that sounds lovely, I have to say, to some extent. But I have not followed that same path.

KL Yeah, I mean, well Sara and I, actually, we were really lucky: we just saw Lindy speak at an event and I actually really liked something that she said about Twitter and Facebook, those platforms, they want you to and they’re really banking on you to think that they’re the only way, the only way that you can connect with other people. And like while that’s bullshit, we know at the core, it’s really hard, like you were just saying, Sara. I mean this is a lot of how we have gotten to know each other, and a lot of people that we’re friends with, and have made really good connections to work. So I don’t know, I mean, I think it’s trying to find some kind of balance, but I don’t know. I look at both of you and I don’t participate that much on Twitter or Facebook, I guess, but I was thinking back on this. When I was really starting to feel like I had something, maybe, to say, or like I would feel comfortable saying something on Twitter, I was watching all these people that I really loved and cared about getting completely trashed just for like existing there. And I got really scared. So I think that’s why I haven’t really put myself out there at all.

JL I think one of the things that I find hard to grasp about Twitter is Twitter now versus Twitter 10 years ago.

KL Yeah.

JL And I feel like I still have this … like love relationship with Twitter, for the Twitter that I loved 10 years ago, which I just felt was way more focused on specific technology news, which is what I was looking for at the time, and sort of what I was really more putting out was technology news.

[5:00]

And now it’s so much more. And, you know, it’s sort of — when people are like, “Oh, I long for the good ol’ days!” And part of me is like, “Oh! But Twitter used to be this!” And I’m like, “But just because it used to be something doesn’t mean it is that or ever will be again. And I think for me that’s sort of trying to find how much I still interact with it is definitely not how much I used to.

SWB And I mean like of course it’s changed, right? It’s a big platform and it has so much power to get the news to everybody in the world really quickly and some of that stuff is amazing, but it is also overwhelming and can be a little difficult, I think, to handle the kind of like context-shifting of somebody wanting to tell me about some article they wrote that’s relevant to user experience that I might want to read about for work. But then also, here’s the latest absolutely batshit thing the president said,” and then also, “here’s somebody with a really funny joke and a dog picture,” which I like. Don’t get rid of those [KL chuckles]. And then all of a sudden we go to the latest tragedy. And I think that that mishmash of everything is hard. It’s almost like a context collapse, right? Like there is no context anymore. It’s all just in this one weird stream. And I recognize that I have control. I can unfollow. I can create channels that I want to use. I can put people into this or that list, I can follow those certain lists for certain things, but that’s not really how I like to use Twitter. That’s not — then I feel like it’s a job to manage it [uh huh! Yeah! Yes! Right][laughing], and I don’t really want that job. But the thing is, it’s also a really powerful place where I’ve met so many great people, and has been super important to my career, and I hear this a lot from women, especially, who feel like that’s where they were able to find networks and establish some professional footing, and yet … if I have to have one more conversation with some rando who wants to explain the topic of my book back to me, I’m going to lose it.

JL I think, for me, I’ve had transition what I post on Twitter over the years. So first starting on Twitter I would post about any random thought that popped into my head, a lot of sports, and then also, because my focus is in engineering and technology, a lot of development news, and one of the things I found is I’d get a lot of feedback from people that would be like, “Oh. It’s baseball season. I should unfollow Jenn Lukas because she’s tweeting about sports again.” And I was like, “Hey!” But then part of me is like, well, you know what? What I go to Twitter for is to read technology news, and so I just sort of took that at that time and was like, you know what I’m going to do? My Twitter account is going to focus more on development, engineering, UX, UI, links, things I write, that sort of subject, and then I moved all my more personal thoughts, including sports, cuz that’s personal [laughter]. My love of the Eagles is very personal!

KL Gets personal.

SWB I’ve seen Jenn do a football dance, it’s extremely personal! [Laughter.]

JL But I moved that all to Facebook where I found the audience sort of matched better what I was doing there. So more local friends, more of the people that wanted to hear more about that, and where with the comments on Facebook, I could have more conversations about those personal things. Whereas Twitter where it’s a megaphone versus a two-way conversation there mostly. So there I kept things that were more announcements and then moved things conversational to Facebook. And, like you said though, Sara, you get into this weird context switching. So that’s worked for me and I think it’s worked really well, but there are times where I’ll go to Twitter and I’ll be like, “Oh. I want to post about this thing I wrote.” But then there’s a school shooting and, for me, I can’t look at this stuff and be like, yeah, lemme tell you about a new variable font on the web when there was just a shooting in Florida, and that feels super weird for me. And those are the times where I don’t really even know how to handle social media.

SWB How could anybody, right? Like we’re dealing with a world that communicates in such an always-on kind of way, and I don’t know that anybody has figured out what to do with that, and what is a healthy way to deal with that. I sometimes feel like I end up spending all of this time kind of hemming and hawing and debating about whether I should post anything at all. And in a way that I never used to do. And so like, for example, I will sit there and think through the various potential outcomes like, “If I’m going to say something that’s kind of funny, is this something where somebody is going to not get the joke and then they’re going to get mad, and then they’re going to snowball from there? Is this a thing that I’m going to have to be explaining the joke to people all day? Is this a thing where I’m going to have to be, like, defending my own credibility to talk about this subject? Like what kind of labor am I going to have to put in to manage this?” And then also I start thinking like, “Well how does this fit into the overall context of other things that I post?”

[10:00]

And where I used to be just like, “Here’s a funny, random thought that I had on my way to the bank!” And it was OK. I’ve stopped feeling like that, and I’ve actually found that it’s almost like I have, in some ways, less faith in myself over knowing what I want to be communicating, which is a little bit unsettling.

KL Yeah. You’re second-guessing yourself. I mean that’s where my anxiety paralysis comes in really handy because I just don’t do it [laughing] and then I walk away, and then I’m like, “All right, wait till the next decision.”

JL And I totally get those feelings. I have them too. I’ve actually been trying to force myself to tweet more, but, again, because I write and I make a podcast with two wonderful friends, and I have to get that out there somehow because I want to share that with people. So I still have that. Like, I would love to quit Twitter, but I also want to keep sharing, and I want to keep seeing what other people are doing, too [KL yeah], and, for me, I haven’t found the exact medium to replace that yet.

SWB Well, and also, like, when you do things like have a podcast and write a book or whatever, a lot of the success of those things ends up coming down to your ability to promote yourself. And, even if you have, for example, for my book, I mean, I have publishers, they have PR people, they’ve done a lot of stuff, but if I weren’t doing the work too, it just doesn’t go anywhere. And part of that work is making it visible and so then, then you get into this space where you feel like, “Is all I’m doing posting about my own projects? My own like —”

KL Building your own personal brand.

SWB Yeah, like, “Hey! Subscribe to my podcast!”

JL My Klout score!

KL [Laughing] Oh my god!

JL Does that still exist?

KL I don’t know.

SWB I remember opting out of that but, at one point, I was influential in burritos [laughter]. Thank you very much.

JL What?! I would eat a burrito with you.

KL That’s amazing! [Music fades in.]

SWB [Music fades out.][Ad spot] If you’ve visited noyougoshow.com, then you know it’s the center of our online presence. Well, we built it on WordPress. We love WordPress because it’s super easy to customize, has great customer support, and comes with lots of features that make publishing our podcast, or pretty much anything else, really easy. It’s no surprise that nearly 30 percent of all websites run on WordPress. Plans start at just four dollars a month. Start building your website today! Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new plan purchase. That’s wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off your brand new website! [Music fades in and out.][End of ad spot.]

SWB A few years ago, I realized that way too much of the media I was consuming was coming from white people. And something I started doing was really paying more attention to where I was getting news and where I was getting information, and I started seeking out a lot of different writers, people of color who were involved in the public in some way, journalists. And along the way I obviously started paying attention to lots of big names: Roxane Gay or Ta-Nehisi Coates. But after awhile I feel like a whole new world opened up for me, and one of the voices that stuck out to me almost immediately was Sydette Harry, who is probably better known as @blackamazon on Twitter. Sydette, I hope, does not mind me saying that she is a force, and I have learned a lot by listening to her and watching her have conversations about everything from immigration to online harassment to black culture that I didn’t know anything about. And I am just so elated that she took the time to be on the show today. Sydette, welcome to No, You Go!

Sydette Harry Thank you! Thank you for having me!

SWB So I’m really happy to have you here and to hear more about how you ended up doing what you do. So the way I understand it, you are currently running editorial at Mozilla, and I’d love to hear more about how you ended up there and what that day-to-day looks like.

SH Ok. So. What it is — I am the editor of the Foundation website and editor of the Network. So my real goal is to develop processes and systems and discussions. I was like, “How do people talk? How do you get online? How do we get stuff out?” Really shifting from the kind of traditional like, oh this is a Foundation and we kind of do these things, into a, so how do we start a global push towards something Mozilla has called internet health. They’re writing reports on it, there are fellowships around it, but this discussion of how do you know that the internet you use is healthy and sustainable and useful for you? And that it works for what you want to get done and what you want to do in life. And I think that that is super, super important to think about in a way that is informed by my experience online. My experience online is that I am from Far Rock. It is a two-hour train ride, if you are very, very lucky. And it became very, very apparent to me that if I wanted to — once, and I was also, right after I graduated from college, so that was one of the first colleges to get Facebook.

[15:00]

So it was like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Penn. And it’s like, “Oh! We have Facebook. Yay us.” And there was also very much — at the same time, my father got deported the year I graduated college. And then the economy tanked in around 2007. So … there becomes this very big thing of, “How do I navigate this idea where I’m leaving this place of great privilege, where I’m leaving this great place of, oh, you have everything available to you in ways that you never had before,’” and it’s now you are part of a broken family. Literally broken: they took your father and they deported him. And you are not — and you were told at your very, very expensive graduation: “This is how you will amass the world and blah blah blah blee da blee blee.” And you now have no job, you’re going back to your house, and you’re going to have to try and rebuild your life from what is, essentially, a very traumatic place. And I have a background in theater, so my thought was, “I now have a forum to talk!” And ever since then I have been commenting on anybody who’ll give me a password and some access. And I tried everything. But my actual training was history and theater and dramaturgy and pipes and processes. So while I was doing that commentary, I became very interested in, “How does this work? How does this apply to communication theory? How does this work for what we’re doing?” And, through that and writing and commentary — I had a blog called Having Read The Fine Print — trying to get into this space of so how do we know what we’re doing is correct? And how do we know that what we’re doing is useful? Because that is a huge question. And Coral had seen some of my work, and they hired me, and I’ve been working from that ever since.

SWB OK, so Coral Project. I’m a big fan of the Coral Project, which has been working on making comment systems more healthy and humane for quite some time. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Coral Project?

SH Coral Project was started in 2014. People got together and said, “Comments are terrible.” So it’s The New York Times, The Washington Post, Knight Foundation. We were under Open News, and we are now under Mozilla. And we worked out of The New York Times building. It was like, “So how do we build better comments?” The first person hired was the project lead, the general, Andrew Losowsky, and I call him The General because [laughing] he always gets so — he’s like, “Why do you call me The General?!?” And I was like, “Partially because it makes you blush,” and also it was right around the time of Hamilton [laughter]. We’re like, “OK, you’re The General.” But he does not make me call him that. But — and then I was the second hire.

And then we were working with our tech leads, and one of the things we came to really quickly was that it wasn’t enough to focus just on comments, we had to look at how communities were sorted. So people were like, “We’re going to write guides on how to use better comments.” And it was going to be research on comments and then it was like — as we were talking, we were like, “All of this stems from larger systemic problems, larger editorial problems.” If you really want to talk about why your comments are bad, you have to talk about how you set up your community online because the experiences of community, even communities that deal with some heavy, heavy stuff, have a wide range. There are communities that deal with some of the most traumatic things that are genial, well-run, not to say that they are always perfect, but there’s a real sense of community there. And then there are communities that deal with what I think would be like pretty superficial things in the sense of — on top they’re superficial, but the same issues show up and they become important, and they implode often. And communities can implode really quickly. And it’s like, why does that happen? What leads to that happening? And how do we talk about that?

SWB In that work, it sounds like, you know, your experience firsthand commenting anywhere and everywhere during this really difficult moment of your life was directly applied there. Can you talk more about how you brought that experience into Coral?

SH The way I think about it is I try to create communities where, depending on how I’m acting, it would not be at all difficult to kick me out. And I think that that’s important. And people always, like, stutter. It’s like, I try to create communities that are supportive of the least—the people who have the least advantage, the least resources, the least training, to become a member. And I want to continue to make people aware of what it’s like to try to be a member of these communities. And there are some communities where I’m like, “If I was a moderator of the community, I would put myself out.” And that’s good. And that is how you really have to think about these things, and not because it’s some level of altruism, but it’s very much the first question we ask all the time: who is your community for? Who do you want this community to serve? And how do you make your community represent that? Because what happens with a lot of people is, “Oh, we just had — we just had a community and then we didn’t do anything.” And I am like, “Well, you did do something.” Whether or not you believe you made it.

[20:00]

No choice is a choice. Because people see that you didn’t make that choice, you didn’t do whatever you said you were going to do, and they very much responded accordingly. If they are the type of people who take advantage of these things, they did that. If they are the type of people who are very likely to be targeted by violence and see that you don’t do anything, they stop responding. They stop being involved. And that is a choice. And with Coral it became varied things from, do not look for the quick fix of “tech will build a tool” or “this will be the tool” or whatever. It’s very much about, so, “this is what you want to do. How have you built it in that this is what you can do? And this is something that you had given space for your community to be able to do? Have you done that?”

SWB Yeah, totally, that makes a lot of sense, and I think about a lot of this in the context of something really big that many of our listeners would have familiarity with, like Twitter. They spent a really long time with such a hands-off approach, and with this idea that somehow they were going to be the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” as they said so many times, and therefore their approach to their community was that they weren’t a community, right? They’re just a platform. And the result is, well, they’ve been entirely unable to deal with harassment and abuse on their platform for years and years and years after many people, including you, have told them about it.

SH Oh. So one of the things that constantly happens now that I’ve moved from commenting about tech to working in tech is, I don’t ever want to hear the word “scale” again. It has started to become like — I start to get twitchy a little. Because people use scale as an excuse to not talk about very basic stuff. And it bothers my soul. Because ultimately what people want to know is, how are you going to take care of them? And people go, “Well, it doesn’t scale! We’re not in scale!” And I’m like, “Well, that’s nice. What are you going to do for the people inundated right now? If you’re working on it, let’s be honest.” There’s also this myth of the early adopter and what early adopter tends to mean is early adopter with social capital, not actual early adopter. Because I found out very quickly that I was actually — I’m actually one of the first people to adopt Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for nine years. And I didn’t know that. Because I had never considered myself among the [in mocking voice] “early adopters” because I was never talked about in that fashion. And part of the reason that I wasn’t talked about in that fashion is because I didn’t have social capital when I was an early adopter. Now I have it. And I’m like, oh! OK, so that’s what that means. That’s what you are talking about when you say “early adopter,” you basically are trying to say “someone who matters to us.”

SWB Well, yeah, and at Twitter it was very much conceived of people who are like us … “us” being the founders. And who were the founders of Twitter? It’s a bunch of young, white guys. And so I think that they certainly were not thinking about people particularly different from them as being part of those early adopters. But the way I understand it there are tons of stats going back maybe not a full 10 years ago, but at least eight or so years ago, around adoption of Twitter by black people, and how high the black user base was of Twitter, and I just think they didn’t even think enough about it to even consider caring about it.

SH And it’s not easy in the way folks want to talk about it. It’s — there is a — “do you have beef with @jack @Twitter @support?” Of course. But that’s not the thing I want to focus on. It’s not the thing that I care most about. The thing I care most about is, how is this affecting who we look at, and who we take care of, and how we take care of them? Because very simply, very, very simply: the way we talk about and look at abuse, the way this is designed isn’t good. And the reason it’s not good is because it hasn’t been designed well, it hasn’t been considered well, and it’s because, and this is my new thing, is that nobody who has a social science degree or had a social science focus sat there and thought about what happens when you get a large black population. What happens when you get a large population of abusers and harassers and things like that? How do you successfully set up your experience? Not a free speech wing in the free speech party, but what does each specific user get when they step on? And that’s very much what I often rave about is the racism and the sexism and the Nazis. I’ve talked about that in public. You can look that up. But what is very hard for me, and a lot of times, and this is what most scares me about it, is the difficulty it is to get people to focus on: so how are you going to help a user in this case? How is this one person going to get what they need from you? Right now? Not at scale.

[25:00]

Not at scale. Because that’s the word everybody likes to bring out. “We’re going to talk about scale. We’re going to talk about scale.” And I’m like, “When are we talking about the specific person? And it’s very hard to get people to think about that and talk about that because they almost have an innate sense of shame of like, “Well, we really didn’t think about that.” And I could probably use a lot more curse words when I say it. It’s like, I’m completely uninterested in how bad you feel about the fact you didn’t do it before. I want to know how you’re going to do it now.

SWB Yeah, you know, I think so much of that reluctance, like you were saying, kind of comes back to shame that they didn’t think about it, and then also that — that fear of looking it dead in the eyes, right? Like when you look at it at scale only, you don’t have to think about the individual people, and as soon as you’re asked to think about the individual people, that becomes a human-level problem that is, you know, is a little bit painful to look at. And avoidance is powerful.

So something I would love to talk more about because I think it’s really relevant to this conversation is something I’ve heard you speak about a lot more recently, which is making this argument that the voices we hear in news and the voices that we hear online are not representative of people, like, where you’re from.

SH There is very much a non-acknowledgement, especially coming into media, and I have it from a really specific perspective. I am a member of a program called Prep for Prep … which is, it’s specifically designed to try and address systemic equality. So it’s about 40 years old. It was started in 1978, right around “the Bronx is burning.” President Ford basically tells the city, go burn in a fire. We don’t have any resources. And how do you take kids who are under-resourced by the city and whatever and what-have-you, and make them into the leaders, the people who are going to be the dreamers coming out of the progressive sixties and seventies? And the way they thought about it was, you are going to equip the kids who show the most ability to endure — straight up just endure — and high IQs and certain psychological profiles. You’re going to put them through academic, like, basically bootcamp, and you’re going to put them into the NYSAIS system. NYSAIS system being the New York State Alliance of Independent Schools. These are private schools so old that some are older than Harvard and Yale, and some are of age of Harvard and Yale. This is old, old money that can link itself back to the Oxbridge. And what happens with Prep is that you develop a machine to address the fact that we may not have resources and all of that, and we become trained in being leaders, and you do that for 14 months. I did that. I started that when I was nine. This is all going on in the middle of the crack eighties, in the middle of Reagan America, in the middle of the nineties, this is happening while IIRIRA, which is ultimately what my father was deported on, was being signed into law. And at this time, I’m doing a two-hour commute back and forth from Far Rock to Trinity Day School. And I ultimately ended up graduating from Poly Prep… about how this is how you’ll make your mark on the world, this is how you’ll make your world better is that you learn how to be among power.

And we mentioned beforehand a lot about code-switching and talking. I also have the experience that I’m a first-generation American. So my general speaking voice is not my speaking, speaking voice, because there’s a voice that very much a lot of people recognize as “home” voice. And it’ll come out in certain words I say but there was very much this, “You are on presentation. You are on presentation.” And then I graduated from college and it all broke down. It wasn’t — like I had done my best, I graduated from college two years early, and there wasn’t a there there for me. And, most importantly, there, to this day, I don’t think in a full encapsulation of who I am, there is a there for me. I go in often, I’m not alone, but I may be the only of my specific background in a room. I might be the only person with my specific sense of experiences in a room, often. And especially post having like a job in tech and a job in news. And these are decision-making rooms. What became important for me is that I didn’t want to have the conversations that I had been taught to have, which were, “Prove that you deserve to be there, and then make it so everyone knows that you are of a certain class.” Because what I actually want to have is, like, these are actually really simple things, and these are tools, and these are mediums designed for everybody. So if you are saying you are going to design for anybody, and you cannot understand me when I try to speak as clearly as possible but in the voice that I speak when I am comfortable and with myself and fully aligned with all of my experiences and my full self, you are not doing your job. This isn’t my fault.

SWB Yeah.

[30:00]

SH Code-switching is a very real thing, but there is also a lack of looking at how for a lot of folks and for a lot of things, you speak multiple languages and there are multiple layers to how you speak. You are forming your use through who you are. And what does it say about these platforms and these places that they can’t support you being your full self? And I find too often at certain engagements when I talk to people, specifically within tech and sometimes journalism, there is a deep, deep jump into jargon, into non-understandability, and I’m just like, “No! We are going to talk about it using language everyone can understand, because that’s what we’re supposed to do.” So we can talk about scale, we can talk about pipeline, we can talk about design, I’m conversant in all of that. I’m conversant in all of that in almost three languages. At the end of the day, am I still dealing with a Nazi or am I not? Am I still dealing with an inaccessible piece of a tool, or am I not? If I am still dealing about that, and me and you have sat here for three hours having a conversation that makes us both feel very smart, but then we didn’t do no shit, we weren’t successful! For me it’s like, you can or you can’t. And how are you communicating to people about whether or not you have the ability? How are you communicating to people about whether or not they can expect this of you? And a lot of this is not even — it’s funny to talk of language, it’s not necessarily about what your answer is, it’s about how you talk to people. So you get a lot of this, it’s like, this person is speaking on high and is telling me that they can or cannot do this thing. Or they will or will not do this thing. Because they don’t think that I deserve to actually know, straight up, that you don’t actually have the capacity to deal with the fact that Nazis are coming for me? Or it’s not on your number-one to-do list? But you wonder why people are mad?”

SWB Right, right, yeah, like, “Oh let’s definitely spend 30 minutes explaining to you why we haven’t done it yet,” instead of just saying, “You know what? This isn’t one of our priorities.” Like at least if they were honest about where it sits on the priority list, it would be refreshing in some ways.

SH And in some ways I think sometimes they’re not even sure. Like, “it is a high priority, but we have no idea of how to attack it.” OK then. So if you don’t know how to attack it, and you’ve been working on it for how long? Maybe you need some new people in the room to answer that question for you. You might want to talk to some new people. I don’t know. That might be an option.

SWB Right, like perhaps there are people with expertise that you don’t have and that you have not previously recognized as even being experts in the first place. So, you know, something you talked about a little bit in there that I was really interested in and I’d love to go back to a little bit more is you talked about sort of your upbringing and going through this really intensive Prep program and it being very much about, you know, I guess I would put as like bringing you from where you’re from, bringing you to a more privileged and richer, white culture. And it sounds like one of your frustrations is this idea that that is only happening in that direction. Right? It’s like, OK, we can give somebody like you some new opportunities or give you access to these communities that you maybe otherwise wouldn’t know how to get access to, but there’s not a lot of effort to go to those communities or to understand people there or to meet people where they’re at. Is that part of the way that you would see that problem?

SH Definitely! And it’s something where I’m always very particular to talk about is that, yes, in a lot of ways I am more diverse than the average person who shows up to a lot of these things. We’re not going to lie about that. I am, by virtue of being black and female, even though I am a cis, able-bodied person, I am more diverse than the people you usually have in there. [Sings] That being said [finishes singing], I’m still an Ivy League graduate. I’m still a person of a certain education. I’m still the kind of person who would survive and go through all of these things. So when you say that I am diversity, let’s all be clear here: you ain’t doin’ that well, fam. You’re not doing that good.

So what bothers me is not so much that people are creating exclusionary products, that is problematic to me in and of itself, but often what truly, truly disturbs me is that they’re exclusionary and nobody seems to know that they are. So everybody’s like, “Yeah, we make this for everybody!” And I’m like, “According to what?!” You can make a really great business just off of catering to you and your friend set if you know their income, if you know their strides. And that is so, to me, completely acceptable and wonderful, and if you can make a business model off of that, awesome! The issue I have is that there are people who are like, you don’t admit that you’re making it just for your friends. You really think everybody lives like this, and you do not have a feedback loop for anybody to tell you you’re wrong.

SWB I know that you’ve talked recently about losing weight and the shifting way that people treat you since then.

[35:00]

Can you tell us a little bit more about what that’s been like?

SH Sure! I mean, I had what is called a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, and they cut out half of my stomach, because I have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome. It’s very prevalent, usually among lower-income African American women. And it can lead to anything from sensitivity to insulin to death, and it’s not well-studied. And when you live in a fat-phobic society, I was experiencing problems all my life with my reproductive system. And finally there was a just a moment of, OK, I have to get this done. I have to be able to live my life in a really specific way, and if I want to have children, I need to be able to do this. So I went from being about a size 26 to a size 12, 14. I’m on the teetering edge.

And it is not accidental to me in any way, shape, or form, that people are kinder to me. People are nicer to me. People also occupy my space more, so that there is a lot of this where I’m like, “Oh I understand what women say now, when they say that there is a lot of physical imposition,” because — I’m very tall, I’m about 5’11,” but I was also about 350 pounds. So I never dealt with people trying to physically impose me, because that was not necessarily a fight they thought they could win. Now at about 230 pounds, I am — I look more like an average woman. And I realize that people will be up in my space more. Men will try to physically intimidate me more. And it was never something I thought about.

And it also makes me very aware of the idea of … there are times when I see my ideas get accepted better. They are just accepted more readily because I am in — I look different. You don’t understand how badly you’ve been treated until you stop getting treated that badly.

SWB You’ve done so much work to bring this thinking to tech and to media and to start conversations that I think are painful and difficult for people in those industries. What are you hoping to do next? Like what’s on your radar that you really want to focus on this next year?

SH We might be denying amazing people the ability to fully live their lives. We might be denying amazing folks the ability to fully express themselves, to fully deal with the work and the joy that they have in themselves, and that is… that is what — if somebody was like, “What really like pisses you off?” I’m like, “That’s what pisses me off.” The idea that we’re not — we’re creating a world where folks cannot be their full, amazing selves. And that is something that we have to look at. And what I hope this year is to do more work that allows folks to be their full, amazing selves, to be fully present, fully active … in their work and their joy — and that allows that for me too. I’m not above anybody. I’m part of that set.

SWB Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, I, for one, definitely want you to be able to live your full life and be your full self, and also continue to do the amazing work that you’ve been doing for the community that you come from and for all kinds of marginalized communities. So I’m so thankful that we got to talk to you about all of this today.

SH Yeah! I’m always glad to talk [music fades in] with you about it.

JL [Music fades out] let’s keep the awesome going: we got any Fuck Yeahs this week?

KL Heck we do! Our Fuck Yeah of the Week is Ladies Get Paid. It is a newsletter I just signed up for, and it’s not just a newsletter, it’s like a community. And it’s really awesome because in the newsletter, which comes weekly, you get news and info and all sorts of great heads up about webinars and workshops all over the United States. Like meetups to get drinks and advice from peers and potential mentors, it’s really cool. And it sort of covers everything from like practical advice for how to take advantage of a vacation when you’re not, let’s say, really good at letting go, like me. So it’s just — it’s really nice, and I think it’s also cool because it shows you where things are in not necessarily real time but it’s like, “Hey, there’s a thing tonight,” or “There’s a thing tomorrow.” And you could go there and learn how to negotiate better.

JL I see there’s a “Ladies get drinks in Hawaii”!

KL Oh, we should do that one.

JL We should definitely do that one.

[40:00]

SWB So the entire thing for Ladies Get Paid, it’s about, like, teaching women negotiating skills and that kind of thing, or what?

KL Yeah, it’s like negotiating how to get more money or a raise, or step into leadership positions when you’re not sure, you know, how to quite do that.

SWB I totally love this idea and I’m going to check it out, because I know on the show we’ve talked about things like wage equity a bunch of times, and sort of like some of the issues that we’ve had ourselves. A couple of episodes ago, you were talking about kind of being backed into a corner by a boss and like asked to agree to salary in a phone booth room, as opposed to having any time to think about it. And I think, you know, so many of us could really use some of that feedback from other people and practice having these conversations when they’re in sort of low-stakes environments. So I think that’s like a perfect complement to stuff that keeps on coming up on the show.

KL Yeah, absolutely, it’s just really nice to know that there’s a whole bunch of resources out there for this and ways that you can actually talk to other people who are going through the same thing and people that you could learn sort of techniques from.

SWB So do they have like a chapters in different cities kind of thing?

KL Yeah, I know there’s one in New York and they actually just — they did their first conference, which was kind of cool. And that was, I think, just in the last month or so in New York. And they’re taking that on the road. So they’ll be in Seattle next. But I know that there are meetups and stuff all over the place.

SWB So that’s a pretty cool concept for anybody who was sitting at home, listening to one of our previous episodes where we were talking about wages and talking about, like, how do you have these conversations with your friends? Try to find a community like that, and if there isn’t one near you, maybe it’s time to start creating these kinds of things.

KL Fuck yeah.

SWB & JL Fuck yeah!

SWB That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia, and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Sydette Harry for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please go ahead and give us a rating on Apple Podcasts, and tell your friends about No, You Go. We’d love to have them here! We’ll be back next week [music fades in] with another great guest [music ramps up to end].

Feb 27 2018

46mins

Play

Rank #9: The System is Rigged with Nicole Sanchez

Podcast cover
Read more

And that’s a wrap on Season 2! What better way to head into a summer break than with Nicole Sanchez, one of the smartest, sharpest, most trusted voices on building diverse and inclusive workplaces?

We talk with the founder of Vaya Consulting and lecturer at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business about what has and hasn’t changed in tech culture, how companies try to shortcut diversity efforts, and why well-intentioned white people often screw up.

> We’re taking on 500 years of colonial America when we talk about race. And nobody can be expected to do that in a training… We’ve hit this mainstream complacency with, “Great. You hit 4% black people in your company. Wonderful. Oh. You have 6% Latinx. Wow! You’re really doing well.” Like that’s kind of where the conversation is stuck. It’s a Benetton ad.
> —Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting

We’re taking a few weeks off, but don’t worry: Nicole’s going to leave you fired up all summer. And look for new episodes of NYG in August!

Links on links on links:

Also in this episode

We, like, talk about our word choice on the show and off—from “I think” to “I don’t know”—and debate the benefits and drawbacks of changing how we speak.

Have a bitchin’ summer, everyone! Stay sweet and we’ll see you in August!

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.


WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you.


Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript

Jenn Lukas [Ad spot] Today’s episode is supported by Shopify. Shopify makes great software that helps anyone with a great idea build a successful business—and they’re growing. Join the more than 3,000 diverse, passionate problem-solvers around the world who already call Shopify their professional home. Visit shopify.com/careers for all the info, including office locations, open positions, and more about what makes them so great [music fades in, plays for ten seconds, fades out]. Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and welcome to our Season 2 Finale!

JL Woo!

SWB We can’t believe we’re already at 20 episodes, plus a bonus-ode, and five editions of our biweekly newsletter. P.S. Are you getting our newsletter yet? It’s called I Love That, and you will love it. Sign up at noyougoshow.com/ilovethat, because Edition 6 is going to come out this Friday, June 29th. To round off the season we will be digging deep into the world of diversity and inclusion with none other than Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting and one of the smartest, loudest, most trusted voices in workplace inclusion. But before we do, let’s talk about something that I think we’ve all noticed this season and that is the way we speak. Like… you know… word choice?

KL So my friend Allison Crimmins, who we had on the show in Season 1, wrote to me and said that she noticed that we say “I think” a lot. She noticed in one episode that we said it, like… a lot [chuckles]. Which made her think about how many times she writes it in emails and speaks it out loud when she’s not really even meaning to, along with other words or phrases like “I just,” “perhaps,” “maybe,” and starting sentences with “I’m sorry.” Ugh! I do that too. I do it all the time. And there was a period of time where I looked at my emails and would scrub them out. I would scrub them out of the beginning of emails and was like, “What am I doing?” So basically all of those things that we say, qualifying statements that make us sound like we’re basically apologizing for [chuckles], you know, existing or, you know, taking up space. I came across this article and this app called Just Not Sorry that you can install and it will alert you to when you use “I’m sorry,” “I think,” “I just,” “maybe,” and let you do that more easily when you send emails. So I thought that was really interesting.

JL Part of me when I hear things like this, or I hear other people critique people’s language, I sort of want to be like, “You know what? Like, who cares? Eff those people, because that’s not really what like the main meat of a conversation is,” and part of it really frustrates me. And then part of me thinks realistically in life there’s a lot of things that people do that really frustrate me and they’re going to judge me for it. So I have two options: either, like, eff it and don’t, or think about how that affects my life and career and consider whether or not I want to make a change.

[3:10]

SWB I think in this whole conversation it’s really useful to kind of parse out, when are these kinds of softening words being used in ways that are helpful and beneficial to conversation and that show that you are listening and sort of in a conversational moment with somebody, you’re not just like talking at them, and when are we using this kind of language to kind of hedge what we actually think, or to even obscure what we actually think, or to, you know, make it easier for people to walk all over us? And I guess something I think a lot about is how often is that sort of like your default state—“sorry for existing” and “sorry for saying anything”—versus when is an “I’m sorry” an appropriate kind of interjection in a conversation? And so I guess I think a lot of that gets flattened in this conversation, right? Because so much of the advice that you read out there, you can find like—if you Google this, you can find a hundred articles about this in about a minute that’ll just be like, “Just remove ‘justs’ from your emails, get rid of every single time you say ‘maybe’ or ‘I think’,” and the reality is that, what if the problem isn’t that women say those things too often? What if the problem is that men aren’t socialized to say those things enough? And I think that that is part of the problem, too.

JL Yeah I know we’ve talked about this in the past before is like hey, you know, really being careful about, you know, as an engineer who gives feedback to people, how we give that feedback. And me saying something like, “I think you could rework this by adding an attribute here,” is better than, “Add an attribute here.” It just like—especially because you’re communicating online and not face-to-face with someone that you’re not necessarily knowing the inflection that I have. So, “I think we should go get ice cream,” versus, “We should get ice cream!”

SWB Wait! Hold on. Hold on. We should get ice cream.

KL I mean that should be a statement always [laughs]. A lot of times when I start speaking with someone, especially if I’m trying to have a conversation that’s a little bit more difficult, I find myself softening things and I think, you know, in that case that’s really valuable and I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose touch of that. But I do—I think it is good to just keep an eye out on like instances where I could be a little bit more assertive or, like I said, concise and clear.

JL Yeah for me when I communicate, especially at work, I want people to know that I’m confident in the things that I’m recommending.

KL Right.

JL And I think a lot of this is making sure that you do sound more confident.

SWB My sense is that focusing on clarity and making sure that we are hitting specific points in the way we want to and feeling confident about the things we are saying, that’s really valuable, right? Like, we are sending this information out to the world and we want as many people as possible to hear it and have it resonate with them, and I think that when we are focused and when we can cut out sort of too much extraneous stuff, that’s really helpful. On the other hand, people use filler words. That’s a human thing to do. The kinds of—_kind of, sort of, um, uh, you know_. Everybody has different filler words that they rely on, but the reality is that people use filler words. And in fact they’re have been a lot of studies that men use them just as much as women, but women tend to be criticized for them. And a huge piece of this is just the way that we end up policing women’s language as being somehow not up to par with men’s language when the reality is, it tends to be a little bit different and it also just tends to be more, like, hyper-watched, right? Like you feel like people are paying so much more attention to it. I mean that’s one of the reasons I know women radio hosts get so much mail about their voice. I am just waiting for us to get some angry email about vocal fry because I feel like that’s a rite of passage [Katel laughs]. I’m not actually waiting for that email. Please don’t send it.

[7:17]

KL Yeah we’re really not trying to will that into the universe. But at the end of the day I do think that I would rather sound more human than just completely cold and assertive and confident. And I know that that might be the ideal in a lot of people’s minds, but, I don’t know… I’m going to strive for not apologizing when I know what I’m saying, but also making sure I make my point as clearly as possible.

JL I definitely find that I try to be more careful with this in written communication. And I try not to hyper-focus on editing myself when I’m speaking. I’ve done, as a public speaker, you know, I’ve watched recordings of myself, which is painful, but you do learn a lot. But that doesn’t mean I’ve watched every recording of myself. And it doesn’t mean that I do it at a regular basis. You know every once in awhile I go, “Oh. Maybe that’s something I want to think about,” but I definitely don’t harp on it, because again that balance of, like, where I feel more comfortable. Now I know I just said ‘like’ in that last sentence, but you know what? I’m ok.

SWB So I’m the person who listens to all the raw recordings and goes through—

KL [Laughs] God bless you.

SWB—everything that we produce and then provides notes to our producer about, you know, where I think the good bits are and what we can probably cut out. And I will say that one of the things that I’ve really noticed is that we talk like people actually talk. We talk like friends talk over drinks. That is part of the show. Like that is part of the point. And removing that is, I think, not the goal. At least not my goal. However, I think that there are also things that I find all of us end up over-relying on, and I think actually in terms of this conversation something that I wish we all said less of… it’s not “like”—I could give a fuck about “like”—it’s “I don’t know.” And I think that one’s really easy when we don’t want to assume that the other two of us agree with us and so we’ll make a point and then we’ll kind of say, “I don’t know,” as if we’re not certain that we actually believe the thing that we just said. That’s one that I want to be more cautious of. But some of this other stuff, I just look at it as like when people have conversations, they speak naturally. Natural language has filler words, filler words are fine, and we edit out and clean out some of the stuff that doesn’t go anywhere, but we’re not going to edit out every example of that, because that would make it feel stilted and weird, and it wouldn’t give it that sense of, like, you’re sitting around the table with us having snacks.

[9:50]

KL And I just want to say that, you know, I want to thank Allison for bringing this up because it is clearly so complex, and I’m sure that we will talk about this a little bit more. So, I don’t know, I’m glad that it came up [laughs]. God fucking damn it! I said “I don’t know.” [Music fades in, plays for three seconds, fades out].

Sponsors

KL Hey, everyone, taking a quick break to talk about some of our favorite people, our sponsors. And not just because they support the show but because we actually use their services like WordPress, the people behind almost one in three websites—including ours. If you need a website that’s reliable, looks good, and is super-easy to customize to your needs, then you need to check out WordPress. They’ve got it all: awesome designs, custom domain names, tons of integrations with other services you use, and maybe best of all, incredible customer support 24/7. We know because we’ve used it. And all this starts at just $4 a month. Four bucks! So start building your website today. Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new plan purchase. That’s wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off your brand-new website.

SWB [Ad spot] We’d also like to thank Harvest for their support once again. Harvest helps teams keep track of the time they spend working on different projects and clients, and it’s one of my favorite tools. Use their simple software to assign tasks, set deadlines, manage projections, and so much more. You can even use it to run business reports and find out how healthy your projects really are. Personally I love using Harvest for invoicing. In fact I just looked today, and I have sent 355 invoices using their system so far.

JL 355?!?

SWB That’s totally real.

JL That’s a lot of invoices.

SWB If you are a freelancer, consultant like me, or an agency, you should check out Harvest. Visit getharvest.com to try it for free and get 15 percent off your first paid month with the code noyougo. That’s getharvest.com, offer code noyougo [music fades in, plays alone for three seconds, fades out].

[11:45]

Interview: Nicole Sanchez

SWB Today’s guest is someone I have personally admired for a long time now, and that is Nicole Sanchez. She is the founder of Vaya Consulting, a firm that’s pioneering solutions to tech’s culture problems. Problems like lack of diversity, pay inequity, and biased hiring practices. She also earned an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and now teaches a workplace diversity course there. Nicole, I have about a hundred things I want to talk with you about [laughter] and thank you so much for being on the show today!

Nicole Sanchez Oh no, thank you. I am such a fan of your book. I love it so much. I have given to many people, Technically Wrong is just such a good read. So thank you for that.

SWB Uh, thank you! But we did not bring you on here to plug my book—

NS [Laughs] Ok.

SWB Because we gotta talk about what you are up to. There’s so much here. So first off: can you tell our listeners a little bit more about Vaya, like what your work looks like, and sort of what made you found this company?

NS Sure. So I’ve been working on workplace diversity and inclusion for 24 years, and my first job doing it in tech was actually in 1999. And what I started learning there and continued to learn is that people are very interesting in groups, and they do interesting things, but they don’t generally do new things. They keep doing the same things over and over, which means some of the same ways of success, but also some of the same mistakes. And where it gets really interesting to me and why I ultimately started my firm is that when we look at groups behave and we purposefully try to make them diverse—in a lot of ways, but specifically in terms of race and ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic background—really fascinating things happen. And it’s not… my work isn’t so much about rectifying the past, even though that is definitely some of what my inspiration and what my motivation. It is more about, we build better things in diverse teams that are working well. We as humans, we as people in the United States, we in tech, when we have a diverse group of people who are behaving inside an inclusive structure— meaning everybody has a voice, everybody has a shot, everybody has an equitable stake in what’s going on in the outcome—the kinds of things that are produced are unparalleled, when you compare them to some of the more traditional ways, especially the way tech has been built by more homogenous groups of people who share the same class background or the same education. People mostly have their heads wrapped around, “Ok diversity is good and we need more of it,” but they don’t know how to get it and they certainly often don’t know what to do with it once they have it. So we’ve really rolled up our sleeves and get into the tactical work of revamping a hiring system, for example, or doing executive coaching for the executive who just isn’t fluent in this conversation yet but really needs to be. And so in any of our dozen clients, there are different points in their trajectory, but always pointed towards building a culture of inclusion with a diverse group of people running and working inside it.

[14:47]

SWB And so I know that this issue is near and dear to you because of your own experience in the world, but you also wrote before that this was something that was important because of your father’s story. And you wrote this really moving article about it and I would love to talk a little bit about that and how that story has driven or affected, you know, the work that you do now.

NS Ah thanks. We just passed the third anniversary of my father’s passing. I wrote it for him, really, about six months after he passed and it’s called “Diversity and Tech and What We’ve Already Lost.” And my dad grew up the youngest of 11 kids in East LA, and then later in Montebello, for anybody who is from Southern California and for whom that matters, and he met my mother at Montebello High. And my dad was a fantastic student, specifically in math and science, and his dream was to go to UC Berkeley. And his parents couldn’t afford it, so he had to figure out first of all how to get in, which he did. And then how to get himself up to Berkeley, which is where I live now, and how to pay for school, and where to live, and—and everything. This was 1962. The fall of 1962. There was no affirmative action. Very little financial aid to be had. And so he was really scraping it together. And over the course of his first two years he really met head-on the ugly twins: poverty and racism! Poverty and racism are an evil pair, and he really just clearly fell victim to both of those things, and ended up having to drop out, go back down to Los Angeles, he and my mom—they ended up getting married, they lived together in [chuckling] relative happiness for over 50 years, they have four children, all of us girls, and he didn’t get to finish at UC Berkeley. He didn’t get to finish his degree, which was absolutely his dream. And when I go back and think about his story, and now that so much of the history is online and searchable, I look at who some of his classmates were in his math classes and in very early computer classes. Because UC Berkeley was one of the only—well, was one of the first universities to make computers accessible to students—and he was learning how to program them and playing on them. And his classmates were people who went on to be pioneers in tech. And my dad ended up spending 35 years working at a fast food restaurant, which he ultimately owned. My dad did get a degree later on at Cal State East Bay, which was great, but his health was failing at that point and he didn’t ever get to actually be the inventor, teacher, computer scientist, mathematician that we knew he always wanted to be. And it had nothing to do with his potential, had nothing to do with how hard he worked—because he worked harder than anybody I’ve ever known. It had everything to do with being born in a certain package compared to a different one. And that is how we lose talent in tech. It isn’t always as obvious as the racism my dad faced, but there are so many barriers to people like him today with accessing the field of technology and certainly being entrepreneurs or having ownership stakes in valuable companies, or inventing really cool things that are going to go to Mars. There are so many barriers being born the youngest of 11 in East LA and actually achieving that dream. And we, you know, we’ve done a decent job at removing some of those barriers, but they’re not all gone, and I worry daily about the talent that we’ve lost in our sector as a result.

[18:06]

SWB That story is so moving and, I mean, first off: it’s just such a moving tribute to your dad. And we’ll link to it in the show notes, of course, so everybody can read it. And the other thing that really struck me about it is that it was such a perfect encapsulation of the problems that we face when we start trying to talk about things like meritocracy or we talk about the way that the tech industry almost acts like there is no past. Like that everything is new, and so everything is a fresh start all the time, and I think it kind of creates this culture where we’re not thinking about the way that people are being shut out before they can have any chance to make anything at all.

NS Yeah. That’s right. And our system here in Silicon Valley and in tech overall, although I think it’s probably most present here in the Bay Area, is that somehow on the one hand, we want to talk about how fair and meritocratic everything is, and if you just work hard and grind, if you hustle and do all the things, then you will achieve success. And then on the other hand, the same system is creating the barriers to entry, creating the barriers to resource access, creating the barriers that continue to allow the “winners,” quote/unquote, the “winners” to keep “winning” and those of us who are trying to come in, you can’t get a foothold. The system is so really rigged against that, you know, you just think about somebody who has a great idea that could be the next billion-dollar company, or $10 billion company, and if you come in from a background where you don’t have any financial security of your own, you don’t have the network to talk to the people who can help you get the capital, you don’t know what the right events to be at are, you are—you stick out like a sore thumb for whatever reason, whatever the package you’re in causes you to stick out as not according to the pattern of the rest of Silicon Valley. It is very difficult literally, like logistically, as well as psychologically, to make those breakthroughs. And I don’t see many people who have access to the resources that maybe, you know, VCs do or CEOs of companies, I don’t see them going out of their way to very effectively remove those barriers to new talent. And it is intellectually dishonest when we say, “We want the best,” but we’re also going to simultaneously create barriers to some of the best getting inside the system.

SWB Yes! All of this talk about, “We want to get the best,” I’m like, “Y’all don’t even know what the best means!” [Nicole laughs] Like, “How would you even know what that is if all you’ve ever seen is this one very narrow slice? How do you even know you have the best? Like you actually don’t.”

NS [Chuckles] Well I had one client, just to give you an example of that, who had hired me to identify bias in their hiring system. They brought my consulting firm in and I was sitting in a candidate review process where they were going over their docket of candidates for jobs, technical and non-technical. And my job was to raise my hand and say, “Hey, I think bias has crept up into the system.” And the first candidate that I witnessed be evaluated by this group, the candidate wasn’t there, they had already gone through the whole system. The candidate docket, somebody puts it down on the table and says, “Well, this guy went to Harvard and worked at Facebook, so obviously we’re hiring him.” And so I hadn’t been sitting down but for 30 seconds [chuckling] and raised my hand and say, “If that’s what you think the best is, why did you spend tens of thousands of dollars to interview him? When you could’ve found that out from LinkedIn, if you looked—or his resume?” You say, “Yup. Harvard: check. Facebook: check. Great: you’re hired.” If that’s ultimately what you’re using to make your decision then don’t—don’t waste your time meeting the person. Just go look for people who worked at Facebook and went to Harvard. And we see this over and over again. This lazy shortcut for validation. People, for example, wanting to use GitHub commit graphs as an indication of how strong of an engineer you are. That doesn’t—that’s not how that works, because that’s a subset of the talent you want to be pulling from. So it is very lazy to say, “Ok, anybody who’s in open source, anybody who has the time to dabble in these public projects, great: you have a leg up.” You’ve now advantaged the already advantaged in that hiring process. And we just see this happen over and over, and it’s not as simple as somebody sitting there saying, “I don’t think women are smart enough to work at my company.” Like those are easy. Those are easy to spot and extract. It is much harder to get into the systems that have petrified around those beliefs.

[22:43]

SWB So this completely brings us to the next thing I wanted to talk about which is like, ok, you have been doing this work for more than a couple of decades. Two full decades in the tech industry! [Nicole laughing] And so I saw that you recently gave this talk, a keynote that was called “Diversity and Inclusion Hit the Mainstream, Now What?” And I think that that’s—that’s kind of my question. Well, so now what? Like we—we’re talking about this stuff. Companies are increasingly willing to hire people like you to help them fix it. But where have we started making progress? And where are we still stuck? And how do we move beyond lip service in this conversation?

NS I think we understand diversity on some level, even though we can’t all agree on it, what it really means when you get to the granular look at it. We know it means bringing lots of different kinds of people together and that something good’s supposed to happen, but along the way one of the stops we’ve taken in this conversation is enumerating transgressions, which is very important because people deserve to be heard when they’ve been wronged. And we have invested a lot in individual stories of individual people who have suffered inside a system. And, like I said, that’s really important, and it’s not to invalidate their experience, but we haven’t done a good job of indicting the system that allowed that to happen, because you cannot pick out every bad actor one by one, first of all. And second of all, the system is much more strained than any individual. I meet with clients all the time and I’m just going to—I’m just going to tell it [chuckles] kind of like it is, which is what I said in my talk. I meet a lot of well-meaning white people in particular. I meet a lot of white women specifically who say, “I can’t figure out why in my HR system I still can’t convince a black woman to come work here.” Right? And it’s just tons of good intentions that still don’t add up to progress, and so we’re stalled on this. We say, “I’m not—” You know, people say, “I’m not racist. Ok. I’m not racist. I’m not sexist. I’m not homophobic.” Great. Why are we still seeing the yield that we’re seeing? And the answer is that we’re not digging into understanding the systems. One of the systems that has yet to be indicted is, for example, the system of how equity is distributed in a company in Silicon Valley. That in my opinion and from my experience has a much greater potential for impact on the people we want to benefit from our diversity and inclusion initiatives the most, and to move the needle most significantly. If we can actually indict the system of how VCs in particular set up equity distribution, we’re going to make a much bigger impact than, “Let’s hear another story about another person who transgressed or had something bad happen to them.” Again, people deserve to tell their stories, but it is not the thing that’s going to get us to the next level as a sector. And so that’s where my talk was really about like, “Ok. We get it. It’s bad. It hurts. So then what? Let’s talk about equity distribution, let’s talk about executive compensation, let’s talk about your hiring practices, let’s talk about recruitment practices, let’s talk about promotion and evaluation inside the company,” the real nitty gritty that actually makes up the results that you’re seeking to impact. People think, “Well, yay, we’re talking about it, and therefore it must be better.” And that’s not true. It’s actually driven some conversations further underground. It’s stalled other efforts. And I think people would find it surprising to know that I don’t love the way that we report our data, our diversity data as a sector right now. I don’t. I think it actually paused some efforts and slowed them down in ways that where I would’ve wanted to have seen much more traction by now.

[26:44]

SWB Can you tell me more about what you mean by that? So, what don’t you love about the way that diversity is being reported? And for those who aren’t familiar with it, like can you just describe a little bit about how you see it being reported, and maybe what you’d like to see different?

NS Sure! So it’s still voluntary. Companies are not compelled by anything other than social pressure to release their diversity data. And what companies who do it generally do is they say, “Here’s how many men, here’s how many woman,” and there isn’t a lot of reporting off of the binary. “Here are the men in our company, here are the women in our women in our company; here’s technical versus non-technical,” and we know that inside a company that’s very [sighs] that’s very company specific. You know you may be inside one company where the support team is highly technical and another one where they’re not. So it’s very difficult to know what we’re actually measuring there. And then they say, you know, “Leadership/non-leadership,” and then they say, “Here’s race and ethnicity.” And that’s basically it. And so what companies have done is they’ve been able put their best foot forward because it’s simply a snapshot. It’s a snapshot that counts heads. How many people are here today on this day that we recorded? And it doesn’t tell you any story. So every company now knows that as long as you’re on a cadence where you feel good about your hiring, and let’s say you start cohorts in September, and you particularly start new hires in September, and you’ve made great efforts to diversify your new hires. If you report your data in September, your snapshot looks really good. But we’re not reporting six months later where we learn people of color start to fall out of the system and start to go, “You know what? Turns out this culture isn’t actually that welcoming for people like me.” And so within the first six to 12 months you may lose all those people you reported in September. But you got another, you know, amount of time to make up for it again, by the time you have to report again. So it is in some ways very easy to mislead people into thinking, “This is who’s always working at our company.”

[28:44]

NS [Continued] One example that a client gave me was saying that, “We report every June, and in July of last year we lost 30 women. Out of a company of 500, we lost 30 women within two months because of something that happened. But we know we have 10 months to hire 30 women back and show no blip at all in our reporting,” which actually tells a story of what’s going on inside the company. If that makes sense. And so that to me is where it set us back. It didn’t help people on the culture part, it got the diversity part but it didn’t get the inclusion part or the equity part or the belonging part.

SWB Yeah, that’s so telling, too. It’s managing to the metric, right. So now there’s a scorecard out there and you’re like me in a class I didn’t like in high school being like, “Ok. What’s the minimum I can do and still get an A because this is not going to touch my GPA?” Right? Like that’s—

NS That’s exactly it. That’s exactly it. And also because we’re so opaque as an industry. You can lose 30 women and then deceptively hire 30 new women without them knowing potentially that this is a terrible place for women to work. And so you haven’t fixed anything but—but your public face looks great.

SWB So—and this brings me back to something that I know was tweeted from that talk, which was that the money shows us where people’s priorities really are. And so, what would it look like for a company to really invest in the kind of shift that you’re talking about?

NS So yeah the adage that I like using is, “Don’t tell me what your priorities are, show me your budget and I’ll tell you your priorities.” And priorities in Silicon Valley in particular and in tech overall—and I guess in business overall, I mean let’s just be honest—whose upside looks like what is going to tell you what is actually valued. So if you can say—and the reason I think that it’s—that it’s remained a secret is that people know that the disparity is actually shameful. There is no way that you can say, “Oh yes that single engineer who did so much for our work once we went public made $200,000 on our big exit. I, however, as CEO, who was really a pain in the ass to deal with, just walked away with a billion.” Like that’s the scale that we’re actually talking about. And then that doesn’t even bring it into account the custodial staff, the food service staff, the security staff, you know, working at your front door. Those people have been erased from the equation. And so until Silicon Valley is really ready to—until companies say, “All right, we’re going to tell you our percentages of distribution and we can actually report it publically and we want everybody to know because we stand by our method.” Until a company can do that, including their board and investors: “Here’s who owns what part of the company.” And it’s generally that about ten percent own 90 percent of the company and then vice versa. Right?

[31:35]

SWB Mm hmm.

NS And so once people start to get wise to that and demand that as a metric of reporting, I think we will start to see some stuff happening. I have yet to meet a company that has said, “We’re very transparent with this. I know what I own and I know what our CEO owns and I’m ok with it.” That just doesn’t happen, and until we hit that level of transparency with our resources, I think there’s a lot of shell games that can be played with diversity and inclusion. But follow the money, like Robert Reich always says, former labor secretary, “Follow the money. Follow the money. Follow the money, it’ll give you all your answers.” The same goes for tech. So I—I unfortunately get asked quite often, “Tell me a company that has got this figured out.” And the answer is there isn’t one. And I don’t mean that to be really depressing, because I think there are companies that actually are moving forward and trending well but no, there isn’t a company that has modelled this in the way that it needs to—that it needs to actually look in order for this to be successful in the next generation.

SWB Yeah, you know, so much of this reminds me of just like how easy it is anytime there’s change to be made, anytime there’s like big organizational shift to be made, to want to go to those shortcuts and to go like, “Ok. How do we get the benefits or whatever this thing is but without actually doing the painful part of having to [Nicole chuckles] operate differently? And commit to operating differently?” Like, you know, there’s no—there’s no shortcut to this and then the reality is that this is having a dramatic effect on, you know, the most marginalized groups.

NS That’s right, and I also think that some people have figured out that you can make money doing this. I mean I definitely am making a living working on diversity and inclusion and I stand by my methods and, you know, I’ve been at this for a very long time. We are seeing the market start to be flooded with people who offer advice, who offer consulting services, and we know, for example, there’s no race lens on what they do. Or they’re not pushing on—on the question of resources and equity. The rise of mediocre D&I advice [chuckles] that actually isn’t going to move the needle, but placates lots of people. And they go, “Well, see that wasn’t so scary, that wasn’t so hard.” Like, this work is hard, and we’re taking on 500 years of colonial America when we talk about race. And nobody can be expected to do that in a training. And you can’t—you literally, scientifically cannot undo unconscious bias with a training. And we’re still sort of messing around on the edges going, “Gosh. That was fascinating. Ok. Going back to my job, which is now operating same way it did yesterday.” If that’s how we’re going to do it and that’s what’s being sold, and that’s what people buy, I’m very nervous that we’re going to just hit this—this is the second part of the talk I gave—we’ve hit this mainstream complacency with, “Great. You hit four percent black people in your company. Wonderful. Oh. You have six percent Latinx. Wow! You’re really doing well.” Like that’s kind of where the conversation is stuck. It’s a Benetton ad. You know? A Benetton ad [Sara laughs] if you can—if you can make your website of your company feature a black employee, you’re good. Like that’s where we are now [chuckles]. That’s the bar. “Don’t—don’t look too hard at our board of directors [chuckles] because yeah. But we’ve got our Latina. We’ve got our black man. We’ve got our, you know, gender-ambiguous person. And we’ve got like your standard white guy representing our company.” And you know that’s not representative of their company, but they were smart enough to say, “Ok this is a marketing effort. Let’s show different people.” Great.

[35:19]

SWB So I’d love to ask about something that I think this really kind of connects to, which is that whole unconscious bias training thing you mentioned. So just recently we had, back I guess in May, Starbucks did its company-wide unconscious bias training day. And I was really interested in something you wrote about that, where you talked about the problems with unconscious bias training, as well as the problems with sort of like, positioning what happened at Starbucks—which if anybody doesn’t remember, is a Starbucks here in Philadelphia. Two young black men came in, sat down, didn’t order anything, they were waiting for somebody to show up who they were having a meeting with, and the police ended up being called on them. And so in the uproar over this, Starbucks decided it would do unconscious bias training for all employees. So one of the things you mentioned was also that this is not just like a quote/unquote “diversity” issue, this is about anti-blackness and anti-black behaviors, and that it was important to talk about that. So I’d love to kind of dig into that. Like, why it’s important specifically to name what’s going on, and what the limitations are of doing something like unconscious bias training, which I think a lot of people think of as generally good.

NS Ooh! So, I’ll start with the unconscious bias piece. Certainly when I’m teaching my class at Haas, I talk about unconscious bias. It is a fascinating and very real phenomenon that most people don’t know is going on, and it basically runs in the background of your mind. We’ve all been primed by images and messages over the course of our life about good, bad, pretty, ugly, you know, worthy, unworthy, safe, dangerous. And whether we like it or not, and we can’t control it, those things get triggered, especially under pressure. And we do and say stupid things and we treat people differently according to how these biases are running in our background. And so it has been really well documented around things like juries, right? Even if you factor—because anybody can do it to anybody. It’s—I as a Latina can do it to another Latina. It’s not—it’s not as conscious as, “I’m Latina and I know that stereotypes are not real, therefore I’m not going to treat another Latina that way.” That’s not how it actually works. But it runs so deep and far in the background of our minds that we can’t access it through introspection. You have to access it by putting it under pressure and then you see it come out. So it’s a fascinating concept. What I have seen happen in this conversation is that it allows people to forget about the nuances of different kinds of racism or sexism or any phobia. Pick your [chuckles] favorite phobia. It lets people off the hook and thinks that all things are treated equally. “Well I didn’t know that I had a bias against Asian people, therefore I’m—but now I’m working on it, therefore that must automatically extend to black people, too, because I’m learning how to not be racist.” And that’s just not how it works, because context is everything. And who is on the receiving end of your bias is really what’s critical here, because your bias will not be the same for a light-skinned Latina like myself as it might be for a dark-skinned black man like in the Starbucks in Philadelphia. And so what folks aren’t talking about is that anti-blackness as a subset of racism is its own thing. And racism is both enacted by individuals, we know, but racism on a much larger level is a system where people who are in the majority and in power control the system to the detriment of people who do not share that same racial—those same racial identifiers.

[39:04]

NS [Continued] In this case, what happened in that Starbucks was anti-black racism. There were presumably other people of color in the room and who had come in and out during the day and had, you know, not ordered anything, had used the bathroom, lots of different people of color. But it was two black men who were—who received the bias. And I don’t even think it’s unconscious bias. This was an overt bias of having the police called on them in a Starbucks. Talking about anti-blackness in America is not the same thing as talking about racism in America, and if I could get one thing across to people who are working on issues of identity and the isms and the phobias is that context is everything, and that once you’ve solved one type of -ism, you have not solved them all. And so this is a constant drumbeat for me, is like, when you say that there’s an event for women in tech—and I wrote a piece called “Which Women in Tech?”—if you just bill it as just “women in tech,” who you’re going to get is white, and maybe some Asian, women coming to that event. That is what “women” as the overall banner means. And so you don’t get into the nuance of, what are black women in tech facing specifically? And what a white woman who is much more enfranchised and towards the center of an equation, of a system, experiences in her sexism is very, very different than what a black woman living closer to the edges of a system experiences. You’ve got intersectionality. You’ve got anti-black racism, anti-blackness, that she has to navigate. And so women as an umbrella term for “Let’s decrease sexism in tech. So c’mon women, let’s all get together.” Women of color, for the most part, do not hear it as an inclusive term. And so when people say “racism” it’s much easier to say racism as the umbrella term than it is to say, “That was some anti-blackness. That was some violence enacted on black bodies by calling the police,” and that is a kind of—that is a way that racism and bias shows up. But implicit bias or unconscious bias as a solution to one of your baristas calling the cops—they’re not related to each other all that much. What would have been much more effective for Starbucks is to clarify the policies that the company has for when the police get called into a cafe. That would’ve been a much more direct response to what actually happened which is, “Everybody is allowed to sit here and not order anything. Everybody is allowed to use our bathroom. The police only get called if somebody believes they’re in imminent danger. If you call the police simply because you thought somebody looked suspicious, you will be penalized or fired.” Right? That’s a much stronger statement in direct response to what happened, but what Starbucks did is they’re like, “Let’s take on all of racism. Let’s take on all of unconscious bias.” And now you’re—you’re just on a different—it’s just a different conversation. And unconscious bias trainings themselves have actually shown to potentially be counterproductive because they enact—they start to trigger biases that people weren’t previously aware of and create very awkward situations in the future.

[42:20]

SWB You know just today I was having a conversation with somebody where we were talking about why it’s important to—to name things and it kind of hit me that, you know, as a white woman, something that I realized is that I think that the way that we—we meaning like white people like me [chuckles]—like the way that we tend to avoid the specificity of language around saying something like “anti-black” and want to call it something like “bias” or even, if we have to do, maybe we’ll use the ‘r’ word. Right? Like maybe we’ll call it racism, if we have to. But one of the reasons I think that happens is that it’s a way to protect white feelings, like it’s a way to make it more comfortable and more palatable for me, because it is—it is uncomfortable when you get into the specificity of saying “violence against black bodies,” right? Like that is—that is more painful and—

NS That’s radical [laughs] right. Right.

SWB And so—and so it’s like, oh. It’s—even if well intentioned, it’s like the effect is that it allows me to stay emotionally distant from the harm. And when I’m emotionally distant from the harm and I’m also not experiencing the harm because I’m a white person, I am much less of capable of doing anything about it or interested in doing anything about it. And that that is like—the way that that functions, it ends up being, even if it’s well intentioned, it—it ends up reinforcing all of the things about white supremacy that we say we want to change, because we’re unable to call it what it is.

NS Yeah! I mean it’s a very important thing for all of us to realize that we need to talk about hard stuff better. We need a better framework for doing that. And when companies ask me my advice and they say, “Where should we start?” One of my first bits of advice is, “Normalize a conversation around race.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone into a company and even when I say “black” and you can see people—like, I have one client, I’m done with them right now, but I had one client, and the CEO of this company, who was white, could not bring themself to say “black,” to describe somebody as black. Because it had been so ingrained in this person that recognizing race was somehow rude, and was somehow racist in and of itself, rather than just being a descriptor. But that’s about the value of the word that you’ve been taught, not about the value of the actual fact that I am brown. And if someone says, “Oh I didn’t even recognize that you were Latina!” I’m like, “That’s not true. Don’t say that.” [Sara laughs] Like, you know, like oh nobody—you just can’t be like, “Oh describe Serena Williams.” “Oh well she’s a tennis player, she’s a very strong woman, she’s tall, she’s very, very muscular, she’s very—” I’m like, “Yeah Serena Williams is black!” Like, you have to be able to say it because there’s no—there’s nothing wrong with that word. And so we have to work on there being nothing wrong with that. And what I’ve noticed a lot in working with white folks is that they need permission and coaching on how to start saying the precise words. They know them. You know them. You know that somebody is black. But you may say, “Gosh, am I supposed to say ‘African American’ or ‘black’?” And so that by the time it comes out of your mouth, it sounds unnatural because you’ve overthought and now you, whoever, the white person in the equation, has made race an issue by tipping their hand to the other person and going, “Oh ok. I see.” You don’t even know how to start this conversation. So I talk to companies about normalizing a conversation on race, because if you can do that, there’s nothing harder. 81 percent of millennials do not want to talk about race in mixed company because it just goes off the rails so fast. You need strong facilitation. You need a framework. You need good reading material like Ijeoma Oluo’s So You want to Talk About Race, which is mandatory reading if you care about this at this point. And in so doing, anything else that comes up to people who have—to a diverse group of people who have wrestled with a conversation on race—nothing is scarier than that in the United States. No conversation is scarier than talking about racial backgrounds and in mixed company.

[46:32]

NS [Continued] And for people of color the anxiety comes from like, “Ugh! Who’s going to—who am I going to have to decide I can’t trust anymore?” [Chuckling] Right? Like, “I don’t really want to know that you’re secretly struggling with these things, because I really like you and it’s just easy to go out to lunch with you,” and that’s the calculus that a person of color might be doing on the—on the light end. On the heavy end it’s like, “Am I safe here?” And a white person may be going to the calculus of, “I don’t want to inadvertently offend somebody. I don’t want to hurt any feelings. I don’t want to sound like a fool. I don’t want to make a mistake.” And that’s generally the calculus that’s going on in the room. So if you can actually help people get good vocabulary and use precise language, like I think—“I think this company is racist.” “Ok. You think this company is racist. Tell me how you saw that show up. Is it showing up across all—all groups? Are you seeing it specifically targeted at groups? Is it showing up on—you know, socially? Is it showing up in compensation? Tell me why you think this company is racist,” and helping people get to many levels below that so that we can actually unearth—like to keep talking about digging up, I just imagine digging stuff up and like tossing it out. Once you’ve dug deep enough to find it and you can toss it out because it doesn’t serve you anymore, we have to have language be our guide on that. And we have to teach people how to mess up. And how to rebound from that. And be ok with the fact that this is hard and uncomfortable and you’re all going to be ok when we’re done with this conversation. Provided you have good facilitation. Otherwise the same people who always get hurt are the same people who get hurt in that situation.

SWB I love this so much. I—[NS laughs]—you know I mean it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about and trying to talk to people about is like, if we don’t do it, we will—whatever it is. If you don’t do it, you will stay bad at it. You cannot get better at something if you keep not doing it [chuckles] right? If you keep avoiding it, you will never get better at it, and this always be a conversation that you’re bad at having. And so you’re going to have to figure out a way to practice having these conversations. So but not everybody has realized that there are people like you who can maybe help their companies have these conversations. So what are the kinds of things you’re working on right now that some of our listeners’ companies might be interested in?

[48:46]

NS Oh thank you for asking! So we’re for hire: Vaya Consulting, vayaconsulting.com. One of the things that we’re launching in the fall is management training because rather than saying, “Ok we’re going to take on diversity and inclusion and let us train your managers about diversity and inclusion.” That’s not as helpful as saying, “Here’s how to be a good manager through the lens of inclusion.” And—and so we’re launching on that um in the fall and so anybody who’s interested, you can go to vayaconsulting.com/inclusive-management-training. If you just have a question you can write to inquiry@vayaconsulting.com as well.

SWB And for all of you out there who don’t have like a company you run, but you’re interested in this topic, which I think is a lot of you, definitely check out Nicole on Twitter and on Medium, because I learn a lot by following her those places. Nicole, it has been so great to have you on the show today.

NS Thank you! Thank you! It’s been really nice to be here [music fades in, plays for three seconds, fades out].

Fuck Yeah of the Season

SWB Hey, ladies, do you know what season it is?

KL What season?

SWB It’s fuckin’ summertime!

KL Yes!!

SWB I’m so hyped for summertime, even though I’m a little bit sad, because this is the last episode of Season 2, and we are going on a little bit of a summer vacation. But I’m also extremely hyped because we’re taking a summer vacation!

KL Yay! Before we put our flip flops on and walk into the sunset, can we just reminisce a little bit about maybe some of our favorite moments or favorite Fuck Yeahs?

JL Fuck yeah we can. You know what I really loved this season? Way back in Season 2, Episode 1, we interviewed Neha Gandhi and she said, “It’s Monday today, and what’s the one thing that I need to do in order to feel like I’ve really accomplished something meaningful by Friday?” And I loved that! I just think it’s so neat to set up your goals for the week. I’ve become really into using Evernote and planning out what I’m going to do this week. I stole this from my coworker, Matt, who’s like a really hardcore Evernote user, and it’s just like a really nice way to set up your week to be like, “What do I need to focus on now?” So I really, I really liked when she talked about that.

[51:00]

KL It’s nice because it’s also like you can deal with a week at a time. [Chuckles] It feels very doable.

SWB I mean I have a lot of to-do lists, but I’m not that great about being like, “What do I need to accomplish to feel good on Friday?” So have you been feeling like you feel more of a fuck yeah! on Fridays now?

JL It’s like my whole week, I feel like I have a general really nice roundabout view of and so I—sometimes I have to switch it. It’s not the same on Monday as it is on Friday. But by Friday I feel good going into the weekend, and I know I’ll be ready to set myself up. I set up a “What’s going to happen on Monday” also. So I feel ready, and it like really cuts that anxiety of Sunday of like, “Oh! What’s coming up next?” So.

SWB I do that week planning, too, but I think I what I need to add to it is something that is more on that like satisfaction end. Not just like, “Here is what my week is going to look like.” But, “Here’s how I’m going to feel when these things are done at the end of the week,” and use that as a little bit of that North Star throughout the week.

JL It’s definitely a prioritizing tool for me, figuring out, like, “What’s really the most important thing that I need to get done at this point?”

SWB Something I really loved that I think about a lot is this quote from Saron Yitbarek, where she was mentioning advice that she received from somebody else, who said, “I don’t believe in stepping stones,” and when I heard that, I was sitting in my office all by myself and I swear to God I fistpumped in the air [laughter].

KL That was very cool.

SWB It was very good to hear it and it felt so natural coming from Saron. And I think one of the reasons it really stuck with me—it’s not to say that sometimes stepping stones aren’t helpful or that everybody should think that way—but it was so refreshing and exciting for me to hear somebody just owning that they want to do big things and they’re not sitting around waiting. That they are not trying to take baby steps, that they are going to get out and makes things happen for themselves. And they were saying it in such a way—like the way that she said it was not aggressive, not like crushing it! It was just so confident and in control and I just loved it.

KL I mean I’m biased, but I loved having my therapist on the show. That was really cool and I know we’ve talked about it a bunch, but it was also really surprising to me that I had kind of a realization as we were talking to her, and that was really cool. It was when she was talking about how, you know, when you get sort of further along in therapy and you start to actually look at the relationship between you yourself and the therapist and use that as a tool for evolution of the therapy itself. I was kind of like, “Oh my god! My head is like exploding!” And it was really cool to have that happen on the show.

[53:50]

SWB I don’t think that it is selfish for you to talk about that episode, because that episode was really, really great for me, too! I thought it was so valuable and so wonderful to both kind of like take the veil off of the therapy experience, and also just to kind of like see you open up to the world and say, “Yup! I’m in therapy, my therapist is awesome! Here she is! And it’s the most normal thing in the world!”

KL Yeah. Yeah. It’s taken a long time but I totally believe that.

JL I also really loved that we heard about mentoring a lot this season from Sarah Drasner and from Lilly Chin, and just like different ways you can get into mentoring and how important that is [KL yeah] and that it doesn’t have to be something that’s like a lot of roadblocks to get into. You can mentor people and different ways to get into that.

SWB Something else I want to give a big fuck yeah to is not something that happened on the show, but it’s something that we started getting in our inbox. So, over the course of this season, we received a whole bunch of emails from people who wanted to suggest themselves as guests on the show. And apologies if we have not gotten back to you about that. We are definitely looking at topics and themes and what we really want to dig into over the next few months but we love you, and we really want to be able to say like, “Look: it is fucking rad to put yourself out there and to send an email that is like even suggesting yourself as a guest.” That is awesome and I definitely want to hear from anybody who thinks they’d be a rad guest on the show, whether we end up having a space for them or not.

JL Yeah I love these ideas of ways to put yourself out there because you don’t know until you try and so I just think it’s really cool. Plus I get to like learn more about what other people are doing, and what awesome things you all are doing.

KL So, one last thing I will just throw out there is that I’ve had a couple of friends separately say to me that when they listen it feels like there not just keeping up with me but they’re hanging out with me and hanging out with us, and that is so fucking cool. I just never dreamt that that would be an outcome of the show, and that has just been such a cool thing to hear. And I think about that every time we record now.

SWB I mean, I think that’s awesome, and I think it totally speaks to why we can have natural like fucking language like, you know? [Laughter] And it is—it is like hanging out with people, and so we are not going to lose that in this whole conversation.

[56:17]

JL I can’t wait till one day we have a No, You Go hang session with all of our listeners.

KL Oh my gosh! A No, You Go meetup!

JL Aaaah! Awesome.

SWB You know what I’m really waiting for? This will be my sign that we’ve made it: No, You Go fan fiction [Katel laughs]. Please and thank you.

KL Maybe like some fan art.

SWB Yes!

KL That would be cool.

SWB We are definitely. We are always waiting for fan art.

KL [Laughs] On that note, fuck yeah to Season 2! Fuck yeah to you both. And fuck yeah to all y’all who have been listening. It’s been so rad. We’re so excited to be here.

SWB And we’re taking a little break, but don’t worry: we will be back very soon. So look for new episodes from us in August.

JL And that’s it for this season of No, You Go, the show about ambitious—and sticking together. No, You Go is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia, still the Super Bowl champions, and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Nicole Sanchez for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please make sure to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to our show. Your support helps us spread the word. We’ll be back in August [music fades in, plays for 32 seconds, fades out to end].

Jun 26 2018

58mins

Play

Rank #10: Pocket Rabbits with Eileen Webb

Podcast cover
Read more

We made it to Episode 2—and hey, so did you! High five!

This week, we’re all about TIME: how we make it, how we use it, and how we think about it. We’re also joined by our very first guest, Eileen Webb, who straight-up blew our minds with her take on making time on your own terms. Seriously, it’s . Just listen already.

> Why should my work get all of my best brain?
> —Eileen Webb, founder of Webmeadow

Here’s what we cover. (Yep, there’s a full transcript below, too!)

Show notes

First things first: is it time for for lunch yet? We think so (we’ve been thinking about snacks since 10:15). We start out with a segment on reclaiming lunchtime for, well, whatever you want:

  • Jenn tells us how she convinced her coworkers that watching Jeopardy at work is healthy. (We’re totally sold.)
  • Katel sits down for a fancy meal for one.
  • Sara heads out for a midday run, meetings be damned.

Next, NYG sits down with web strategist-slash-farmer Eileen Webb for an interview that’s sure to stick with all of us for quite some time. We talk about:

  • How Eileen and her partner went from burnouts in the first dot-com boom to running a bakery to finding their niche doing digital strategy from their home in northern New Hampshire.
  • Why morning meetings don’t work for Eileen’s brain, and how she avoids them.
  • Why Eileen trades the 9-to-5 for a sunrise hike every Tuesday—and never once feels guilty about it.
  • How to stop letting your calendar (and other people’s bullshit requests) run your life.
  • Also, pocket bunnies (no, not those kind).

Follow Eileen on Twitter, or hire her at webmeadow.com.

Also in this episode:

Thanks to our friends The Diaphone for the use of our theme song, Maths, off the album of the same name. 

_This episode is brought to you by CodePen—a social development environment for front-end designers and developers. Build and deploy a website, show off your work, build test cases, and find inspiration. _

Transcript

JENN LUKAS: Today’s show is brought to you by CodePen. CodePen is a place to write and share front-end code. You can try out new technologies, learn new things by forking other projects, and show off your own awesome work. Your profile on CodePen is like your front-end development portfolio. Learn more and create your own Pens at codepen.io. That’s c-o-d-e-p-e-n dot i-o.

JL: Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

KATEL LEDÛ: I’m Katel LeDû.

SARA WACHTER-BOETTCHER: And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

Today on No, You Go we’re talking about time. How do you make time for things you want to do while keeping all the things you have to do in check? We’ll explore making—and breaking—routines and habits, and pull apart the politics behind how we spend our time.

And we’re really excited because today we’ll be joined by Eileen Webb, who’s here to talk to us about things like sunrise hikes, why she doesn’t book meetings in the mornings—and, oh yeah, running a consulting company from a farm in rural New Hampshire that runs on solar energy.

But first on the agenda: I’d like to take Lunchtime with Jenn Lukas for $500, Alex.

[Intro music]

JL: There was one night that we were staying late working on something and my whole joke was, “I gotta get home in time to watch Jeopardy. And someone was like, “oh, you know we could stream it.” We streamed Jeopardy while eating dinner together as a group while we were working hard to finish a project. And it sounds a little silly but it was, like, really awesome to take a moment while we were trying to meet a deadline. But then we stopped to all eat dinner together while watching Jeopardy, which is probably the greatest game show of all time. And I don’t say that lightly, because I’m like really into The Price is Right.

So it just became a little bit known about how much I like Jeopardy at work. And we would talk a lot about it. And that got other people—other big Jeopardy fans would come out of the woodwork and start telling me about how much they loved Jeopardy. The Jeopardy thing just sort of continued. Some of us would come in the next day and be like, oh, did you see Jeopardy last night? And we would talk about Jeopardy. Someone made me an Alex Trebek Slack icon, you know, the usual.
SWB: What do you call a Jeopardy—are you, like, a Jeop-head? Like what do you call that?

JL: I do not care for that!

KL: Did you all end up playing that first night? Were you, like, playing along?

JL: Yeah we are all for the yell out the answers. There’s no, like, “don’t say the answers.” And no one says “what is.” Actually, someone says “what is” now, but to be fair, we have a new coworker at work, and he was on College Jeopardy.

KL: Whoa.

JL: Yeah, legit. Anyway so this kept going. And then like once the weather turned cold, we would—when it comes down to lunchtime, we would eat lunch outside a lot. We have a really great outdoor setup down at our campus—and, oh, I hate the word campus—laughs—down at our workspace. Anyway, once the weather got cold, we still wanted to do things together, but it got a little weird because you don’t always want to eat in the cafeteria, so sometimes people bring lunch back to their desk. And we actually just renovated our office space, and we have this great pod setup.
So we started doing Jeopardy lunch where we would just pull it up on the TV. And then people would start hearing the theme song, and they’d be like, “You guys are watching Jeopardy?” And we’d be like, “Yeah, we’re watching Jeopardy.”

KL: Get on in here!

JL: Right? Exactly. So it just started being a thing. Like, “Hey, are we going to watch Jeopardy today?” And it was like, “Yeah, we’re all going to grab lunch now. So we’d go grab lunch together, bring it back, and now we watch Jeopardy. And we have a little Slack channel, so we can let people know when it’s starting. Though, we have a very open building, so it’s pretty obvious when Jeopardy is starting.

[Laughter]

SWB: How many people come and gather and watch Jeopardy at lunch now?

JL: I’d say it’s anywhere between like 5 and 10, but a variety.

KL: That’s a good group.

JL: So like, there’s a rotating group of I’d say 15 or 20 people.

SWB: When you started doing this, was it ever difficult to feel like this was a good use of your time, or feel like you should be back at your desk instead of taking the time away to watch the show?

JL: Yeah, totally. And not to mention, our desks are right there. You can see it. In fact, someone made a quote-unquote joke one time that was like… I was like, “Hey, wanna watch Jeopardy?” and they were like, “No, I have work to do.” And I was like, “Yeah, but this is lunch!”

KL: Yeah, like, remember that?

JL: You know, they have these amazing studies where, like, you can only focus on things for such a length of time. There’s this interesting thing, it’s every 10 minutes that you have to stop what you’re doing for a minute to digest what you’ve done and get back at what you’re doing.

So we’re talking about four hours at this point. And I think at that point it’s really important to stop for a minute, take a break, eat lunch, watch a Jeopardy or whatever your thing is, and then get back to what you’re doing. And I think you start fresh. I think that’s how you avoid daily burnout.

SWB: Yeah, you know when you were talking about Jeopardy lunch, I think a lot about some of the pressures that I’ve seen in offices around constantly looking like you’re busy, or looking like you’re working. I’ve realized that much of that is a show, that people who—you know, you feel pressure to constantly look like you’re working, so you eat lunch at your desk. People who do that, they’re not actually more productive, and they’re probably more miserable, than if you just took a real break and sat your ass down somewhere and did something that was not work and was not intended to look like work and was not pretending to be work.

[5:00]

JL: Yes. Ugh, yes. [Laughs] It’s funny, they have all these browser extensions to stop you from looking at certain sites while you work. And it’s so much easier to do that if you are focused, and then you take that official break.

SWB: I think a lot about the conversations we have about time, and how we get really focused on making sure you carve out time to do big things. People will write about how, you know, “Oh, I wrote my book by sitting down every morning between 6 and 8am and writing 1500 words for two months, and that’s how I wrote this book.” That seems like a miserable way to write a book to me, personally, but I think that moreover, so many of those conversations are just about how do we do big things. But what we’re talking about here is much more around how do we make time for things that seem small, but have a much greater impact on our wellness and on our psyche and on our ability to have boundaries.

JL: Down where I work, we work at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, which is in South-South Philly, you can’t go any further, it’s surrounded by the river. There are some really neat areas to walk in. I know people who will just walk down by the river and look at the old ships during lunch break, too. And so, there’s all sorts of like—you really take a lunch. Eat your lunch, get some air, and do something that clears your mind to give you a good second half of the day.

SWB: Katel, what do you do for lunch?

KL: Oh, gosh, well, sometimes, I do have to admit, sometimes I will eat something very hurriedly over the sink so I don’t get any dishes dirty. It’s very efficient, and it’s very sad.

I was actually just thinking, one of my absolute favorite things is when I am traveling whether it’s for work, or I am out somewhere and I just happen to be on my own, sometimes i will go and just have a really fancy lunch by myself somewhere, and I’ll just get something extravagant, just because I can. Or something that’s like, oh I should save that for dinner, or whatever. And sometimes for me, just having that, even if it’s not a two-hour thing, it’s really nice to kind of like, sit with yourself.

SWB: I don’t love going out to lunch most of the time. Like Katel said, I love going out to a fancy lunch every now and again, but for the most part, I prefer to eat home foods for lunch. I like to make a sandwich or assemble leftovers or put together a salad, and that’s fine. But what I’ve found is really important for me is to get out during the middle of the day, and I find that that’s my favorite time to go to the gym or go for a run. Something I have been prioritizing more and more is making sure that that happens, and that happens before it’s super late in the day.

Because I work from home, and because I tend to have a fair amount of autonomy over my schedule—I mean, I have meetings and things, but they’re meetings that I agreed to set—I can kind of, you know, always fit it in where I want, in theory. But time slips away so easily. So it’s like, you have a couple meetings, you do a little work. All of a sudden you’re really hungry, so you eat something. Well, can’t go running right after you eat something. So now I get back involved in some work and some meetings, and suddenly it’s 5pm. And while I can still go for a run then, what I have found for myself is that making sure I get the time to go out sometime more in the middle of the day, I am doing something that is totally distinct from work, and that forces my brain out of the work zone, and I end up having an overall better day, a more pleasant day. And so I really have been trying to prioritize that, and prioritize it on top of things that seem more important in the short term, but I’ve realized in the long run aren’t.

KL: That’s one of the things I’ve struggled with the most not working in like an office or a structured environment. Because my time is my own—and that’s really great, and I am very grateful for that—I also don’t have any accountability to anyone to be like, okay, I gotta go take a break, and this is going to help me be more productive in the long run.

I don’t know, I am just thinking back to when I was starting out in my career, and maybe I didn’t have as much time or flexibility, or didn’t feel quite as much like I could take a break, I think, like, conversely, removing myself from the office and actually like—even if I wasn’t going out and like buying a nice meal—I would just go eat lunch somewhere else so I would feel like, okay, I wasn’t sitting at my desk and I wasn’t being judged, but I am taking time for myself.

JL: Yeah, that’s so important. I can only imagine. I mean I luckily sometimes have someone who sits next to me and says, “hey, you gonna go get lunch?”

KL: Yeah, it’s like, hey, are you just going to sit there all day?

JL: You need a lunch app that rings, that’s like “hey!”

SWB: Well you know, this whole conversation about reclaiming lunchtime and taking time for yourself, it makes me extremely excited to introduce our guest for today. Katel and I had the chance to sit down with Eileen Webb.

[10:00]

Eileen is somebody I’ve known for years, and she’s always the person I turn to when I want someone to give me some good advice and some thoughtful ideas about how to look at my time differently, and how to make sure that I’m creating space in my life and habits in my life that are going to give me some sustenance and some perspective and not burn me out.

[Musical interlude]

JL: CodePen’s a powerful tool that allows designers and developers to write code—like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—directly in a browser, and see the results right as you build. Whether you’re new to front-end code or have been writing it for years, it’s the perfect place to learn front-end programming languages. You can show off what you create, build test cases, and get help on tricky problems.

Not to mention, you can find inspiration browsing all the awesome pens that other people are out there making. It’s a great community that I love being a part of. Whenever I have a new idea and want to get right to making it happen, I open up a CodePen and just start coding.

I can skip all the things that are roadblocks for me—like setting up environments and getting hosting—and just get right to the projects I want to create. CodePen has so many cool things to explore, like CodePen Pro and Projects. Sign up today and get started by visiting codepen.io/hello.

[Musical interlude]

Interview **: ** Eileen Webb

SWB: I’m excited to introduce all of you to Eileen Webb. Eileen is a friend of mine, and she’s also the director of strategy and livestock—no, seriously, livestock—at Webmeadow, a solar-powered web consulting company in New Hampshire. When she’s not tending her chickens or Instagramming her bunnies, she’s helping progressive organizations with their digital and content strategy, giving talks at lots of different tech conferences, and she’s teaching workshops (sometimes even with me!).
Eileen, welcome to No, You Go.

EW: Hello Sara, hello Katel.

KL: Hi!

SWB: I am so happy we could interview you nice and early, because I feel like you have so much insight into making a working life work for you, and getting comfortable with the idea of that not looking like everybody else’s, that I think people are going to really love.

EW: My life is definitely not looking like other people’s.

[Laughter]

SWB: Yeah, so I would love to start out talking about that. I know that you live in northern New Hampshire, you don’t live where a lot of us would imagine an ambitious tech professional would live. Can you tell us a bit about what your day to day looks like?

EW: Sure I live on a small farm. And so a lot of my day to day actually revolves around animals and livestock and like, in the right season, vegetables and growing things. But right now, the depths of winter, so it mostly involves bringing thawed water to animals in the cold temperatures. A lot of my day honestly is animal focused. And then I come inside where it is warm and I sit at my computer talk to clients all day. Because of the kind of work that I do, I do a lot of work that is people-focused. I work with a lot of teams and I work with teams to figure out how they are going to do things with their teams moving forward, and sort of how to change their internal processes. And so I spend some time making documents and working in spreadsheets and looking at websites, a lot of time talking with teams and talking with people about how to make their workdays better.

SWB: So how did you end up building that kind of working life? What led you to have a web consulting company that is also on a small farm in northern New Hampshire?

EW: My partner and I both worked in Silicon Valley in the ___ era, so in the first dot-com boom. And it was very, I don’t know, dot-commy? It was very busy, and long hours, and, you know, working for sort of Wall Street bros.

SWB: Mmmmmmhmmmm

EW: Yeah, I know. Wall Street bros. Yay. When we left that, we—so, my mom grew up in northern New Hampshire, so we actually moved to my great-grandparents’ farmhouse, which was still in my family. And for a while we ran a bakery, because we didn’t want to do computer stuff anymore. But there comes a point when you can only make so much money off of baking bread, and if you want to make more money, you have to just like literally scale up and bake twice as much bread. Or you can build someone a website and get paid so much more money than baking some bread. So we went back to doing website stuff. And I have a background in backend development, so I did a lot of server-side stuff and sysadmin kinds of things, and like programming of content management systems. And my partner is a front-end developer, so he would do the CSS and the HTML and the sort of performance-dev stuff. So we built lots and lots of websites for people. And then because I don’t like working that much—

SWB: Oh, we’re going to dig into that a bit further in a minute.

EW: I don’t like doing work that people won’t use, and so it got to a point where, when people would ask me, “Oh, will you build me a blog section on this site?” I’d be like, “Why? Prove to me that you need it. Prove to me that you have the internal capacity to fill a blog on a regular basis.” And sort of that type of attitude ended up spilling over into full-time strategic work.

[15:00]

I started out doing strategic work because I didn’t want to build things that people weren’t going to use, and then even when I graduated to the point of having other people build the thing, I still really like asking all the questions: what do you need? Why do you think you need it? How can we demonstrate that this is true or not true? And so I ended up being a strategist all the time. And because I’m self-scheduled, I was also able to weave in all this animal stuff and all this lifestyle stuff, like living out in the woods and going hiking and all that kind of stuff.

SWB: Yeah, tell us about that. Tell us about your going hiking.

EW: I want to be careful because when I say hiking, a lot of people really picture, like, backpacking. And I am, if nothing, just the worst pack mule in the entire world. I hate wearing backpacks. I hate carrying things because it’s a lot of work. And so when I say hiking, it’s more like walking, it just happens to be that I live in the woods in the mountains. So it’s walking, but in trees [laughter]. So I do a lot of walking and hiking.

My partner and I, we take off every Tuesday morning, and we have for more than a decade at this point. We take every Tuesday morning and we go out into the world. This time of year we go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Other times of the year we go kayaking or we mostly do walking, because it’s obviously the easiest thing in all seasons. And it’s a really important piece of our physical self-care, and also our mental self-care, in giving ourselves space to work with our clients, and to give ourselves to someone else for so much of our work we. It’s a little bit of time we take back for ourselves.

KL: That’s so cool. I just gotta say that.

SWB: Yeah, I love this. And it’s one of the reasons that I really wanted to talk with you. Not just because of the hiking, but the concept behind it of taking that time consistently and prioritizing it. I think I’ve talked with you about this before, where I’m like, okay, I would like to do more of that, and figure out, how do I systematize that into my schedule, because I don’t think I give myself enough of that. And so I am really curious, how did you and your partner make that a priority, and what are the habits or routines that you have that enable you to keep that time protected?

EW: I am a huge huge fan of…I don’t remember if it’s called time-blocking or time-boxing. That’s how you can tell what a big fan I am of it.

[Laughter]

If I block stuff off on my calendar…like, my calendar, if I click over to my calendar right now, On Tuesday morning, it just has a big block of time, that is a recurring block of time every week, that says “Tuesday Adventure.” And so when I am going to schedule things, when I am looking at when people want to have calls and things like that, it is already blocked off. And like, even though it is just blocked by me, right, it’s not like there’s an invitation with lots of other people on it, literally having that visual block in my calendar graphics really helps me remember that that is what I am supposed to be doing on Tuesday mornings. I do that with all my calendar stuff.

My Thursday mornings are blocked off for what I call “work selfies,” which right now is usually a writing project, but sometimes is like taking a class in git, or whatever random thing I want to do. And I like to block things off. I usually try to keep my mornings free for intense brain work, and then my afternoons are calls and meetings, just because that’s how my brain works best. So like, building the structure in is really important for me.

I have this friend, Krista Scott Dixon, she’s like a personal trainer and nutrition coach and stuff. And she talks about how willpower is what we use to not punch our boss and to not pull our pants down in the middle of the supermarket, and that willpower is an overtaxed resource. You cannot depend on willpower to do things like make good food choices and decide to go to the gym, because your willpower is just, like, out most times of your day. And so instead of relying on willpower to remember to do those things, it’s all about relying on structure, and setting up structures that make it so that you’d have to have willpower to overcome the structure. So you set up the structure in a time when you’re calm and making good prioritized decisions, and you sort of build the shape of a day and the shape of a week that supports whatever your goals are.

SWB: So I need to sit down, have a protein-laden snack, take a deep breath, light a candle, and then structure my day or my week.

EW: Yeah.

KL: I love that.

EW: This works for me because of the way my brain works. I am really good at following structures I set up for myself. I don’t get tempted away. Just sort of awareness of the stuff is the most important thing for me—awareness of, like, of this is what this timeblock is for is enough for me to be like, well, I guess past me said this is what Tuesdays are for.

[20:00]

Obviously that wouldn’t work for everyone. But for me, just setting up the structure makes it pretty easy to stick with it.

SWB: It kinda seems like there’s a certain faith in yourself you have to have to make that work, right? You’re trusting that past you made a good choice and not a bad choice, and not second-guessing that.

EW: Yes.

KL: I think it’s also, like, just feeling accountable to something, and if that’s a framework, I feel like that makes so much sense. I’m a really visual person, too, and I feel like looking at a calendar that has blocks reserved for things that I’m doing, seems like a no-brainer. When I went from regular office job to being solo and working remotely, that went away. And I feel like I need to re-institute some of that.

SWB: You know there are people who talk about their calendars as being basically slots to be filled. Their calendar will literally have meeting after meeting stacked up on it, and it’ll have one 30-minute block at 12:30 and somebody will come book that. And that mode that people get into, or that their corporate culture almost forces them into, or at a minimum sort of encourages, is one that’s very much, you’re in a reactive mode all of the time. It’s like your calendar is a thing being done to you. And then there’s those people who treat their calendar as more like something that they have ownership of, and they create slots for meetings and they say, okay, this is when I’m available to meet. It’s a more proactive way of looking at it— of saying, I need to reserve parts of my day for things that are not just requests of me, but are the priorities that I set up for myself. I’m the best judge of my own priorities; I can’t have 7,000 people making requests of me.

EW: I think there’s also something around the idea that—I think that we all are pretty aware that we work differently at different times of day. Like, I know that for myself, morning time is when I can do deep brain work. It’s when I can do synthesis, and analysis, and sort of like, deep focus. Where, anything after lunch is like, I can still do work, but I can’t write essays—I’m good for meetings. I’m real good at scheduling calls in the afternoon. But I can’t do deep, intense, sort of, focussed work, because it’s just not how my brain chemistry works. And so if you know that about yourself and if you have been working, you know, long enough that you recognize those patterns in yourself and you pay attention to them—making sure you use the right parts of the day, doing the right kinds of things. Sometimes people will ask me to do meeting in the morning and every once in a while, I’ll say yes, but I’m really reluctant to. Because I know that I could do meetings in the afternoons and that would be great, but if I do a meeting in the morning, I’ve basically lost my morning for doing focused work.

SWB: That’s something I really wanted to ask a little more about. You said that blocking off time is often enough for you and that’s enough of a reminder to yourself. But I’m curious: when you get those requests and when they’re from someone who’s insistent that they don’t have any other time or it seems important—how do you push back against that or how do you evaluate those things and make a decision about whether you’re going to, you know, sacrifice the schedule that you were going to have for something—or that you’re not going to? How do you process that and make sure that you don’t end up consistently setting the time aside and then not giving yourself that time?

EW: So I think a lot of that comes back to the idea of sort of having faith in yourself. And I am so fortunate as a consultant to be able to control my own time and other people can’t see my calendar. So if I say I’m not available before Tuesday at 1:00 PM, no one has any reason—I mean now, if they listen to this podcast, great, now they know!

[Laughter]

EW: But, no one has any reason to question my calendar, right? Like, they want to meet with me and I will give them some number of times. You know, I’ll say I’m available this chunk of time and this chunk of time. And so that’s one thing—is literally being in control of my own calendar and believing that I have the right to manage my own time. And the other piece of this for me, is that mornings are when I do my best work. And I was telling a friend about this a couple months back, and she said, “Well but you go out hiking on Tuesday mornings. Have tried doing your hiking in the afternoon instead?” And I just had like, an off-the-cuff response of, “Why should my work get all of my best brain?”

KL: Yeah!

EW: It was what my dad would call like, a throwaway comment, but I started thinking about it after I had said it, and realized that’s actually core to the way I manage my time. If you wait until you’re running on fumes before you do any sort of self care, the kinds of self care you can do are super limited. If you wait until a Friday night for the first time for you to like, take time to let your brain rest, pretty much all you’re going to be able to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix.

[25:00]

SWB: You don’t know my life!

[Laughter]

EW: Sitting on the couch and watching Netflix is a glorious joy that we should all partake in as much as we can. But if that’s the only thing you can do, it’s sort of not giving yourself a full range of nutrition of what it is your body needs, and your brain needs, to sort of heal and take care of itself—and keep you in your best prime. So I think a lot about—I mean I used to think about this a lot and now it’s super second-nature, I’ve just ingrained it. That, I’ve set up this schedule to make it so that I am able to do my job. To make it so that I am able to work with clients well, and I am able to take on contracts and sort of manage these hairy people problems. And just sort of deal with everything that running a business entails. If I shortchange the structure that I set up to keep myself safe and healthy, I’m limiting my sustainability as a person with a career.

SWB: And you know, I know everybody has different capacities, and everybody has different blends of types of work—and amount of work versus other stuff going on in their lives—that’s sort of an optimal blend for them. But I love this idea that, I think is true for everybody—there is a way of doing work that is sustainable and that is giving you energy. And there is a way of working that is just chew right through you. And, for me, I know it’s been hard to give myself the gift of setting some of those limits because I feel both kind of a constant drive professionally—but also I guess I just really love doing stuff. I’ve realized something about myself. I used to think that to have work down time, what I should be doing is “relaxing.” And what I realized is that I don’t actually enjoy relaxing. Like, I like a spa day every now and again, for sure. But I do not like to hang out all day on a weekend day and like, binge watch a show. I don’t enjoy that at all—I hate it. And for me, I need to do non-work things—like you mentioned going hiking. I need to be doing something active, whether that’s intellectually active or physically active, I need to be doing something active in order to feel like I’m having an enjoyable and sort of, satisfying time. But that I need to give myself over to those activities and not let work bleed into them.

I have a big habit of doing the like, work-cation, where I go somewhere for a conference or something and then I tack on a little bit of vacation time. And that’s fine, because I get to see new places that way, and it’s amazing. It’s an incredible thing I’ve been able to do. But I cannot confuse that with an actual vacation, where I went to a place with the intention of not working.

KL: Right, and exploring it and seeing new things and actually taking it in, instead of being like, I have this break, where I can go and take a twenty minute walk and maybe see something while I’m trying to…

SWB: Or even taking a day or two at the end of a business trip is still hard, you know. I think something you said, Eileen, that i’m going to be thinking about for a long time, is why should work get the benefit of all of my best brain time.
KL I love that.

SWB: So like, being able to go on a trip and saying, okay, I’m only going on this trip for personal enrichment, so I’m going to give my best brain time to enjoying being in this place. I’m not going to use it all up at the conference before I get to see anything. I really love that concept and I think I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.

You have this schedule that’s really closely intertwined with your partner’s schedule. Where you take these hikes together, and you used to work on a lot of projects together. But he’s recently been working in more of a full time capacity versus working directly with you on projects, right?

EW: Yes.

SWB: How has that shift gone?

EW: It has been a really interesting shift. One thing is like, some of the things we just literally time-shifted. Like, we used to do Tuesday morning hikes that ended around lunch time. And now we do Tuesday mornings that end at like, 10:00am. So he’s not starting significantly later than he would otherwise. It means we have to get up earlier and leave the house earlier. And this time of year, the sun doesn’t even rise until like 7:30 or something. But I’ve always wanted to do sunrise hikes, and I don’t—I am not good at getting up early in the morning, it is not one of my strong points. And so I’ve never done sunrise hikes because I’m just too sleepy for that. And so now, we actually sort of have a need to do them because this is where they fit in the day. And so that is sort of a fun thing. Some of the stuff is the same but in shifting it, we found new places to explore.

It’s a little bit like—it makes me think of design constraints are what make artists sort of have their most interesting insights and creative bursts. Because there are like little constraints to work within. So now some of the scheduling constraints have made us find—like we found some more trails that are closer to home.

[30:00]

Because we live in the mountains, which is great, and there are trails everywhere. But it usually takes us a good solid thirty or forty minutes of driving to get to a trailhead. And if you only have two and a half hours total, like, that’s a lot of time eaten up driving. So we’ve finding a lot of more local trails. And these are not really marked trails. They’re not in guide books, right? They’re much more like a trail across someone’s land that is posted that people can walk here and that’s safe and fine and legal and everything. But you have to sort of search them out. So it’s been fun; it’s been a new set of explorations.

One of the reasons that both he and I pay attention to this stuff a lot, is that we both he have chronic health conditions that preclude us from overworking. You were saying earlier, like, “How do you make sure that you respect the time that you set aside for yourself?” And a great way to do that is if your body just shuts down if you stop respecting that time. That will learn you up really quickly. So both of us are in a position if we do do too much work, and if we do over-stress ourselves, our bodies will just react very strongly and in ways that are not pleasant. And so even with him doing more regular work and more sort of full time work, we are finding ways to make sure that we’re preserving what keeps us healthy.

SWB: You know, I think about the number of people I know who are managing a chronic condition and it’s a lot. But I also think that all of us are managing health in general and that’s probably something that we all need to be better keeping in mind. Regardless of whether we have a specific diagnosis or not. We are fragile little human people, and, right?

KL: Yeah I think we’re all dealing with just, the state of things, especially in the last year, eighteen months.

SWB: Oh boy, are we!

KL: And I feel like you don’t think of that as a condition or a thing you’d need to pay attention to or factor into how you plan your days or how you work or how you spend time with people, but it absolutely is. And I think just your point about being aware is just such a good one.

EW: There’s a phrase I really love in the disability rights community that people who are not currently disabled are are just temporarily able-bodied. For some people it’s very temporary. And for some people it’s like, maybe you’re getting a month of able-bodiedness, and some people are going to have years of able-bodiedness. But for the most part, like, it’s a pretty universal thing that at some point you will not be able-bodies anymore. So making the most of preserving that while you can and doing what you can to make sure that you’re not contributing to your own pain or your own exhaustion, is really important.

KL: Yeah, wow.

SWB: Yeah. This stuff is just gonna be so valuable for people to hear and get their—to get a little tiny Eileen in their head, whenever they’re looking at their calendar and making decisions.

KL: [Laughs] Are you doing career, life coaching?

EW: Yeah, I train the rabbits. One rabbit per person—it’s a pocket rabbit for like, a good two months until it becomes not a pocket rabbit anymore.

KL: Yes! Let’s do that!

SWB: Katel would really like a pocket rabbit.

KL: I kind of want to go back to the beginning. Something that you were saying about not wanting to build things for people that they didn’t use. To me, when you started also talking about how you got to be living on this farm and how that was a family thing—I think just the idea of farm life, you know, whatever you might imagine that to be. You kind of do what really needs to be done and you don’t do anything extraneous. I can see all of that really syncing up and I imagine that that impacted the way you approach work and the way you do things. I don’t know if you felt that way.

EW: Yeah, no, that’s definitely true. I think it’s less pointed and and more underlying deep understandings. Even just things like when the season changes. When it’s fall turning into winter, there’s a whole bunch of things you need to do before the ground freezes—like you can’t move fence posts once the ground has frozen. And you can’t sort of like, rearrange things. When the first frost comes, you need to pick all the tomatoes, today, because tomorrow they will be ruined. And so you abandon whatever other project you were kind of thinking about doing because this project now has the highest priority. And I don’t feel like I have any super direct lessons from that, but just as a sort of philosophy, like, what’s the most important thing to do right now? Let’s make sure we get that done first before we fritter off doing other things that might be more fun—but five days from now we’re going to be really said we did it in the wrong order.

KL: Yeah.

SWB: Well, it just seems like it totally connects you to a timescale and a rhythm that is outside of what most people would associate with their work—people who aren’t working on farms. I think it’s maybe a good reminder that there are many other ways of looking at the day, than like, through the lens of an iCalendar.

KL: Yeah.

EW: Yes. There’s also a whole bunch of like, farm interaction stuff. If you try to have one kind of animal in by itself—like if you just have chickens. It doesn’t work as well as if you have chickens and pigs.

[35:00]

And if you’re like, raising vegetables, you want something that’s gonna eat all the scraps from your vegetables. Rabbits will eat all of the kale scraps that we don’t eat. And there’s something really sort of neat and foundational in the way that all the waste from one thing feeds another thing. Like, I don’t really feel bad if I end up throwing out food—not like, huge amounts of food—but when there’s food that’s done, it just goes in the compost. And then the compost turns into garden dirt, and then I grow more food with it next year. There’s something very soothing in that, and there’s something sort of nice in finding the place where what feels like waste, can actually be turned into fodder for something else.

SWB: Well, that’s yet another amazing metaphor that I think will stick with me. Ok, we have time for one last question. What is the most rewarding thing that you spent time doing this week?

EW: Ok, so it was -26º F at my house last Tuesday; it was very cold. And we were like, what are we gonna do? Like, it’s freezing and we can’t go outside and we were feeling sort of stir-crazy. And so I took some really thick, warm fleece, and I made like a sweatshirt that has a cowl neck so you can put your entire head inside this sort of scuba neck. It’s like living inside a fluff.

SWB: GO ON…

EW: And it has a kangaroo pocket, so you put your hands in the warm belly space—it was just very, like, cozy. And I was very grateful to have the skills but also the machines in my house to let me make that clothing and have it be really warm and fuzzy. And I put it on and I’m like, I’m not taking this off for, like, three days. It’s perfect.

KL: That’s awesome. I really picturing this thing, too.

SWB: Yeah, I love it so much. Well, Eileen, it has been amazing to chat with you. I’m so happy that we could get the time to share with other people how you make time in your life. Where can people find you online?

EW: People can find me primarily on Twitter @webmeadow. I’m also at webmeadow.com, but that’s just like a static website. Twitter is a good place for me because it’s full of pictures of animals and also snarky comments.

SWB: Well, that is one of my favorite combos.

KL: Yes.

SWB: Alright, thank you Eileen!

EW: Thanks for having me.

Fuck Yeah of the Week

KL: You know when your friend gets promoted, or they launch their new portfolio, or they finally meet someone who just gets them—and you’re totally pumped for them? That’s our next segment. The Fuck Yeah of the Week: where we get super excited about someone or something that’s just been killing it lately. So, who’s our Fuck Yeah of the Week?

SWB: Well, our Fuck Yeah of the Week this week, is 2018 liberations. Let me tell you about what that is. So Cate Huston, who’s the mobile engineering lead at Automattic—the people who make WordPress by the way—she wrote this blog post a the beginning of the year where she said, “I hate new year’s resolutions. Not because I don’t believe in goals or working on myself, or the new year as a time to reflect and adjust. But because I’m tired of focusing on the ways I’m inadequate and need to do better. I hate seeing my friend worry about what they need to do better. Especially right now, when the world is selling so many of us short.”

I love this sentiment. That new year’s resolutions can be great but they can also be problematic if they’re just reinforcing ideas that you’re just not good enough. So, a few of Cate’s 2018 liberations were things like, “Doing things because I’m flattered to be asked at all.” For example, being a token woman on a panel, and saying yes just because she felt flattered invited. Nope! She’s not doing it anymore. Apologizing for her achievements was another one. That’s definitely something I’ve heard myself doing before. Where, you know, I’ll play down the fact that I’ve, I don’t know, written three books, or run my own business for half a dozen years. Like, those things are pretty cool, and I want to be excited about them. So I’m really happy to have found 2018 liberations and especially excited because all these other cool women started chiming in.

Here are a couple more examples that I think you all are really going like, that have come out in the past couple weeks. One is from Ellen Pao. She said that she was going to stop spotlighting people who don’t pay it forward. “I try to use my voice to highlight the great work of others with the hope that they will shine their light on even more others. But some people hold all the light for themselves,” she wrote. She said that in 2018, she wants to “shine more light on people who deserve more attention but are systematically neglected.”

And then there’s Karolina Szczur. She said that she was going to liberate herself from white feminism. “If feminism, allyship, or what-have-you isn’t intersectional and going beyond binary gender, there’s work to be done,” she wrote. “Feminism and allyship aren’t fashionable lifestyle choices.” Or this one from Erica Joy—she said, “assuming best intentions and similar pieces of advice that require I minimize experiences that are painful.” She says she’s done with that. So, ladies, what are your liberations for 2018?

[40:00]

KL: I love this too, and it’s such a good question. I feel like at liberations versus resolutions, it’s like, just so much more positive. In fact, I went to therapy earlier today, and I told my therapist all about it and she was super excited. So I felt like reaffirming in itself. And you know, that really just made me think about putting a focus on self care and self-betterment, and just not being worried—that it’s ok to put that first.

SWB: First off, like, shoutout for therapy.

KL: YES.

SWB: Therapy’s cool.

KL: Hands up!

SWB: People who go to therapy are great. Finding a good therapist is amazing. One of the things that I also love about what you’re saying, is that you’re talking about self care in the way that I really think it’s meant to be, right? Like, sometimes you see hashtag selfcare, and that’s nothing but buying yourself something expensive. And we’ve all bought ourselves something—ok, I bought some fancy face cream, hashtag self care. Bu that’s not actually really nurturing or nourishing yourself. That’s a pretty shallow moment in time that feels nice, but what you’re really talking about is like, making sure you’re getting what you really need in life, and getting the support from others and having somebody to talk to. Those kinds of things are such a deeper level, that we need to be able to talk about distinct from like, I bought some cool earrings ’cause I was sad.

KL: Yeah, I want to let go of feeling shy about talking about that stuff. And, ultimately, let go of feeling shy in general, because I feel like I’m shy about things I should not be. And I don’t know, I think that’s a good place to start.

SWB: Fuck yeah!

JL: I love face cream!

[Laughter]

JL: One of the things I actually love about face cream, almost, is the same way I love my Fuck Yeah wine glasses—is that, like, I feel so rushed all the time. And my daily beauty routine, when I stop and have that moment—and of course it doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 face cream or $100 face cream—I just like that moment that stops and says, this moment’s about me. Yeah, I really like that.

SWB: Totally!

KL: You feel like you’re in the commercial…

[Laughter]

KL: And you’re like, you have the towel on your head, and you’re like, “yes, Noxzema clean!”

[Laughter]

JL: Yes! This moment—Rebecca Gayheart! She was the best, the Noxzema girl!

KL: Right! Oh gosh.

SWB: But it’s not just the like, face cream, right? It’s not really about the product, it’s about the time.

KL: It’s the moment.

SWB: And like that little bit of something for you. I like to pause and remember that because its’ ok to, like I said, buy myself a pair of earrings when I feel sad. Ok, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Like, I’m not saying that that’s necessarily a bad thing to do. But you’re not really liberating yourself from shit that way. Like, that’s not really the answer here.

I think my 2018 liberation is that I want to liberate myself from worrying about how I’m going to be perceived all the time, and just trying to exist a little bit more. One of the things that I’ve noticed about myself, is that as I’ve put myself out there professionally more, it means things like speaking, right? You have to get up on stage in front of people. Writing books—you have your name on this thing and it’s out there in the world, and like, people read it and they have opinions and feelings about it, and they talk about it. And all of that feels so personal. And I think it’s important to look at feedback from people—that has useful things in it and it’s going to help me become a better speaker, or writer, or whatever. But, it is not useful for me to internalize that as some kind of reflection of myself. Or that like, if somebody didn’t like my book, I am a bad person and should feel bad.

And that’s really easy for me to do. I found myself doing it a lot. And so I’m really trying to allow some emotional distance and be like, you know, I wrote a book. That book is gonna be liked by some people and not by others. I cannot actually change anything in it at this point. It is on paper, in stores, like I can’t do shit about it if somebody doesn’t like it. So, I can let it go. And to also be like, yeah, it was a book or it was a talk, it was a podcast episode—it was what it was. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Like, there are a lot of books out there. None of them are perfect. Some of them are better than others, and mine will be valuable to some people. It is not the end of the world and it is certainly not the end of me if there’s negativity that somebody has about it. So, that is definitely something that I want to liberate myself from. I suspect it’ll be a year long process, and probably longer than a year. But, you know, hold me accountable to that this year.

JL: I love that. I will definitely—I think both of us can hold you accountable. Because you’re a badass. Your book is great.

KL: It’s fucking great.

JL: And I can totally imagine—and we’ve talked about this—and I totally get that. Because no one–there can be a hundred people that will be like, “I loved your book,” and then one person says something shitty.

KL: Right.

JL: And then you’re like, I can’t stop thinking about that one shitty thing that person said. Which is so unfair, because your book’s amazing.

KL: Yeah.

SWB: And it’s also imperfect, right? Like, of course it is—all books are, right? Like, all things are—all things are imperfect, so being able to just be like, yeah. I wrote the best thing I could, during the time I had, with the knowledge I had at that time, and the constraints I had at that time. That is what I was able to produce and put into the world, and here we are.

[45:00]

JL: Fuck yeah.

SWB: Fuck yeah.

KL: Fuck yeah.

JL: So, my 2018 liberation, I’ve decided, is to stop caring about what other people think about how I feed my child. On one hand, you have people who have very strong opinions about breastfeeding and how long you should breastfeed your child. And if you breastfeed your child for a shorter duration than what they deem “okay,” then you get a lot of judgment. And then on the other hand, I have a lot of judgement for the amount of time that I need to take to breastfeed or to pump and to work that into my schedule for people that want me to do other things besides provide that for my child. So this year, I want to not care about what other people think about how long I do or do not continue to provide breast milk for my child.

KL: I love that.

SWB: So, 2018 liberations—I’ve been so excited about these ever since Cate posted about hers at the beginning of the month. Even though we’re a few weeks into the year now, if you have not come up with a liberation for the year yet, I recommend it, because let me tell you, it feels great.

JL: Also, liberate yourself from having to do it right at January 1st. You can liberate yourself anytime.

KL: That’s right! Oh my god, do it tomorrow. Do it on February 1st!

SWB: Come up with a new one every week!

KL: Yeah!

[Laughter]

[Musical interlude]

KL: That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia, and our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Eileen Webb for being our guest today. We’ll be back next week with another episode.

[Outro music]

Jan 20 2018

47mins

Play

Rank #11: Many Ways of Living and Loving with Ada Powers

Podcast cover
Read more

Today’s episode is all about showing up as your most authentic self at work—and about finding a space where you’re supported and respected to do that. It’s also about the challenges of taking risks, the joys of personal growth… and skydiving.

Our guest today is one of the coolest, most totally herself people we know, Ada Powers—a writer, user researcher, community builder, and badass trans woman based in San Diego and currently working at a software company called Tealium. You’ll love her.

> Being able to come to work as myself means that I get to come to work as myself. I get to think about, “What would make me happy in this context? What would make me happy and feel fulfilled doing this work?” Ok well maybe it means suggesting this initiative, maybe it means taking on this project, maybe it means changing my responsibilities a bit. It means I get to show up and be engaged with how I actually feel and how that looks.
>
> —Ada Powers, writer, researcher, and community builder

She tells us about:

  • How and why she told her company she’s trans before she came in for the interview
  • Why she wants her coworkers to know she’s poly
  • Why sharing pronouns helps more than just trans folks
  • How to take criticism and feel your feelings without being a jerk
  • What to do when activism leaves you burnt out

Go be friends with Ada already:

Also on our agenda:

  • Uncovering Katel’s past life as a skydiver
  • Reliving our Vancouver live show
  • Recreating the Kate and Leo Titanic bow scene on stage
  • Unlearning the habit of immediately gendering strangers
  • Celebrating the besties of yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers for more.

Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Away makes stylish, high-quality luggage with amazing built-in features—like a laundry bag and USB charger. **Use code NYG to save $20 today at awaytravel.com/nyg. **

Transcript

SWB [Ad spot] Do you like getting paid? Me. Too. And Harvest helps me do it. If you’re a freelancer, work with an agency, or have pretty much any reason to send an invoice, you should check out Harvest. Track your time; assign tasks to teams; keep track of profitability; and more! Visit getharvest.com to try it free and when you upgrade to a paid account, use code NOYOUGO to save 50% off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, code: NOYOUGO.

KL That’s a good discount!

[Music fades in, plays alone for 30 seconds, fades out.]

Jenn Lukas Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû

Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher. And today we are talking about showing up as your most authentic self; finding space where you feel supported and respected so that you can show up fully; and how we can all do better at that. We are joined in that conversation with one of the coolest, most totally herself people I have ever met, and that is Ada Powers. She is a writer, a user researcher, a community builder, and a badass trans woman based in San Diego. You will love her.

KL Before we do that, I’ve had some self-discovery recently that’s maybe not like always bright and shiny and has a big epiphany at the end, and I kind of wanted to share it with you because, I don’t know, I just wanted to get your thoughts on it. So, we did a live show in Vancouver recently and it was awesome but it was basically the first time I’ve ever done that. Meaning I’ve never gone on stage and been one of the only focuses of entertainment or the sole focus of what was happening up there, and I felt terrified. And before we went on, like that whole day I was just thinking about how—so, ok. Quick sidebar: I used to skydive for a couple of years. Like I did it as a hobby. And we can come back to that if you want [laughter].

JL That’s one exciting hobby!

KL [Laughs] Uh yeah so I used to skydive and that whole day I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, I actually might feel like I would rather jump out of a plane than like go on stage later.” And I couldn’t shake this feeling and I was like, “That sounds bananas. Like, how could I feel that way?” And I think it was just I just wasn’t sure how it was going to go and, you know, I was worried. I wanted to do it right. But of course like we did it [chuckles]. You can hear the show but yeah, I don’t know, I felt like I went through something there and it was great. I had a great time but it just was so uncomfortable the whole time [laughs].

JL You know, I was away one time in San Diego with my best friend, Julia, and she made go tandem paragliding, and [oh gosh] I definitely never would’ve done it had it not been for her little friendly peer pressure but I loved it once I was up there. And like there was something like so comforting and like looking over and like seeing her flying up there too, and there was that safety. So did you feel safety while you were up there with Sara?

KL Oh my gosh. Absolutely and I think that had a huge part in why I actually had so much fun and afterwards I was like thinking I kind of wanted to do it again which I wasn’t expecting to feel and yeah, you know, like looking over and knowing she was there and just knowing that she had my back and sort of that, you know, we had planned this so it was going to well enough and we were going to make it work. It was—it was great.

SWB Did you feel like we were Kate and Leo in Titanic?

KL [Laughs] Absolutely. I definitely did.

SWB I was holding onto you the whole time.

KL You totally were [laughter].

SWB It was really fun. We really missed Jenn doing the live show [yeah]. That was like the biggest bummer about it was that you couldn’t make it out there, Jenn, but it made me so much more confident and I hope, Katel, that you’re feeling confident about it now because I feel like we could do this again and we could do it bigger and badder and better.

KL Definitely. And like I said I think the highlight that I walked away from it with was that I did like it and I was really excited about it.

JL And there were giveaways and like—

KL There were.

JL Not to make light of that but it’s like when you do something that’s fun, right? Like you really like—you brought something that’s you and I think when you’ve got something like that it makes you feel more comfortable in the moment. So I think there’s like a whole lotta things about making something that could feel really uncomfortable more comfortable. And, you know, we’ve talked about this before. I did my first talk was a talk with Mark Huot who I worked with a for a long time and, you know, there’s safety in numbers and we do these things at work, Tech Talks, and lots of people are like, “Well I want to do it but I’m really nervous.” I’m like, “What if you did it with someone?” And all of a sudden it just like feels more light. Or what if you didn’t do an hour? What if you only did fifteen minutes? Like, you know, finding these ways to make it more fitting for you so you don’t have to like go all in to what some people might consider the only way you could do public speaking. There’s definitely ways that you can just be like, “Let me make this what I would want to spend an hour doing.”

[4:55]

KL That makes so much sense and I think you’re totally right because we—basically bringing like our show and as much of it as possible with us, that helped a lot. The only thing I’m sad that we didn’t bring is that eight by ten of you framed [laughter] on set.

SWB The one thing I want to definitely call out though is that yeah, ok, it was our show so that made it a little bit more comfortable and you’re up there with me and that made it a little bit more comfortable but also like that is a pretty baller first thing to do on stage [Katel laughs] like, you know what I mean? Like that wasn’t like a little ten minute talk at a meetup. That was getting onto a big stage at a theater where it feels legit with like spotlights and having you know like, I dunno, over a hundred people there listening and watching you do this live and then recording and like releasing that to the world. Like that is a huge thing to start with. So like props for that.

KL No. I really appreciate that and honestly like I felt all of that coming from you, and I will say that I do want to give a shout out to the audience because they were so fucking rad. Like being able to see them and when I did make [chuckling] eye contact with anyone which I was scared to do at first, people were like into it. And that was very cool. So I think like being able to see that feedback was—was awesome.

JL Yeah that’s always helped me like trying to find—like once you do brave it and look out into the audience you can find the people smiling back at you and you’re like, “Oh. Ok. This is ok.” But I’ll also say like there’s been times where I’ve been more nervous doing like a ten minute small meetup group versus like doing a talk in front of like 600 people because there’ll be so many lights that you really can’t see everyone’s faces at that big one. So it’s sort of like ah. Ok. I’m just here by myself [laughter].

KL Right.

JL So I think whichever one like people get started with or do I think that you could make it and you could do it.

KL I did.

SWB I mean one of the things that I think was so great about it was how you were like, “I’m terrified of this; I’m terrified of this,” and now looking back you’re like, “Oh I actually liked that.” And you wouldn’t have gotten to realize that joy that you can get from it if you hadn’t given it a shot.

KL I think that’s exactly it. I went into this whole thing maybe just focusing on the fact that I was nervous and anxious and uncomfortable but I came out the other end actually being excited about it and feeling like I wanted to try it again. And I wasn’t expecting that. So I think that was just the coolest thing that came out of it. It was just totally different realization than—than I thought I would’ve had. So, I don’t know, I—you know, we’re talking a lot about, you know, coming through this stuff and being uncomfortable and sort of finding out a little bit more about yourself and it really makes me want to get to our interview with Ada [music fades in, plays alone for eight seconds, fades back out].

KL [Ad spot] I’ve been in the market for a really good carry-on suitcase for awhile. As an adult human woman who travels a decent amount, kind of late to the game, to be honest. So I’m real excited about the new Away suitcase I just got and particularly pumped because I get to actually carry it onto a plane very soon.

SWB Ugh! I’m so jealous of this. Me and Katel are actually travelling together and she gets to have this new Away suitcase with her and I will be there just with my normal ol’ bag.

KL Ah! So when I opened the box, I gotta tell ya, I could tell I was going to love it. It has this TSA-approved combination lock and a built-in charger for my phone. Oh! And even a removable and washable built-in laundry bag.

SWB Wait! A laundry bag?! I have heard of phone chargers being built into suitcases but I’ve never heard of a laundry bag. That’s rad!

KL Yeah. I cannot wait to try it out. I’ll definitely be testing it’s over-packer proof compression system. If you want to try for yourself and you do, Away is sharing a special promo with our listeners. Visit awaytravel.com/nyg to get $20 off any suitcase. With a 100 day trial and free shipping on any order within the lower 48 states, you can’t go wrong. Go to awaytravel.com/nyg and get $20 off your next favorite suitcase [music fades in, plays alone for four seconds, fades out].

SWB Today’s guest is someone I had the pleasure of meeting a few months ago at a conference. Her name is Ada Powers and she’s a writer and researcher based in San Diego, working at a software company called Tealium. She’s also trans, poly, and really good at talking about what both of those things mean to her. So we’re going to talk to her about all of those things and a lot more. Ada, welcome to No, You Go.

[9:20]

Ada Powers Hi! Thanks. Thanks for having me.

SWB So first up: can you tell us a little bit about what your work looks like? So you’re a writer and a researcher at a software company, what does that look like day to day?

AP My official title when I got hired—and to this day is, information developer. I work on the information architecture team which handles both our documentation portal, our knowledge base, and our community our community forums, our community manager is on our team. A lot of my work is technical writing, is technical editing, and then from there seemed kind of a natural drift to look more at product writing and UX writing, realizing that I love writing, I love tech, I love software, I love combining those things. So I’ve been going in that direction, and very fortunately my company is the kind of company where lateral moves are encouraged, where people—and this kind of plays into a larger part of why I like working where I work: it was really great to get there and realize they had a culture of trying as hard as they can to let people come to work as themselves, and that means both bringing in the skills that you have, not just the ones you’re getting hired for. I have a background in human-centred design and design thinking, and a little bit in qualitative research and so with one of my co-workers who works on the UX team, we looked around at the company and said, “Well, there could be a little more qualitative research here. There could be a little bit more of a usability testing culture.” So we kind of started that party, building processes between each other and changing my day to day responsibilities accordingly because this was an important thing and the company seems to value and it’s a thing that I can provide and it’s also been nice because it’s also the first full-time job that I started since I started transitioning. I was pretty open in my interview at really it was important to be really up-front with my employers or with people that I’m working with about who I am. So I told them, you know, “I’m transgender. I need to start under these pronouns. I need to start under these names. I need to know that you’ll have my back if some discrimination comes my way and I know that I’m not going to be the one being pressured to leave. That people recognize that I do belong here and that if people have problems, they’re the ones with the problem,” and I’ve been decently assured of that by legal and by my managers, and minus a couple bumps in the beginning, it’s been pretty smooth.

SWB Was it hard for you to say that while you were interviewing and to sort of like set that expectation on the table when you’re in, I don’t know, interviewing can be kind of a vulnerable spot where it’s like, “I want them to like me.”

AP It is a hard thing. To go into an interview and have to decide between financial stability and authenticity. That’s a choice that a lot of people unfortunately have to make on an ongoing basis and I know more people than I’d like to know who are close to me who have to make that choice in favor of stability and they do not get that authenticity. So it is absolutely a fraught thing that any trans person and honestly any person of any sort of marginalized identity that can reasonably be not disclosed to your employer has to struggle with, whether it’s disability or religion or other proclivities one has which might not be viewed favorably by normative society. For me, I am very privileged. I don’t have money but I also am very comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve had experiences, too many experiences actually, where I’ve chosen to just be employed because it seemed like the default, right thing to do, and then I would slowly waste away at a desk over a number of years until I finally reached a breaking point and I would quit and do something drastic like travel around and then come back and start that process over again. And so I knew that there was not necessarily a connection between full-time employment and happiness for me. There was some piece of, “Are you feeling professionally fulfilled? Are you feeling mentally fulfilled? Are you feeling challenged?” And then also, as I’m learning recently, there’s also a piece, “Are you showing up to work as yourself?” And so I knew that I did not want to work at a full-time company. I didn’t want to work a full-time job unless I had those things taken care of because I knew I could make it work with part-time work and side work and so I was able to come in and be a little bolder with saying, “Hey, this is who I am. You can take it or leave it. I don’t want to show up at a building everyday and not be able to be myself because that just erodes your soul.” It erodes my soul, at least. I can’t do it for very long. So it really is a matter of being able to make this experience worthwhile for everyone and it turned out to be the case. I find that almost strange because it’s so simple but it really is profound is being able to come to work as myself means that I get to come to work as myself. I get to think about, “What would make me happy in this context? What would make me happy and feel fulfilled doing this work?” Ok well maybe it means suggesting this initiative, maybe it means taking on this project, maybe it means changing my responsibilities a bit. It means I get to show up and be engaged with how I actually feel and how that looks. I think a lot of trans people pretransition have feelings and have desires and have body experiences that they are sort of trying hard without realizing it but trying hard not to pay attention to those things and so it just looks like ignoring your body. It looks like ignoring your needs, ignoring your desires, and kind of doing whatever society thinks you should be doing by default, certainly in terms of gender but my experience is that bleeds in other things as well. So my professional experience has largely been, throughout my life, showing up to work and kind of just figuring out what the bare minimum is and doing that until I get laid off or some other thing happens and I have to leave. So this is not just the first time in my life I’ve been able to show up and feel like I’m able to bring my cutting-edge self to work, but also the first time that I’m feeling engaged and fulfilled enough to really start to make a difference in my professional life and really start to drive my career forward.

[15:00]

KL I love that you were really looking for, you know, this company or this new experience and that organization to have your back. I think that says so much about them and it illuminates what’s that going to be like working there. So I think that that’s so smart.

AP Yeah I agree. I have been very pleasantly surprised by how happy I’ve been here and how well I’ve been treated.

SWB I think it’s so fucking great that you were able to go into that experience with that attitude and with that expectation and also I love that you were able to say, you know, not everybody gets to do that, right? And to be able to acknowledge like look, if somebody’s out there listening who can’t show up as themselves at work and does not feel like they’ll be supported or as choosing financial stability over, you know, being able to express their identity fully. That’s ok. Like that’s real. But because you were able to do that and have that work for you—the results sound like they’re both good for you but also like what you’re describing is results that are good for the work that you’re able to do because you are more engaged in it and because you’re able to see things from perspectives that they were missing and feel comfortable speaking up about it.

AP Absolutely. Definitely speaks to the business case for inclusion which, you know, it’s easy to feel complicated about. I don’t want a company to be not shitty because you’re dangling dollar signs in front of them but it really, again, it sounds weird but only because it’s so simple and it’s that if you allow your employees to feel like they have agency and respect, then they’re willing to do work for you that is good. That’s [laughter] it’s so damn simple but it really is what it comes down to. If I had to hide large parts of who I am here, I would be in a repressed state, and if I’m in a repressed state, I don’t want to take chances, I don’t want to honestly do anything but the bare minimum. So it turns out that being good to people helps them be good to you as employees.

SWB So you mentioned earlier that when you laid it all out on the table in your interview process, that you were trans and you basically expected to be treated well and supported and they agreed to that. That sounds like they at least on paper at least they were like, “Yes, we’re on board for this.” What has your experience been like now that you’ve been there for awhile. Like is there anything that colleagues, bosses, et cetera have done that have sort of made you feel welcome or included. For example, I’m thinking about listeners out there who work on teams or run teams that may have trans people on them or trans people on them that who they don’t even know are trans yet. What kind of stuff should they be paying attention to?

AP When I talked to my boss, we had a phone interview before I did an on-site and we had a conversation where I told him what I was telling you—that I have these attributes, I have these intersections that I need respected, and he told me pretty honestly, “I want to respect you. I don’t know what that looks like and so if you can tell me what you need, I can make sure you get it as best I can.” And honestly it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. If he thought that he could know what my experience was like, if he thought that he could give me what I needed without me asking, there’s a great chance he’d be wrong, just because anyone would wrong but that seems like a fair division of labor to me. I’m not expecting to him be a mindreader. I will tell him what I need if I need anything. And if he isn’t certain, he’ll ask me. And I think the most—the thing that’s contributed the most to me feeling good here is consistent pronoun usage is [sighs] honestly that comes down to it. It’s kind of funny to see the discourse around special snowflakes, and being treated specially and it’s so very opposite from how every single one of us feels. I don’t want to be treated special, I just want to be treated the way anyone would be treated just by being a person. This is my name. Can you use my name? These are my pronouns. I have to inform you of those because you would guess wrong. But that’s no different than other person where you would look at them and you might guess wrong and they’ll correct you and then you use the right pronouns. It’s that simple. It’s just easier to guess wrong for me. So, it’s very, very little that is needed to make a trans person feel welcome. Besides that: knowledge of ignorance and that willingness to collaborate. And then the rest is culture, right? If people are telling really nasty jokes, sexist or misogynist or transphobic jokes, then I’m not going to feel comfortable being there but that is, again, not really a thing that is unique to trans people. It’s a thing that is endemic to the experience of women and people of color and pretty much any marginalized identity who has to be in a workplace. If the people there say that they’re welcoming but they show that they’re not welcoming through their actions, through the ways that they participate and co-create culture, then they’re not walking the walk.

[19:55]

SWB You mentioned pronouns and I’m glad that you did because I would love to ask a little bit more about that and the reason being that ok, it’s 2018 and I think that if you’ve been listening to our show like we’ve touched on trans issues and pronouns more than once like most of the people listening to the show probably I’m guessing understand that like calling people by the pronouns that they want to be called by is generally good, and things like the singular they are ok but I think that there’s been some conversation I’ve heard recently and I’m curious your take on it. I have heard from trans folks who have really think it’s helpful when cis people share their profiles or like put it in their Twitter bio because it kind of normalizes the idea that we shouldn’t be assuming people’s gender which is something that you just touched on. But then I’ve also heard sort of the opposite that it could be problematic because it can be like performative allyship or because it can kind of like feel like it erases the struggle that trans folks have had to have their gender be taken seriously. And I don’t think all trans folks agree or need to agree. Probably that’s unrealistic in any community or any people whatsoever but I’m curious if you have any thoughts on how we talk about pronouns and how those of us who aren’t trans specifically talk about pronouns. Like what makes you feel good?

AP You’re definitely right that there are disagreements within the trans community. I think there might be less disagreement on this issue than one might think and I say this knowing full well that there could be someone out there listening, “I disagree.” That’s fine. Everyone has pronouns. I think that’s a thing that everyone can agree on. I have pronouns. They’re different than the ones I was assigned based on my physiology at birth. You have pronouns. Presumably people use certain words when they refer to you. Those are properties that we have. They may change the same way that you  may change your name. Everyone has the chance of changing their name at some point in their life. That name is still a part of you. It is a thing about you which can shift but after it is done shifting it then remains static. So there are experiences people have where their pronouns shift over time. There are experiences people have where their pronouns might be variable, there might be multiple words which would suffice for someone’s gender pronouns. But those are still their pronouns. And so I don’t really think it’s controversial to suggest that people normalize the experience of giving pronouns, even people who aren’t trans. In my experience, that is an excellent way for cis people to use their privilege because I’ll tell you the other side of it, too, but here’s the thing: when I was first coming out and I had not had much experience with estrogen at the time, so I still presented fairly masculine, and even when I was presenting feminine still looked fairly masculine to most people. There were times when I would not give people my pronouns because I knew they would probably get it wrong. And it was more emotionally difficult for me to tell someone who I was and have them ignore it whether through malice or through simple ignorance than to simply bear being referred to in a way that hurt me but knowing that they didn’t know because I didn’t tell them. And sure there’s an angry part of me that is yelling, “Can’t you see?” But no, they can’t see. People can’t see that sort of thing, even when you really want them to. So I think the more experience we have asking people their pronouns and having experience respecting them can only be a net benefit. I think that there’s this culture around inclusion where we assume that it only really helps marginalized people but time and time again I think we see that when we see start respecting the people who are the edge cases, who are on the fringes of what’s normative, we wind up helping more than just those people by trying to be inclusive.

So when bathroom bill stuff starting hitting in the US, and people started freaking out about the idea that trans people might be using their restrooms, you started seeing masculine looking cis women and feminine looking cis men getting attacked and getting policed on their way into the bathroom and it— I think building competence and understanding that bodies can differ from gender identity and your assumptions might not be correct is something that helps absolutely everyone and it just happens to help trans people a whole lot more. So I personally think that cis people putting pronouns in their bios, building a habit of asking people what their pronouns are and of offering their own pronouns as if it was there—just part of their identity like their name. Which it is. “Hi, I’m Ada. My pronouns are she/her.” “Hi, I’m Sara. My pronouns are she/her.” That is super easy to do and it goes a really long way. I think the things that people object to is when it goes a bit too far and I think that’s where the performative aspect goes in where people say, “You have to give your pronouns. You have to—we’re going to go around and you’re going to have to give your pronouns. You’re going to have to put your pronouns down on this badge or whatever and we’re going to create an environment where we talk about pronouns.” Well, not all trans people are comfortable giving their pronouns anyway. Like I just mentioned a situation where for reasons that were very personal to me, I did not feel comfortable giving my pronoun in every situation.

[24:59]

AP [Continued] Some people are closeted for whatever reason and so they don’t feel comfortable—you know then they’re put in the position of having to give fake pronouns which feels weird or being outed as trans which can be dangerous. So I think a lot of the work is towards recognizing context and towards finding balance where you create space for people to give their pronouns and you normalize it by giving it yourself but you’re not actually forcing anyone else to participate in that system. You’re just communicating that it is acceptable, and that it’s possible, and then of course addressing bad actors who give the whole attack helicopter. “My gender is attack helicopter.” “My gender is racecar.” Those kinds of answers. Those are the people that you definitely want to talk to a little bit more but I don’t think that you need to go the point of enforcing and giving pronouns with everyone. Just normalizing it. Just normalizing it by doing it yourself.

SWB I love just having this conversation about how do we do a better job of retraining ourselves around like who and what is normal and sort of like what should be assumed and I think that that’s tough. I feel like that’s like a lifelong thing I’m working on. And so it’s like, you know, just trying to think through well what are all of those things that I think of as being perfectly normal? What are all of those things all of us, you know, were taught to think of as perfectly normal that if we stop and question them a little bit and scratch a little deeper, we realize we just have tons to unpack.

AP Oh absolutely and I think that it’s way more important to realize that you have tons to unpack than it is to get to the bottom of unpacking all of it. I think that is very literally impossible. It’s a lifelong thing. I personally believe that there is no one more dangerous than someone who is convinced that they are safe [pause] when they think that they have finished that process. “I got woke. It was a Tuesday. I remember it clearly [Sara laughs]. Check it off the calendar. I’m done now.” I’m terrified of that person. I am way more terrified of that person than I am the race car driver gender person because that person can make their way into spaces where some level of acknowledgement of different realities of human beings is required because they can fake it well enough. They can talk it well enough and then they can get in my proximity and then I can discover just how much well meaning ignorance they have, and then I have to make a judgement call about whether or not I want to expend resources on that interaction. It’s actually the people who are benignly center that—like I’m pretty good at avoiding Trump supporters. Great at it, actually. I don’t think I regularly interact with anyone who admits to me that they are a Trump supporter or talks about far right politics in that way. But I know plenty of people who take just a little bit more energy than they give to interactions with me. In fact, this morning I met with my doctor and that’s a whole fraught relationship but I was giving him some pointers on notes he was taking and talking to him about the societal requirements that we feel pressured to perform gender under for doctors so that we can get access to the medicine we need and how there’s an element of performativity there and how there’s a whole system at play that most people who aren’t trans don’t see that affects how we interact with the medical institution.

AP [Continued] And I could tell he was a little bit hurt and I felt like it was sort of my responsibility in that moment to hold space for that hurt and we didn’t really have the relationship or the time to unpack that but I left feeling a little icky because I felt like I don’t know my guard was down. It shouldn’t have been. But my guard was down, I have had a good relationship with the doctor up to this point, and he’s been pretty good about empowering me to make a lot of my own medical decisions which is honestly great for trans people and so, yeah, it’s those kinds of people that cost me the most energy in a given day are the people who are almost there and think they’re there and then I have to work not just with them not being there but them being so sure that they were there. I think you have to approach life with this knowledge that you are inevitably going to fuck up. And the question is not if but how and when and be very prepared to deal maturely and responsibly with that. So that when someone does have the courage or fortitude or desire to, you know, love for you to tell you how to do better, that you don’t cost them more than it took them to start that interaction in the first place.

[29:25]

SWB Yes, we had this conversation with a guest in last season, Saron Yitbarek, where we talked about getting that kind of feedback for the community that she was producing or ways, you know, she’d meant to make it an inclusive community and ways that she might have missed the, you know, missed the boat a little bit on this or that, and we kind of talked about how that kind of feedback is in a lot of ways a gift and it doesn’t feel like it in the moment that you’re getting it but it is because it’s somebody taking the time and like using their energy who is feeling marginalized or alienated by something you’re doing and actually telling you so that you have an opportunity to learn something and like their choice to give you that gift of education is really, really, really great and like if you’re not willing to open yourself up to it like you’re the one who’s losing out.

AP Absolutely! I hosted a friend of mine over this past weeked which was San Diego pride and he uses a wheelchair and he was telling me about the ways in which my house—the ways that my house was not ideally wheelchair accessible and not just, you know, what I could do to fix it but what I should tell people when I make Facebook events. Letting people know about the things that are structural and can’t be fixed and laid out how I could frame it in ways that folks who are regularly in those situations would understand. And I was honestly so thankful that he was willing to do that labor, that he was already at a disadvantage being in that space and not having the access to it that he wanted but he was also willing to give that feedback to me not knowing if I was in a place to receive it or receive it well or not. And I’m certainly not trying to pat myself on the back because I was only able to receive it well because there were a bunch of other times I’ve been butt hurt [laughter] and probably cost someone way more effort than they should’ve—so, again, it’s a process. I was able to do ok by that interaction but I’m sure some other interaction in the future I’m going to have to work a little bit harder to maintain my calm under and I guess the most I can hope for is that we just keep that chain going of, like anything, working at it, getting better. It’s a practice like anything else.

SWB Totally. And recognizing that like it’s ok to have a feeling of defensiveness but you have to decide like, “Oh I don’t have to express my defensiveness at this person. Like I can have a reaction that’s like, ‘Ugh! How dare they?! How dare they critique me! I’m trying to do the right thing here.’” Like you can have that in your head. You can have a little quiet moment with yourself where you feel that feeling and then you have to look at the situation and be like, “Ok. I need to approach this in a way that is fair to this other person and that is going to actually help me grow.” Like it’s ok to have like whatever shitty feelings we have because c’mon. We all have some shitty, petty feelings sometimes [laughs] it’s like figuring out, you know, what are you going to do with that and like whose responsibility are those feelings. Well it turns out their yours. Right? Like they’re not other people’s problem.

AP Right. I’m so glad to hear you say that. I can even go a little further: I think it’s important, it is not just ok to have those feelings, it is so important to recognize those feelings and to figure out a process that works for you for dealing with them. I have seen especially since the most recent election so much burnout from activist friends, mostly white and relatively privileged activist friends, who are working really hard to hold space for all the people who were hurt, for all the people who are angry, they’re past not all men. They’re past not all white people. They recognize that every person who fits certain intersections is passively benefitting or in some ways complicit in certain oppressions. And they realize that they don’t have to feel personally responsible for people’s anger and rage but they do want to hold a space for it. And I see so many people trying to actively decenter themselves all the time but that’s not a way for a person to live. Like you can’t live never, ever, ever thinking about your own needs and, yeah, some of your reactions might be problematic but you are no help to whatever causes we’re trying to accomplish if you collapse under the weight of your own guilt and pain and struggle.

SWB Ugh. I love that so much. It reminds me of the conversations we’ve also had on the how about things like therapy and like I mean not everybody has amazing therapy experiences and not everybody has the easiest access to therapy but one of the things that I know Katel’s talked about this a lot like you know having that space with a therapist you really trust is also a space to process all of those feelings and that are unresolved and to like recognize that that is valuable and important.

[34:05]

AP Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be in therapy but therapy’s a great place. I have gotten very lucky and again have been very privileged with therapists. My therapists have overall been pretty great and I should probably go back to one soon. There’s more stuff that’s coming up but they were absolutely critical in getting me to a place of stability and if I were actively in therapy now I would definitely be talking about some of the challenges I’m experiencing in that area of I don’t know I think that comes up in tech a lot too or just really any work that we for some reason call white collar where—and this is getting into the—a little bit into the balance that I try to walk here in the tech world where if I was all activist, all anger, all the time, I probably wouldn’t advance much in my career which is fine like who cares about me? But it also means that I would lose out on opportunities to affect change within a system to whichever extent that that is desirable which opinions certainly vary on. But it’s a thing that I’m interested in is trying to engage— using my privilege to engage with systems that other people don’t have access to and seeing if I can use that access to make them a little bit less shitty and so there is a pragmatic tightrope you have to walk of alright what are the right changes to make right now? When is the right environment to bring those up? How can I acquire more social capital and more education and knowledge about the problem space I’m working in and execute on some ideas I have in the future? If not exactly right now. It’s very hard when you’re invested in that process. To stay connected to people’s hurt and pain and suffering. And to say connected to people who are more radical than you because you’re surrounding yourself quite intentionally with people who are quite possibly less radical than you and I think that has an erosion effect as well. So I think it’s challenging for any of us when we’re trying to affect change in an environment that is more normative or oppressive or regressive than we would like it to be to play that game and to do well at it. To succeed in that environment possibly for our own goals but also certainly to do some positive things with the privileges that we get or the opportunities that we acquire but without losing a connection to the people that ultimately you want to try to help.

KL I agree. I think it’s, you know, that’s something for people to strive towards. I wanted to switch gears just like a little bit. I’m really curious about your writing about being polyamorous which you’ve said before is something that you figured out and started practicing around the same time you were figuring out gender. Can you tell our listeners a little about what that means to you?

AP Yeah, polyamory is important to me for a variety of reasons. I have been actively practicing as polyamorous for about three and a half years now. As you mentioned, around the same time I discovered I was transgender, a little bit before. Which is kind of funny. I had gone the vast majority of my life having certain preconceptions about myself: that I was monogamous, that I was cisgender, that I was a boy, and that I was straight. And those all changed at once. It was very interesting to experience. I had been living I think this speaks to both gender and polyamory. I had been doing serial monogamy for about fourteen years, from my teenage years until about the time I was twenty-eight. Getting in one relationship after another, kind of jumping ship as soon as it started to go down but not really unpacking my baggage just loading it onto another plane and taking off again and it wasn’t until I noticed that pattern over the course of several years because my thing was falling into codependent relationships and seeing them through or rather falling asleep in these codependent relationships and in the same way that working at a desk job eroded my soul sort of merging soul with another person and not really thinking about what you wanted also erodes your soul. So I would, you know, pop up and do something about it and eventually I saw that pattern and decided I needed to stay out of relationships for awhile, or at least exclusive relationships.

AP [Continued] So when I was twenty-eight, I started a period of about a year of singleness where I continued to date, go on Okcupid, Tinder, what have you but I was very clear that I was not interested in exclusive relationships. I was very invested in maintaining my independence and figuring out what worked for me and I think it was giving myself that space, of refusing to get into exclusive relationships that allowed me to get close enough to myself and be tolerant enough of my own company and to like my own company enough. And give myself space to speak to myself where I could start to ask some of those difficult questions and start to chip away that some repression without knowing it that eventually led to me discovering that I was trans. So think it was late 2014 when I both discovered that I was probably not a boy and also that me doing monogamy poorly my entire life was not the entire part of the story. It was actually very huge for me to flip that script, recognize that there were other ways of living and loving because my entire life I had been bad at monogamy which I interpreted as being bad at only loving one person. Some people seem to be able to get into a relationship and then their hearts and their minds and their bodies all align towards only wanting that person and that seems very strange to me. I can love a person very deeply, I can appreciate so many things about them and yet still be fascinated and curious and interested about other people and their experiences and their lives and their hearts and their bodies. And so getting a framework where I was able to flip that from being bad at only loving one person to being good at loving more than one person definitely was a game-changer for me. And I’ve been doing that for about three years now, and it’s been hugely, hugely transformative and great for me —not just because I am living more in line with how I feel like I’m wired, but because the kinds of communities that spring up around polyamory and people who practice polyamory, but especially those partnership networks, have been really, really crucial in giving me a stable, emotional experience through life, especially with all the other changes I’m going through. So being able to give and receive support in what feels like a very stable, healthy, loving ecology has been fantastic for me. And again I have the privilege where I can be out about that. A lot of people can’t because I’m also willing to take the risk of discrimination and possibly not being able to have access to certain opportunities in work because of that. So as long as I can be out and proud about it, I definitely want to be.

[40:45]

SWB Ugh. I love this story a lot because I was thinking as you were talking about this, I was thinking back to when we first met at this conference, we were sitting at this lunch table together and you were talking about being poly and with some other conference attendees and what I recall from that conversation was just that it was a really open and honest conversation that also felt very normal and I think that for some people they you know they might be like, “Oh my gosh how would you even end up talking about that at a conference?” But it felt like such a normal part of who you are and such a normal part of what you bring to wherever you go. And so I love that you kind of brought this back around to some of the same stuff we talked about earlier with regard to gender around like being able to bring your whole self to work, being able to tell people who are, show people who you are, and use that as part of your tools in the actual job that you do, and I think that all of that tying together is like so valuable.

AP I appreciate that a lot. Yeah I will take a little bit of credit for fortunately being ok in those kinds of situations and being fluent in social situations but a lot of it is very intentional. I definitely benefit from normalizing the ways that I’m different from others and other people certainly benefit from the effort I’m willing to expend at normalizing those things for others so I find ways to not force it but if I could say partner. I might say, “One of my partners,” instead and that provides a small little opportunity for someone to either follow up on that or they just heard it and it went in one ear and out the other or I just managed to casually disclose that I’m polyamorous but not in a way that turned the conversation towards that and then that’s one more data point a person has about polyamory. Or mention something very casual about my transition and that’s one more data point about how a trans person lives. So some of it is calculated and quite often it leads to these wonderful interactions where we can talk openly about it because I’ve successfully found my way into a group of open minded people.

SWB Well I appreciate you figuring out how to be able to do that and taking risks to be able to do that because I also know that is really important for the people who aren’t feeling safe enough to take those risks. And you know with that in mind, I do have one last question for you so ok, you sit at least a few intersections that I know about, right? So you’re a trans woman, you know, you’re queer, you’re poly—maybe more that we haven’t even discussed, and you think about this stuff a lot. So I’m really curious for folks who are listening who want to be more in tune with issues around inclusivity, trans issues maybe specifically, do you have any last advice that you would give to those folks about how they can do a better job being open to people that they haven’t met before or to new ways of thinking about things and making spaces more welcoming?

AP Honestly, make friends with the people that you want to understand better. Like, again, it sounds weird, but it’s only weird because it’s so simple. We are given an abundance of information about how to be certain things and how to live certain ways and we are given an extreme deficit of information about how certain other people live or other possible ways that we could be living, and I think the only way if you had to give one thing to change that it would simply be to start the process of opening channels to different information, to more information. If you’re listening to this podcast and you don’t know any trans people, great. You know at least one. You are very welcome to reach out to me and ask questions and I can introduce you to more.

KL Thank you so much for being here. I know that I would love for more people to read what you write and hear what you say, so where can people find you?

AP Yeah the handle that I’ve been using more places lately is “mspowahs.” You can put that into Twitter and you can put that into Medium and you can get a hold of me. Any channel that you’re comfortable with, feel free to reach out. I write about polyamory and queerness and transness on Medium and I talk about tech inclusivity and I just shitpost about being queer all the time on Twitter.

[45:00]

KL Awesome. Well, thank you so much. That’s amazing.

AP Thank you! [music fades in, plays alone for four seconds, fades out]

SWB So one of the things I really loved about Ada’s interview was that it got me thinking about our vocab swap segment that we do from time to time, and we haven’t done in a little while. And I was hoping we could dig into something Ada talked about, which was pronouns. I mean she talked about it a lot. So obviously pronouns are really important to a lot of people especially to people who aren’t always called by the pronouns that they want to be called by and it made me think about how we can all do a better job of kind of shifting our thinking and kind of breaking some of those immediate assumptions we make when we see somebody out in the world that we don’t know and we assume that they are one gender or another and instead try to like hold back on that and, you know, get used to thinking about gender a little differently. So I was thinking about that in terms of vocab swap and something I saw recently on Twitter was a thread and I have no recollection of who it was from where the— the person was talking about how, you know, if you see somebody in public and you know let’s say you are in line and there’s somebody in front of you in line and you see somebody cut, you could say something along the lines of, “Oh. I think this person was first.” Instead of saying, “Oh I think she was first.” Because if you don’t know how somebody prefers to be referred to you don’t have to actually make an assumption, right? You can just say they or that person and it’s totally normal and once you get used to doing that then it can really extend to I think all of your interactions and like you can— you can do a much better job of asking people about what they want to be called and just making sure that you’re not misgendering people by making assumptions up front.

JL I got a lot of practice of this actually in my mom’s group, you know, with other people’s babies and, you know, instead of being like, “Oh, your son’s so cute,” or “Your daughter’s so cute.” I really just go in and be like, “Your baby’s so adorable.” And you know I’ve had people be like, talk about my son, and being like, “Look at your cute, adorable daughter!” And I’m like, “Mm.” Which is fine. Like it doesn’t offend me but it’s just one of those things that I’m now more cognizant of it and so I try not to make those same assumptions on other people.

KL I think yeah I think that makes so much sense. I mean you know thinking back to what Sara was just saying about looking for opportunities or just making it a little bit more of your practice in day to day life and not necessarily waiting for specific instances where you feel like you need to pay attention to it. I mean I think it’s just something that if we thought about a little bit more on an ongoing basis it would help make it not feel like a—a thing.

SWB Have either of you ever called somebody you know by the wrong gender?

KL Oh yeah absolutely. I feel like recently I did that and where I think you know before we really started I think generally talking about, you know, the three of us and I think I’m doing it more in my relationships with other friend groups, which I’m really appreciative of. I would have really like felt bad about it or like made a big deal and I don’t know maybe put my foot in mouth even more. And it recently happened where I was introducing someone and I said “she” and I said, “Oh, excuse me, they.” And I just tried to like make it a thing like oh I fucked up but I’m, you know, I obviously knew the right thing but I didn’t say it and I—without stopping the conversation, I was trying to do that and I think like there are instances where you want to you know maybe take that person and like say, “Oh my bad, I’m sorry.” But I don’t know just in an effort to kind of like make it a little bit more normal.

SWB And like not to make it all about, you know, me and my feelings. “Oh my gosh. I screwed up. I can’t believe that. I’m bad [exactly]. I’m awful. I’m terrified.” Which I think is really easy to do but then it ends up making it all about you [totally]. I mean, I remember I did this to a friend who I met when they were presenting as one gender and who came out and publicly transitioned later and, you know, I felt really bad about it because it was like something—I hadn’t seen them since then and it was something that was very stuck in my memory and I was like, you know, this is something I have to unlearn and like that’s on me. I think about as being part of the work that we all have to do to change habits and to take that on as like—it is a practice. Like you said, Katel, it’s like you have to practice it and I don’t think any of us can like fix that overnight necessarily, but I mean you’re trained to talk about people’s genders since people are babies like Jenn just said! Right? Like it’s so deep and so building that into a habit I think is so worthwhile and it’s something that I certainly haven’t like finished doing but it’s something I’m working on.

[49:50]

KL Yeah. Definitely. And we need to talk about it more like we’re doing and I think like that is the only way we get there.

SWB Totally [music fades in, plays alone for three seconds, fades out].

SWB [Ad spot] Hey everyone, it’s time for career chat, brought to you by Shopify. Today we’ve got a featured job posting from Emma Grant, a recruitment coordinator at Shopify.

Emma Grant Hey, this is Emma, and I’m on the lookout for a senior user experience leader to join our UX team. Our ideal person knows how to take the lead on defining goals and strategy, but also isn’t afraid of getting into the weeds and sketching with their team. Sound like you? Then you should definitely get in touch—even if your background isn’t purely in design or UX. Diverse experience is a huge plus here—in fact, working with people that bring a wide range of perspectives is one of the reasons I love working at Shopify. So if you thrive on change, operate on trust, and love asking questions, come join me!

SWB Emma sounds awesome. I want to work with her! If you do, too, head to Shopify.com/careers to check out the UX lead job posting and so much more [music fades in, plays alone for three seconds, fades out]!

KL So we are at one of my favorite parts of the show which is the Fuck Yeah of the Week and I have one to share. So when I got back from Vancouver I had a friend of mine—like one of my besties from when I lived D.C., she came to stay with me for the weekend and it was so awesome. We hadn’t seen each other in like six months—which is a really long time for us and it was just a) it was amazing to see her and spend some time with her, but b) I took her to get her very first tattoo, which was so cool. So it was great that she came and even greater that like the minute she stepped off the plane, we like picked up like we had not skipped a beat. And that was so awesome. Do you both have folks in your life like that?

JL Totally! Julia who made me paraglide [laughter].

KL Oh gosh!

JL Yeah but I mean I’ve known her since I was five and like we’ve gone in and out of each other’s lives but like it’s one of those things where there’s not any hesitation to picking back up, whether we find ourselves in the same place or having to text each other about something, or ask for advice, or jump on a phone call. There’s no hesitation of being like, “Ok. Let’s spend twenty minutes with the obligatory I’m sorries, my apologies,” you know talking about before like how do we just keep the flow going and I think that’s what we do. We just embrace the fact that this is what this friendship is.

SWB Could she still get you to go paragliding? [Laughter]

JL Oh gosh. She totally could! Which is like ridiculous [Katel laughs] because like I—she probably could now and I’m sick and like nauseous and pregnant and she could probably show up and be like, “But I’m here from Boston. Let’s go jump off a cliff.” [Laughter]

KL “Ok we’re going tomorrow.”

SWB Ok we’re going to recommend that you don’t paraglide while pregnant though probably. I’m not a doctor but I think that you shouldn’t do that.

JL The No, You Go show is not advocating for this.

KL Yeah [laughs] please don’t.

SWB I totally have a friend like this. I recently saw her. You know I was back in Oregon which is where I grew up and I met her back in college when we worked together. We were in the same training class at credit union customer service. Very exciting. And so her name is Katie. Shout out to Katie. Katie and I don’t know. The second we’re in the same room I just feel like I’m at home and I’m like, “I know this person and she knows me,” and I feel like I can just open right up to her. And the way that we catch up, I mean, we definitely want to catch up on the new things going on in each other’s lives, but it doesn’t feel like you’re just like running through a history of like a list of the things you did over the last period of time. It feels so much more natural. And there’s something about it that is just so wonderful. And I feel like I’m lucky enough that I have had a handful of friends of like that over the years from different moments of my life, you know, I have one who I’m still close to from when I was a kid and, you know, I have another from the time that I was in Arizona or whatever like I have a few of those and it’s so freaking great to be able to kind of sustain that and to have intimacy even though our lives look totally different now. Like me and Katie, we live on opposite sides of the country. She has a six-year-old, I definitely don’t have kids. You know like I’m like extremely driven like push, push, push all the time, doing ten thousand things. She’s very good at relaxing, it’s one of the things that she always tries to teach me and I still suck at. You know it’s like on paper our lives are so different from one another but you get us in the same place and we just gel and I fucking love that so much.

JL And I think that’s so important to know, you know? There’s like there’s people that like your lives can take different turns but you’ll still like just really get along great and then sometimes your lives will take turns from other people and, you know, you don’t have that much in common and that’s ok too. But I think it’s really important to just be like here are friendships I want to sustain and here’s friendships that were definitely important to me but maybe not as much anymore.

KL Yeah, totally. For the relationships that you have with folks that, you know, are the kind of you see each other and you pick right back up like what do you think has been a part of making that happen? Like what’s—sort of like what’s the glue there?

[55:00]

SWB Gosh. Ok. So I think—this is the foundation of it that is the hardest to explain but I think is the most crucial for me has been it’s almost like I guess a radical acceptance of the other person’s life. Like you have to come at it where you just sort of like you can look at them and  you can be like, “I see them and I want them to have the life that they have,” and instead of sort of like getting to a place where you’re almost seeing as like highlighting all the ways it’s different, you’re, you know know what I mean? [Mm hmm] You’re sort of coming at it like you’re embracing that life that they’ve built for themselves and you can see them in it and they—and you can feel like the same is happening for you. And I don’t think you can make that happen with everybody, I think that it’s something that you can certainly foster by trying to bring that to your relationships and then finding the people that it sort of clicks with.

KL Yeah.

JL Yes.

KL I totally agree and I think that, you know, if you do have someone in your life like that and maybe you’re kind of like heading in that direction, just knowing that like, it takes both people doing that, you know? It’s not just necessarily like oh ok I want to try to make this work but I think if you—if you see that there’s something there like that, you know, go towards it, I think. If you want to—if you want to nurture it.

JL Yeah I think that’s so important too like something that like you touched on, Sara, was just like you can control you, right? Like you can’t control other people. So I think the more accepting you are of like everyone coming to things with their own stuff, and you know embracing that, I think the better luck you have of not trying to like force something. And just being like, “No, like this either like works or if it doesn’t but I know what I can control and that’s me.”

KL Yeah.

SWB Yeah. You know I also think that the people where I have that feeling with are people where we both can see that the other person has evolved. It’s like [hmm] I can see—Katie, for example. I can see Katie as she was when I first met her but like when I meet her now I’m like, you know, I can still see that but I also can see all of the ways that she has totally changed. Of course—I mean like, one hopes, right? And I think sometimes if you don’t see somebody that often it’s easy to want to like put them back in the same role that you had them in five years ago, ten years ago, whatever, and like not allow them to be the person that they actually are now. And I think that when you can make sense of that and can be like, “Ok. I fell in love with this person as a friend. Like and I love that version of them but I also love this version of them and I recognize that they’ve grown in ways that I wasn’t present for,” I think that that’s sort of an important thing to keep in mind and sort of recognize. I don’t know I guess I thought that like this conversation would be about like, “Oh just make sure you text them more! And don’t just text, set aside time for calls.” But actually I don’t think that’s what it is. You know I’ve had [yeah] moments in my life when I talk to these people a lot more and a lot less and that wasn’t the frequency or the type of contact was not what really did it, it was I think sort of like the mental and emotional space.

JL You know we’ve talked about this with our friendship too, you know, it’s not necessarily like just because someone doesn’t text you every five minutes or just because you don’t—like plans don’t work out that first time. It’s not about that. Right? It’s the, “I’m just going to check in when we’re going to check in. We’re going to see each other when we do. And when we do, it’s going to be awesome.”

KL Yeah. And I feel like there needs to be, you know, some kind of, I think, I’ll just call it cosmic energy that, you know, brings you two together but it’s also trusting that that is like that that is going to work. That being open and being a true friend and being your true self and seeing that in each other. That, you know, that’s a big part of it.

SWB Can we just say like fuck yeah to the besties of yesterday, the besties of today, the besties of tomorrow? All of the besties that we have all around us?

KL Fuck yeah, besties!

JL Fuck yeah!

JL Well that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious  — and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Ada Powers for being our guest today.

KL And hey, do you like our show? Take a quick minute to rate and review us. It helps other folks find us and we’d really appreciate it. We’ll be back next week [music fades in, plays alone for 28 seconds, fades out to end].

Aug 21 2018

59mins

Play

Rank #12: Friendshipping Is a Verb with Mary Pipher

Podcast cover
Read more

Older women are the happiest demographic in this country—but you wouldn’t know it based on how our culture talks about them. Mary Pipher, author of _Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing As We Age, joins us to set the record straight.

If you’re a woman, you’ve probably internalized a million messages about the horrors of getting older: changing bodies, diminished careers, invisibility everywhere. But Mary Pipher wants you to know there’s more to aging than gray hair—there’s also incredible resilience, growth, and even bliss. And the more we build those skills now, the better off we’ll all be.

“It’s in everybody's benefit, not just older people’s benefit, to have a new way of redefining older people that is not in terms of loss and diminishment, but in terms of growth.”
—Mary Pipher, author of Women Rowing North

Whatever life stage you’re in, this interview will speak to you—promise. We talk about:

  • Why ageism is probably a bigger problem for older women than agin.
  • The resilience of older people—and how all of us can bump up our resilience skills now.
  • Why “friendshipping is a verb”—and why building lifetime friendships is “an emotional and mental health insurance policy” for women.
  • Finding gratefulness and joy, even when things are tough.
  • How to transcend our former selves, so we don’t just adapt as we age, but actually savor changes.
  • Handling loss and the power of being with loved ones in their final days.
  • What’s next for Mary: a 25th anniversary edition of her groundbreaking book, Reviving Ophelia, which changed the way we look at adolescent girls.

Plus: On our way to a 50-year friendship, caftans on the beach, and why every book needs a launch party with a book cake.

(Author photo by Sarah Greder)

Links:

Apr 25 2019

49mins

Play

Rank #13: Working the Double Shift with Katherine Goldstein

Podcast cover
Read more

We hear lots of stories about motherhood and parenting. But not very many about moms themselves—except for ones where they feel guilty and exhausted all the time. Journalist Katherine Goldstein wants to change that. She joins us to talk about what it’s really like to be a working mom—and how she’s challenging the world around her, not conforming to it.

Katherine is a journalist whose work focuses on women, work, and parenting issues. She’s also the creator and host of a new podcast called The Double Shift—a show that explores the intricate lives of mothers who work. She joins us to share her own experience, and the amazing stories of working moms—from a 24-hour daycare provider in Las Vegas to a candidate who’s running for office with three small kids in tow.

The conversation about working mothers is very dominated by mostly middle class, white collar, urban people in big cities… usually through a lens of a lot of privilege. And those concerns that are raised by that group are completely valid and need to be talked about, but those are only a very small slice of the experience.
—Katherine Goldstein, journalist and host of The Double Shift

We talk about:

  • How Katherine went from print journalism to reporting via podcast, and how she developed The Double Shift
  • Why “leaning in” doesn’t work as advertised for moms, and, well, lots of women
  • Why men are essential in the work of protecting and supporting women and mothers
  • Why angry moms make such great activists

Links:

Plus

  • Sara gets showered with glitter at a Robyn show and there’s just still so much glitter everywhere
  • Katel and Sara discuss how their friends and families are navigating child care, from the wildly varying ways it takes shape to how much it costs—and what universal child care could mean for American parents
  • And a big fuck yeah to...poetry! More specifically, lovely poetry books (and more) from Small Press Distributors

Mar 14 2019

51mins

Play

Rank #14: We Think We Know What We Need with Dr. Allison Chabot

Podcast cover
Read more

Today’s topic is…therapy! If that makes you a little bit nervous, you’re not alone: lots of us feel a bit scared to talk about our mental health—much less make an appointment to get help.

Plus, navigating the mental health system can be challenging: How do you find a therapist? How do you pay for it? How do you know if they’re a good fit? And what happens if you need to break up with them? We have so many questions.

To help us answer them, we called up none other than Katel’s own therapist, Dr. Allison Chabot. She’s a clinical psychologist working in Philadelphia, and talking with her gave us all the best feels.

> Ask your friends. Ask your family. Somebody else has gone to therapy that you know. So many people go to therapy. And you hear positive experiences from people: you hear how it unlocked something, it opened something, it helped them look at themselves in a different way. It is a leap of faith, it really does take courage, but I feel like, what do you have to lose?
>
> — Dr. Allison Chabot

Links from this episode:

Also in this episode: Jenn goes to a meditation workshop and fucking hates it, Katel shouts her love for therapy from the rooftop, Sara plans her summer lipstick game, and we all get hyped for a #summerofselfies.

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.

CodePen—write code like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript directly in a browser and see the results as you build. CodePen is giving away three free PRO accounts to NYG listeners. Enter at codepen.io/nyg.


WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you.

Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher [Ad spot] This episode of NYG is supported by our friends at Shopify, makers of great tools that help entrepreneurs around the world start and grow their business. And they’re growing! Shopify is hiring all kinds of folks, everything from customer support to engineering to design to sales. Personally, I want to run their partnership program in Paris. Mmmm. Join the more than 3,000 smart, passionate people around the world who make Shopify great. Visit shopify.com/careers to check them out [intro music fades in, plays alone for ten seconds, fades out].

Jenn Lukas Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.

SWB And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

JL On today’s show, we’re talking about taking care of ourselves. Not the kind of taking care of ourselves that involves eating better or sleeping more or hitting the gym, not even rigid skin care regimens. Nope. Today: it’s all about therapy. In fact, we even have a super special guest: Katel’s own therapist, Dr. Allison Chabot. Sara and Katel sit down to talk with her about being a therapist, finding a therapist, breaking up with your therapist, and all other burning questions about mental healthcare. Let’s get started!

KL Yeah.

SWB Ok. So, talking about mental health is still pretty taboo for a lot of people, and it’s hard for people. And I think it can be especially taboo in contexts where we’re also talking about work which is like something we always talk about on this show. But, Katel, you invited your therapist to be on the show and I would love to know how did you get comfortable talking about therapy and like being a person who goes to therapy?

KL Yeah, uhh [chuckles]. Honestly, I think that is has come partly with just being in therapy and doing therapy for a lot of my life, and realizing what an impact it has had on how I navigate relationships, how I am a good and better friend to people, and just how, I don’t know, like how I heal myself and make sure that I’m taking care of myself so I can take care of—of the people I love. And, honestly, you know, [sighs] not just because we had my therapist on the show but she has been really instrumental in showing me how my relationship with therapy is a part of my life in a way that I just never really realized it was. And finally like feel really proud to share. And I think that I’ve been paying more attention to other people’s journeys in therapy and realizing that it—it is a really important part of a lot of people’s lives in whatever capacity, even if it’s like group therapy, if it’s, you know, once a month, if it’s just like whatever works for you can just be really life changing. So, I don’t know, I think that there’s a lot of—I want to try to help destigmatize that and so I think that’s why you’ll find that every time—if you’re talking to me about therapy I’m just like very [chuckles] enthusiastic about it. So I guess that’s why I’m open about it too because I want to share that.

[3:10]

SWB Yeah, totally! I mean I think that’s one of the things like therapy is normal and tons of people go to therapy! And part of the problem is like if you can’t talk about it, then you feel like nobody’s going or it’s only people who are in sort of like worse case scenarios or they’re at crisis moments in their life and like obviously if you’re in a crisis moment in your life which, like, is also a normal thing to go through in the course of a life. But if you are in a crisis moment, yeah, therapy can be really helpful but it doesn’t have to be that, it can also just be a normal part of how you cope! Yeah. And figure out like how you feel about things, and how you feel about yourself, and like becoming more self aware or becoming better at like processing your feelings or like there’s all of these reasons that—that people go, and—and I’ve definitely gone for a few different reasons at different moments of my life.

KL I think when you can kind of learn how to be introspective when you need to be and kind of like take a beat and look at things with a different perspective because of tools you’ve learned. That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken away from it is that I’ve learned tools to kind of like take with me. It’s not just going to a therapy session and, you know, having that one on one time but it’s also the things that I take away from it where I’m like, “Ok. I feel a little bit more equipped,” and I think that’s a huge part of it. It’s been very important to me. I think I’ve, you know, I’ve said this on the show before but I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, and I take medication for it, and it took me a really long time to feel [sighs] not bad about that. And to feel like sometimes you are a person that takes medication for your entire life. I don’t know. I may be one of those people. I may not be. But supplementing that with tools and guidance has just been critical.

SWB I love that whole thing thing you’re saying about kind of checking in with yourself. And so I think—ok, so I want to ask about kind of another way people check in with themselves. Jenn, I heard you took a meditation workshop recently and I would love to have you tell us about it.

JL Oh I did.

KL I want to hear about that too [laughs]!

JL So I, you know, I love the idea of therapy. And, I think, we’re going to dig into this more today but one of the things I’ve always found is like I—like I don’t know how to find the time for a lot of these things and—and the commitment. So I often look for other things that would be like similar to therapy such as my addiction to self-help books and I feel like everywhere you read things like breathing and meditation or things that like help you get in touch with yourself, right? And less stress, and like just generally like people say meditation and they’re like, “Meditation changed my life!” And I’m like, “I want to be less stressed. I want like a new life changing view, and to like breathe.” So actually at work we had a meditation workshop offered during the day at work, and I was like, “Well this is perfect!” And so I was really excited and I go and it’s in this like big, happy, natural light room, and here’s this woman and she like—she obviously is like—she’s got the meditation thing down, right? Like she’s like [laughter]—

[6:18]

KL You’re like, “I can trust this person to guide me through.”

JL It’s definitely like, you’re just like, “Wow your vibe is like, I’ve figured life out,” you know like when you meet those people and you’re like, “Wow! You have—you are like so comfortable in your skin and just like—

SWB Un-fuckin-bothered.

JL Yes! “You look relaxed!” And, you know, she even says in like her intro, she asks, “How many people have like tried meditation but like been discouraged by it?” And like me and a couple of other people raised their hands, right? Because I’ve tried. I’ve done like some of those apps and like I just like I turned them on and I’m like, “Nope.” And I turned them off. And she was like, “Don’t worry if that’s you, we’re like going to get through it together,” and I was like, “Ok! Yeah!” And so like eventually like we get to the like meditation part and she has us all like close our eyes and she starts sort of leading us through this breathing thing and she’s talking about visualizing the breath going in. But like [laughs] the thing is: I close my eyes, and I’m trying to do this, but instead of like seeing my breath around me, I just start getting like really tight and anxious. And I don’t know if it’s just like the slow breathing, or my allergies, and my nasal passages, or just like this kind of breathing is not for you but as I’m breathing in I’m just like, “I—I hate this.” I do not use the word [chuckles] hate lightly. Like it’s beyond—[laughs]

KL That’s exactly how you want to feel [laughter] during meditation.

SWB That’s like a different kind of self awareness, right? Like it’s none of the self awareness of like, “Oh wow I’ve reached this higher plane.” It’s the self awareness like, “Oh I’m a person who fucking hates meditation.” [Laughter]

JL I’m like, “I definitely do not care for this. Like this is definitely not—” and like so like at some point like I, you know, I cheat and I open my eyes of course to be like, “Are there still people here? Are people—” But people look like they’re into it and I’m just like, “Ok. Alright.” And so I stop doing the breathing thing because I can’t. It’s like making me light headed and like, again, maybe it’s just because I have a really stuffy nose but I cannot do it. Anyway, so eventually it ends and I’m like, “Ok good.” I’m like, “I’m going to get outta here.” But! [Laughs] She has this thing where at the end she likes to go around the room and have each person say one word to describe what you’re currently feeling at that moment.

KL Wow!

[8:44]

JL My word is like, “Anxious as fuck!” [Laughing and laughter] Like, terrible. Awful. I hate this. Like, right? But she starts on the other side of the room, thankfully, and everyone’s like “Relaxed” . . . “Rejuvenated” . . . “Free.” So I start like thinking, I’m like, “Oh my god what am I going to do when—what am I going to do when they get to me? Because I don’t want to ruin all of these good vibes of everyone who like can get down with meditation.” Like, it’s one of those things, I’m like, “It’s not them, it’s me.” [Laughs] Right? And so, so finally it gets to me [chuckles]—

KL Oh gosh! What did you say?!?

JL And I just said, [laughs] . . . “Hungry!” [Boisterous laughter]. Well it’s not rude!

KL You’re like, “It’s not untrue!”

JL Yeah, it’s not untrue.

KL It’s the least rude thing I can say right now.

JL Um I did manage to sneak out after one person or another did. I did hear though that I missed a uh giant group hug.

KL Wow. Ok. So you—you mean you escaped a giant group hug. [laughs]

SWB Do you think some of it was like context like trying to do it in the middle of the work day with your co-workers around being not a good vibe? Or?

JL You know what? It may be a time thing for me. So like I do have there’s like one app I downloaded and one of the things I really love about it is you can choose like you don’t have to get into a 60-minute. They have a three-minute one. And the three-minute one does like the thing where like I even modify it a little bit where I just like—it’s like, you just sit and then basically like you think about the different body parts and I just try to relax those body parts, and that I can do because it’s like a really specific instruction, for a very short amount of time. And so I don’t feel like I’m on my own, I guess, when I do that.

KL I totally agree. Is it Headspace?

JL Yes!

KL Yeah. I use that too and I have—I found the exact same thing. I thought,  breaking it down so that you can actually do like just chilling out and going outside for two minutes. Like sometimes that’s actually what you need and also I like being guided. I like being guided in a way that’s not like obnoxious and just like—they’ve done that really well. Like the person who does it has like got a great voice, they do like a lot of great narration, et cetera, et cetera.

[10:54]

SWB So I know we—we have a really awesome interview to get to and I want to hear Katel like, we invited your therapist on the show because we wanted to talk about therapy but also because you really like your therapist. I am super jealous of that. Like how does that feel?

KL It’s—it’s amazing and she’s been a big part of my life the last year and I think just like getting through a lot of—of hard stuff, and I think sort of knowing that I’ve made a connection with a therapist has come with a lot of trial and error, and working with different therapists. And like, in all honesty: I’ve gone to therapists where I’ve seen them for a year or more and it’s been a terrible relationship. Like I go and I sit there and they look at me like I’m taking up their time and their space and that’s the worst feeling in the world and it’s so—I feel like counterproductive. And I think if you talk to people who have sort of, you know, made any attempt at finding a good therapist like that—that is going to happen. And I think the, you know, the bummer about that is that it happens but the good side is that what we learn from Dr. Chabot is that there are ways to kind of figure out why it didn’t work, and how you can find someone that is a good fit. So I feel extremely lucky. It’s, you know, I think a bunch of things, I’ve put in work but she’s also amazing, and because I’ve had—I’ve had a history of knowing what that looks like, I was able to know it right away.

SWB Well, she’s not my therapist. So it was the first time I ever talked with her and I really loved it. So I think our listeners are going to love it too. Should we get to the interview?

JL Definitely [music fades in, plays alone for four seconds, fades out].

SWB [Ad spot] Hey, everyone! Sara here and I’d like to tell you a little bit about the folks who help make No, You Go possible. First up is CodePen. CodePen is like a big, virtual sandbox for designers and developers. You can use it to write code directly in a browser and see the results right as you build. And right now CodePen is also doing this awesome giveaway that is just for No, You Go listeners. They’re giving away three free pro developers accounts. All you have to do to win is go to codepen.io/nyg and answer one question which is what do you love about CodePen? If you haven’t used CodePen yet, no problem. Just tell them what you’re excited to make first. So check out CodePen today, and enter to win one of those three free pro accounts. Go to codepen.io/nyg. That’s C-O-D-E-P-E-N dot I-O slash N-Y-G. And another rad company that helps make our show possible is WordPress, the company behind 30 percent of all websites including ours. In fact, I’ve also used WordPress for my personal site, sarawb.com, for years now. I love WordPress because I can make updates and tweak the design pretty much whenever I want, however I want. And I know that if I break something. Whoops! I’m not alone. Because they have great customer support 24/7. WordPress plans start at just four dollars a month and you can do everything from create a simple one page site to publishing a blog to hosting an entire online store. WordPress is the easiest way to make your site your own. So start building your website today. Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15 percent off any new plan purchase. That’s 15 percent off your brand new website at wordpress.com/noyougo [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out].

[14:34]

KL I’ve known Dr. Allison Chabot for just about nine months. She’s a clinical psychologist working in Philadelphia and, well, she’s my therapist. From the moment I met her I knew I’d found not just a guide but someone I trusted completely to help me on my journey of healing and growth, and I’m so thrilled Dr. Chabot is joining us today. Allison, welcome to No, You Go.

Dr. Allison Chabot Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you already and I appreciate the invitation to share a little bit of my world.

KL So, you are a clinical psychologist. What does that mean in terms of your day to day?

DAC Ah my day to day. I’m a clinical psychologist in private practice. So I work five or sometimes six days a week, seeing patients in my office, one at a time. I do individual work. I’ve been in private practice for about 15 years now. I’ve been doing it full-time for about 12 years, um but my first mental health gig was about 25 years ago when I had just finished my bachelor’s degree.

KL What does the education and sort of training look like to become a clinical psychologist?

DAC Well the path that I took was to get a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s, and I did that in Missouri. And then came out to Philadelphia to Temple University and then about six or seven years of training there. So that’s several years of taking courses, and and, you know, various things like a pathology diagnosis, therapy, research. And then a few years before graduating of seeing patients and getting to know how to do therapy, how to do testing and assessment, like intelligence assessment, things like that. And then writing a dissertation, and then after that point there’s a postdoctoral fellowship. So I did a couple of years at Pennsylvania Hospital working there and, again, just getting more experience under my belt with lots of different populations and therapeutic modalities. So it’s a long road but it’s worth it.

KL Yeah that seems to important to kind of have, you know, a varied sort of picture of what, you know, kind of people you’re going to deal with and, you know, different issues you might encounter. What type of therapy do you specialize in today? And how does that compare to like other types?

[16:59]

DAC Most of my practice, the way I think about things, actually comes from Freud. It actually comes from psychoanalytic therapy, thinking deeply about how our personalities develop, how our early life experiences shape that, how our subconscious or unconscious mind actually steers the ship, you know, from below the surface, and I don’t know that my patients would know that I practice from that foundation because my style of talking is actually fairly interactional, day to day, basing it in problem solving, but the way that I conceptualize with going on with somebody is from that deeper framework. Other types of therapy that you may have heard of are cognitive behavioural therapy which is, you know, it has some deep components but it’s really more of a practical guide about how understanding that your thoughts and feelings affect each other—and helps you reframe your thinking, and tends to be homework focused. It tends to be short-term therapy and, just my personal belief is that it’s harder to get deep personality change or deep healing from that type of therapy but that was the first therapy that I was trained in. There’s also dialectical behaviour therapy which is a group format plus—plus individual therapy and that’s really helpful for people who have a hard time modulating their emotions or find themselves overwhelmed by stress quite a bit. So that’s just a, you know, a little bit of an example.

KL That’s so great to—to hear all of those different types because I think this leads to another question that I think, you know, I have certainly had along my way and I know other people have is that there are so many options and it can feel a little overwhelming. How can someone new to therapy figure out, you know, what type might be a good fit for them or, you know, what they might even start with?

DAC My suggestion is actually not to overthink it because we often think we know what we need when we go into a healing experience, and because we feel vulnerable, we’re getting ready to ask somebody for help, and—and you know, share some things that are difficult to talk about. Lots of times we engage our intellect and we think, “Ok. I’m going to figure this out first.” Or “I’m going to—I’m going to beat my therapist to the punch. I’m going to figure out who they need to be and then I’m going to go find them.” And while that makes some sense to some extent because we’re adults and we want to—we’re, you know, we’re informed about ourselves and we want to make good decisions. Just going by instinct and knowing what fits is an even better indicator of finding the right therapist. And we can talk about, you know, how to go about finding a therapist but when it comes to knowing is this the right person, I think that’s more about a click or an instinctual thing. Does that make sense?

KL Yeah, absolutely, and I’ve [chuckles] just been nodding along because I’m like, “Oh gosh I wish I had—I wish I had heard that before I ever started,” you know? And I’ve been doing it—doing therapy for a long time now and I think just kind of doing that gut check with yourself is so important. So, yeah, touching a little bit on kind of starting therapy is there anything that you, you know, might advise folks to do when they are starting therapy? Or what’s the best way to find a doctor?

[20:17]

DAC There are a few websites that are helpful, I think Psychology Today is the best one I’ve seen, where you can actually, it reminds me of dating websites. You can look at therapist’s profiles. They usually have a picture, they describe their work, you can see a little bit about their educational background and who they prefer to work with: what age groups, individuals, couples, and what their specialties are, what type of therapy they provide. And then, you know, you can search by zip code. It’s really a nice way to get a feel for a person and I found—although I don’t have a profile on Psychology Today because if I did I think I would be overwhelmed. My practice is full and so I just—I’ve never needed to do that. I think it’s a great way of helping people find a therapist. If someone calls me and my practice is full, I’ll send them to that website and it’s kind of a matchmaking exercise. It works really well.

SWB Allison, you mentioned a minute ago something about kind of clicking with a therapist and kind of almost that, you know, you—you’ll know you’re with somebody who’s a good fit because you’ll feel it. And my experience in therapy I think has been that I’ve never had that kind of relationship. Like I’ve seen a therapist a few times intermittently over the years and was never particularly feeling it with them but kind of kept going for a little while and then stopped. What I would love to know is, I found it overwhelming and a lot of work to get to the point where I could even figure out who to go to and make an initial appointment. I’m curious if you have any recommendations for like how to kind of get through some of that early stage stuff or how to make it easier or something to [laughs]—to find that person you can click with?

DAC I think that a lot of people have had that experience. I’ve certainly have had that experience and starting a therapy at a time of crisis. And finding somebody who was convenient, and I could pay the copay. And I found myself going home after the first few sessions, asking myself things like, “Is that person crazy?” Or, “Do they really understand me?” “Do I trust that person?” “Will I be able to trust that person?” And, you know, the fact that I was asking myself those questions should’ve been a red flag for me but I stayed in that therapy for three years. It took me three years to break up with her [chuckles] as a therapist. So my recommendation, as hard as it is, is to keep searching. And what I tell people if they call me and if for some reason we’re not the right fit. Either I’m not—I don’t think that I can help with exactly what they’re looking for or our logistics don’t match up, I recommend that they call and talk on the phone to three people. And I always say, “If you have courage, it is hard to do.” To talk on the phone to three people, and then if you can, meet with two people and interview them and figure out: is this going to work for me? If you think about it like dating, you don’t, you know, when you you go on a date, you’re like, “Eh, he was ok.” Right? “Nice guy, decent conversation, I guess I’ll just keep going out with him.” How fulfilling is that relationship going to be? Is it going to move you forward personally? Is it going to make you feel fulfilled and alive? Your therapy relationship is so important! That it deserves the same diligence but it’s hard to do because we look for a therapist when we’re not feeling our best selves. When we’re maybe even in crisis. And so it’s hard to have the courage and—and maybe even the appropriate level of entitlement to say, “I’m going to keep looking.”

[23:53]

SWB I feel a little better knowing that you went to a therapist for three years who wasn’t [chuckles] a great fit. Not because [Katel laughs] I mean I—I wouldn’t wish that on anybody but I feel a little reassured that it’s normal to, you know, not necessarily know how to find the right fit or to shut it down when [laughing] it’s not the right fit. When you talked about sort of like how important the therapy relationship is I’m also wondering, for our listeners who’ve like never tried therapy and are curious about and—but like aren’t really sure what to expect, how would you describe like a good therapy relationship?

DAC I would say someone that you can talk about anything with. You can talk about the things that make you afraid, the things that make you excited. The things that you feel happy about, as well as the things you worry about. And then eventually, ideally, you can talk about the therapy relationship itself. So, I try to listen for if something seems to be going on. Let’s say I asked a question or made a comment in a session and it just seemed to be that, you know, ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly something shifted or something happened. I put a bookmark in it in the back of my brain, and I listen for it in subsequent sessions. Did I say something that hurt? Did I say something that helped? And ideally, eventually the patient or the client feels comfortable enough to say, “I’ve been thinking about what you said.” And if they can’t but I hear indications of it, then I’ll bring it up myself. And that’s something that’s specific to a psychoanalytic type of therapy is that you actually use the therapy relationship to help the person understand themselves more and to help the person hear where their resistances might be in relationships, you know, where they might feel hesitant or unsafe and actually heal some of that.

SWB That so like hit me when you said that—that a good relationship in therapy is one where you can actually even talk about the therapy, and you can talk about anything because I’m like, “Oh gosh! I’ve never—I’ve never been there.” That’s really helpful to think about it in that way.

KL I love hearing that too because—and this is so funny because I’m having like a—a total realization right here in this conversation because, you know, and I love working [chuckles] with you, Allison, but this is the—this is the first relationship with a therapist I’ve had where I feel like I’ve been not just comfortable enough to assess the relationship and to like figure out how it can actually help on the journey, but empowered to do that. So I, you know, I thank you for that and I think this is just so amazing to hear that, and I hope it, you know, it resonates with—with folks who are—are thinking about it. And I will also just say that I totally agree with that, you know, thinking about finding someone to work with when you’re in a moment of crisis and I’ve—I’ve done that so many times in my life where, you know, I think thinking about it in your regular life and thinking about how therapy can, you know, add to [chuckles] the moments when it’s not crisis can really help when you do get to that crisis point.

[27:09]

DAC Yeah that’s the beautiful part of therapy is that once the storm has passed then you still have this relationship with this person who sees you and knows you. And then you get to healing. Sometimes we think of therapy as being only for mental illness—someone with bipolar disorder or someone with panic disorder, someone who has panic attacks. Certainly psychotherapy helps with that but there’s also just, you know, the worried well [chuckles]. There’s just the rest of us who struggle with life because life throws curveballs and we each have personalities where we throw curveballs at ourselves and it takes—well it helps to have somebody outside of you who knows you over some different contexts, and different situations over a period of time, who can say, for example, “Ah! You tend to go to guilt easily. I think we’re there again, right?” And it fine tunes your own hearing for yourself. And so the goal of therapy actually is to internalize the things that your therapist says. And people will say this sometimes, “I’ve been hearing your voice in my head all week and I’ve been telling myself,” and whatever it is that I usually tell that—that particular person. And that’s when you know also that therapy is moving along, and going well and the ultimate thing is that I eventually put myself out of a job, right? I mean I have—I have patients who’ve been with me for ten years but there’s people who graduate from therapy because you get past the pain and suffering and into the healing and into the rest of life.

KL Wow. Yeah. And speaking of, you know, sort of being in a relationship with a therapist for a long time or a short amount of time if it’s not the right fit. How—is there a good way to break up with a therapist and—and sort of vice versa. I mean, you know, do therapists ever break up with patients?

DAC Yes. Both happen, and what’s really interesting is a therapy can go really well and then still it might be time for—for those two people not to work together anymore and for the next therapist to take over. And that may sound really strange but there are times that I can help a person through a particular season of—of their life. And I, you know, it’s something that I can do well and we work well together, and then I hear perhaps they’re really curious about working with a person of colour, or they really need a dialectical behavior therapy group, they really need that group experience plus individual therapy plus crisis management, you know phone calls in between sessions. And I’m not trained in that type of therapy. And I’m not set up for lots of crisis phone calls because I have young children at home. So that’s—that’s one way that either the client can choose to relocate themselves or I can help them realize that that’s now in their best interest. Other times people just kind of peter out and stop coming. I reached out recently and talked with a man who is retired and I said, “Just thinking about you, wondering how you’re doing”, because he just kind of faded from therapy and he said, “Well, you know? I was thinking you told me one day people just stop coming and that’s how it ends.” And, you know, he’s somebody’s who’s [KL: awww] maybe a little more concrete, right? A little um, you know, he wasn’t ready to tell me that he feeling better and just never returned after a vacation [laughs]. So it was nice we had the phone call to get some closure on that for him to hear me confirm and give him permission that he could move on in his healthy life, you know? I think you’re also asking about what if you, as a patient or a client, you know or you have a growing that the therapy’s no longer helping you, and it’s time for you to leave the therapist. And I’ve actually done that not just once but twice, as a patient myself.

[31:08]

DAC [Continued] It’s—it’s not the easiest thing to do and in both instances I got—although I had complete clarity about that it was time to go and the therapy was actually hurting at that point, rather than helping, I got resistance from the therapist in both cases. And at that point you realize that you’re kind of on your own, in terms of knowing yourself. And that the therapy for me had reached me to this gross point that I could have clarity about what was best for me. So it’s a series of conversations usually, if it’s been a long therapy about, you know, what’s helped, what hasn’t, and why you’re going. It does—you know, if it’s a short therapy, if it’s three months or three sessions, you can just say that you’re going in a different direction. You don’t owe the person a lot of explanation. You truly don’t. What you owe is you yourself knowing that you’re making the right decision.

SWB I totally feel like I should probably talk to somebody a little bit more about like, things like avoidance because I have never had that conversation. I’ve just always been like, “Uh I’ll just not go. I’ll just not schedule another appointment.” [Katel laughs] “I’ll—I’ll call you to schedule that appointment. I need to look at my calendar.” And then fade into the night.

DAC Yes! That’s the most common way that people leave therapy. It truly is. That’s because, you know, it’s hard to know why it is you’re feeling avoidant. “Is it me? Is it the therapist? Is it the way we’re talking together? Could we adjust that?” And, again, it’s such a vulnerable relationship that if it’s not helping you—it’s kind of like you can’t really choose a different mother, [chuckles] you know? You can choose a different therapist. You can say, “This person doesn’t make me feel safe or heard.” Or, “This person’s not pushing me enough.” “This person isn’t growing me enough. They’re making me feel too safe.” You know? You get to do that.

SWB That feels really empowering just to be reminded that you get to do that. I mean I think that the last time I stopped seeing a therapist I was just like, “She just seems really bored and disinterested in me and I feel like [chuckles] that’s not a good feeling for me.” [Laughs] Like, “Why am I—why am I spending money on this person being bored for an hour?”

KL [Laughs] Woah! [Sara laughs]

DAC Absolutely. I honestly had somebody—I’ve had somebody fall asleep on me one time and that should’ve been when [Katel gasps] I started for the exit [laughter].

[33:38]

KL Ok that—I think you win there [laughing].

SWB Oh my gosh! Ok! So you know what I’m getting from this is also I think like a little less of that guilty feeling of just being like, “You know what? Nope!” And moving on. And even if I don’t confront them directly, but kind of being like, “Ok, I gotta advocate for me here.”

DAC That’s right and I think this requires a lot of self compassion because this—except for maybe your closest, I don’t know closest friendships or romantic relationships—this become the most vulnerable relationship in your life.

KL Mmm.

DAC No one else meets this person. No one else can give you feedback. Like, “No, no, they seem interested!” Even though their eyes are rolling back in their head, you know? No one else can give you feedback so you have to have a lot of self compassion that it’s hard—it’s hard to leave. Or it’s hard to move on, it’s hard to have the conversation. There’s no need for guilt though. Guilt, I find, is such an unnecessary emotion and it just I don’t know it just brings you down. It brings your energy down. Yes, this is a vulnerable relationship but imagine yourself in all of your other contexts of life. Do you have a hard time being—being assertive elsewhere? Do you have a hard time getting clarity about your leadership in your work? Or in your other relationships? If not, then just, if you can, plug that in to your observations of the therapy relationship and then decide for yourself.

KL What do you think are some misconceptions people have about—about starting therapy and just about that whole process? Is there—you know, is there anything you wish people knew more about?

DAC That’s interesting. I don’t hear much from people about what they were expecting versus what they’re getting. So I’m curious about that myself. I used to encounter this more that people would come to me expecting that I would give them specific advice or specific guidance. And, so, for some people it’s a learning curve to realize that it’s—it’s a listening relationship that I do more listening than maybe what they’re accustomed to and I’m not telling them what I think they should do very often. I am more listening to inconsistencies maybe in what they’re saying like, “You say you want to do this on the one hand but you’re doing that on the other hand. Can you help me understand what’s happening there?” And so I really just help them listen to themselves more deeply. Usually people like that. Usually they’re like, “Oh! Ok that’s how this is going to work. Now I get it.” But that’s the main thing I think I’ve seen happen is if they think they’re going to come for advice.

[36:29]

SWB I mean it sounds good to—when you think about, you know, the idea of going in and having somebody tell you how to fix your life but [Katel and Sara laugh] I suppose the literature shows it doesn’t really work that way. I’m curious, Allison, as you’re talking a little bit amount sort of like misconceptions people have do you also feel like there is still a level of like cultural stigma about therapy? And do you think that that’s changing?

DAC I honestly I think that I live in a little bit of a bubble just with the people that I see. Most of the people I see have friends who are in therapy or they’ve been therapy before and haven’t felt like it worked and so they’re returning. On the larger stage, I do think there’s still quite a bit of stigma about therapy and about mental illness. I think it’s because we fear dark places in ourselves and so we fear dark places in other people. We fear being out of control and so we don’t like it when we see, you know, somebody on the street talking to themselves because they’re out of control. I think in general it’s just—we’re so stressed [laughs]. We’re so stressed, as people, in general, that we like to keep things buttoned up and we like to have the appearance that we’ve got it all together. We might say, “Oh I’m so stressed.” Or, “Oh I’m so busy.” But we don’t tend to quiet down and say, “I feel scared.” Or, “Sometimes I feel sad and it comes over me and I’m not fully sure why. I wish I could think about that with somebody and figure that out once and for all.” Or, “I don’t know if I’m parenting my children any better than I was parented and I promised myself I would do better.” These are difficult issues and so I think because we fear looking at those things in ourselves, it’s hard for us to see other people actually experiencing them and expressing them and getting help for them.

SWB Something that really makes me think about is the way that multiple things can be true at the same time. Like I can both be really together and competent and also scared and hurt and need somebody to talk to. Like those are not mutually exclusive states. Like there’s no on/off switch for those things, right? Like I feel like sometimes it’s really easy to get into a mindset or you’re encouraged to be in this mindset where if you’re together and organized and successful, then you must not have like these kinds of problems to deal with. And it’s like, well that’s just not true. Like people aren’t like that. I think we talk about this on the show a lot that like you can be awesome, successful, badass and also like, struggling to get through the day, and like [laughs] that can be the same person and that’s fine.

DAC Yes. I—that is the most profound statement. Yes! A hundred times yes. I agree with that. And it’s something that I’m still learning constantly. I’m in a supervision group with um women who are all ten, twenty years older than me and I’m, you know, at forty-six years old I’m the—the young kid on the block but that’s what we’re learning about ourselves and from each other. We’re all therapists in supervision and in therapy together—that you can both be a mess and successful and just fine. And that’s so profound.

KL Ugh! I love all of this so much and I—like I had myself on mute but I was just going, “Mmm, mmm hmm, mm hmm” [laughs], so [laughing] just throwing that out there.

[39:56]

DAC I have the hugest smile on my face!

KL Aw.

SWB Yayyyyy! [Allison laughs]

KL This is so great.

SWB Now I want to be like, “What does it say about me that I get this like, level of satisfaction that I like got the right answer?” On a test [Katel laughs] with a therapist—which is like super unhelpful [laughs].

KL I love it. It’s great.

DAC Well, I was thinking earlier that I learn so much from my patients, right? I learn so much when people talk about their relationships or they talk about the things they discover and so that, my friend, is an instance where a therapist learns from you because basically and—and this happens a lot in therapy that’s really working is that you resonate back and forth, back and forth. I literally just learned that lesson and put it in those words, less than two weeks ago. That I can both be a hot mess and successful and sturdy. So it’s—that’s just—it’s exciting when that happens. When you reverberate back and forth like that.

SWB Yeah! I love that. Gosh. This is making me all like revved up to—to get back into some kind of therapy relationship.

KL So now that we’re sort of, you know, getting excited about uh the idea of therapy, I think one thing that has come up, you know, I think in—in some conversations I’ve had with folks is what can people expect in terms of, you know, making time for therapy and sort of just like making the actual act of therapy happen? I know that you have sometimes offered to do some sessions by phone which is so cool and I had never even thought about that. So I think just in general, you know, what are sort of the criteria around what folks should expect in terms of like how often they should and, you know, making time for it?

DAC Yeah. I think that therapy works best when you can meet with somebody once a week. At least at the beginning when you’re first getting to know somebody. I find sometimes that after a few months of doing that that people, because of their schedules, want to meet every other week. And people still get to know each other and still move forward. It’s just, you know, the progress—it’s like going to the gym, right? If you go three times a week you get fit faster than if you go every other week. But it’s—it’s a big commitment. It does kind of take over your world sometimes, just in terms of how much you process about things outside the sessions and what’s going on. But my recommendation—and it’s typical for most people—is that you go once a week at least for awhile. In my training because I was training to become an analyst which means, you know, on the couch kind of Freudian style [chuckles]. There was a time that I was going to analysis three times a week and then four times a week and then, believe it or not, five times a week. That is, you know, a level of training that’s not necessary for most people but it was important for therapists themselves to really have explored themselves. So that’s, you know, at the high end of things.

[43:11]

SWB You likened this to going to the gym and, obviously you’re right, if you only go to the gym every other week it’s not going to do as much for you as if you go more often but I’m also wondering, you know, for people who do find it challenging to make time if they can only get in every other week. I mean, I would say if you can only get to the gym every other week, you should still go every other week. I mean how do you—you know like would you still recommend to a patient that, “Ok. If that’s all you can do right now, let’s do that.” Or, you know, like how do you like work through those kinds of hurdles?

DAC Absolutely! I do think that if every other week is what fits with your schedule that—that it’s still very useful and I find that people who are motivated and still thinking about things between sessions or journaling about things. Or sometimes people will have thoughts and they’ll say, “I want to put a bookmark in this,” and they’ll email it to me and they’ll say, “You know, read this when we—when we meet but I want to get this off my chest.” That’s really helpful to keep the continuity. And people who come back, you know, to a subsequent session, not saying that this isn’t necessary but when people come back to subsequent sessions saying, “I thought about what you said and here’s what I’ve been doing with that.” Or, “I talked to my sister about that and she said the same thing.” You can tell when people are actively working with their material in between session, then, definitely meeting less frequently is still really helpful.

SWB Like taking the stairs all the time during those weeks when you’re not at the gym. Ok.

DAC Oh!! Yes!! Great analogy! [Sara laughs]

KL That’s perfect!

DAC There’s another part of—I mean journaling and talking to other people is helpful but really one of the things that I find most useful is some kind of spiritual growth in between therapy sessions, some kind of yoga or meditation or guided meditations. That also gets into the deep healing and some of the subconscious stuff that weighs people down. So I find that very useful as well. If you dare I would recommend either yin yoga. Do you know yin? Y-I-N?

[45:17]

KL Mm hmm.

DAC That’s very therapeutic and I’ve recently discovered what’s called kundalini yoga which is not as common but you go through a series of poses and they’re called kriyas, and breath exercises, and mantras that are also deeply healing. Definitely not something you’d see at the gym. But if you dare [laughs].

KL That’s a good idea. I also like hatha yoga just because it’s a sort of a slowed down version and it’s—just focuses a lot more on stretching and holding the stretches which I feel is sort of is like a nice bridge between like, “Ok. I’m—I’m doing general, you know, sort of stretching for like better flexibility and taking that into a yoga practice and saying, ‘Ok, like this is—I can do this.’”

DAC Yes! Absolutely. And the thing about yoga is you have to take your practice off the mat. So whatever you struggle with in the class, whatever chatter is going on through your mind when you’re lying in savasana at the end that is your yoga practice. And you take that off the mat, into your life, and that’s therapy.

KL Absolutely! It’s so true. Well just like going to yoga and going to the gym, you know, does like you usually have to pay for that. What—what does therapy even cost? You know? I mean I think there’s all sorts of ways you can pay for it and depending on whether you find someone that’s in your network or your, you know, covered by your insurance. Like is there a general idea of what folks can—can think about when they’re budgeting for it?

DAC Yes, there’s really a range. There are I believe the going rate in Philadelphia is somewhere between 150 and 200 dollars an hour, which is a lot if you’re going weekly. Fortunately, unlike yoga and things like that, insurance covers therapy. And it used to be that insurance companies would limit the number of sessions you could go for a lifetime or for a year and your therapist was constantly having to call them and ask for more sessions. That has—that has ended. So if you have something like Aetna Insurance or Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicare, it’s pretty easy to find—well, there are lots of therapist that are in network with those therapists. I hesitate to say it’s easy to find somebody because a lot of the therapists their practices are full. That’s a problem that I see people running into quite a bit. There’s a place in Philadelphia, I believe it’s called The Philadelphia Society for Clinical Psychologists. They have a huge network of therapists that either do pro bono work meaning that the therapy is free or that they have a sliding scale and there are other great organizations. There’s one called Insight for All which is providing psychoanalytic therapy to the homeless in Philadelphia. So there there is a push to make therapy available to everybody.

[48:19]

SWB Yeah, you know, we—we have a lot of listeners all over the place and so I think something that—that they may want to do is just kind of like Google around for sliding scale therapy options wherever they’re located and kind of look into some of those resources.

KL Ok. So we have just one last question for you: what would you tell someone who’s listening to this episode and curious about therapy but, you know, still a little scared or a little unsure?

DAC I would ask your friends, ask your family. Somebody else has gone to therapy that you know. So many people go to therapy and you hear positive experiences from people, you hear how it unlocked something, it opened something. It helped them look at themselves in a different way. It is a leap of faith. It really does take courage but I feel like what do you have to lose? Getting to know a little bit more about yourself? Getting to meet somebody who has talked with and listened to lots and lots of people? What have you got to lose? Especially if you know how to break up with them if it doesn’t work [laughter].

SWB Thank you so much, Allison! This has been so wonderful to chat with you.

KL Yeah.

DAC Me as well. Thank you so much, guys. It’s my pleasure [music fades in, plays alone for six seconds].

JL Hey! It’s time for the Fuck Yeah of the Week!

SWB Fuck yeaaaah!

JL Hey, Katel, what’s the Fuck Yeah this week?

KL Ok. So I’ve been noticing that a bunch of really badass, amazing women, and just like everyone I follow in varying degrees has been like posting more selfies and just kind of documenting themselves and their lives, and I love it so much and it’s made me think about how I want to post more selfies. And how I’ve literally in the last week probably taken you know, five or six and then just like gone as far as posting them and making a comment or like a caption and then deleting it. Because I’m—I get like too nervous or scared or whatever.

SWB What’s worrying you about posting a selfie?

KL I think it’s this like the—the whole Instagram thing of like it has to be this perfect moment in time or this like perfect, you know, life thing or lighting or whatever and I—it’s totally not true. That’s bullshit.

[50:40]

SWB I think like, for me there’s also a piece of it where I often feel like, “Well, I don’t want to be the kind of person who posts all these selfies or who is like obsessively doing selfies,” and I—and then I’m like, first off: who gives a shit? Like if you want to do like elaborate selfie photo shoots, you should do that and that’s great [Katel says, “Definitely”]. I think you should definitely do that. Let me know your—your name on Instagram so I can follow you [Katel chuckles]. But I also—I don’t necessarily want to go to that level but I also I think like it’s like—it’s like anything where it’s like if I put this out there, what are people going to think about it? Are they going to—are they going to think that I think I’m pretty? Or are they going to think that like I think I’m like special in some way? And then it’s like, “Oh god I can’t have people think bad about me?” And it’s like the reality is people have been making selfies forever. Like since photography there have been selfies and before photography people got like fucking paintings of themselves made [Katel says, “Yes!”] with like the most expensive shit they owned. It’s fine. And like—like wanting to sort of document yourself and what you’re up to is really—it’s normal and it’s human and, you know, I mean I don’t know. I don’t want to necessarily have my phone out at all times while I’m like doing stuff [Katel says, “Yeah”] because I like to also just do the thing I’m doing and talk to people I’m with at the time. But I’m tired of like culture that hates on selfies as sort of like this thing that stupid girls do which always the implication that it’s like immature and it’s almost feminized and it’s—that’s like not historically accurate. You know the first selfie was uh taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839?

KL That’s dope [Sara laughs].

JL I think about, you know, I [sighs] I just feel like it’s social media. Everyone should be using it to what they want to use it for like it’s not—this is like how I feel about like the NFL when they banned like touchdown dances. I’m like, “It’s NFL! Let the people dance in the end zone.” Anyway, it’s like social media, let the people take selfies. You know, Sara, you mentioned that like, “Oh what if people think like I think I’m beautiful? Or I think I’m great?” You should think you’re beautiful!

KL Yeah!

SWB Oh don’t get me wrong that is like some weird, internalized bullshit but I like I don’t think I’m alone in having those feelings or kind of like having 10,000 conflicting feelings in that moment of like, “Oh I’m kind of feeling this look today but also I don’t people to think that like I tried really hard for this and I took like 7,000 shots for this even though if you want to take a good selfie you kind of do [laughter] have to take a bunch of them a lot, you know?

JL Yeah but like it’s digital. You can take 7,000 shots. You’re not paying for this. Like it’s that, I don’t know, I just—I’m all for like celebrating just like ourselves and like the like—and people around us. I mean that’s like the Fuck Yeah is about celebration and like I really like social media and the idea that like, “Let’s take a look and embrace these like moments that like are important to us.” So um, you know, I get the whole thing like a lot of people are like, “Well, people post these perfect selfies and they act like that’s the only like thing that’s great about their life.” They never had bad days. And for me it’s not really that on social media. I like to really use social media as a way to say like, “What am I excited about in life?” And so there’s an app I really like One Second Everyday and you basically take one second of video every day and then you can mash them together into like a six minute snippet at the end of the year or however long you like. But what I really like about this app is like it reminds me that everyday is awesome and to like find one thing I’m really excited about. So like even if I’m having a really shitty day, I can be like, “Oh, you know what? Cooper just smushed blueberries on his face. That’s awesome.” Or like, “Hey, I’m having like—I’m recording a podcast with friends,” and so like it gives you that time to be like, “Here’s why I’m still thankful for life.”

[54:22]

SWB I think what’s hard about it sometimes is—I mean just because like anything with social media where there’s an audience involved, there’s a level of it that is a—kind of like performative, right? It’s like, “What am I putting out for other people to consume?” And then you have to think like, “What do they going to think about it?” And I totally support people who don’t overthink any of that but I also recognize like that’s a natural thing to kind of think about because, you know, like sometimes you do get crappy comments or—or worse. And like, you have to just kind of make sense of like what’s going to give you some joy from it. But I really think like if selfies give you any ounce of joy then fucking post as many selfies as you feel like. If selfies give you no joy, like feel no obligation to [laughing] post selfies.

JL I mean it’s the whole like, I don’t know, everything is so formulaic, right? Like, if I post too many pictures of my cat, then I’m posting too many pictures of my cat. If I’m posting too many selfies, then I’m posting too many selfies. If I’m posting too much of my baby, I’m too many of the baby. It’s like, you know what? Why don’t I just do what I want to do.

SWB But like what if it’s pictures of me with my cat? There’s no limit on those, right?

JL No.

SWB Ok.

JL Definitely not. But that’s the thing these like quote/unquote “rules”, right? That we have to follow are like, such a bummer. Like let’s just like, rock it.

[55:31]

SWB I also feel like, you know, weed out people who don’t make you feel good about yourself, which is easier said than done. For sure. Like it’s totally easier said than done. But if you post a selfie and people are shitty about it? Mmm mmm hmm. You deserve better friends than that. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever’s going on in your life, you deserve better friends than that! You want people who are going to say nice stuff about your selfie or at least, at least tap a like. Come on! Come! On! [Laughter]

JL If you’re going through the streams and you’re like, “Ugh! This person posts so much selfies.” Like why—like maybe ask yourself like why does that bother you? Does it bother you because you want to post more selfies? Does it bother you because I don’t know I’m trying to think of why that would cause—like because you don’t want to see that much? Then unfollow them.

SWB Well plus people post all kinds of stuff that I’m not super interested in.

KL Yeah!

SWB Or that it’s—it feels like, “Oh. Ok. I get it. They’re in this like certain place right now on vacation. Like I’ve seen a bunch of photos and like I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now.” [Inhales deeply] I just keep scrolling.

KL I know. Yeah.

SWB And it’s fine. Right? And I can still love them and I don’t have to like, it doesn’t’ have to be any sort of reflection on like them as a human, right? Like it’s like they’re—they’re just doing their thing.

KL I think that’s the thing like I—like the people that I follow and that I like following and that I haven’t decided I’m going to unfollow or block or whatever. I’m like, “I like seeing you and so when I see your face and a thing that you’re doing that is like, clearly making you say, ‘I’m going to document this,’” I’m just like, “Fuck yeah. That’s awesome!”

SWB We’re going to take a selfie together and—and post it on the No, You Go Instagram.

KL I think that’s a good idea.

SWB I’m going to try to work on my selfie game too. I took a real quick selfie today and it was the first one in awhile but I think I’m going to try to up it a little bit because it’s going to be summer, I’m going to get my summer lipstick game on real strong, and like you gotta document that.

KL Yeah!

JL I was really bummed that I didn’t like selfie it up during like my pregnancy because I was like, I felt like I was really rocking it.

SWB Uh I can confirm: you were rocking it.

[57:24]

KL Yes! Absolutely!

JL Thanks.

SWB So, I’m super hyped by this talk about selfies, I am going to, like I said, focus my selfie game, get it real on point for summer 2018.

JL 2018! Summer of Selfies.

SWB Fuck yeah!

KL Fuck yeah!

SWB Well, that is it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and it is produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is The Diaphone. Thank you to Dr. Allison Chabot for telling us all about therapy today. And if you like what you’ve been hearing, don’t miss our newsletter, I Love That. It comes every other Friday and, well, you’re going to love it. Check out noyougoshow.com/ilovethat to subscribe. And we’ll see you here next week [music fades in, ramps up, plays alone for 34 seconds, fades out to end].

May 22 2018

58mins

Play

Rank #15: The Ambition Decisions with Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace

Podcast cover
Read more

Do you ever feel like you’re facing impossible choices—tradeoffs between family and work, between money and passion, between pushing for a promotion and just wanting to take a damn nap? Well, our guests today have been there. And not only that, they’ve written about it.

Those guests are Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace. A few years ago, they were both in their early forties and feeling stuck. So they set out to learn whether other women they knew were feeling the same—and what they could do about it.

Hana and Elizabeth interviewed forty-three women they had first met more than two decades ago, when they were members of the same sorority at Northwestern University. The results of those interviews is the new book The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life, which came out in June.

> Ambition is not this entity that is contained in a box labeled “career.” …We wanted to kind of liberate the word ambition from this kind of office-boss-lady idea and let it live outside of those constraints.
>
> — Elizabeth Wallace , coauthor, The Ambition Decisions

We sat down with Hana and Elizabeth to talk about:

  • How they started their project, and what they learned from the women they interviewed
  • How ambition often changes over time, and how to embrace that change
  • Stuff we often forget about when we’re on “rosé dates”—like figuring out whether your prospective partner supports your ambitions as much as their own

Links

Also in this episode

Jenn talks about her upcoming maternity leave, and why it sucks to have to “sell” your employer on taking more than three months off. We chat about:

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers for more.

Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher [Ad spot] Hey friends! Let’s talk about time for a sec. There’s never enough and I never seem to know where it goes—unless I’m using Harvest. Harvest is a time tracking and invoicing tool that helps me manage projects, clients, and payments, and keep my little biz running smoothly. Try it free at harvest.com and when you upgrade to a paid account, the code noyougo is going to save you 50 percent off your first month. That’s getharvest.com, code: noyougo [music fades in, plays alone for 13 seconds, fades out].

Jenn Lukas Hey! Welcome to No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.

SWB And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher.

KL Do you ever feel like you’re facing impossible choices—like tradeoffs between family and work? Between money and passion? Or between pushing a promotion and just wanting to take a damn nap? Well, our guests today have been there, and, not only that, they’ve written about it. Those guests are Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace. They are the authors of The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life. It’s a new book that came out earlier this summer and we were lucky enough to snag a copy before sitting down with them.

JL Ugh! I really just loved and related to so many things in this interview. I’m constantly trying to figure out that magical balance of things as a working mom and life and work and all those things that I think all of us are trying to figure out. But adding with the mom twist the last few years, you know, there’s so many tough things to think about when you’re having a child. You’re thinking about things like, where is my baby going to sleep? Or what am I going to name my baby? Is my baby going to be healthy? All these things. And one of the things that I really wasn’t ready for the first time and maybe not even the second time around is how I was going to take maternity leave. There’s just like, you’re figuring all these things and it’s like, you know, when you’re going to like a new place but you’re like, “Oh yes, I also need a passport.” It’s like [laughs] you know you’re planning a vacation but you’re like, “Oh yeah! This one thing.” And well, what’s available? And where I work and generally a lot of places you’ve got the FMLA leave, which guarantees you three months away from your job, not paid, but just that you—they will hold the job for you. Some companies will pay you for your time off, some won’t. Where I work we have short-term disability through a separate company, so I get some percentage of my paycheck for a variation of six to eight weeks. So, six weeks if I have a vaginal birth and eight weeks if I have a C-section [laughs]. That’s always a fun formula trying to figure out [laughter]. It’s just—

KL That also just like still does not sound like anywhere near enough.

SWB It’s like so little!

JL I know. Yeah.

SWB So Jenn, how long are you going to take?

JL So I’m going to take four months. I took four months with Cooper. Again, this was something I negotiated with the people I work with. So luckily I work in a supportive and when we sat down and talked about my leave and what really made sense for me, I could not really fathom coming back in less than four months. And I am definitely in a lucky enough situation between my husband and I that we could afford for me to take off four months of unpaid, you know, that’s a tricky thing, too. So you figure that out and then you also get really nervous, right? So like you’ve cleared the money thing and you cleared the time off with your job, but you also have this guilt like, “Can I be away from work for four months?” Because at the same time you know I like working. How do I remain ambitious and take this time off to be with my family?

SWB One thing that I would imagine being really hard is that identity shift where it’s like, if you identify really strongly with your profession and your career and then suddenly that goes away—and sure, you have this amazing new thing right in front of you and it doesn’t take away from the fact that being a parent is this whole other identity opening up—but like, when something is just suddenly gone, you’re like, “Wait! I was an expert at a thing, and [laughing] where is that now?”

JL Right. And yeah now I’m like the opposite of an expert at a thing [laughter]. This is like…I’m totally in this like, “Oh where am I?” And I remember when Cooper was first born and I was home. My child is—is slash was—not a good sleeper. So there was this real lack of sleep. And I breastfed, and when I did, I’d be so tired when I woke up in the night that I would just like…you’d do anything to stay awake, you know, whether you’re like drinking tea or like eating cereal or like watching really bad television on your phone with headphones. And so when he was first born, I remember I was watching this show Unreal which is like a fictional reality show—it’s a binger.

KL Wow.

JL Just like, I needed the most mindless but addicting TV to keep me up, right? And then I don’t know, maybe two months into my leave, I started watching like conference talks [laughing] while I breastfed because I missed it! Like I missed the—like, being in the know, and being still connected to that part of me that is my career and being like, how do I stay ambitious when I’m physically acting as food for my child?

[5:06]

KL Yeah. I mean I think that totally indicates that you were absolutely still an expert, that you are. That you were just trying to like [laughs] make it all work. I mean you’re sitting there multitasking like before you even have to [laughs] get back up. So.

JL You know there was parts of work that I really missed and I wouldn’t say I was necessarily like, “Yeah, I’m like super ready to go back,” but I couldn’t have gone back earlier than four months, too, because I just—I physically wasn’t ready. The lack of sleep and what pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding, if you choose to do it, does to your body it’s just like, to physically be in a place with people where you have to make sure, like, your shirt is buttoned [laughing] was just not fathomable to me.

KL Ugh. Gosh. Yeah. I mean that sounds really, really rough. Sara, weren’t you talking about, you have a cousin who’s pregnant right now but she’s in Europe?

SWB [Chuckles] Yeah. So my mom’s side of the family is all German. They’re in Germany. And so that means I get a lot of info from them about what things look like in their part of the world that are different than here, and some things that are very different are things like health insurance and family leave and maternity leave. So my cousin is pregnant with her second child right now, and she is a junior professor at a university in Munich. So she has a pretty great job. But what really kicks into play in Germany is a lot of state benefits that are mandated. So she’s not getting extra support because she has a good employer, she’s getting support because this is just how it works there. So what she gets that’s standard is you get this standard amount of time right around the birth that is specifically tied to being a parent who’s giving birth. So I believe it is six weeks before the baby is born and eight weeks after the baby is born, you get paid leave. But then beyond that, you go into a different kind of leave that’s more of a parental leave, and with that you get a reduced salary so it’s usually I think 65 percent of what your salary is, but there’s a cap. So the monthly cap I believe is 1,800 Euros, so it’s not as much necessarily as she would be making in a given month, it’s going to be less than that, but it’s a substantial amount of support and all of that is state mandated and required and one of the things that I was reading about after she told me about, you know, how this looked, because they treat it as parental leave that may or may not be tied to the actual like childbirth event. The parental leave you can take up to a year at once, but then you can also take different chunks of it up until the kid is like eight years old or something, where like they had this example where as long you go back to work for I think it’s at least a year in between, you can take like a year off when the baby’s born and then another year off the year that the kid is transitioning to school or something like that. So it’s really interesting the way that you can do that and also that you can really easily break that up between partners and you also have some paid leave time where both partners can be off at the same time where both partners can be off at the same time for a couple of months. So it’s interesting how much different it is and how that really shapes the way that she looks at this process and her family looks at this and the way that it sort of like maps onto her professional life. You know, she’s not totally freaked out about the money piece of it. But then there’s also just like, because it’s so normalized for women to take a year, she doesn’t feel nearly as much of that stress around like, “what are people going to think?” Or, “I need to make sure I show back up as soon as possible and get back to it.” There’s a stronger sense of like, this is what happens, you go on leave and you come back and it’s fine.

KL And you like still have a job and you don’t have to worry about that.

SWB Yeah and I think that there’s something to be said for, you know, like there’s the legal piece of it, but what the legal piece does is it sort of sets a social expectation that’s different. So that’s like it’s not personal judgement as much. It’s not perfect. Ok. Don’t get me wrong. In fact, she wants to go back sooner than a year, because as a junior professor she really is concerned about leaving her research for that long. And one challenge she has is that in Germany there are not as many childcare options for babies under a year old because the standard is usually that there’s a year off. So, you know, it’s certainly not perfect and I’m sure that other folks in Germany have other experiences that have lots of problems, but the way that the state supports it really changes also I think like a lot of the interpersonal dynamics around it.

JL It’s so amazing. I mean, you really have to sell it here. You know?

KL Yeah.

JL And there’s so many things to sell, right? Like I mean if I went to my company and I was like, “You know, I want to take four months off.” And like you can only get three. I mean what do you do? Do you fire an employee for that one extra month and then have to like spend the cost of hiring someone new, onboarding someone knew, training someone new? Whereas if you work with the employee, then you set up a supportive workplace where both I’m happier and they’re happier. So I think that for people trying to figure out how to make this work for them, you know, there are like lots of, you know, quote/unquote “selling points.” But it just sucks that we have to sell it.

[10:12]

SWB Well, yeah, and I think, you know, I’m really hoping this is an issue we finally make some traction on in the US. I was reading the other day that three out of four voters in the US actually want paid family leave and there is a lot of talk about making legislation to make that priority. Of course [chuckles] the most recent legislation I saw from August of this year is backed by Marco Rubio and Ivanka Trump, so I’m not [laughs] trusting that to save us. Their idea is basically that you can borrow from your future social security to pay for your paid family leave. And I’m like but wait, hold on, social security’s already screwed! Like I don’t see how this solves anything. So I don’t think that’s the answer, but I do know if we have this many people that support it and we’re starting to see a lot more discussion of it, then I’m hopeful if some other things potentially uh change politically in the next couple of years, maybe this is an issue we can finally get to the forefront on.

JL You know just the more we talk about it, though, I feel like—and the more people understand—the less weird it gets when you get back, too. Because, I mean, that’s the other thing: like you do have to go back. And I’ll tell you, going back that first day is weird [laughs]. It’s just weird [Katel laughs]. Luckily, I did this, which was like smart, is like maybe like two or three weeks before I went back, I had gone down to have lunch with some coworkers, which was good because it was sort of like an ease back in. But people are happy to see you, which is awesome but you also—you’ve got some people that don’t really understand and they’re sort of like, you know, they ask you like…they’re not saying, “Hey, how was your vacation?” But that’s sort of maybe how you’re reading it [laughs] and you’re like, “Mmm. Yeah.” And then like you’re also missing your child, and you’re also trying to like, if you’re breastfeeding, you’re trying to figure out how to pump, which is like…oh my god that’s an episode. So I don’t—[laughs, Katel laughs] I’m not going to go into it—but like you’re just trying again to balance so much, and then you’re trying to do that and then you’re like trying to not cry in the middle of a meeting because you miss your child, maybe you leaked some milk all over yourself, and you think—maybe they are, but it could be in your head—that your coworkers are judging you for being away for so long. So it’s just like… [laughs]

KL So it’s like the first day of school but like incredibly worse and you never thought that could actually be a thing [laughs].

JL Yes [laughs]. Yes, exactly.

KL Well, I would seriously talk about this all day and it really makes me want to like hear what Hana and Elizabeth had to say about just how they wrote their book and just like what they learned. Should we get to their interview?

JL Definitely. I’m so excited to hear what other people in this position have gone through and the expertise of what they have to say on it [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out].

[12:57]

KL [Ad spot] Hey friends, craving just a little more NYG? We’ve got you covered with our bi-weekly newsletter, “I Love That.” Every other Friday, we share personal notes from your trusty cohosts (that’s us), a curated collection from our favorite finds—from fancy summer sunscreen to causes we’re hyped to support, and a roundup of great reads we don’t want you to miss—like op-eds about the tampon tax or an awesome interview with Tiffany Haddish. To top it all off? There’s always a profile of someone you may not know about yet, but we’re sure you’ll be inspired by—and we love that. Add a little more “fuck yeah” to your inbox: sign up now at noyougoshow.com/ilovethat and hey, share us with a friend or two! That’s noyougoshow.com/ilovethat [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out].

Interview: Hana SChank and Elizabeth Wallace

SWB Today we’re joined by not one, but two fascinating guests: Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace. They are coauthors of a new book, out earlier this summer, called The Ambition Decisions: What Women Know About Work, Family, and the Path to Building a Life. That’s definitely a topic that hits pretty close to home here on the show, and I am so excited to dig into it. Hana, Elizabeth, welcome to No, You Go.

[14:04]

Hana Schank Thank you.

Elizabeth Wallace Thank you.

SWB So, we’re really excited to talk to you about this. We talk about things like ambition and balance all the time on the show, and I’d love to hear a little bit more from you two and how this book came to be. So from what I understand you’re more than just coauthors, you went to college together at Northwestern in the nineties and that history kind of sits at the core of the book. So can you start by telling us a bit about the book, your story, and how it all came to be?

EW Sure, this book really started with a midlife crisis, as many great things do. And we were both kind of at a point in our lives where, you know, we were in our early forties and were just feeling stuck and feeling like we weren’t where we wanted to be with our careers or with our marriages or with our parenting, and just really feeling like it was hard. So we started having conversations around this general stuck feeling and decided to reach out to some of our other friends from college, most of whom we hadn’t spoken to since 1993, to get an understanding of just where they were. Like the overarching idea was: it is hard for us, are there other people who somehow have this all figured out? Can we find this, like, mythic woman who just, it’s easy for? And we remembered that everybody we went to college with was very ambitious, and so we sort of felt like, if they couldn’t do it, then who could do it? And so probably we would find people who had it figured and we would then be able to apply those, you know, what that person knew and fix our lives.

SWB How’d that work out? [Laughter]

EW Yeah, it turns out there’s no mythic woman who has it all figured out [laughs], but it ended up being this three-year project where so we did these initial interviews and they were so fascinating and so illuminating that we wanted to keep going. And so that was how we ended up interviewing—we were both in the same sorority, and we didn’t want to interview all women, all over the world, forever. I mean actually we would like to, but we wanted to [laughs] complete the project within our lifetimes. And so we thought about how we could basically draw a circle around the project, and since we’d been in the same sorority, we thought, “Well let’s just interview everybody that we graduated with.” So we ended up interviewing 43 women from Northwestern, and while we [laughs] didn’t find the woman who had it all figured out, what we found was really interesting and turned into a book.

[16:28]

SWB So what did you learn from those 40-something sorority sisters that you interviewed? What did it tell you about where people’s lives had ended up?

HS One of the things that we found was, it did not fix our lives, but it did help us make a little bit better sense of what we had sort of termed midlife crises. One of the primary findings was that all of the 43 women that we spoke to fell into one of three life paths. And two of them were more traditional, previously defined paths. One was the high achiever. A traditional high achiever who is a c-suite or c-suite adjacent executive, prominent in her field, a high earner, has a lot of self-pride about her job and her accomplishments, and has set her career as one of her primary foci in her life. The second was the opt-outer, who were a number of women who had careers and jobs that they were happy with to some degree and then, after having their child or subsequent ones, opted out of the workplace and their careers, either temporarily or more long term. And then the third group was this amalgam of women that we had not seen previously identified nor named and we kind of thought they were just this hybrid group who really weren’t necessarily reaching for it all, but also had not opted out and we were like, “What is that?” And so by the time we interviewed everybody, we generated this name for this third group, which we also fell into, which were the flex-lifers. And these were women who for the most part had full-time jobs, some had scaled back to either freelance or part-time work, but basically had created flexible work situations so that they could focus on being ambitious in other parts of their lives and that they—that their ambition had not waned, they had just scaled back some of their career ambition and fleshed it out into other areas of their lives.

SWB Yeah so I think that the flex-lifers piece is pretty interesting. As I was reading the book, one of the things I kept wondering was like, “Which category am I?” And I’m actually still not sure. I think of myself as being super ambitious, but also not particularly interested in, like, being c-suite adjacent, as you said. And I’m somebody who takes sort of having some elements of flexibility very seriously, but I am exceedingly professionally ambitious. And I’m wondering if maybe some of my inability to figure out where I sit in there, or my sense that it doesn’t quite fit me, is that I don’t have kids. Did you find that almost everybody you talked with had children?

HS There were a few who did not have kids and there were, in fact, some flex-lifers who didn’t have kids. One woman in particular who chose not to have children because she wanted to focus on her career and she didn’t feel like she could be the kind of parent that she wanted to be if she was working but at the same time—and so it was like sort of pursuing this c-suite thing and then at some point said—looked at what that life looked like and said, “Actually, I don’t want to have that.” And moved to Colorado so that she could volunteer and go hiking and have a more flexible life, even though isn’t was to accommodate children, it was to accommodate, you know, interests and hobbies and just the way that she wanted her life to shake out. I will say that sometimes I’m not sure if I am a high achiever or a flex-lifer. You know I think you can be one one day and the other other days. One of the things that we found in the book is that a lot of women move across the paths over the course of their careers and sometimes I’m starting to think like maybe I move across the paths within the course of a week [laughing], because I have days where I’m very ambitious and I have a whole giant list of things that I want to do at work. But then I also am recognizing that I have certain boundaries. Like I actually kind of really—I worked from home for a long time and had a long time where I thought like, “Eh, you know, I think I really want to be in an office.” And I’m now sort of coming to terms with, actually maybe working from home is really good for me and the lifestyle that I want, and that of course limits the kind of jobs. You know, you can’t like be a CEO and work from home [laughs]. So—not that I want to be a CEO, but you can’t have that kind of job and work from home. So I think that, you know, for a lot of women there’s sort of a constant reassessing of, “actually this thing is important to me now,” and, you know, next week maybe something else will be important to me.

[21:06]

EW One thing that we didn’t talk about that much in the book but that is kind of emerging for me too in real life in a meta way is that—that these categories, these life paths, like sexuality and gender are more fluid than they are static. The other thing that really, really came out of the book was that ambition is not this entity that is contained in a box labeled “career,” and that you can not want to be a c-suite executive and still be very ambitious. You can still be very career ambitious. You can be ambitious in your career and in other avenues, but that really we wanted to kind of liberate the word ambition from this kind of office-boss-lady idea and let it live outside of those constraints.

JL I love this so much. We’re expecting our second child, and if you had asked me some amount five, ten years ago, I would’ve been like, “Yeah, c-suite. Definitely where I want to go,” but recently I’ve been reevaluating everything. So it’s good to hear, you know, it’s that like company of others that’s like, “This is ok that I feel this way.” And I love the idea that I can flex how I feel between, “do I want to be in this group or that group?” because it does change for me week by week too sometimes.

EW Another thing that we personally got out of this book that we hope to share with other readers is this sense of, you are not alone and that you are not the first woman to do this, you are not the first woman to question her ambition when about to have her second child and you are not the first woman to think about, “Well what’s my life going to look like three years from now?” You know? And, “can I still pursue c-suite executive-dom after I have my second kid?” And I think that still, in our forties now, I think we ask ourselves every day: can we still do this? Can we still do that? And these are questions that we really wanted to see other women answer. And so to know that you’re not alone is a huge part of why we wrote this book and a huge takeaway that we want readers to absorb.

JL So, can I still follow up on the c-suite after [laughing] I have my second child?

HS Actually one of our favorite stories is a woman who stayed at home for ten years and had never planned on staying at home but her first child was born on 9/11 and it was a really traumatic experience and she just felt like she could not leave her newborn child with anybody else. She ended up having two more children and then when the financial crisis hit, she all of a sudden felt like, “I need to be contributing to the family and also, by the way, haven’t really loved staying at home and wasn’t what I planned on doing.” She went and sat in the lobby of a bank [laughs] for weeks and became friends with the receptionist in order to get an interview and now is a very senior person at this very large bank. So it is possible. She is a dynamo, but we love that story because it shows the degree to which these things are possible and you can be constantly reevaluating, “actually, this is what I want now. Actually, this is what I want now.” There were—and actually she was not the only one who, you know, stepped back for a bit and then came back in. You know, your thirties is a time, especially if you are having children, when, you know, I personally felt a lot of inner turmoil around, like, am I not ambitious anymore? I was running a company because it gave me flexibility, but it wasn’t, like, ticking off all of the intellectual boxes that I really wanted it to. And one of the things we hope people will get from this book is, you know, I think that I and a lot of other women, there’s a lot of just guilt involved in like, “Why aren’t I killing it at work while also having a three-year-old and a newborn?” [Laughs] Which in retrospect is like, “Well, maybe because you have a three-year-old and a newborn, and you wanted to focus on that, and you’re tired, and that’s actually totally fine.” The idea that it’s, you know, if you’re not doing it now, you’re never going to do it is just ridiculous.

SWB Yeah I think, you know, we talk a lot on this show about defining goals and ambitions on our own terms and I feel like that’s such a piece of what you’re highlighting here: the way that we’ve conceived of ambition, or women’s ambition maybe especially, is too narrow. And I think that maybe speaks even to why I’m like bristling a little bit at trying to fit myself into one of those boxes, because the desire to do big stuff and to be pushing towards something is always there for me, but my desire to do that on terms somebody else has set up is exactly zero. Like my desire to go do that for some large corporation is very low. But that doesn’t make the ambition any smaller. And I…you know, I think maybe some of it is a limitation on what we mean when we say “high achieving,” or there are other ways to be high achieving than being a corporate executive.

EW Yes, uh, a hundred percent. That’s kind of a big sub-takeaway of this book. And, you know, when we came up with these three paths, we named the first one “high achiever” only as a jumping off point, I think, to ways to discuss and define and redefine ambition. And while we don’t call the other two groups “high achievers,” we really make the point that they’re trying to achieve their ambition in other ways every single day of their lives in all aspects of their lives.

HS You know a lot of the women that we labeled high achievers you know they were not all c-suite corporate people. It was much more around how they talked about their careers and how they placed their careers in the other elements of their lives. So they were women who might be recognized in their field, or who were flying around and giving talks, or seen as expert in multiple fields. We had one person who was a rabbi, we had somebody who was a screenwriter. So, absolutely, it’s not just about climbing the corporate ladder.

[27:09]

SWB Something that we touched on early in the interview here but didn’t quite dig into is who those women were, and also I guess importantly, who they weren’t. So something you mentioned at the start of the book is the way that the cohort of women that you interviewed does not reflect women in general. And I’m curious what this particular group of women can and can’t tell us about the broader issues that women face, and sort of like, where is it limited?

EW So the group was attractive to us because they were identifiable. We could find them all and interview them all in our lifetime. And they were women that we met in 1989 and that we graduated with in 1993, and then re-interviewed again starting in 2014. So we had the privilege of knowing them and knowing their history for over 20 years, which gave us an access and an intimacy that we would not have with random strangers. They all had the access and knowledge and information to get to a private college and they were not all wealthy, several of them were on financial aid for their tuition and their sorority dues and had work-study jobs that helped them with both of those. But, you know, what did they have in common and I think what they can tell us is, this small slice of women who graduated three months after Bill Clinton was elected and into a life where we had really come of age with second-wave feminism and we saw our mothers living this kind of binary existence around work. Like my mother was a c-suite executive and Hana’s mother, you know, for the first part of her life was a stay-at-home mom and we didn’t see a ton of in-between. So in this group we saw a lot more in-between. But so what I think that they can tell us is that ambitious, highly educated women with a ton of potential still have a lot of barriers to embracing their ambition. There are the obvious external barriers like sex discrimination and bias in lots of ways in the workplace and at home, but we also encountered with this group a lot of internal obstacles to embracing their own ambition, whether it was self-doubt and confidence, whether it was ingrained gender assumptions that they really should be doing everything in the home except controlling the finances, which many of them were happy to expect their male partners to do, or assuming that their male partners’ jobs or careers were more important than their own. And then, further to that, we also learned that there’s more than one way to be ambitious.

SWB And so I think I remember also reading that most of the women that you interviewed were white, or at least that there was not necessarily the kind of racial diversity in the group that you would see in America, and I’m curious if you’ve thought about sort of what impact that has or what kinds of issues might be particularly facing women of color that are not necessarily addressed here.

[30:12]

HS So they are predominantly white, although there were several women who were Asian American and several women who were first-generation Americans. One thing that we talk about in the book is that at Northwestern there’s an entire separate black Greek system. So there aren’t black women in the book. Certainly, you know, this book does not speak for all women. It’s a socioeconomic slice and a racial slice. But this is the group that we were working with and we felt like they—what they had to say was interesting enough and relevant enough to a broad enough swathe of women that it was of value.

SWB Yeah so kind of speaking also kind of on the angle of identity and who you were and weren’t talking to, something that I was really noting in the book was that a lot of the stories that you tell are about cisgender, heterosexual women who are married to men, which is a lot of women—but Elizabeth, your partner is a woman. How do you think that that has changed or not changed the kinds of challenges or tradeoffs that you’ve made or that you saw with other women that you interviewed who were not married to men?

EW We interviewed a couple of other of women who are in same-sex relationships, and some with kids and some with not, and I think the biggest difference there is the ambition balance or cap within a partnership or marriage and also the breakdown of domestic labor and emotional labor within a relationship that those are not an engrained assumption or not a foregone conclusion, like I think they were with a lot of our heterosexual subjects, because we just came together not with the same assumptions of how we were going to run a household or how we were going to support each other financially or how we were going to break down the finances or how we were going to decide who empties the dishwasher or how we were going to decide who was the more primary caregiver this year or who was the more primary caregiver next year. So I think that for me specifically, and for the other non-hetero cisgender women that we interviewed, that basically it was much more of a tabula rasa when they were approaching their ambition and their relationships and how that fleshed out. I’m of the personal mindset that everybody should marry a woman, men and women. But I know that that’s not every woman’s choice and I know that there are a lot of heterosexual women in the world and in this book and, you know, I think that what we saw in those relationships were that the women who challenged the more gender-normative ideas around ambition and marriage and goals and responsibilities within their own partnerships, that the women who kind of turned those assumptions on their faces were the ones who seemed like they were in more satisfying marriages. And there’s something to be learned from same sex relationships. I think the answer is yes.

SWB Yeah, so it sounds like what you’re saying is maybe all of us in all kinds of relationships could learn that it’s helpful to sit down and honestly talk about expectations and labor and who’s doing what, and take stock, and actually acknowledge all of the little details that go into running a house?

HW A hundred percent.

SWB Weird, right? [Laughter]

[33:14]

HS Um, you know, we have a couple of different stories of women who actually did do that, some of them from the beginning of their careers kind of had this breakdown where they were the more primary earner or they were not going to be the primary caregiver and some of them did not have that arrangement from the get go and decided at some point into their parenting and marriage and career journeys that they were going to say to their partners or husbands, “I’m not really liking the way the breakdown’s going right now. It’s not really working for me. So here’s what needs to change,” and one of my favorite subheads in the book is “All the Bullshit Things He Didn’t Even Know Were Things.” But this was a woman who was a high achiever and who was a partner in a law firm and who had two children with her husband. She very much wanted to set up a gender-equal co-parenting situation and working situation. And so she said to us, “You know, my husband thinks he thinks he’s so equal. He thinks he does so much and he’s like so proud of, you know, ‘Oh, I, you know, I took the kids to school this one day.’” And so she said, “So one day I sat down and made a list of all of the bullshit things I do that he doesn’t even know are things, and handed him the list and said, ‘Pick half. You start doing half of those things.’”

SWB Did he do it?

HS Yeah and yes, he did. So the point—the takeaway from there is that you may be in a marriage one day where… the point is that these relationships don’t necessarily always just naturally unfold organically over time like a magic, feminist fairytale, but that you may have to demand these things, and you may have to demand a restructuring. And sometimes that demanding, that really works. In fact, in a lot of cases, the women who did that—to some lesser degrees of I guess quote/unquote “success” or “gender equality”—but the women who articulated that this was an issue for them and that they needed to switch it up, generally for the most part saw it be switched up. And the women who didn’t articulate it and who did not make a priority did not see it switch up.

SWB That’s so interesting and it seems like that’s such a powerful thing to do but also not always an easy thing to do. So I do have one last question for you both that I would love to hear before you go. So, you spent a lot of time writing this book and you’ve synthesized a lot of what you found into this book, so beyond obviously buying the book and reading it, is there a piece of advice that you would give to someone who was at one of those pivotal moments in their career and in their life where they could double down or…not? What would you tell them?

EW One of the most important takeaways that we want people to come away from the book with is that you have agency and you are in control of these decisions. And we spoke to a lot of people who felt like, “I want to do this but I really can’t for the following reasons, you know, my life is not constructed in a way that makes this possible. My household is not constructed in a way that makes this possible. You know, I don’t feel like I’m going to be like living up to my potential in all areas if I go in this direction.” And the degree to which women really have control over these decisions. And the women who identified what they wanted to do and figured out how to put the pieces of their lives together to make that happen were able to achieve what they wanted to achieve. So that maybe sounds really obvious, but it wasn’t for a lot of women. It’s easy to see other people’s lives, right? It’s hard to see your own. So we had a number of women who, in part because we did these interviews over a three-year period, when we would first talk to them they would say… you know, we had this screenwriter who said, “I’d really like to direct, but I just don’t see how that’s possible.” And there were a couple of people who said things like that, like, “I would love to do this and I just don’t know how I could make it work.” And then when we interviewed her six months later—and she was convincing, too, about like—we were all like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that could never work for you [laughs].” And then when we interviewed her six months later she was directing a big-budget Hollywood movie. So she figured out how to make it work, even though we had all agreed it was not possible. So the idea that you can achieve the things that you want, it just maybe requires some logistical thinking. And that the way that you need to organize your life to achieve whatever that is is not a permanent thing. She had a crazy period of time for her life while this movie was shooting, and then she went back to having the kind of lifestyle that she’d had previously. The other big takeaway I think for parents from this is around non-negotiables. One of the things we talk about in the book is identifying the things that you feel like you must do or you internally feel like you are lacking as a parent and this is not external, this is that different women have different things that they feel like are the thing that makes them a parent. And figuring out what those are, and then figuring out how to get rid of, delegate, pay somebody, just not do the other pieces. And that the women who did that were able to direct their ambition in ways that were much more meaningful to them. They could spend meaningful time with their children. They could—they had more time for focusing on work. They had more time to, you know, compete in trail running marathons or whatever it was that they wanted to do with that time.

HS Also, if you do consider yourself ambitious in whatever way you see that ambition flowing, and you are somebody who wants to be life-partnered or married, that you should really think about either, you know, if you are at a point where you’re thinking about partnering or you already are partnered, is that we found for these women that who they were partnered with and how that person felt about their partner’s ambition was crucial to how successful that woman was going to be and the things that she pursued. And that that’s more important than a lot of people think when they are getting together with somebody because, you know, you don’t necessarily think when you’re meeting somebody and like having rosé dates, “How is this person going to view my career or my ambition or what’s important to me after we’ve been together for ten or twelve years and after we have children? And is this person going to assume that his or her career is equal to mine, or are they going to inherently assume that theirs is higher to mine? And are they going to assume that they will be the higher earner, or are they going to be wanting me to be the higher earner? Will they support that if that’s something that I want or that’s something that organically happens?” All this is to say that when it comes to partner selection, if you are an ambitious woman, that you would do best by yourself by thinking about how your partner will support that ambition and logistically what that will look like and if you have children will you, you know… this was something that we saw time and again, that the woman in these relationships was the one who automatically was going to be the one who had to leave work if one of her kids threw up at school, or if there was a half-day at school—that she was automatically going to be the one to go pickup. You know I think that may be something that’s changing a lot in younger generations, but with some people it’s not. And so thinking about and talking through what your partner’s ambitions are vis a vis what yours are, and how they are going to flourish together. Because partners’ ambitions are not…they don’t live in a vacuum within a marriage.

[41:52]

SWB So make sure you’re questioning the defaults and actually talking about it.

EW Yeah and marry or partner with somebody who thinks your ambition is as important as theirs is. If it is important to you [laughter].

JL Hurray to that.

SWB Well, with that, I think we are about out of time, so everybody pick up The Ambition Decisions. I think that you’re going to really like a lot of what you hear about how you can start thinking a little bit differently about your own goals and your own life [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out].

[42:20]

SWB: Hey y’all, it’s time for career chat—brought to you by Shopify. This week, we’ve got Krystle Olson from the research team sharing her tips for encouraging diversity in your applicant pool.

Krystle Olson: Thanks! So, I wanted to highlight some of the best ways to support accessibility when creating job postings. First, limit the job requirements to only what’s truly necessary. People will often not apply if they feel they can’t fulfill 100 percent of job requirements. Experience comes in many forms, so if you’re a company that values potential and supports on-the-job learning, make that known. Second, write job postings with the person in mind, and help them see themselves in the role. This can be your first impression with candidates, so don’t squander it! The bottom line is, if more companies treat candidates as humans, rather than just lines on a CV, we’ll all be better off.

SWB: This stuff is SO important. So if you’re posting a job, listen up. And if you want to work somewhere that’s already thinking about this kind of thing, then you are in luck, because Shopify is hiring—maybe for a role you’d be great at. Visit Shopify.com/careers to learn more [music fades in, plays alone for four seconds, fades out].

[43:30]

FYOTW

SWB All right, it is time for our last segment of the show, and maybe our favorite segment! It is the Fuck Yeah of the Week, where we celebrate something that just made us say, “Fuck yeah.” Uh Katel, do you have something for us?

KL I do, and you know this is my favorite part—one of my favorite parts. But, I don’t know, I was just thinking how busy I’ve been this summer, and earlier this week I’d gotten home from a trip, and I was watering the twenty-some-odd plants we have in our house. Some may say that’s too many; I disagree. But it usually takes me like ten minutes or so, because there’s a bunch and they’re, you know, scattered all over. And I was halfway through when I realized that this is like one of the few things I do, at least once a week, that I focus on a hundred percent. It’s almost become meditative, because I can’t really multitask while I’m doing it, and I kind of love that about it, because for those ten minutes or so, it’s all I need to focus on, and I’m doing kind of like this extremely tangible, satisfying task. I don’t know, it’s just this, like, little routine I realized that I have and I love that it just lets me kind of like turn my mind off and let it be.

SWB Fuck yeah! Little routines are great. I feel like that even when I kind of set away work for the day and I’ll start making dinner, and it’s like I find something that’s really nice about pulling out a bunch of vegetables and I’m washing and cleaning and chopping things. I was peeling carrots yesterday, and I mean like on one level I fucking hate peeling carrots, but on another level there’s something about it that I find very kind of meditative, like you said, right? Because it’s just like this simple little thing, I can’t really multitask while doing it, it creates a division between the work part of the day and the evening, and it has to do with like nourishing myself and thinking about, you know, what I’m going to be eating, which I’m always excited to do. And so that’s a little routine I super cherish.

JL These sound so nice. And I mean as you both know my life is a little bit less routine-y these days, but recently I’ve been going through the bedtime routine. So like they really make a huge emphasis on creating a routine to help your child fall asleep and the one we’re currently going through now is, read Coop a story and then put him in his crib, and then I turn out the light and I sit in like a chair nearby until he falls asleep. And, you know, again, you all know me, I’m not going to meditate for that 20 minutes. Not my jam. But what I recently started doing is bringing my headphones in with me and listening to an audiobook, and it’s become so lovely that I look forward to that time.

KL I love that. And I totally agree. I feel like I don’t necessarily need to sit, you know, in the lotus position for an hour every day. The thing that I do where maybe I take a walk to the subway and like watering plants I’m just letting my mind wander and sort of letting myself zone out a little bit and I just—I really love that. So fuck yeah to little routines.

SWB Fuck yeah!

JL Fuck yeah!

SWB Well that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. NYG is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Hana Schank and Elizabeth Wallace for joining us today.

JL If you like what you’ve been hearing, please rate us on Apple Podcasts and subscribe there or anywhere where you listen to your favorite shows. Your support helps other folks find us and we. Love. That. We’ll be back next week with another great guest [music fades in, plays alone for 30 seconds, fades out to end].

Aug 28 2018

47mins

Play

Rank #16: Getting Personal with Nicole Chung

Podcast cover
Read more

What do you share with the world—and what do you hold back? How do you talk about family secrets or childhood trauma with strangers? And what happens when you bring more of your most personal experiences to your work? This week, we go deep on the power of getting personal—and the choices we have to make along the way.

Before we start, Sara and Katel break some bad news: Jenn’s not here today, and it’s looking like she won’t be able to join us for the rest of the season. We’re sending some big hugs her way, but we have so much to talk about right now, we’re gonna keep on going.

Our guest today is the incredibly kind, talented, and just plain fucking rad writer and editor Nicole Chung. She’s the author of the new memoir, All You Can Ever Know—which is on sale T O D A Y (ugh just buy it already). It chronicles her story of transracial adoption, growing up in a white family in small-town Oregon, and finding her birth family while starting to raise her own children. Reading it made us laugh and cry and fall even more in love with Nicole.

In addition to being an author, Nicole is also the editor-in-chief of Catapult, a literary magazine, and the former managing editor of The Toast, everyone’s favorite weird-funny-feminist site. We had so much to talk with her about.

Follow Nicole : Twitter | Insta

> It was difficult to start sharing such personal stories about my family and about adoption and about racism that I’d experienced. And it’s not necessarily that I needed someone externally to validate them or to say, “this is legitimate, this really happened, this is important,” but I think just a little human kindness and, like, honestly went a very, very long way. The Toast was a fantastic community… Every time I wrote something there—I mean, both the goofy stuff like “If John Cho Were Your Boyfriend” and the more serious pieces on race or adoption or family—the response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and it was just really a privilege and a honor to get to edit and publish and write for that community at The Toast. I think it did make me braver.
> —Nicole Chung, author, All You Can Ever Know

Links from the interview

Also in this episode

Chatting with Nicole got us thinking a lot about what it means to share your story with the world—in your writing, in a talk, or, say…on a podcast. So we dive into some of our own stories, and the choices we’ve made to tell—or not tell—them in our work.

> You spend a long time purposefully not talking about it and reminding yourself to push it down, push it down, push it down that when it all comes back up and you’re purposefully sharing it, that feels weird.
> —Sara

We touch on:

  • Our most recent newsletter, where Katel talks about being sexually harassed by a boss.
  • The conflict between wanting to speak your truth, but finding it exhausting. As Emma Gray writes, “I am so tired of women having to mine their pain to convince men of their humanity.”
  • Sara telling hundreds of strangers that she was sexually abused—in the middle of a design conference.
  • Lisa Maria Martin’s great post on keeping politics out of your talk.

Plus, did you know you can listen to books? Katel discovers the joy of audiobooks with Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. Meanwhile, Sara shares what she’s planning to read in her slippers this fall:

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers for more.

Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript

[Ad spot] Sara Wachter-Boettcher NYG is sponsored by Harvest, the tool I use to track time, manage projects and send invoices. You can even integrate your Harvest account with accounting software like Xero or QuickBooks. I’ve got to get that set up! Try Harvest for free at getharvest.com and if you like it half as much as I do, then use code NOYOUGO when you upgrade. That will get you 50% off your first paid month. That’s getharvest.com, code NOYOUGO. [intro music plays for twelve seconds]

Katel LeDû Welcome to NYG, I’m Katel LeDû.

SWB I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and you probably noticed that Jenn’s not here today. And unfortunately it looks like she’s probably not going to join us for the rest of the season. She’s taking some time off from the podcast—as you know, she’s got a lot going on. But there’s just so much we still want to be talking about this fall. There’s political stuff—there’s the midterm elections, all the bullshit happening in the Supreme Court—and there’s also work stuff. Like me and Katel, we have started research for a little side hustle that we are hyped to start talking about with all of you.

KL Plus I feel like we’re kind of getting good at this whole podcast thing. And we have so many rad people we still want to interview, so we’re going to keep going. Starting with today’s guest, Nicole Chung. She’s the author of the new memoir out now: _All You Can Ever Know_—about being adopted into a white family, raised in rural Oregon, and then deciding to find her birth family as an adult. We tried to keep cool, but we were total fan girls.

SWB Talking to Nicole about writing a memoir just got me thinking a lot about my own writing. Especially—how I write about, and when I write about, personal stories. And I’ve done a little bit of that and I know Katel, you have too. In our last newsletter, you wrote about being sexually harassed by your boss and you told this story that really stuck with me where you just talked about him coming into your office and telling you how sexy it was that you spoke French and trying to get you to say something in French to him, which is all super gross and creepy. But I’m really curious—it was powerful for me to hear the specifics of what had happened and to sort of be able to see myself in that place with you and really feel for you there. And I’m wondering what it was like for you to write about it in that specific of a way?

KL Gosh, I—it was definitely hard and also great I think, in a way. I remember writing the first draft and it was like three pages long because I—all of a sudden I just was remembering it and I hadn’t thought about that whole experience in a while. And all of a sudden I just was word vomiting out every, single detail and every aspect. And then—you know—I had to go through and kind of—I did a few second and third drafts thinking about what exactly I wanted to share and how I wanted to tell that story and—you know—make sure I was still kind of protecting myself.

[2:44]

SWB That’s something that’s hard to sort out—right?

KL Yeah.

SWB Like how much do you want to talk about your history and when and why you’re doing it. I think about this when it comes to bringing up my history with sexual abuse, which is something I’ve done a lot. I’ve mentioned it in one of my books and I’ve mentioned it in a lot of my talks on stage at conferences and I’ve talked about it on Twitter. But it’s interesting—you know—for a long time, I never really talked about the details. In fact, I remember the first time I brought it up, I was giving a talk and it was relevant to the topic I was talking about. I was talking about sort of being asked about that later in a form, but I acknowledged being sexually abused in this sort of very evasive way or sort of blink and you miss it sort of way, it was very easy to not have heard that that’s what I was doing if you weren’t paying attention so much to the talk. And that felt really hard for me at first, but it was almost like once I’d done it, I wanted to keep doing it. And sort of like half step at a time, talk about it in more specific detail or talk about it with a little bit more sort of ownership of it and not sort of making it be something that I am vaguely alluding to, but just saying it as it is. And so I feel like half step at a time, half step at a time, up to now—you know—recently I posted this Twitter thread about sort of like how we want to let men who’ve harassed ourselves or abused people sort of like come back into the fold. And I sort of talked about my experience and I talked about it more specifically than I had before. And still not that specifically, honestly, where—you know—it was a teenage neighbor boy who had sexually abused me for a long time when I was a really little kid and I’m thinking more and more that I want to tell that story in a deeper way and with that kind of detail that allows you to kind of—you know—understand what it was like, and also understand sort of the aftermath of that and kind of let go of some of the sort of long-standing shame that built up around it that I know I don’t deserve to have, but—you spend a long time purposefully not talking about it and reminding yourself to push it down, push it down, push it down that when it all comes back up and you’re purposefully sharing it, that feels weird.

[4:59]

KL Yeah, it totally does. And I think just talking about that whole idea of shame—you know—I think with your experience and as I wrote in the newsletter with mine—you know—this isn’t—this isn’t a new story, but it’s also when you think about the fact that as part of those stories and experiences, we weren’t believed or we were doubted that the thing that happened to us even happened to us. That makes it so much fucking harder and it’s like—I don’t know—I think that perpetuates the feeling of shame, it makes us feel like we can’t go into detail and that feels—that feels really terrible. I was sharing with you earlier that someone wrote to me after the newsletter went out and the first thing they said was just “I am so sorry that happened to you.” And that made me so relieved and feel very emotional because I think that that should be the absolute first thing that we start saying in this situation. Not—you know—surprise at like “oh my gosh, really?” It’s like “yeah, no, I’m so sorry, now let’s talk about it.”

SWB You know, I don’t know that I’ve talked about this on the show before, but for about three years when I was in college I worked at a rape crisis center and I specifically worked in their education program, which meant I primarily talked to kids—middle schoolers was the number one audience we were able to get the okay from schools to go in and talk—to talk to them about sexual abuse and to talk to them about both child sexual abuse and things like consent. That’s a whole other show topic that we’ll get into at some point—

KL [laughing] Yes.

SWB —because actually I can’t believe we’ve never talked about this before.

KL Yeah.

SWB But one of the things that we learned very early on in the process of being trained to do this kind of work was to say literally that—right? “I’m sorry that happened to you.” There’s something powerful about it because it’s like there’s no question about whether it happened to you—right? And there’s no surprise, it’s more like there’s a tacit acknowledge that just exists that it happened.

KL Yes.

SWB And that is something that people need to hear because they’ve often heard so many messages from the people who have abused them or from culture at large that it doesn’t happen or it’s something to be shameful about. And to just be like “no, this happened and we can take that as a foundation that it happened and then talk about how we feel about it and what we’re going to do about it.” The other kinds of things we learned very early were conversations about saying very explicitly like “I believe you.” People are so afraid they’re not going to be believed, they’ve been told they’re not going to be believed, and then also “it’s not your fault.” Because that’s another one that often times abusers will tell people that it’s their fault—something they did—or other people will tell them that or that’s where the shame kicks in. And just you have to do a lot of work to counteract those messages.

KL Yeah, to me when I hear that, it just boils my blood because it’s never a person’s fault when they’re harassed. Nothing you do ever warrants being harassed or abused, like that’s just—you can say that without having gender or anything in the mix. It’s like—we can all agree on that. [laughs]

SWB Yeah—as we’re talking about all of this, it’s interesting. We started out this podcast saying this is really about work and about—you know—ambition and careers and sort of what drives us and it’s interesting because people have questioned me before about why I would bring up things like sexual abuse in a professional setting or why I want to talk about this stuff when I’m also wanting to talk about my career. But for me, the more we talk about this, the more clear it is that I cannot actually separate those. I can’t separate out the professional I am now from the little kid who experienced abuse, or from the college student whose first experience with public speaking was going into those middle schools to talk to kids. Those are all me and all of that experience directly informs the work that I do and what happened to you that you talked about on the newsletter—being sexually harassed by your boss happened to you at work. It’s directly tied to your career. And so I think it’s so valuable for us to kind of dig deeper on this stuff and think about the way that that does shape and drive the people that we are at work.

KL Yes. I can’t separate the things that impact me at work from the work I do and I don’t want to. You know, I—when people talk about the idea of quote, unquote keeping politics out of work or anything we do, it’s like that question doesn’t even make sense to me. And it shouldn’t—you know—everything is political.

SWB Yeah—our friend, Lisa Maria Martin—shoutout to Lisa Maria—she wrote this post a while back after a conference organizer had told speakers not to be political in their talks where she was basically like “look, that’s impossible.” Because you’re asking for this sort of false neutrality like, as you said, there is no neutral—because by defining what is and is not acceptable to discuss on stage, what’s political, what’s not political, what’s too political, you are making choices. So, she’s basically saying the conference organizer is making choices and those choices come down to politics themselves. “You are always excluding something,” she says, “or more likely, someone.” And—this is one of my favorite quotes—“for too many people in the world, their entire existence has been coded by society as too political.” And we are too political because we exist. Because we were harassed or abused, because we have periods, as we talked about a couple of episodes ago—right? We’re too political just being here and so if somebody tells us to not be political, then what they’re really saying to me is “don’t be.”

[10:40]

KL Yeah, completely. I am not interested in that. You know, the other thing that I think about when we’re talking about this, is I was just on a podcast where I talked about work and our podcast and [laughs] my therapist being on our show and we just—you know—dug into a lot of stuff. Plus I’m writing more in our newsletters, which I love, and that is really cathartic to talk and write about that stuff, but it’s also resurfacing trauma. And I mean I’ve talked about this with my therapist—you know—after writing some of the letters I’ve written for the newsletter, I’ve [laughs] gone into therapy and just been like [sighs] “oh my gosh, that was big” and she kind of looks at me and is like “yeah, that is big. You’re reliving it—you’re reprocessing it.”

SWB Yeah and I think it’s really crucial to acknowledge that. That it is work to—to reprocess all this stuff and that that can be exhausting. So, for example, after—you know—[coughs] that guy that we have to call our president tweeted basically that if—if Kavanaugh had actually—had actually really assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, then why didn’t she report it at the time? So, women started posting all over Twitter—you know—all of the reasons that they hadn’t reported things that had happened to them. And there was this huge movement and then I saw a bunch of tweets talking about how tiring this was. So, there’s this one, for example, from this woman Emma Grey where she said—you know—“I’m so tired of women having to mine their pain to convince men of their humanity.” [KL sighs loudly] And that one really stuck with me like yeah, we shouldn’t have to mine our pain to convince other people that we exist and that we deserve to be treated better than this.

KL Ugh, gosh yeah that—[laughs] that is so fucking true. And there’s no perfect recipe for this. I think that’s definitely true from what we’re talking about here and deciding how much time and emotional work you want to spend on, it is definitely part of the equation, but I’m choosing to share because I hope someone hears it and at the very least just is—knows that someone else has been through something that they’re going through. But we shouldn’t have to feel like we have to expose every little thing just to be believed. And I think we’re seeing way more women sharing things about themselves and it’s so inspiring, but we have to remember that that comes at a cost.

SWB Absolutely. Like for—for me, I generally do want to share. Like I said, as I’ve shared more details about the things that have happened to me, it’s made me feel good and wanting to share even more. So, it’s something that I want to do, but I just—I guess I just want it to be acknowledged as work—right? It is labor. I’m choosing to employ a tool—that tool is my personal experience—and I’m doing it because I have a goal to help others and I have a goal of affecting change, but it is work and I want people to value that work and to understand that there is—you know—exhaustion that can come out of that work. And—you know—that’s actually something I really loved about talking with Nicole because it really feels like she shares so much of herself in her work and brings so much of her authenticity in. But I also noticed in our interview that she was really thoughtful about it. She’d really thought a lot about what she wanted to put on the table and what she wanted to keep to herself and so I loved her book, but I also loved the way that it got me thinking more about my own choices and thinking about how and if and when I share my personal history with the world.

KL Yeah, she really got me thinking about how I process things and how writing can help you do that, but it can also distract you from it—you know—it can distract you from processing things. Plus Nicole’s just so open and giving, it was so amazing talking with her. [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, and fades out]

[Ad spot]

SWB Time to take a quick break to talk about one of our favorite topics—careers! This week we’re bringing you a job search tip from Julia Hurrelmann, a recruiting researcher at Shopify. She’s here to give us her advice for writing a cover letter that gets noticed. What have you got, Julia?

Julia Hurrelmann Thanks. Since I see so many applications, I wanted to give you my top tip for creating an awesome cover letter. Have a friend or even a neighbor review the letter, obviously to check for spelling and grammar. But also ask them to make sure your motivations are evident and most importantly that you haven’t minimized your experience or skills. We can be our own worst critics. Remember to tell your story and make it crystal clear why you felt compelled to apply.

[15:17]

SWB Thanks, Julia! Those are some great tips wherever you’re applying, especially if it’s one of the dozens of open roles at Shopify. See what’s new there, from marketing to mobile development in offices around the world. Visit shopify.com/careers to learn more. [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, and fades out]

SWB Today’s guest is Nicole Chung, author of the new memoir All You Can Ever Know, which is on sale right now. It chronicles her story of transracial adoption, growing up in a white family in small town Oregon and finding her birth family while starting to raise her own children. Nicole is also the editor in chief of Catapult, a literary magazine, and the former managing editor of The Toast. We have a lot to talk about. Nicole, welcome to No, You Go.

Nicole Chung Thank you so much, Sara. Thank you, Katel.

SWB It’s so great to have you here and first up, we’d definitely like to have you tell our listeners a little bit about your book and also really about your story. So, you were born in Seattle severely prematurely and you were then adopted into this family in Oregon. Can you tell us a little bit about that and about what you learned about your birth family while you were growing up?

NC So, I actually didn’t know hardly anything about my birth family growing up, which was extremely common for adoptions of the time actually. Nowadays, a lot of domestic sort of infant adoptions are more open, but back when I was adopted, sort of the default was that it would be closed and there’d be no contact between the birth and the adoptive family. So everything I knew about them was sort of guesswork or it came secondhand through the adoption lawyer or through maybe the judge who finalized the adoption to my adoptive parents and then to me. My adoptive parents never met my birth parents, growing up—you know—I didn’t know their names, so what I was told about them was basically this sort of skeleton story, like a hard working immigrant story about how they came here from Korea, didn’t have much money. When I was born very prematurely they felt they didn’t have the resources to take care of me. One of the many effects of my early birth was that doctors thought I’d have a lot of health problems that I wound up not actually having. So—you know—they were letting my birth parents know kind of these different kind of worst case scenarios, I guess, because they were trying to really prepare them for what it could be like to raise me if I had all of these various problems and health challenges. And they really felt it was beyond them. So, this is the story that I heard growing up. It was not necessarily untrue for what it was, but [laughing] there were a lot of holes—right? Because nothing is really that straightforward or simple. So, when I set out to find them when I was an adult, one of the biggest reasons for searching was I was pregnant myself. I was pregnant with my first child and I just remember sitting there at my first prenatal appointment being asked all of these questions about my medical history and my birth and my birth mother’s pregnancy and why she gave birth so early and I had no answers to these questions—you know—I had no idea if this was going to happen to me, if I—you know—was maybe going to have a higher risk pregnancy or birth too. So, certainly one of the more pressing reasons to look when I did—apart from a lifetime of curiosity—was this really practical matter of “I’m in this exact position, I’m in the position she was in and I don’t feel prepared for what’s about to happen.”

SWB One of the things that I really loved in the book was your experience—after you found them—getting quite close to your biological sister, Cindy. And something that—that really struck me was the way you wrote about that relationship. It was really moving to hear about both the connection that you have, but also, honestly, the anxiety that you felt as you were getting to know her. Sort of wondering if you were being too much, like too ready to be this super close sister to her and not being sure that she had the same sort of expectations or desires around the relationship. And I’m curious—how did it feel for you to lay out that relationship, to really lay it bare for your readers?

NC It was honestly a gift. One of the best things I think that’s come out of this book is the chance to talk even more with my sister about it. Of course, the story of how we reconnected and how we grew close, we’ve kind of gone over and over again. It’s like our origin story, [laughs] we really like to sort of talk about it still, but—you know—as many times as we had been over it in the years since it happened, there were definitely some things that I wanted to follow up on, some things I wanted to check with her. Just more questions I had about her life and about her feelings, especially when she first started to learn about me and when we started to talk to one another long distance, especially because I was going to be writing it down for posterity and for—for wider audience, I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight. So it was just a great opportunity to go over all of that again and I did kind of just learn more about her—her life and how she thinks and what she was feeling about our reunion as it was happening. You know, just the other day we were talking and it was clear—you know—she said she felt really honored by the book, which is dedicated to her and to our kids, and I mean that just meant so much to me. I used to joke that if Cindy liked the book, I didn’t care if anybody else liked it [laughs] because her—how she felt about it was so important—you know—and I just feel really lucky both to have her in my life, and the fact that she really let me—not just let me, but encouraged me to write our story and has been so supportive of it and feels honored by it. That just means everything to me and it was a real privilege to tell not just my story, but her story too.

[20:50]

SWB Yeah, that’s so powerful to hear about because I think how—you know—how often do people get to have those kinds of almost incredibly vulnerable and honest and reflective conversations with their siblings. I mean, I guess all of us could, but we probably don’t [laughs] make the time for that that often and to really hear if the way that we remember things happening or what we understand to be true is also true for them and to kind of—you know—actually get on the same page. I love that and it makes me want to ask my brother some deep questions, but I don’t really have a reason to. [KL and NC laugh]

NC Well, good luck with that! Yeah, it was—it was interesting too because I think both Cindy and when we—when we met face to face for the first time—you know—there was all this pressure. I remember our husbands would look at me and then look at her and then look back at me and I could just see them trying to catalogue the ways they thought we were similar and the ways they thought we were different. And I remember thinking, “oh what if she doesn’t like me? And what does that mean if your own sister doesn’t like you?” [laughs] And I’m an adult. It’s kind of late to change, I can’t make myself into this version of myself who would be less—just like not too much for her. [laughs] It’s—it was sort of very much a “well, this is who I am at this point” and she had been getting along okay without me is the thing. She really had. She had a full, happy life and I wasn’t sure if she would really need me in her life the way I felt I really wanted and needed her in my life. But as it turned out, she was feeling exactly the same way about me so everything [laughs]—everything worked out great. But I do remember thinking, “am I asking too much of this person?” Yes, we’re sisters, but we’re also kind of strangers and—you know—there’s no particular reason for her to feel this connection or want to let me in. So the fact that she did was just a real unexpected gift.

SWB Yeah, so and I think what I’m also really interested in that you touched on a little bit there is that the process of writing a memoir that is so—you know—entangled with other people’s lives means getting—you know—getting into conversations with them about what happened then and how you write about it and also kind of dealing with potential fall out with them if the way the memoir comes out isn’t exactly how they would have liked it to come out. And I’d love to talk about that a little bit more because I was thinking about that a lot as I was reading about your childhood and—you know—writing about the parents who raised you. So—you know—you wrote in an essay a while back that you pictured your mom telling you that you had no right to do this, no right to turn them into characters. And then you said that she didn’t end up saying that, that she basically accepted that this was your story to tell and that your—your father did as well. And you wrote that you felt seen in that whole exchange with her and—and I’m wondering how important was that to you? And what was it like to hear that from her?

NC Oh it was very important to me to be able to share the book with my adoptive parents and have them understand why I wrote it and not hate it. [laughs] I don’t know, sometimes I have—I feel like I set my expectations low so I won’t be disappointed, so—I mean—I wasn’t necessarily expecting them to love it or give it to all their friends, but I wanted them to feel generally okay with what I had shared and how I had shared it. Which isn’t to say—you know—I asked for permission to share certain things, it was more like—you know—the very first draft I had that I felt was okay and good enough to show to people, I showed to everyone. You know, I sent it to my sister and my birth father and I sent it to my adoptive parents. I didn’t really want them to be surprised later on and I wanted to have time—on the chance I did get something very wrong—I wanted them to have time to correct me if I really needed to make some changes to facts. So, my adoptive parents [laughs] took a while to read it. I think after like four or six weeks or something, I hadn’t heard anything and finally I was like “so, you know, I know that you’re really busy, but”—this is what I actually said—I said “it’s not like War and Peace, so like” [KL & SWB laugh] “like—like how’s it going with the book—you know? I’m here to talk about anything you want. I would love to know what you think.” There was no reason why—of course I had talked myself into thinking like in my anxiety silence meant that they hated it—but in fact, they were just extremely busy. [laughs] And they were—they were going slowly because they were reading it together, chapter by chapter. You know, my mom would read a chapter one evening and my dad would read the next chapter the next evening, so that’s why it was going slowly. And they were both so positive about it and really supportive and—you know—I think one thing I wanted to get really clear in the book—and this was not about placating anybody or pretty up my story in some ways—like I think I’m pretty honest about places where I wish things had been different, but—you know—one thing I think it was—it was always going to be important to get through was just how loved I felt growing up. I could not have had parents who loved me more and I kind of just wanted that to be clear because I think—I mean, not just because it’s the truth and not just because I love them—but because I think you have to understand our bond and how much they cared about me and saw me as theirs to understand why it was so hard for me to search. Like why—why it took me so long to get to that point, despite being really curious for so long. It was just so difficult for me to imagine having other parents or other family besides the one I had and I was really worried about what they would think and how they would feel if I searched. So—you know—I think my parents were really happy that that came through. They both really liked this chapter where I spent a lot of time sort of telling their story, like how they—I did write them as characters, but I wrote their story—how they met and got married really young and moved out west and wanted so badly to have a family—you know—it just kept not happening for them. And I think you have to understand that too—have to understand the stakes for them to see why my adoption felt like—not just like wish fulfillment for them, but like destiny or divine intervention almost. They—they really built it up in their minds because it was the culmination of what they had wanted for so many years. And again, without understanding that—you know—there’s no understanding kind of the pressure I felt and the decision to search and how—how long it took me to get there. But I loved—I loved writing that chapter about them. That is still one of my favorites in the whole book and I—my father passed away in January and I think that chapter is the hardest for me to read now, but I still really love to revisit it, I just—it was actually really, really fun to get to write that about my parents and to get to write about my childhood and how much they loved me. I think we were all doing the best we could—you know—and I think that does come through in the story.

[27:35]

SWB Yeah, I think I hear that as well and I’m—I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. I’m glad that he got to at least read that chapter. I know that he didn’t get to finish the whole draft, right?

NC That’s right, I think he passed away pretty suddenly when they were about halfway through it. So, my mother’s read the entire book a couple of times, but my dad didn’t get to finish it unfortunately. He did—you know, because of how the book is laid out—he had read most of the parts that he was in. The second half of the book is—is much more focused on search and reunion.

SWB I’m glad that they could feel the love coming from what you were writing. I think as a reader, I could definitely feel that and see the nuance that you were writing these people with. I think that that’s—you know—that’s something that I found really powerful because, of course, the story isn’t simple. And like you said—right—it sounds a little bit simpler on paper, but in reality it’s complicated and one of the things that certainly complicated it and that you—you wrote about pretty extensively was, of course, race. So, you were a child of Korean parents and then raised by a white family in a small Oregon town. I am also from Oregon… it’s not a super diverse place [laughs nervously] for a number of reasons, one of them is a history of racist exclusion laws that if folks haven’t heard about, they might want to look up. I didn’t learn about them until I was an adult.

NC Yeah same, I learned in college.

SWB Yeah I mean it’s—you know—I do remember when I—when I moved to Oregon, I was actually eight years old from San Jose and I remember thinking, as I looked around my new school, “where are all the Mexican kids?” [NC laughs] I just didn’t quite get it at first like, “this seems weird, this seems so different” and then over time it just became really normalized because, of course, I’m white and so once I was there for a while, I stopped thinking about it and that was fairly easy to do. Now, that wasn’t quite as easy for you to do because you weren’t white and because you were always the one who was different and I’d love to talk about that a little bit. You—you wrote in the book that you would go ages without seeing anyone who looked like you and that you would hear racist comments at school starting at a really young age. I’m really curious—as you were reflecting on your childhood and the place that you were from, did that make you sort of change the way you—you think about where you’re from or sort of process that history differently?

[30:01]

NC Well, I think I had already started—maybe in my early twenties, maybe even in college—to think harder about what it was like for me growing up in a—in a very white pocket of Oregon. And it wasn’t even just that—you know—my town was predominantly white. It was that I went to a parochial school when I was in elementary school, so it was much smaller even than the public schools would have been. And I think less diverse. It wasn’t—not to say that I would have gone to school with tons of kids of color—you know—in a public school, but—I mean—at this little Catholic school I went to, often it was just me—you know—for years. And that was definitely I think extremely isolating. I had already started to kind of think about that as a young adult and in college because my college experience, thankfully, was very different. You know, I went to school on the East Coast, I went as far from home as possible. It was diverse as far as college campuses go and I think 25% Asian and Asian American, so for the first time in my life, I was far from the only one. I could actually blend in in a crowd if I wanted to. It was amazing, [laughs] I loved it—I just loved it. It never got old. And so honestly the word I kept coming back to, especially in my early twenties, was sort of the harm that might have been done—inadvertently, it wasn’t like anybody—well, I guess except for people who said racist things, actually racist things. But for the most part it was not something that anyone or any group did to me in particular, it was just the overall atmosphere. The default was whiteness, it was what I was surrounded with all the time. I didn’t have the experience of having been anywhere else where it was different and so I was just always used to being the only one or one of very few. And I really didn’t start to kind of unpack what that meant and—and the direct harm I think it caused until I was older. That said, I was pretty aware in the moment as racist things were being said—you know—as kids would give me the chink eye in school or call me slurs or—you know—tell me to go back where I came from or say things about my adoption. I knew in the moment that that felt very bad, obviously, and I knew—I knew even then it wasn’t teasing. I never thought of it as teasing. I didn’t know to call it bullying or something else or racist for that matter, but to me it felt very different than say, being made fun of for wearing hand-me-down clothes, which had also happened to me. Or being made fun of for wearing glasses—you know—it really felt like what they were attacking and targeting was the essence of who I was. It was something unchangeable and fundamentally part of me. And I don’t know, having—having that happen, having that happen before I had the words to describe it to anybody was certainly harmful. It was isolating. I didn’t really know what to do with it and for years, I kind of just put up with it in silence I guess. I don’t remember really trying to tell many people about it. And—you know—my adoptive parents confirmed this. They said, “you never told us that specifically was happening. We knew you were unhappy at—at school, but we didn’t know that was why.” And so—I don’t know—it was this thing I felt like I think I had to protect them from it too—you know—because they did raise me to think that my race shouldn’t matter and that it wouldn’t matter to—I don’t know—it didn’t matter to them, it wouldn’t matter to other people, but I was being confronted with this daily proof that it did really matter to other people and I remember feeling like if I told them, they wouldn’t understand and it would make them feel bad. So—you know—even at a very young age, I was kind of trying to protect them from the reality of what was happening.

SWB Yeah, the way you wrote about it in the book, it felt very much to me like they were trying to do their best and for them, what they perceived as doing their best was to pretend that your race didn’t exist and that that—you know—that that created all of these new problems for you. And I think—you know—when you talk about it as a harm, I think that that’s really powerful and it feels like part of that harm is also—you know—if the harm that’s being done doesn’t go acknowledged or understand, right? Like you don’t have anyone to talk about it who understands that it is harm.

NC I think too my parents were sort of following—I mean I know they were following—the advice they were given at the time they adopted me. I felt like that was really important to put in the book. Not as a defense, just as a fact—you know—they asked several people—like experts—before I was adopted “does it matter that she’s Korean and we’re not? Is there something special we should be doing? I don’t know, are there books we should read or classes we should take?” And everyone told them no—the social worker, the judge. You know, they did try at several points to at least ask the question and—you know—all of these people told them “no, it doesn’t matter, just assimilate her into your family and it will all be fine.” And “assimilate” was really the word the judge used and that’s the word that my adoptive parents would remember and tell me later. So—again this is not like an excuse—but I think it was just very much the prevailing attitude of the day when it came to transracial adoptions like mine. You know, I think people were thinking it was important not to try and like—not to other the child. They were already going to be in the minority in a white family, so—you know—don’t call lots of attention to it because how would that make them feel? And yeah—I mean—that was really—that sort of colorblind line was the line most people in my adoptive family took, so it was a cue that I really tried to follow. It just—it was a lot harder for me for obvious reasons.

[35:39]

SWB Thinking about that—you know—obviously people have been writing about some of the problems with the colorblind approach in general. How has your sort of perception of—of transracial adoption shifted at this point? Or sort of what kinds of things do you want people to be thinking about and asking about and questioning?

NC You know, I do try when I write about my personal experience or my life, I try hard not to be prescriptive or offer a lot of advice. I don’t feel like I have the training or the background—right—necessarily to do that. But there are a number of things I think are really important and to some degree I think are changing in adoption. I hear more these days about the importance of not just acknowledging, but celebrating a child’s culture and country of origin. That can look a variety of different ways, but I think it’s something that a lot of adoptive families feel comfortable with honestly because it’s the fun part. It is obviously way less fun and it’s much harder to really look hard and interrogate your communities, your schools, your churches and where you live and how you live and your social circle and think about if you were a non-white child—a child of color—entering these different circles and communities, what would your experience be? How would you feel? Would you feel comfortable? Would you find people who looked like you? You know, and that is a lot harder to do, it can be really uncomfortable. Also, I think it’s—it’s just hard as kids get older to talk about racism. I’ve been talking to my kids about it since they were verbal, but it is not always easy—you know—it can feel very difficult. It can sometimes feel heartbreaking and I understand this parental urge—right—to protect our children, but at the same time—you know—I think these are conversations that are so important that we can’t shy away from and—I mean—almost every parent of color I know talks to their kids about racism. It is unavoidable, it’s about survival and it’s about who they are as a person and what their experiences will be. It’s about being honest with them and we just—we do know from studies that a lot of white parents aren’t having these conversations or—you know—just find them really challenging. They are challenging, but if you’re the white parent of a child of color—you know—who is going to have the experience that a person of color has in this country, it’s absolutely something that you have to be able to talk about really honestly from a young age and not just wait for the child to bring up, but make it clear these topics are safe and they are always on the table and—you know—sometimes you’ll bring them up and sometimes your child might bring them up, but they have to know that they can come to you with these things. It is absolutely going to be relevant in their lives. Of course, even if it’s not relevant to how you love them, which it shouldn’t be. But yeah, I think there’s a tendency in adoption still to think that the differences are unimportant compared to the love. And I guess I would just say I think both of those things are really important. [laughs] And I think if you’re going to look at it realistically—you know—look at the child for the whole person that they are and think about what their experience is going to be. You know, these are conversations that you have to have before you adopt and then, obviously, after as they age in age appropriate ways.

SWB I really appreciate you bringing up sort of the—the need for white people to have conversations about race. I mean, obviously, in this particular subject when it comes to transracial adoption, yes, but I think in general. And that’s something we’ve talked about on the show a few times where—you know—white people are the only people who get to choose [laughing] not to have conversations about race and then because of that, we’re really bad at it, right? Because we’re just incapable of having intelligent conversations about things that we are nervous about and have no practice in, no vocabulary for, etc. So I think it really underscores something that is true in so many different areas that if we learn to talk about race, that that is incredibly helpful and important. Something that you mentioned in sort of this conversation around how do you help adoptive kids stay in touch with the cultures of their birth families or at what level that happens.

[39:52-41:20: Transcript unavailable]

KL Yeah, I love hearing all of this. This is like—it’s just so cool to hear your story. I have a question about sort of the writing and publishing process because you recently talked about how this book was passed on by many publishers and for a while, you thought you might not even get to write it. What do you think changed for you or sort of in the market that you were working in?

NC I mean, the first person in my acknowledgements is my editor, Julie Buntin at Catapult, and she deserves that place. She really fought for this book. I think even within Catapult—you know—I don’t know if everybody was immediately on board. I have no idea and I have not asked, but I know Julie always really wanted it. And she actually reached out to me even before I had a proposal and asked “hey, I really love your work, what are you working on? Are you working on a book?” [laughs and SWB laughs] And as it happened, I was, but I think honestly it took somebody with the kind of faith and commitment that Julie had to this book to get it to happen. All this to say, it is really wonderful to have a publisher that believes in your book even more than you do. I think—I’m not trying to sound self deprecating or falsely modest, but it’s such a deeply personal story—I am so close to it that it is difficult for me to evaluate it as a piece of literature. It just is. So, having really smart, really talented people in my corner the whole time sort of cheerleading for it made such a difference. I can’t imagine getting this kind of support—you know—from another publisher to be honest. I feel like all the things that other publishers thought were risks—like there aren’t very many Asian American memoirs out there, what if this only appeals to people who are actually adopted? I think that Catapult saw the things that made this book different in the marketplace as strengths and not risks. And I mean personally I very much hope that it’s well received, but also, I felt all along that I do not want to let them down because their faith in this book has just been extraordinary. And the way they continue to hustle for it—I mean, the fact that people are talking about it, that’s really because of their work, you know? So, I feel very lucky to have landed where I did.

KL I think that makes so much sense and, you know, it’s funny Sara and I have recently been talking about how something that we’ve noticed with authors and just in general folks who are wanting to write more—whether it’s in book form or not—getting some external validation of, you know, the fact that [laughs] what you’re saying is—makes sense and is important is critical. And I think having a really good relationship with the publisher you trust is huge.

NC It’s true. I really give them a lot of credit, honestly. This is a very different book. You know, there aren’t a lot of adoption stories out there by adoptees. For the most part, our stories are told by other people. And so I really do appreciate and give them so much credit for—I guess—taking a chance on this.

SWB So, in talking about how the book came to be and sort of the people who helped make it happen, I also want to ask a little bit about The Toast, where you were the managing editor.

NC Oh sure!

SWB So, for our listeners who aren’t familiar, The Toast was a site that Nicole Cliffe and Daniel Ortberg started that featured really funny, weird, feminist writing is maybe the simplest way to put it. It’s not publishing anymore so if you haven’t read it, go check out the archives because you have a whole lot of delight in store for you. [NC laughs] Anyway, so Nicole you wrote for The Toast a little bit and then you ended up being the managing editor and you once wrote that without The Toast, you probably wouldn’t be writing this book. And I’m curious what it was about your experience there that made it feel so crucial in sort of your—your development as a writer and your ability to be where you are now.

[45:05]

NC Well, I think that one thing writers talk about a lot is the importance of community. And that can take so many different forms. You know, I don’t get to hang out with a lot of writers in real life. My first writing communities were really online. I mean, it was LiveJournal, to be honest, and it was Hyphen Magazine, and it was The Toast. So, I think I am really a product of these different communities I found. You know maybe I just kind of lacked some crucial shot of courage or something, but it was difficult to start sharing such personal stories about my family and about adoption and about racism that I’d experienced. And it’s not necessarily that I needed someone externally to validate them or to say, “this is legitimate, this really happened, this is important,” but I think just a little human kindness and, like, honestly went a very, very long way. The Toast was a fantastic community, the commentariat—much has been written about how it was one of the only good comment sections on the entire internet. It’s true that every time I wrote something there—I mean, both the goofy stuff like “If John Cho Were Your Boyfriend” and the more serious pieces on race or adoption or family—the response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive, and it was just really a privilege and a honor to get to edit and publish and write for that community at The Toast. I think it did make me braver, I think it made me appreciate the work of other writers so much more, and it made me think—I mean it was one of the things, maybe not the only thing, but one of the things that made me think, there is interest in this beyond people who were adopted or beyond people who have adopted. And people who are curious or have their own complicated families or have their own family secrets, they will be interested, they will be able to connect, they might get something from this. It could be a story that people need. So, yeah. It was not any one particular experience at The Toast, just the overall privilege—you know—of getting to work for that particular community.

SWB Yeah, that concept of generosity rings so true to me because I do think that there is this peace that’s like really great editors and really great community make you feel like you are sort of receiving—even if you’re receiving something that objectively sucks like feedback on your work [laughs]—but you feel like you’re getting something that—that is—is good and enriching in some way and it feels like a gift. I think that that’s so powerful and to make that process come from this place of sort of genuine love and care and that—that I think is so much more powerful and so it completely shows. So, now fast forward to where we are right now. By the time our listeners hear this, the book will be out and there has been a lot of buzz for it. I saw that Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and called it “stunning, vibrant and provocative,” which are some pretty good terms. And I saw it’s also on a lot of highly anticipated lists for the fall, so um… how are you feeling?

NC I’m feeling really overwhelmed! [SWB & KL laugh] Although, sometimes I feel oddly nothing. Like I was sort of a blank slate of expectations. I didn’t know—this is my first book—you know—and I didn’t know how it would feel. The fact that it’s a memoir and so personal—I mean—just kind of made it more—I think—anxiety producing and mysterious for me. But yeah, I kind of—I see all the lists and it’s all really lovely and I feel people are being very charitable and I try not to give into imposter syndrome, but sometimes I do wonder [laughing] “what is the source of all this?” I don’t know, it’s so strange to see something that just lived in your head and in your heart out in the world having a life of its own. Like people reacting to it, even positively, in ways beyond your control. I love every kind thing, every thoughtful thing that people say about it, but at the same time, it’s just—it’s just so strange too to know that it’s out there being reacted to—you know—not only can I not control other people’s reactions to it—you know—I don’t want to. I think that’s the experience of reading—that something that nobody—not even the author—can take away from you is how you read a book and what you take away from it. But it’s just really interesting to hear the parts that I maybe think of as slightly less what the book is about, sometimes those are the parts that really resonate for people. I keep taking screenshots of the lists or saving them because [laughs] I feel like I’ll read them later and maybe feel more. Right now it’s just like there’s a limit. It’s like by 11am every day, I’ve hit my limit of what I can feel about the book that day and I’ll have to [laughs] wait for another day to feel and process more. [SWB & KL laugh] It’s definitely a lot.

KL That makes total sense. I mean, we love it and we—we hope that you enjoy all the moments [laughing] no matter how overwhelming they might feel. But—so when you think about looking forward to once some of this frenzy of the release has passed, what are you most looking forward to?

[50:08]

NC I want to go on vacation for like a month! It’s not going to happen—it’s just not with work—but I want to take a little break. I’d like to take a nap for like three straight days. [laughs] And—I mean—I’ll be really honest. This has been—it’s been coming up in some other interviews too, but—I mean—my father passed away in January and I feel like I have not really even begun to like —I don’t know—not move past it because you don’t move past it, but there has not been a lot of time to think or to grieve. There hasn’t been as much time as I would like for my family this year and it’s just because of the nature of publishing a book, working a lot, not having a ton of vacation and—and having—you know—my father pass in the same year that my book comes out is—it’s been really hard. It’s been… really challenging and—and I’m honestly really looking forward to having some downtime for myself to process and maybe go to grief counseling finally. Just sort of spend a lot of time with my mom and my kids and—you know—certainly I’ll be thinking about what’s next, but I think probably some self care will be in order. [KL laughs]

KL Yeah that’s—

SWB Yeah, I hope you get both. I think you should have both a vacation and the time to properly process your feelings—

KL Yeah.

SWB —and deal with grief.

NC Thank you. I mean that said, I am so looking forward to the book being out there. I’m really looking forward to tour. I think it will be, again, overwhelming, but mostly wonderful. I feel very honored that anybody is spending time with the book and I really want to get out there and meet and talk with people about it because it’s a special thing and I know—you know—I’ll never have this exact experience again. This is it for this—for this book, this is my chance. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also looking forward to taking a really deep long breath [laughs] when it’s over. [SWB & KL laugh]

KL We’re sadly almost out of time, so I just want to make sure that everyone knows that “All You Can Ever Know” is on sale literally everywhere right now, so we hope everyone will pick up a copy. Nicole, where else can folks keep up with you?

NC My Twitter handle is @nicole_soojung—Soojung is my Korean name. And I’m on Instagram—Nicole Soojung—and those are my only public social media accounts so [laughs] but I would love to connect with people. My email is also not super difficult to find either. And if there are writers out there who have stories they would like to share, I do edit and publish fiction and non-fiction for Catapult so I would love to hear from you.

KL Amazing.

SWB Nicole, thank you so much for being here.

NC Thank you for having me! I had such a good time. [music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, and fades out]

SWB Listening to Nicole talk about her book is so great. I could give a fuck yeah for that. Buuuut I think we need more fuck yeahs than that. Katel, what have you got?

KL Oh, I’ve got a good one and it is on theme! I just started listening to audiobooks. Hi, welcome me to [laughs] the present day. [SWB laughs] I’ve started to read so many books in the last few months and I just—I don’t know—I never seem to be able to finish them in paperback so I got a Kindle a little while ago, which I love because I can keep a bunch of books on it. But all of a sudden, I took a chance, I got an audiobook and now I feel like I have this whole new option.

SWB So, what are you quote, unquote reading right now? [KL laughs]

KL So, I’m reading slash listening to Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. It is fucking great, unsurprisingly, but it’s really amazing because I get to just kind of lose myself in it for the first time. I haven’t felt that way in a while, so it’s great.

SWB That’s awesome. This is also really great because I actually wanted to do a fuck yeah to fall books because there are so many great books that are coming out. So, Nicole’s book obviously, which we got to read early, which was such a treat. But I’m also really excited for Rebecca Traister’s new book, it’s called Good and Mad. It is about women’s anger and hello, I have some of that [laughs]—in a healthy way. And then there’s Michelle Obama’s memoir and Phoebe Robinson from 2 Dope Queens has a new book that’s called Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay. [KL laughs] Great title. And there are so many more books that I’m hyped about, so I can not wait to get some of these new titles, curl up with them, get myself a warm beverage while it’s cooling down outside. I’m just very, very, very much looking forward to reading books all fall and winter.

KL I love it. I think we need to take a little trip somewhere to a fireplace-having location and just have a whole weekend where we read. Just—you know—putting that out there.

SWB That sounds so great. So fuck yeah to fall reading!

KL Fuck yeah!

SWB Fuck yeah. That reminds me, I’ve got to order some new slippers. [pause] Well, that is it for this week’s episode of No, You Go. Our show is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Nicole Chung for being our guest today.

KL If you love NYG, make sure to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. Your support helps us do what we do and we love that. See you next week!

SWB Bye!

KL Bye! [music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, and fades out to end]

Oct 02 2018

55mins

Play

Rank #17: Know Your Numbers with Shannah Compton Game

Podcast cover
Read more

Savings, budgets, retirement. Oh my. No matter how on top of our lives we feel, talking about money still makes us squirm. And…well, we’re tired of it.

Today on NYG, we talk about where those financial fears come from—and what we’re doing to get over them. To help us out, we chat with Shannah Compton Game, a Certified Financial Planner and the host of the Millennial Money podcast. Shannah’s all about helping people like us get more comfortable thinking and talking about money, and she’s quickly become one of our fave resources for financial info.

> When you don’t talk about something, you feel really isolated, and you feel like you are alone. Like nobody could possibly have the same money issues you have. But the reality that I try to tell everybody is: you’re so wrong! We are all so much alike when it comes to money, especially the things that we’ve not done so well.
> —Shannah Compton Game, host, Millennial Money

Shannah tells us all about:

  • Why money is such a taboo topic (but shouldn’t be)
  • Which financial advice to take, and which to ignore
  • Why we all hate the B word (budget, ugh)
  • Why it’s totally not too late to get your finances in better shape

Also in this episode:

  • Sara celebrates her presidential birthday
  • Katel survives on pizza by the slice
  • Jenn gets deep into the meal prep lifestyle

Sponsors

This episode of NYG is brought to you by:

Shopify, a leading global commerce platform that’s building a world-class team to define the future of entrepreneurship. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re talking about.


WordPress—the place to build your personal blog, business site, or anything else you want on the web. WordPress helps others find you, remember you, and connect with you.

Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Try it free, then use code NOYOUGO to get 50% off your first paid month.

Transcript

Jenn Lukas [Ad spot] This episode of No, You Go is made possible with help from our friends at Shopify. Their mission is to make commerce better for everyone—and they’re growing their world class team to make that happen. And you know what? They’ve read plenty of cover letters over the years. So this time they want you to read theirs. Because they don’t just want you to apply to them, they want to apply to you. Visit shopify.com/careers to see what they’re all about [music fades in, plays alone for 12 seconds, fades out]. Welcome to No, You Go, the show about ambitious—and sticking together. I’m Jenn Lukas.

Katel LeDû I’m Katel LeDû.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher And I’m Sara Wachter-Boettcher, and this episode is going to come out the day after my birthday [someone says, “woo hoo!]”. Mm hmm. And it’s a very special birthday. I will be turning [clears throat] 35.

KL Woo!

SWB Which means I could be president.

KL Yes!

JL Nice!

SWB Definitely can’t be president.

KL No, you definitely should be [chuckles].

SWB Oof. I don’t know. Looks like a terrible job [laughter]. I’m not real pleased about how it’s going right now, and probably I’ve got too many skeletons in the closet [laughter]. However, the other thing they always say when you turn 35 is that, according to the financial quote/unquote “rules,” I am supposed to have two times my annual salary saved right now… Two times! My annual salary. Yeah. So I—I don’t have that. And I will say, like, I’m—I’m pretty organized. I’ve saved a lot for retirement, particularly starting when I was about 29, but I haven’t caught up to that mark yet, and I get a little stressed out whenever I think about it. So to help us with some of that stress, we are talking today with somebody who knows a lot about money: how to save it, how to budget, and how to even think about maybe retiring someday. That would be Shannah Compton Game. She is a Certified Financial Planner and the host of the Millennial Money podcast. Don’t worry, it’s not just for millennials.

JL I’ve been listening to her podcast over the last few weeks and it’s been really awesome because actually about over the last month, month and a half, I gotta tell you: I’ve been taking a—a journey into money.

SWB Uhhhh what kinda journey?

[2:24]

JL Well, every year around tax time, I get really anxious and I start going, “Hmm. Oh no I should’ve sent all this to my CPA awhile ago,” and then I look at the list of things I have and I go, “I was supposed to do this thing last year. Oh! I was supposed to do this thing the year before.” And I have this really organized list in Wunderlist about all the uh—it’s called my Adult List and [chuckles] it’s got all the things I’m supposed to do like [inhales deeply] allocating and diversifying my assets, giving things to Cooper’s future college fund, I’ve got this whole list of things I’m supposed to do and have I done them?… [Sucks teeth] No. Do I look at that list?… No [laughs].

KL And then you realize a year has passed.

JL Yes!

SWB And then like three years has passed.

KL Yeah.

JL Mm hmm! Where does that go? And then, you know, like other people, I start to think about it and again the anxiety starts to build up and I’m like, “No, thanks.” But then I started thinking like, “Ugh! I really—I just like really—I have to start learning about money.” Like, I have to. I can’t keep pushing this off. And, you know, it’s a mix of like looking at the taxes, thinking about my son, and just being like, “What am I doing?” And so my CPA had recommended the book Get a Financial Life and I found it on Audible [chuckles] because that’s my jam now. And I was like, “You know what? Maybe I’ll try giving this a shot because I can’t—” I’ve tried reading through other money—finance books before and though I can like really get down with like other books, the finance books just like I start glossing over, and I was like, “But maybe if I listen on Audible, I’ll like get into it.” So I did! And it’s abridged so it was only like two hours, which again was perfect because it was so short and listening to it at like 2X speed means it’s like over in an hour [laughter] and it’s like really basic but like just gave a lot of good overviews, and then I was like, “What other Audible books are out there?” And then I started getting a little wild. So I’ve been like reading slash listening to all these books, and reading these magazines, reading these blogs, listening to these podcasts, and I know so much more than I knew six weeks ago.

SWB Do you feel more confident with what you should be doing now?

JL I do! It’s awesome. So I’m now actually in the search for a financial planner. And that’s the other thing like I—I wanted to get some time with a financial planner but I didn’t wanna use my time at someone’s hourly rate to be explaining to me like what the difference between stocks and bonds are. You know like because that felt like a waste of money of something I could learn myself. So I felt like I should take some time, learn about real basic stuff, and then pay a professional to help me with like the real specifics to me, and not just like, “Here’s things about money.”

[4:56]

KL Yeah I like that and that sounds so… practical. And I think like something that we all really liked hearing from Shannah is that you kind of don’t [sighs] sometimes the first thing you think about isn’t the fact that you have to take into account your own personal goals and sort of like how your life is shaking out, and like whether you’re having kids or not, or like if you have a partner, or your business, or like all these variables that are… like you’re not like every other textbook case of, you know, what you should do with your money. So, I don’t know, it’s just I—I think that was like so important for—for me to hear, especially, just cuz it’s like you don’t know. If I wanna retire when I’m 60, that’s totally different than if you’re like, “Ok, I actually might work a lot longer than that.” And we’re all living a lot longer. So I think, I don’t know, just like taking into account all those things and realizing that there is a lot of research you can do on your own before you start talking to a professional.

JL Right. Yeah and there’s so many—I mean that’s the thing like it—you can gather all these opinions and then you just have to factor them for you and what you wanna do. I mean there’s people now that are trying to retire at 25, and then there’s people that wanna work, you know, until the day they die. And I—or and obviously everything in between. So, I think it’s so important to like really think about what you wanna do and then start setting those goals for you. And there’s so many resources out there now. That’s the thing and it’s really intimidating to get started but I think like you just have to do it, and we’ve heard this before, right? Just like with starting businesses and starting projects, it’s one step at a time. You know? So if it’s even just like, “I’m gonna look up one term today.” Or, you know, “I’m gonna read one article or listen to one podcast.” Then like you’ve done more and learned more than you knew yesterday.

SWB And for me it’s also been like I mean I need to do some things, right? So… it’s like ok I need to check some stuff off the list. So actually I go to the same accountant as Jenn and… he has also given me certain recommendations, right? So thinks like, “You and your husband should have wills at some point.” And things like that. And we’ve done some of them and some of them I haven’t gotten around to yet. But on my list for this year—and this is like the kind of thing that goes on like a year to-do list, because it’s such a pain in the ass—is like, I need to move some accounts to consolidate at a financial institution where I can manage them more effectively, and deal with some of my long-term like retirement planning. And just I know that the process of moving those accounts is going to be a bit painful and so I’m kind of setting myself, I’m saying like, that is a task I need to set aside some time for. You know there will be like paper forms, somebody might make me fax something. God knows that’s gonna take me a week [Katel laughs]. I know you can fax online. It will still take me a week. But, you know, this is achievable, but it doesn’t feel achievable sometimes in the moment, and I try to remind myself that like, look, it is very normal to feel this way. I happen to be in a lucky position where I like—I have money I can theoretically be saving. I know that not everybody does. Like, I’m doing fine. Give myself some, you know, break the tasks down. Just like anything that’s big. Break it down a little bit. And set some time frames that are realistic and allow myself to feel good about getting some of the things done and not so upset about the things I didn’t get to.

[8:18]

JL Yeah. I mean you know when you get that like new IKEA cabinet and it comes with like 20,000 pieces and you just look at it and you’re like, “Fuck my life.” [Katel laughs and says, “Yeah”] That’s like sort of looking at like your money to-do list and you’re like, “Oh my god I have to roll over a 401K. Ughhhhhh!” I mean how many of us have 401Ks that are like sitting somewhere and you’re like, “I don’t know what it’s doing?” From like a previous job.

KL Yeah. You’re like, “It’s there. I think.”

SWB I told you I started saving for retirement when I was 29. Do you know what I did when I was 29? That’s when I started working for myself. I literally never took advantage of an employer 401K while I had a traditional job.

KL Yeah!

SWB Whoops!

KL But it’s more complicated than just being like, “Oh. This thing is available.”

SWB I know. And I also really felt like I needed that money at that point in my life.

KL Absolutely.

JL Totally. And I mean that’s the like—the other thing that’s really like important and—and we’ll talk about this a little later on is that like, it’s ok. You can start saving now. And for me that was like so important because like the anxiety of like, “Ok well, you know what? I didn’t start investing when I was 18. So, you know, what now?” And the thing is but I’m doing it now. And that’s the other thing that I feel like stopped me from learning more. It’s like then I just start feeling bad. I’m like, “Oh I’ve got this like sitting in a money market account and it’s not like diversified enough. Like inflation is basically eating away my savings.” And now I’m like, “You know what? I can start now.” And—and that’s the thing it’s always like, you just need to start when you’re gonna start. And if it’s not tomorrow that’s ok too. If it’s next month, that’s ok. But like giving yourself that slack and being like, “I’m gonna do it.” So like I’m now moving all—like—like I have like two 401Ks that I need to move over from previous jobs and I’m like finally getting it done. And it’s a pain in the ass, I’m not gonna lie. But it’s also not as hard as I thought it was gonna be. So it’s like a combo.

[10:01]

SWB Some of this stuff I feel like the hardest part is that like mental blocker about it because it’s about something that makes you feel a little anxious. I mean I have, you know, like I know that in my family… my mom really started getting her retirement stuff together in her forties because she didn’t really make much money till then, till she became a professor, and before that, you know, we were pretty poor. She was extremely frugal, but there’s just not that much money, so there’s not that much money. And so I look at that stuff and it makes me stressed, and then it makes me both like wanna put a lot of money away but also like… not wanna deal with it. Like deal with it sort of like emotionally and—and I feel like I’ve gotten over a ton of that and I feel like getting over that has been super helpful for me to make some better plans around retirement and around—around just sort of like having my financial shit together in general, to the point where, look: I may be turning 35 and not exactly have two times my salary set aside, but I actually feel really fucking good about where I am financially right now as well as like kind of that I—I do have my shit together. Not everything but like no, I’ve made a lot of steps, and they’re good steps, and they were like tough to get to and now I fucking did it, and I can do future stuff.

KL Yeah. I think that’s the thing like… that is a universal thing. It’s complicated. It can feel really raw and emotional which I think maybe sometimes I—I know a lot of the times I’m not expecting and I think to just like realize that and know that there are ways to get through it is super helpful. And I really loved hearing from Shannah because it made me feel like where I am is right for where I’m supposed to be right now, and that’s ok, and there are a lot of different things I can do to move forward. So, I don’t know, it was really good to hear from her [music fades in].

Sponsors

SWB [Ad spot] Hey, everyone! Sara here to tell you a little bit about the people who are making No, You Go possible this week [music fades out]. First up is Harvest. Harvest makes awesome, easy to use software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Seriously, I have actually been a Harvest customer since my very first day as a consultant back in 2011. I love how easy it is to create invoices, add expenses, and tie them back to my projects. Whether you’re a freelancer who just needs to get paid or an agency with complex workflows and lots of people, Harvest has you covered. Try it free for 30 days at getharvest.com and when you sign up with code No, You Go, you’ll also get 50% off your first paid month. That’s getharvest.com, offer code No, You Go.

And we’re also proud to be supported by WordPress. Do you need to make a website to post your Riverdale fanfiction? Or promote your awesome new wine bar? Or, well, do basically anything else? Then you need WordPress. We trust WordPress to keep our site running smoothly, and to make it easy to customize, update, and share with the world. And we’re not alone. Nearly 30% of all websites run on WordPress. Maybe yours should too! Plans start at just four dollars a month. So start building your website today. Go to wordpress.com/noyougo for 15% off any new plan purchase. That’s 15% your brand-new website at wordpress.com/noyougo [music fades in, plays alone for six seconds, fades out].

[13:21]

Interview: Shannah Compton Game

SWB Shannah Compton Game is a Certified Financial Planner, and she’s the host of the Millennial Money podcast, where she dishes “life-changing money and lifestyle tips to jumpstart your finances, ignite your savings, and empower you to reach all your awesome goals,” which sounds pretty good to us. We are super excited to have Shannah on the show today because we know we have money questions, and we are dead certain that some of you have money questions, too. So why don’t we get into it? Welcome to No, You Go, Shannah.

Shannah Compton Game Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited. I—I love talking about money, obviously [laughs].

SWB Yeah so speaking of that, ok you run a podcast about money, you’re a Certified Financial Planner, what does your day to day look like? Like obviously you talk about money all day. How does that break down? What’s the mix of things that you typically do?

SCG Yeah, you know, I have a really interesting background, kind of a mix of both creative skills with sort of, you know, these money and business expertise skills and so a couple of years ago when I started my podcast I just thought, “You know I want to create a company and a brand that creates products that really help, you know, everyday people understand how to not only grow their money but—but how to deal with this money stuff in like a really relatable and dare I say, interesting and fun way.” So that was sort of the reason that I started the podcast. So every day for me looks completely different. Some days I’m writing a bunch of articles or I’m working on my first book right now. So there’s a lot of writing there. Other days are podcasting, other days are interviews. I also do a lot of teaching and I have—I host a lot of kind of like interesting dinner parties where we talk about money. So really every day I wake up it’s so completely different [laughs].

JL Oh! What are those dinner parties?!?

SCG Yeah so it’s my version of talking about money. I’m sort of the anti, like, conference room person. So I get a bunch of people together, people who don’t know each other, and we have a chef come cook us an amazing meal, and we sit around and we talk about money, and we talk about life, and we talk about business, and all sorts of things, and so, you know, you walk outta there with like 20 new friends, and hopefully that you’ve been inspired to, you know, go do things a little bit differently.

SWB So, that sounds really cool and this also sounds like a really interesting mix of things. Was there a moment when you realized like—I assume, you know, you were working with clients doing typical financial planner stuff when you realized that there was something else that you wanted to do. Like how did that happen?

[16:00]

SCG My dad had been in the financial industry for about 40 years and I started working with him and we worked with really high-net-worth clients, people who had a lot of cash, and it was great because it was really like a crash course to learning all of these things about money and then I got my—my Certified Financial Planner designation, and I thought, “Ok I’m gonna have, you know, my own planning practice.” Which I did for—for quite a few years. And then I just decided, you know what? I really like the creative side of money and I feel like we don’t have a lot of modern-day people talking to us about money. You know, there’s Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey—those are kind of the most popular names. But they’re a little old school I think in their thinking, and so I would just kind of tap into that like crazy entrepreneurial spirit and I’m like, “Ok well why not try to create something different? And something new and fresh?” But it hasn’t—it certainly hasn’t been easy but working with the clients for about 12 years really gave me an understanding of a lot of the similarities between people and then, you know, learning some of those like really tricky techniques as well.

SWB Yeah, so, you mentioned a little bit that you felt like there were a lot of people who were kind of old-school doing financial planner work, or sort of being financial planning, I don’t know, “personalities” out there. What do you think is sort of the difference between what you would describe as sort of this old-fashioned take and the way that you approach it?

SCG Look: I think we’re just in a really different climate. I mean there a lot of people, especially a lot of younger people, that are becoming entrepreneurs because they kind of have to, you know? The job market just isn’t what it used to be and people wanna create something. And there’s also a lot of debt, a lot of people still have student loan debt, a lot of people, you know, are having to plunk down a lot of money to buy a house. So I think there’s just a lot of really unique dynamics happening that just call for kind of a different approach. And I honestly feel with—I don’t know how you feel, but—with social media and, you know, Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and we’re always in other people’s lives… like the kind of pressure right now to compete with people financially even when you don’t have that money. I feel like there’s never been a time like now.

SWB That’s really interesting that you mention that sort of sense of like it being—it seeming at least like all these people have all these fabulous things and are doing all of this amazing stuff in their life, and it does—it does create that sense of, like, you see people’s highlight reel on Instagram and you think that that’s how they’re living day to day, and like what you’re not seeing is, you know, the like sad peanut butter sandwich they’re having [chuckling] because there’s nothing else in their fridge right now, you know?

SCG Yeah, it’s so true! I mean I even struggle with it myself where I’ll—I’ll get in this mode where I’m like, ok. This is like really silly. You have your own talents, your own skills. Like you don’t need to be, you know, comparing yourself. But it’s just—it’s so easy to do, you know? And like you said like we’re showcasing obviously usually like the flashy version of what we’re doing in life and not the realities which are, you know, tough.

[18:59]

SWB Yeah, so, it seems a little bit like the—the brand that you have, the podcast that you have, like the way that you talk about money, and sort of just the way you sort of position yourself feels… maybe a little bit more targeted to women, and I’m curious if that was something that you were doing intentionally or if that’s just sort of like my interpretation!

SCG It wasn’t certainly intentional but I do feel, you know, that women—look: we are in a tough spot financially whether you know it or not. You know, women live longer than men. We start and stop our career. We just have a lot of issues that require us I think to think differently about money and then, you know, I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole entire career, so that’s really where a lot of my heart is in helping women—not only inspire them but also help them, you know, in the practical side of money because we just don’t learn this stuff anywhere.

SWB Yeah, you know I was I thinking a little bit before this interview about the way that financial services I think have historically been pretty targeted at men and sort of advertised in a way that was targeted towards men and yet, you know, we’ve seen society really change around like a lot of women are breadwinners in their families and, you know, more likely to graduate from college. Like there’s a whole lot of—of shift happening in the role of women in the world and it’s like, you know, looking at the financial industry as sort of needing to catch up to that. So it’s cool to see people kind of like taking that seriously and looking at those issues more often facing women, you know, directly.

SCG Yeah, absolutely, and I think particularly in the professional financial industry of—there are only about 70 some odd thousand Certified Financial Planners, which is kind of the highest echelon of—of financial planning designation you can get here in the US, and of that 70,000, only about 22% are women and it—that number is not increasing at all. Like it’s been stagnant at that number, and what I find working with a lot of of women, and particularly women entrepreneurs, is they don’t necessarily wanna like have a, you know, 60-year-old dude sitting across from them, lecturing them about their money, or taking time off to care for their newborn, or whatever it may be. You know, they want somebody that they feel they can relate to. And so it’s been a real interesting sort of sweet spot as well, you know, being a woman and—and having that expertise.

SWB Oh my god, totally. As an entrepreneurial woman I can definitely say that I do not look forward to situations where I have to sit across a desk from a 60-year-old man who’s gonna tell me what to do with my life. Um [laughs].

SCG You and me both!

SWB [Laughs] Ok so… thinking just a little bit more about your podcast and the writing that you do and this book that you’re working on, which I’m super excited to hear more about, does that all still feed back into doing financial planning for clients? Or is your career sort of like moved more into that… lots and lots of education and hosting dinner parties space, and you’re not doing as much of the like—of the one-on-one anymore?

[22:00]

SCG Yeah, exactly. The one-on-one is fantastic, I just have always felt pulled in this direction and, you know, it took me a few years of fighting against that pull to go, “Ok, ok. I [laughs] I give in,” you know? And so this is really where I feel my expertise lies. You know, I have an ability to connect with people I think and, you know, it works really well in this space, and, you know, I have sort of a separate brand where I work with female entrepreneurs, but kind of in a more business, money-centric approach, which is what I love. So, yeah, I mean for me, you know, I—I thought that if I was gonna be a CFP, I had to have a planning career and that was just the end of it. And it just felt, honestly, a little bit too boring for me.

JL I mean it’s interesting you have this whole podcast about the subject of money, but a lot of people avoid talking about money. So what allowed you to overcome that stigma?

SCG Honestly when I launched the podcast I thought, “Who in the world is gonna listen to a podcast of me just kind of like babbling on about money?” [Laughter] But what I have found is that, you know, like money revolves around every aspect of our lives: our relationships, our careers, our vacations, you know, everything that we do. And I—I think that, you know, for most people there’s a lot of like stress and fear around money and so I just approach it and the way I sort of approach everything is, you know, if we can sort of break you free from some of those stressors around money and like get you in a position where you can think about it differently and you can really understand that you can create the lifestyle that you wanna live. Like you have the tools right now in your bank account to do that, whether you know it or not, that, you know, that felt like a spot that was really comfortable for me because I’ve had my own kind of crazy money journey myself, and so, you know, I just wanted to be honest on the podcast. I wanted to share my own struggles, I wanted to share struggles that, you know, I’ve seen other people go through and how they’ve overcome those. And, you know, we just little by little, like sort of a grassroots movement, the podcast just has grown and grown and grown.

JL Was it easy for you to start talking about it right away? Were you just like, you know what? I’m gonna be open and honest about this.

SCG Not at all! It’s hard when you’re supposed to be the quote/unquote “expert”. You know? To admit like, “Oh, hey, when I came out of college, I had credit card debt,” and, you know, I’m very honest on my podcast. I went through a divorce in my really early thirties that was financially devastating for me, and I basically had to give up every asset that I owned in order to not have to pay my—my ex-spouse for 10-plus years. And take on debt. And that was a really hard position to be in, because I felt completely demoralized like, “Who am I to give advice to someone?” But I think I’m—I’m grateful for that because what I learned was I had these tools and these skills and I had the know how to pick myself back up and if I could instill those into other people, especially other women, to help them know that no matter what they go through in life, you know, they can get up, dust themselves off, and restart again, then maybe that was kind of the best thing that ever happened to me.

[25:16]

JL I think we try so hard to—to be perfect all the time.

SCG Yes.

JL And we try to like—and if we’re not, to definitely hide that. So I, like, I’m trying to think about the leap from like, “Ok. I’m gonna do it. I’m now gonna like admit to everyone that I’m not perfect.”

SCG That’s a really tough space and I think honestly like you have to get there. First. You know like that to me is the starting point for change in anything that you—that you wanna, you know, achieve in life. And for me that was just the spot of—of being able to say to other people like, “Ok, I’m human. You know I’ve had stuff happen to me, and I’ve made mistakes, and I still sometimes spend too much on vacations, and, you know, all—all those sorts of things,” and I think for me it was, you know, speaking the reality of life and that’s what I try to get every guest on the podcast to do too that… through doing that people would figure that they’re—we’re all more alike than we’re different, particularly when it comes to our money. And that you just—perfect is totally unattainable when you’re thinking about your finances. So don’t even try to put yourself there.

SWB I really love this and I’m so thankful to hear you kind of talk about about your own story and sort of saying like, “Look: I’ve been there. I’ve screwed it up. I’ve been in a bad place, and I worked myself out of it, and, you know, and other people can too.” I’m curious like… how did you work your way out of it? Like how did you go from that place of sort of having to kind of start over financially to feeling like you had it more together again?

SCG The best advice I could give is just, I took it step by step by step. So if I looked at the entirety of the situation—like how much I was in debt, and how much I had to pay my ex-spouse, you know, all of the things that I had given up—like if I looked at in the entirety, I had, you know, those like panic, freak-out modes. And so I had to just break things down by little pieces. Like, “Ok. I’ve got this debt. Ok. I know how to attack debt, right? There’s two ways to attack debt, I’m gonna pick one of them and I’m gonna for it,” you know? So I started moving in that direction. And then I also know like, “Ok. I have all these skills, I have these talents. None of that was taken away from me. How do I turn that now and start having that be more revenue-producing for me than it was before?” So for me it was just literally about writing out goals, staying really focused, and, you know, trying to put these little steps together to get yourself to a place where you feel like, “Ok. I’m actually achieving things and it’s going in the right direction.” But it’s tough. It’s hard, especially when you’re in a tough emotional situation like that. But I think really being focused, and really seeing it like, “Ok, it might not be good financially but it is a clean slate to work from, so lemme just figure out how to, you know, start attacking some of this.”

[28:07]

SWB I love this idea that like you might feel like everything’s been taken away from you because you—you lost, you know, a lot of things financially, or people can feel like that if they lose a job, but like, nobody took away your talents. And like it’s a really good reminder that you’re still you, and you still have all of that.

SCG Yeah! It’s really easy to feel down, to feel depressed, to have that anxiety, and I—I’ve certainly been there but, you know, yeah I mean that really for me was like the biggest realization. Like, “Ok. I had to give up all this stuff but I—yeah, I’m still me. I still have all of these talents and I can make these talents better and that’s something nobody can take away from me.”

JL There’s so many topics in here that I think so many people would be afraid to talk about. And, I wanna ask you, Shannah, why do you think people are so afraid to talk about money?

SCG I think it’s just this taboo topic and so because of that people just don’t talk about it. So when you don’t talk about something, you feel really isolated, and you feel like you are alone. Like nobody could possibly have the same money issues you have. But the reality that I try to tell everybody is: you’re so wrong! Like we—we are all so much alike when it comes to money, especially the things that we’ve not done so well.

JL Right. How do you suggest people like start opening up about this to—to their friends or, you know, to others? Like when—when is the appropriate time to start talking about money?

SCG Well, I think, you know, with friends you have to make sure you’re in good company. It’s really easy, I think, for other people to judge you, especially if you’ve never broached this topic. But I’m just a big believer, especially if it’s something where you feel really pent up about, like start talking to people in just a casual way. I mean you don’t to share everything, you know, that you feel like maybe has been a money mishap in your life, but start maybe having some conversations and see if that releases some of that pressure.

JL You know how appropriate is it to talk about money with your coworkers?

SCG You know that’s so interesting like the statistics are showing that people, especially people in their like twenties, are really,