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Rank #198 in Careers category

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Strong Feelings

Updated 12 days ago

Rank #198 in Careers category

Business
Society & Culture
Technology
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

91 Ratings
Average Ratings
83
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

91 Ratings
Average Ratings
83
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

Updated 12 days ago

Rank #198 in Careers category

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.

Rank #1: Unapologetic Women

Podcast cover
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It’s the very first episode of No, You Go! Jenn, Katel, and Sara get together to talk about the itch to get out of a professional rut and start something new—whether that’s changing jobs, launching a company, building a side gig, or maybe even…idk….starting a podcast?

> Fuck it, let’s just do it. Let’s be unapologetic women asking to do work, and to be paid fairly for it.
> —Becca Gurney, co-founder, Design Choice

Read on for more of what we covered, and read the full transcript for all the, like, verbatim quotes, you know?

Show notes

First, we tell the story of how No, You Go got started:

  • Sara has an idea, but forgets that Austin Kleon already wrote a book called Show Your Work and narrowly avoids totally ripping him off.
  • Jenn shares what it’s like to trade a thousand side projects for some stability—and, oh yeah, one super-cool baby.
  • Katel opens up about how working at home alone can get, well, lonely—and asks us to join her “awesome after-school kickass club.”
  • We all fully embrace the athleisure lifestyle.

Next, we kick off the show—and 2018—by hearing how four women who made big changes last year knew it was time for something new:

  • Becca Gurney, co-founder of Design Choice, tells us how the pay gap in the AIGA Design Census plus the 2016 election turned her from freelance designer to outspoken advocate for equality in design.
  • Jenn Schiffer, community engineer for Fog Creek’s Glitch platform, shares how fear kept her stuck in a rut and not doing her best work—until an opportunity to build community for other engineers brought her life back.
  • Lara Hogan, co-founder of Where With All, describes how meeting her now-business-partner led her away from managing engineering teams and toward building a consulting business.
  • Mina Markham, senior front-end architect at Slack (and creator of the famed Pantsuit design system used by the Hillary Clinton campaign), describes trusting her gut to guide her through three new jobs and three cross-country moves in just three years.

Also in this episode

Many thanks to The Diaphone for the use of their song, Maths, in our theme music!

_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: This episode of No, You Go is brought to you by CodePen: a social development environment for front-end designers and developers. It’s like a big virtual sandbox where you can build and deploy a website, show off your work, build test cases, and find inspiration. Your profile on CodePen is like your front-end development portfolio. Learn more and create your first Pen 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.

KL: In today’s inaugural episode of No, You Go, we’re talking about the itch to get out of a rut and start something new. First up, we’ll talk about how No, You Go came to be. Then we’ll listen in as a bunch of badass women tell us how they knew it was time for a change in 2017—and how they made it happen.

Also on the agenda: our favorite CW teen drama, the politics of donuts, and breaking out the Olivia Pope wine glasses.

[Clink]

[Musical intro]

How it all began

[1:10]

SWB: One day, I was actually out for a run with Katel. We were up in this really pretty park and it was the middle of all and we were crunching through the leaves, kind of miserably running some—some 10K distance so that we could justify donuts. And I started telling Katel that I had this podcast idea that was all about: how do you go from kind of doing the work, whatever your job is, to being able to kind of like show your work. Like, speak about it or write about it, or something. Like, how do you go from being somebody who’s kind of more heads-down to being more of that like active or visible member of your professional community?

JL: Yeah!

KL: Yeah!

SWB: And I was like, I had this working title, like “Show Your Work” or something like that. And we were like, that sounds like a fun idea. You know, I just had a book come out in the fall and I was really interested in kind of helping other people understand what that process looks like. A lot of people ask me questions because they don’t necessarily know.

JL: Me included.

KL: And me!

SWB: Yeah! Well, and that’s one of the things that we started to want to talk about, is like: how does that whole thing work? And that’s, you know, just one example, right? I mean, it’s not just writing a book, it’s also like, how do you go from working in a field to like, teaching other people how to do it and leading classes. Those kinds of questions. So, I really wanted to start talking about that more, and Katel was the publisher of one of my books, and so I thought she would be like an ideal person to talk about that with.

KL: And I thought that was a great idea. I think “Show Your Work” was actually an awesome name for a show—we should do that also.

JL: Let’s get this one off the ground first!

KL: All right, okay. So, yeah, I am the CEO of A Book Apart and published one of Sara’s books—it’s amazing. And I moved to Philly about two years ago after living in DC for most of my life, and Sara and I became besties really quickly because we had a lot in common. Namely, loving slash hating running and hating running to love donuts, even more. So, one night we were all sitting actually at Jenn’s house, and we were drinking wine and watching Riverdale as we do—we’d all gotten together and [that’s] another thing that we loved and had in common. And we brought it up to Jenn and she got really excited.

JL: To be fair, Sara’s giving me that look like, “I’m not quite sure I’m sold on the Riverdale.”

SWB: No! I was just thinking, can we have a sidebar about Archie’s hair for a second?

JL: Mhmm, Archie’s hair.

KL: And now, did you know Sara’s really into Riverdale?

JL: Ooh! Did you catch up?

SWB: I am super caught up. And Archie’s hair is still ridiculous. And I’m pretty sure that Cheryl Blossom’s lip liner gets bigger and bigger every single episode.

JL: It’s awesome.

SWB: It’s gonna be her entire face soon.

KL: It’s so good. Maybe that’s what I need to do, is just go big with the liner.

JL: I love it. You know, I forget, Katel, if you told me this—I always had a problem with Archie’s hair but then, you brought up that like, it helps if you remember that it’s a comic book and then it makes the extreme-ness of his hair a little bit more acceptable.

KL: Right, it’s like, it makes the TV show juicy, or like, pulpy? I mean… “juicy” is maybe not the right word, but you know what I mean!

SWB: No, no, no, let’s stick with juicy.

JL: No, I do know what you mean! And you know, sometimes we just have to watch an episode of Riverdale after a long day.

SWB: For professional reasons.

JL: But for me, it was super awesome because I just had a child ten months ago, yes indeed. And so, with a child and I’m back working full time—I work as an engineering manager and UI architect down at Urban Outfitters. And sometimes, my lovely friends will come over after my child goes to sleep and we’ll watch Riverdale and talk shop. Which is awesome, ’cause you start to feel a little bit alienated to some extent, from your previous life and you have this awesome new life going one. But then you like, miss parts of your old, so it was really nice to have my friends come to me so that I could keep trying to figure out how to make this balance work. And maybe balance isn’t even the right word, but to like figure out how I can keep doing things that I love along with the new things I love. So, it was super awesome.

[5:00]

SWB: Yeah, something Jenn has not quite mentioned, is just how much stuff she used to do in terms of like, speaking and side projects, constantly. Like, when I first met Jenn, every other week, I swear it was like, “Oh, I just started this podcast called Ladies In Tech,” or “Oh, I’m working on this web series called Cook Inside the Box, where we make recipes off the back of boxes.” And it was so cool to see her doing all this stuff, and like a lot of people, it’s really hard to do all of that stuff when you have really little kids and a lot of kind of, responsibilities at work. But what we want to talk about, is, how do we make space for some of that and kind of integrate it into our lives no matter what other stuff is going on.

JL: That’s what was so nice about talking with you two, is figuring out how that can work. And I know you’ve both been amazing soundbars for me. And I feel very lucky to have both of you in my life and I think that is a lot about what we’re basing this podcast on. It’s like, how we can be stronger together with people who support us and figuring out how to do these things. Even if you’re working with new—and I mean, using a stretch here of calling it a constraint—but, we’re used to like, how we work with constraints. And this is just a new, different part of my life, and it’s really nice to be able to talk to y’all about how that works.

KL: This also feels like just a really awesome after school kick-ass club that I’m super excited about. And I feel like, sometimes, you know I don’t have kids and you know that’s a really tough thing to figure into your life when you’re going from, you know, not having them to having them and a career and everything. And I think even for someone who doesn’t have them, it’s like, you’re still trying to manage a bunch of different things and figure out how to like, stay excited, and go outside and like, meet with people and hang out not you know, become a total hermit like I like to do.

JL: Oh my god, going outside is so hard sometimes.

KL: Exactly!

SWB: But I think, this really speaks to the way that I think the idea for the podcast evolved. When we started talking about it with Jenn, what we realized is that, for a lot of us who, you know, consider ourselves ambitious and sort of really interested in our careers but also kind of non-traditional about it. Like not necessarily interested in only ever working at one single company and a lot of us, you know, work in consulting or small companies or we take on side gigs. You can sometimes end up feeling like you don’t have colleagues. And I think that that’s something I’ve heard a lot from—particularly from women the past couple of years. That they were looking for places where they could connect with other people who got their work, even if they weren’t traditional colleagues. And I really look at that as a big piece of what we’re doing here, is kind of taking the place of having that sort of peer group that you maybe used to have at an office. But if you work in lots of non-traditional settings, you don’t have that anymore.

JL: And even when you do work in that, sometimes its you know, you still have a variety of interests. So as you said, I used to do a lot of side projects and that’s totally different than my full time job. So, I think, as we were all sitting on the couch and we were getting more and more excited, that’s sort of where the name of this show came to be. Right?

SWB: Yeah, I think one of the things that was really funny about that, was that—so, I was sitting there as Jenn and Katel were kind of going back and forth, like, getting more and more excited and hyped about the show. And all of a sudden, they’re talking over each other and Katel—always the gracious one—is like, “no, you go,” and waits for Jenn. And Jenn goes, “that should be the name of the podcast.” And she kind of laughs and I’m like, wait, stop, no that is the name of the podcast now. So, that’s how we named the podcast and started thinking a lot more about you know, what kind of things we’d cover and where we’d go with it. So, kind of getting outside of that, just the idea of showing your work—although that’s part of it—but more thinking about, what are all the different ways or paths that people take to satisfy their ambition or satisfy their need to, you know, create stuff in the world. And how could we go about highlighting those and helping other people see the different kinds of ways their lives might look. And giving people a little more support along the way as they figure out what that looks like for them.

JL: I think also, you know, we’ll talk about challenges of being ambitious. I think there’s a lot of things that all people, but especially for us as women, that we always have to balance, right? Being too abrasive versus being too nice and how we manage that in this world—to achieve some of the things that we’re trying to set out to do.

SWB: I was thinking about, one of the other podcasts I really like, Call Your Girlfriend—the hosts on that show talk about shine theory. And for them, shine theory is this idea, like, I don’t shine if you don’t. So, the idea is you’re going to have you know, like, you want the smartest and most accomplished women by your side because actually everybody’s better when your friends are successful, too. And I think about that a lot when I think about this show because I’ve got some like, pretty accomplished women by my side working on it. And I think that that is an incredible way to look at how do we, you know, how do we navigate our lives, and how do we think about ambition.

[10:00]

Because we’re always looking toward these other people that we totally respect and that we can learn so much from, and they’re looking right back at us. And I think it creates this environment where we can be really supportive of each other and also get a little bit more comfortable kind of like, celebrating that ambitious side of ourselves and not pretending it’s not there. Which I think is often what women are expected to do.

KL: Yeah, this actually tied back to, Sara, what you were saying a little bit earlier, about you know, having colleagues and we all work in kind of, I think, different setups these days. It’s not necessarily like, Sara and I don’t even go into an office most days, and we have meetings sort of from wherever. And even though you know, we’re all friends and we have—our professions and our careers are kind of intertwined because we work in the same field or area— we don’t work together physically. But we talk and speak and write about similar things and I think we have passions about the same things. And especially in terms of trying to lift other folks up and finding ways to actually do that. We all work in different setups these days and you know, a lot of us—Sara and I included don’t even necessarily go into offices everyday, but I think it’s really important to feel like you have some kind of camaraderie. Some kind of network that you’re able to rely on in your work and obviously outside of that work. For me, it’s been so critical because I literally work by myself in my home and I have—I work with a lot of team members that are just distributed. So for me to have folks that I can see regularly and talk about things that are related to the work I do is so important. I think I was really missing that from going from a big company like National Geographic to a company that was a small startup. That was a huge shock, that was a big change. You know, working with fifty people a day and then all of a sudden being by myself. So this has been incredibly important. I think being able to extend that and hopefully share that and build a community around that is super exciting.

JL: Totally.

SWB: Yeah, like I remember when I quit my last real job, which was in 2011, I was working at an agency. And I went from an agency to freelancing and consulting in doing content strategy and UX work. And at first, I will tell you I did not have this kind of network. I was mostly feeling really kind of alone in my work. And I would work on a project and get in with the team on that project but they weren’t really ever my team. And so over the years I’ve certainly like built up this collection of you know, like, really cool people who get what I do and who are just there for me. And that network has made all the difference. I don’t think that I would still be consulting, much less speaking and writing books and stuff like that, if I had not built that kind of community. And that’s something I want more people to experience because I think that it’s one of the only things that can kind of help keep you sane and happy.

KL: I feel like the dream used to be work from home, and like work for yourself and you know, be your own bossa and sort of be the master of your own time. And it’s great, it has so much—it gives you a lot of freedom and there’s a lot of flexibility but it’s also very lonely a lot of the time and you know, I think you need to find something that actually helps you get through those lonely times.

JL: Yeah.

SWB: Yeah, like I want the yoga pants, but I also want the like, deep personal friendships.

KL: Right!

SWB: That come with seeing people really regularly. And so, you know, it’s how do we make a life for ourselves that kind of can bring us both.

JL: I got news for you: athleisure. Is my office wear.

SWB: Trust me, I have gone full force into the athleisure lifestyle and I am not looking back. So one thing that I do think about, though, in this whole conversation about kind of finding that community and helping to help others, you know, figure out what their path is, is that Jenn, Katel, and I—we really come from relatively similar backgrounds. You know, like we’re similar age and we’re all based in Philly, and we’re all white ladies with professional jobs. Having a lot in common is really good, but we do know that that could be a pretty limited view of what it’s like to work as a woman. In fact, it would be incredibly limited. So one thing that’s really important to us and that we want to do on this show is make sure that we’re bringing in people with a lot of different experiences and different backgrounds. And make sure that we are getting things from perspectives that the three of us would never have.

[Musical interlude]

JL: You know, speaking of hearing from other voices, I think it’s time we get into our main segment. But before we do, we are so excited to tell you about the sponsor who’s making this very first episode of No, You Go possible: Codepen.

CodePen is a powerful tool that allows designers and developers to write code—like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—directly in a browser and see the results as you build. Whether you’re new to front-end code or been writing it for years, it’s the perfect place to learn front-end programming languages, show off what you create, build test cases, get help on tricky problems—and find inspiration. Whenever I have a new idea and I want to get right to making it happen, you know, I don’t want to have to deal with setting up the environment or setting up hosting or build tools, I just go right to CodePen and start building. I can share that code with others on my team and see what they think about it, and then we can go from there. CodePen has so many cool things to explore—like CodePen PRO and Projects, where you can explore tons of awesome Pens. Get inspired and learn from others, and share with them at the same time. Sign up and get started by visiting codepen.io/hello.

[Musical interlude]

We introduce the badass lady brigade

[15:30]

JL: So how do we know when it’s time for something new?

SWB: That’s a question we asked a bunch of women who had made big changes in 2017—job changes, life changes, that kind of thing. To get us started, let’s hear from one of our favorites.

BECCA GURNEY: This is Becca Gurney, half of Design Choice, a graphic design studio in Washington, DC, where we have the aim of empowering women to lead, to get paid, and to be awesome. Our central mission and idea is that we almost make the conscious choice to pay women fairly for the work that they do, and before you can pay them you have to choose them to do the work. So for the four years leading up to this one, I had been freelancing, and I had just fallen into freelancing. I didn’t choose it, I didn’t really go out and take a risk and say hey, this is what I want to do. It was there and I did it, and I just kept doing it. But I had been feeling really unfulfilled and pretty aimless in it. I wasn’t doing great work. I was just doing work, and there was no real point to it. It was awesome that I could make my own schedule and I could go home to make jam whenever I wanted, because I was feeling jammy. But I didn’t think of myself as successful or empowered.

And then the election happened, and I didn’t feel successful or empowered. And I was looking around at the leaders in our industry, which is mostly dudes, and I didn’t feel successful or empowered. The AIGA Census data came out and women in my area at my level are being paid $20,000 less a year than men. And so hey, I don’t feel successful or empowered. And the moments that sparked any sort of a feeling that felt good were the moments that I was with women, talking about being fucking unapologetic women. And how could I do that through design and Stacey Maloney was in a bunch of those conversations, and we said, “Fuck it, let’s just do it; let’s be unapologetic women asking to do work and to be paid fairly for it.” And we started Design Choice.

JL: How awesome.

SWB: I love so much about this. Fucking unapologetic women. I think we qualify, right?

JL: I hope so.

KL: I think so. Let’s get there if not [laughs].

SWB: Katel, how do you know Becca?

KL: We got to be friends when I was in DC. I started working at a coworking space to try to get a little more face time with other human beings when I started this solo thing. And she was just awesome. We became friends really quickly, and we sort of went through some growing pains at this particular coworking space because of management that was not empowering and didn’t make us feel confident about working there, and we moved to a different one. We shared an office. We just really became good friends and got to know each other. Becca is one of those people who, you know that if she says something, that she’s going to do something, she’s gonna do it. She just shows up and she’s such a rock star. I hate using that word, but she is, she absolutely is. She’s creative and amazing and when I listened to this recording that she sent, I almost teared up because I was thinking, oh my gosh, I have felt so similarly—that feeling of like, you’re doing all these things that you’re supposed to be doing, you’re making the money, you’re going to the meetups, you’re doing all the things, but you don’t feel empowered and you don’t feel successful. And like, what is that? And trying to pull all of that apart and get at the root of why, and figure out what you’re going to do to change that, is huge. It’s so huge. And the fact that she came out of that and created this agency, and it isn’t just helping her feel successful and empowered, but also doing really fucking amazing work for companies that should be employing women, is just so rad.

SWB: Yeah, I love this idea of her saying that this company is explicitly about hiring women and paying women fairly. And that’s really built into the fabric of it, and she’s not afraid to talk about it that way. Because I think about it in terms of how I spent my own year.

[20:00]

I think something that I did in 2017 is get comfortable with the idea that my work simply was political—that I couldn’t really create an artificial boundary between the things that I care about professionally, talking about a user’s experience of a piece of software or a website, and the things that I care about personally, which is basically all social justice issues. And so that really came out when I wrote my most recent book. It’s called Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech, and essentially I am really taking a direct look at this tech industry that I have been part of for a long time, and highlighting some of the ways it’s gone really wrong for people who are often the most vulnerable or the most marginalized. You know, it was hard but I think I got to a place where I was no longer afraid of saying that out loud, and saying that in front of important people who, in the past, I would have been worried wouldn’t have wanted to hire me for consulting. And now, I’m thinking, okay, I need to find a way to make this an organic and natural part of what I do, because I can’t really live with myself otherwise.

KL: Yeah, I think you’re totally right, and that whole unapologetic thing—I feel like there’s so much to unpack there, and something we’re grappling with it every day in everything we do. And I know for me it’s kind of like, you tear a little bit away and you’re like, okay, I made some progress. And then you’re like, but wait, is this fitting in in the right space? So I feel like hopefully, if we do enough of these, we’re really going to get in deep in terms of how people are doing that.

JL: Becca wasn’t the only one feeling frustration. Let’s hear another story from Jenn Schiffer.

JENN SCHIFFER: At the end of 2016, I was feeling really stuck in a rut. I wanted to do good work, but I didn’t feel like I was in a position to do that. I knew I was going to leave, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and I was afraid to make any changes. But then I was very lucky and very fortunate because Fog Creek approached me about doing community engineering for their new product, Glitch.com. And so I’ve been there ever since, and it’s been great, and I feel like I’m doing my best work, and I’m making an impact. And so I’m hoping in 2018 to keep that momentum going.

JL: Oh, Jenn Schiffer. She’s is constantly always saying such smart things, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I really just enjoy everything she does. I didn’t meet Jenn in person until a couple of years ago, but I started following Jenn a while ago because she was posting a lot of awesome humor-filled development posts, which was something quite unique, and she had a really great voice.

SWB: You mean she trolled dev bros on Twitter?

[Laughter]

JL: It was the California Style Sheets post a couple of years ago, which is one of my favorites still, and I think it was awesome and it showed a lot of things, because, yes, being written by a woman, I think a lot of people thought, it must not be humor, it must be serious. And that was—ugh—sigh-worthy. But Jenn was awesome, and I followed that, and was lucky enough to have her on the podcast I used to run, with Val Head, Ladies In Tech, where we’d talk about public speaking and Jenn was a guest on our show. We were lucky to have her. She’s done a lot of awesome things. One of the things I love about Jenn is if there’s a gap or something that she wants, she makes it happen. She was living in North Jersey I believe, and working for the NBA at the time, and there was not a meetup and I think she went into the city for them. And so she decided to start her own North Jersey meetup. And so instead of saying, there’s nothing here around me, she started her own. And I think that’s such an important thing that we can do in this industry. And you can see it now, that she is starting something new again. And I think one of the things that she’s always done is helping people learn. A talk she gave recently she had this great quote: “We don’t learn alone.” And I think that’s true in this industry, but also in many industries where we are just better together and we learn more when we’re around each other.

KL: You really feel like she’s bringing you along in the learning, when she’s speaking about—when she’s giving a talk or doing a demo or whatever.

SWB: I think that’s one of the cool things about this new role that she has. She went from a role where she was doing a lot of programming to a role where she’s the community engineer. That means that she’s doing a lot more of that educational piece, and helping people make use of this tool Glitch, which is from Fog Creek. And what’s really great about it is that it’s a way to not just do the heads down work, but to be doing the showing your work and sharing of things, and making these things more accessible for people. And particularly making these kinds of tools in tech feel accessible to all kinds of folks, right? I think that’s a big piece of how Glitch has positioned itself on purpose, and that’s in no small part to people like Jenn, who are making it feel like a tool that anyone can pick up and use—and not a tool that only super elite programmers from one very particular background can pick up and use.

[25:00]

And so I love that about her, and I hope that continues to be a really good move for her, because that was an exciting “something new” that happened last year. Something Jenn talked about though, which I think is something that all of us can relate to, is that feeling of frustration, burnout, being bored, or just not feeling like you have space to do your best work. That’s something I’ve certainly felt. I’ve felt it at different points over my career, but certainly when I last quit my job, one of the big reasons is that I was working an ungodly number of hours. I was the last one in the office every night. I literally set the alarm leaving the office every day for like a year straight. And I simultaneously felt like I couldn’t get my head above water. I was trying to do so much, and it didn’t feel like I could go anywhere. One of the ways that I got out of that was quitting my job, but it wasn’t just quitting the job. It was also getting a new outlook to my work. One of the reasons that I quit my job was so that I could write my first book, which was like my first real effort to give my community some of my expertise and knowledge. And that was a really helpful reframe for me to get me out of that rut. And so I’m curious, have you guys had experiences where you feel like you’ve gotten burnt out or frustrated, and how did you move past them?

JL: When I left my last full-time job to start consulting, I at the time was doing a lot of public speaking. I was away more than I was home, and I really loved it. That’s really what gave me the courage to quit my full-time job and start something new. There was something I really loved, I knew what I loved, and it was less being frustrated with anything I was currently doing, and more me seeing something that I really loved doing, and figuring out how I could make that happen.

I really loved my job at the time, I was a development director at Happy Cog. But I had been doing it for six years. And it was definitely something I loved, but again, six years is a long time, especially in the tech field. And there was this new thing that I loved a lot. Being able to travel and meet people and teach was something that was super important to me, and for me to be able to full commit to that, it almost forced me—or gave me that boost that I needed—to quit my job at the time and go out consulting and have this freedom to do this thing. So, for me the driver was something I really loved and wanting to do, versus being burnt out or frustrated at a current job.

SWB: Totally. I loved what you said about, it wasn’t that there was something wrong with what you were doing. Sometimes I think we get stuck in a rut because we’re like, well, I like the stuff that I’m currently doing. But for me at least, part of being happy does really come down to growth or evolution in what I’m doing. So it’s not a matter of me hating anything that came before necessarily, but I want to bring something new into the fold. New people and new experiences. I want something else to kind of keep it interesting. I want to keep it interesting, and if I’m feeling too steady all the time, then I think I’m bored. So I love this idea that it’s like, okay, is there something out there that you’re really excited about, or that you want to be good at that you’re not yet good at that can really drive us to change things up.

KL: I’m gonna be real honest here and say that I’m currently burnt out, and I’ve been struggling with that I think for like the last year.

SWB: Weird, how could 2017 burn someone out. How is that possible?

[Laughter]

KL: Yeah, exactly, It’s like, can you just be burnt out just from being burnt out? And I think I’ve worked through a lot of it, not that it’s something—I think at one point I thought, okay, like, this is something else I need to check off my list, getting through burnout. Which is not how it happens and not how you heal from it. It shocked me into realizing that I needed to make some changes in how I approached my scheduling and, you know, my work. But I think sort of related to what you’re talking about, not necessarily saying I need a different job or I need to change career paths. It’s like, before ABA, I would go to work, you do your job. That’s the thing, it’s this packaged thing. And now it’s not like that. A Book Apart is not like that. Granted I’ve been doing it for years, but it just—you start to think, okay, there’s nothing outside of it. Even though there’s lots of stuff outside of it, and I think I just needed to look for it. This is part of it. I think I’m starting to feel a lot less burnt out. I think I also got really confused—or not confused, I got worried, because I started to think that burnout is just fatigue, and it’s not necessarily just fatigue. It could just be you need a fresh take or a new project or whatever.

[30:00]

SWB: Yeah, and I think it definitely says a lot. The key to fixing burnout is not always necessarily career change, but sometimes it’s just like, perspective shift and remembering all the other things that you love. You know, people talk about work-life balance, and I always really struggle with that conversation, because work is really important to me, and it’s so intertwined with so many pieces of my life. So I don’t look at it as, work is over here and life is over there. But at the same time, I’ve lived the life where work was consuming me: “Oh, I’m writing this email at 11:30pm.” You know, when you stop seeing any distinction between those different parts of yourself, I think it can be really easy to get so sucked into work, that when things aren’t going well at work, it means that things are not going well for you. So it’s like, if work goes through a rough patch, your whole life sucks, because there’s nothing else there.

KL: Right, it’s such a big part of what you do and who you are. And it’s something I never really paused to think about, moving from my twenties to thirties to forties, is that, like, that’s an ongoing thing. It’s an evolution. You don’t just figure it out and then it’s done.

SWB: The kind of work that I do evolves all the time, so of course the relationship I have to my work has to evolve all the time to.. That’s only natural.

KL: Right.

SWB: I think it’s hard sometimes to remember that, because you think, “Oh, well, this used to work for me.” Well guess what, this doesn’t work for me anymore. I am in my mid-thirties now, and my needs are a little bit different. And there are things that I’m not willing to put up with anymore—thank god.

JL: Yes.

[Laughter]

KL: Right. And you can be unapologetic about it.

JL: Yeah, and along with being unapologetic, sometimes you really need to trust your gut. Let’s hear from Mina Markham about trusting her gut.

MINA MARKHAM: To channel Olivia Pope, it all comes down to a gut feeling with me. When I’m presented with some new opportunity, I kind of do a gut check and see, is this something that I will regret not doing. And if the answer is yes, then I know what I have to do. I have to go ahead and make that change. That’s probably the only thing that can explain how I’ve had so much change in my life the past few years. I’ve had three jobs in three years, all of which required me to pack up my life and move to a new city and basically start over. Each time came with their own instances of doubt or of terror or sometimes just full-on panic, but none of which I have any regrets about doing. So I have learned to trust my gut, trust my instincts to know when it’s time for me to go ahead and make that leap.

JL: Oh, Olivia Pope. Inspires me too, but I’ll get to that later. It just inspires me so much when people have the ability to follow their gut, especially when it involves moving. Sara, you’ve moved a ton.

SWB: Yeah, I’ve moved a lot of times, and I’ve moved across the country, but I still don’t think I’ve moved as much as Mina Markham has.

KL: Yeah, if you’re not familiar with her, Mina was at IBM in Austin at the beginning of those three years she talked about. Then she moved to Brooklyn to work on the Hillary campaign. Now she’s a senior front-end engineer at Slack. So that’s a lot of choices, and a lot of change. And I think trusting your gut becomes really vital in all that. I also think it’s how you get to a place where you actually know what it’s going to look like to have regrets or to not have regrets, and you become okay with it. You kind of can envision it a little bit more. It becomes a cycle that starts to repeat itself, which, that’s how you gain more and more trust in your gut.

SWB: What she said reminded me of this column I read a couple of years ago. It’s an advice column called Dear Sugar that Cheryl Strayed used to run. She wrote a response to somebody who asked, like, I’m thinking about having kids, I’m in my late thirties or forty-ish or something like that, and I don’t know if I should, but I think I might regret it. And this person felt like having kids because they thought they might regret not having kids was a bad idea.

Now, I don’t have kids. I’m not planning to have kids. But this column really stuck with me, because the way she responded to it, she was like, you know, thinking about your future self and what you might regret is one of the only ways that you can kind of make sense of choices. And she was like, this is actually a really healthy way to look at, like, is this something that I’m going to wish I had done later on? Once you do make a decision, then you have to think of it as other lives that you chose not to lead. I think she called it “the ghost ship that did not carry me.” So it’s like this other ship that you could have been on, but you didn’t take.

[35:00]

And that would have been this other thing, and you can wave at it from the shore, but it’s not yours. So I think about that a lot when it comes to choices, whether it’s those big life choices, or the smaller day-to-day work choices: what are the ships that I’m choosing to be on? And as long as I’m thinking about where my gut is, and I’m thinking about what is going to be a positive thing for future me, I usually feel pretty good about it.

JL: I think this is another habit thing, where the more you get used to making these decisions and being okay with them, the stronger you probably feel being like, this is okay and I’m going to go for this.

SWB: Yeah, totally. I think that it’s hard at first to know what does trusting your gut even mean, right? And so I think about, how do I know that I’m trusting my gut? You know, if I start doing something where it’s like, “Ugh, I should really take this project on,” or, “I should really speak at this conference,” and then every time I go to, like, write the email that would be the saying yes email, I get knotted up and I don’t do it, I’ve started to slow down and say, wait a second, why am I sort of hemming and hawing about saying yes to that email? And usually it’s because I have some kind of reservation or misgiving. Versus there are times when people ask me to do something or I am presented with opportunities, and my heart is immediately in it. Now, sometimes I have to say no to those things too, because they don’t fit for one reason or another, but knowing that immediate response of opening yourself up to whatever’s in front of you, versus pushing it away, that means something. And it’s worth taking the time to figure out what your body’s telling you, where that’s coming from. And I think that’s the very beginning of trusting your gut.

JL: And sometimes it’s not just about making a decision by yourself. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to find someone else to help you decide what’s next in your life.

SWB: Let’s hear from Lara Hogan. Lara is an engineering leader who some of you may have heard of, because it seems like she’s everywhere these days. She was a VP at Kickstarter, and before that she was a senior manager at Etsy, but she’s up to something new, too. Let’s hear about it.
LARA HOGAN: How did I know it was time to start something new? In part, it was meeting Deepa, my business partner. She’s just incredible, and with her by my side, I feel like I can do anything. And I also knew that this was the time once I realized, working full-time at a company, I have to do a lot of things all of the time [laughs] that may of course just not be what I want to specialize in. But it occurred to me that as a consultant, I could do the things that I really, really love all of the time, and bring that help and support to a lot of different companies. And that’s just really intriguing to me.

SWB: Okay, first of all, I want a Deepa.

[Laughter]

KL: Yes.

SWB: So, Deepa Subramaniam is Lara’s business partner, and they founded this company called Wherewithall, that is doing consulting work on product teams and engineering teams. But most importantly, me and Katel actually had dinner with them a couple of weeks back. And watching them interact with each other and talk about their work, and the way their faces just light up. It’s so great to seem them coming together and creating this thing that they clearly are really passionate about on the work side, but also just as partners. They really make sense and they get one another. I thought that was so great to see. I’ve mostly worked in different kinds of consulting arrangements. Sometimes, me and somebody else will partner up on a project or teach a workshop together, but I’ve never had that kind of long-term, we-are-business-partners thing set up. And I think it goes back to what we said earlier, around how we sometimes have to make our own colleagues. It’s like they’ve literally created a business that allows them to have that kind of collegial relationship. And I think that that’s really powerful and something that’s kind of scary for a lot of us to do—to, you know, make such a firm commitment. But it’s great when it works, right?

KL: Yeah, it’s like you wish, you know, and sort of dream about finding your soul mates in your life partner and your best friends. And I feel like it’s becoming a lot more, you know, that this happens with work now, and it’s just really cool. Like, you can work on projects where you’re like, these are the kind of people I want to work with all the time. And then you know what that looks like.

JL: Yeah, and I think it’s amazing. But there’s also like, half- and quarter-way points, too, right? So, I think, as you mentioned before, we don’t necessarily traditionally work on the same types of things, but I love both of you, so having chances to work with you is great. And I just remember, like Sara and I, when we were both doing a lot of public speaking, we would go out to happy hour or we would go out to dinner and we would just talk about public speaking things. And even though Sara and I would be talking about completely different things, the business of public speaking was something that we could both talk to and learn from each other. And talk about how we were doing things, how we were organizing, how we were charging. How we were going to do logistics of things—and having someone I could talk to about that was, like, totally priceless for me.

[40:00]

SWB: Yes! You know, I think that there’s a lot of pressure in culture at large and definitely within the tech industry, to kind of not talk about some of this stuff. For example, don’t talk about how much you charge for things and how much you make off of things. And I know that that can be a touchy and sensitive discussion but I really think that only benefits the people who have the most power. And that’s so problematic. That tends to disproportionately affect women and it tends to disproportionately affect people of color, and particularly disproportionately affects people who are women of color. And so I’m really a big proponent of having as many open and honest conversations about topics like compensation as possible. Because I really think that the fact that we haven’t had enough of those is part of the reason that we hear things like Becca’s statement earlier on, where she talked about the AIGA survey. Which is a designer’s survey showing that women at her level were making $20,000 less than men. It’s certainly not the only reason, but part of the reason that continues to go on unchecked, is because we’re encouraged not to talk about it. So I’m gonna fuckin’ talk about it.

JL: Yeah, I wrote a post in, I don’t know, 2015? 2014?—“A Formula for Charging Speaker Fees”—and it’s about…

SWB: Oh yeah!

KL: It was great!

JL: And it’s still, I mean, it’s probably the most visited blog post on the Nerdery. And I mean, that site hasn’t been updated in over a year, but we still get traffic from that post especially. People looking for how to charge, how do I put numbers around something, and so I was thrilled that people are still finding value in that. Because, for me, it was really valuable to talk about it.

SWB: So that’s the kind of thing, I think, if you feel sort of isolated—and it’s not just about money, really—but if you feel isolated in your field, or if you feel like you don’t know who you can trust, then you can never really get to a place where you have the confidence to then have that conversation with the people the really matter.

KL: Or if you’re just starting out.

SWB: Totally.

KL: That’s a whole group of people who—like, I wouldn’t even know where to start if I was doing it for the first time and I just had no idea. If I had no idea what to base it off of. So if I found a resource that was helpful like that, it would be so valuable.

SWB: Yeah and I think, you know, especially since things like money conversations—it’s like if you try to have one and you’re not that confident about it and you don’t really have any context. If you get pushback, it’s really easy to believe that you’re getting pushback because you were asking for too much. And you don’t have a frame of reference. So, anyway, I think building those relationships to give you more context and get more insight and feedback and, just like you have someone to bounce everything off of—it’s so valuable. I’m really happy to hear people like Deepa and Lara are teaming up because I think that the more of these kinds of powerful relationships between people that exist out there, the stronger any industry is going to be.

JL: Completely, yeah. I think that finding advocates in your peers and finding that partnership is so important and valuable.

SWB: A lot of the folks we talked to—they were kind of moving from working at a company to starting their own thing. Or otherwise kind of shifting gears in that more consultative way. Jenn, you went from consulting to going back in-house and then you had a baby, so you had kind of different sort of year with a lot of new stuff. But I’m curious: what did that look like for you and what made that work for you at this moment in your life?

JL: You bring up a good point, Sara. I think a lot of times, we often say like, “oh i’m starting something new,” and it’s always about quitting your job. And I did that, as I mentioned before.

SWB: Quitting your job can be great, let’s not lie about that. But it’s not always great. And it’s not always what you want.

JL: And it was what I wanted for a really long time. And I think one of the hardest things for me, because of the vision that comes along with that—the freedom, the working from home, the yoga pants, the ability to do anything you want, essentially, is awesome. And then for me to recognize, you know, what was also awesome, was going back to a full time job. I started consulting for Anthropologie and I worked onsite a couple days a week and I was really enjoying it. I enjoyed the work I was doing, I enjoyed being in-house again, and I really enjoyed working on product as opposed—it was a different change from agency life. And I thought that that was such a nice change—and there was part of me that was really hesitant to go back full time. And, they’d offered the full time work, I still wasn’t sure, and I think part of it was just because I thought what I was supposed to do, was stay consulting. You know, I’d already quit my job—why would I ever go back!?

[45:00]

And then, I realized for me, that the full time job gave me a lot of stability, in that, in order to try new things such as: BABY.

[Laughter]

JL: For me, I always like to have at least one or two maybe, super stable things in my life when I try something new. When I first quit my job, I had a very stable relationship—now with my husband, also stable friendships, a lot of stable colleagues, that were really allowing me to try something new. Now I had again, this stability, that was like, ok, I feel pretty great—maybe I’ll go and try this new-fangled baby thing that I hear people talk about. And it was really great to have the support of the people that I work with, also, at the time, figuring out things like maternity leave, figuring out how to make the balance before I went on maternity leave. And so, going back for me, was like a little bit of a hard move but something that I knew was right for me at the time. And something that I really wanted to see through. Will I be full-time forever, I’m not sure! But for right now, I’m enjoying a lot about it.

SWB: Yeah, I think that when people start a business or move to doing consulting or something like that, that’s often this sense of like, if they ever change course from that, I think it gets perceived—or there’s a fear that it’ll be perceived—as failure in some way. Or like taking a step backwards. And of course, life’s not really like that, right? There are times when something makes a lot of sense and times when it doesn’t. And I think that’s part of the thing I’m really interested in exploring more in this show. How do we figure out the next steps that are right for us, that allow us to continue to grow. And to try not to buy into some of those bullshit stories about what it means to be successful. For example, none of us have a goal of being tech company founders who go out and get a bunch of venture capital so that we can be the next unicorn company worth a billion dollars. I mean, I guess having a billion dollars sounds—no, I’m sorry, having a billion dollars actually sounds awful. It sounds truly terrible. Because I look at the people who are making that their kind of dream they’re chasing—and I think, would I be happier? I don’t think so. Would I be creating a better world? Probably not. What is really the draw of that except for the idea that it’s what a picture of what success looks like. And I think what I’m hoping we can do here is really talk about of different types of success.

JL: Yeah, it’s like, when is the right time for you to do these options that we have. And you know, we’re so lucky that we have options, especially in the tech field where you have a lot of abilities to work agency, to work product, to go consulting. Lots of different options. So I think it’s as you said, not a one size fits all and not always a one size fits all for this time frame forever.

SWB: So I know that having a baby was a big new thing, but I also know something that you told me when you were still kind of getting embedded in that job was that it was—and I think you mentioned it a little. You said it was a chance to work on product, which you hadn’t done before. And it you were telling me a lot about some of the challenges of working at scale at this big e-commerce company and all this stuff that was a little bit new. And I’m curious, do you feel like—not only did you create this stability for your but have you also been growing professionally in this new job?

JL: Yeah, sure. I think one of the things that was really neat, as you mentioned—working not only at CSS architecture at scale, but also taking on management responsibilities. So consulting, I managed myself, and sometimes some other members of teams. But generally now I’m in a position where I have direct reports. I’m working more in the engineering team and helping people with their career paths again, is really interesting to me and definitely a new challenge. Managing is hard.

SWB: People! You know?

KL: People are wonderful, and hard, and wonderful, and hard.

JL: Exactly. So it’s rewarding in a whole new way and challenging in a whole new way. I haven’t managed since before I was consulting, so it was fun to take that on again. But also just something completely new—it’s nice to see that at this point in my career, these different kind of challenges. But that said, focusing a lot on both the management and the architecture also sort of left this gap where I wasn’t doing as many of the things I was doing before with side projects. So trying to figure out—it’s again, facing this sort of similar thing as I had before, where I’m not burnt out on what I’m doing—there’s just something I love and I miss doing that also. So how do I also get this thing that I love in my life somehow. But not at the same scale as before. Because like I mentioned, it’s that balance. And it all comes down to scale again. Where, I don’t want to quit and got consulting and go travel all over the place again all of the time because I want to be home with some level of stability. But I want new projects also, so talking to both of you was really neat because then the idea of starting something new with this podcast came up. And this, for me, is so exciting, because it acts as an outlet to do a lot of things I loved doing in side projects while still maintaining a lot of this new stability that I found in my life.

Fuck Yeah of the Week

[50:15]

SWB: You know when your friend gets an awesome new job, or publishes an amazing article, or finally pays off their student loans, and you’re so excited that you keep texting them in just like all caps and the fire emoji over and over again? Well, that’s the next segment here, it’s called the Fuck Yeah of the Week—and it’s where we share the people and the things that we think you all should be celebrating. Think of it as the podcast form of the 100 emoji.

So Jenn, who is our very first Fuck Yeah of the Week?

JL: Well, Sara, I’m gonna go ahead and say, it’s US! Fuck Yeah, Us!

KL: Fuck Yeah, YES!

JL: You know, I think sometimes you gotta take those moments and celebrate yourself, and I think we should be celebrating ourselves for getting this thing up and running! Here we are, we’ve talked about this idea, and now we are actually in the room recording it, ladies—we’re doing it!

SWB: Yeah!

JL: It’s awesome.

SWB: You know, earlier we heard from Lara Hogan about her, you know, new business and all of that. But this reminds me so much of something that she started writing about years ago. She has a whole site about this—it’s Lara Hogan’s donut site, I don’t know what it’s called. But basically, what she does, is she celebrates every career achievement with a donut. And she started doing it because she realized that whenever something cool was happening, like she was getting a promotion, or she was accepted to give a talk somewhere, she would go, “ok, great,” and then move on to the next thing. And she wasn’t giving herself permission to celebrate that. So she started saying, “ok, every time something major happens, I’m gettin’ myself a donut.” And she takes a picture of it and she puts it on this website. And I think that that’s wonderful, because every time she has a new donut thing to celebrate, I’m like, “hell yeah, get that donut!”

JL: Yeah!

SWB: And I love that we’re able to do that for ourselves, too, because, yeah, I think we’re often taught to keep looking forward or don’t let yourself have too much of the limelight. And, I hope that anybody who’s listening to this can kind of give themselves a fuck yeah, too, for the things that they’re accomplishing.

KL: Definitely, it’s so exciting to see how far Lara’s Tao of Donuts, essentially, has spread. Because you see other people taking photos, you know, of their donuts that they’ve gotten after speaking for the first time, or you know, doing a big demo. And that’s so cool, because you know it ties back to this thing that she, talked about, and that’s super cool. I hope that we see lots more photos of donuts, or your celebration.

JL: Our second fuck yeah are these Olivia Pope wine glasses that we are drinking out of today. The Olivia Pope wine glass has always been, for me, my special donut moment. You know, on that show Scandal, when she drinks, and it just was like, “wow, where do I get a glass to just drown my sorrows or celebrate my joys.” Like, that is the glass that holds everything. They sell them at Crate & Barrel. Crate & Barrel is not one of our sponsors, but they could be.

KL: They could be.

[Laughter]

SWB: Are you listening, Crate & Barrel?

JL: But! I love these glasses because I take them out when I need to like, either, like, pause and be like, this is life right now, and this is just my moment to just like, take it all in. Be it good, be it bad. But like, here’s just a moment to pause and be like, “Fuck yeah, I got these glasses, and in this case, I got these friends, and I’ve got this wine, and I’ve got this podcast, so, it’s pretty good.”

SWB: You know, if you haven’t seen an Olivia Pope wine glass, first off, it’s going to be in the show notes, but if you Google “Olivia Pope wine glass,” you know exactly—immediately—what we’re talking about.

KL: It’ll be on our Instagram.

SWB: But what’s really key about the Olivia Pope wine glass, is that it’s got a big glass, but it’s also on this long, really slender stem. It’s like a big-deal wine glass. It’s not just like, “Oh I’m having a quick glass of wine.” It’s very much like, “I am having wine now, period.” And, I like that because it does—it kind of creates that space, right? Like, you were saying, Jenn, it’s not just like that you’re going to pour yourself a quick glass. It’s that you’re pausing and taking a moment and you’re allowing yourself to have that bit of joy. And I think that that’s really important, even though, normally I don’t trust myself to use the Olivia Pope wine glass on the regular, but I want them to exist in the world.

JL: That’s why I have six of them.

[Laughter]

KL: They’re great, because they have presence, yet they’re elegant.

SWB: So, just like us?

JL: Mhmm.

SWB: That’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. No, You Go is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia. Our theme music is by Philly’s own The Diaphone, from a song called Maths. In this episode, you heard Becca Gurney, Jenn Schiffer, Mina Markham and Lara Hogan. We’ll be back next week with Episode 2.

[55:00]

KL: Until then, we leave you with this advice from Sam Kapila, a designer and educator who’s always up to something new:

SAM KAPILA: I know it’s time to start something new when I’m a little bit scared….the good sort of scared that inspires me to want to explore something new in a project, or in a job, or scared in a way that you might surprise yourself. It’s also important to start something new when you can’t stop thinking about a certain idea, and it keeps you up at night. It’s in your 3am journal on your bedside, and it’s something that you just can’t wait to start doing and be really proud of. And I think, any time you can be proud of something you are doing, that’s definitely time to start something new.

Jan 17 2018
56 mins
Play

Rank #2: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable with Erika Hall

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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

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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.]

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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
55 mins
Play

Rank #3: Be Relentless with Talia Schlanger

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Have you heard the groundswell women making waves in music lately? Talia Schlanger has. The public radio powerhouse joins us to talk about the art of interviewing, the importance of uncomfortable conversations, and why “women in music” isn’t a theme—it’s just what normal looks like...on her airwaves, at least.

Talia is the host of World Cafe, the iconic radio show produced by WXPN in Philadelphia and distributed nationally on NPR. Before joining the show in 2016, she was a producer and host at the CBC. In this live episode from the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, we talk about scheming and scamming her way into radio, what it was like to take over World Cafe from creator David Dye, and why she’s fighting every day for way more diversity in music.

We’re not doing this as some summer camp project to try and make the world better for everyone. We’re trying to remove the biases that we have, so that we can hear the best stuff that’s out there—so that we’re not missing out because we have outdated ideas or because our ears are closed or because maybe we don’t have a frame of reference for something because all the music that we listened to maybe at a different time in the music industry was male.
—Talia Schlanger, host, World Cafe

Links

Plus:

  • Everyone in Canada knows Drake
  • Sara gets her bra signed by Australian teens
  • Katel totally loves ska, pass it on
  • We’re all gonna BFF Alanis someday
  • Butt masks: a bridge too far

Thanks to The Philadelphia Podcast Festival for having us, Indy Hall for hosting, and all our friends and fans who made it out!

Aug 08 2019
48 mins
Play

Rank #4: Faith, Loss, and Fiction with R.O. Kwon

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What’s it like to spend a decade working on your first novel, become a bestselling author, and still have the first thing people say about you be that you’re “adorable”? We talk with Korean American writer R.O. Kwon to find out.

R.O. is best known for her 2018 novel, The Incendiaries. It’s a story about young love, religious fundamentalism, violent extremism, and coming to terms with the loss of faith. It was named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Atlantic, Bustle, Buzzfeed, the BBC, and a bunch other outlets—and it’s finally out in paperback this week.

It was a dream to talk with R.O. about finding massive success after working on her book for 10 years, loving literature she couldn’t see herself in, and why we all need to stop calling Asian women “cute.”

I was desperately in love with an art form—literature—in which I physically could not and did not exist… the books I had around the house that I loved and still love were Henry James and Jane Austin and Edith Wharton. All these books by very dead people in a world in which—if I were ever to appear in, say, Edith Wharton’s world—I couldn’t have even gone into the rooms where things are happening. Nobody would have talked to me. At best, I might have been a circus attraction.
—R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries

We chat about:

  • Why reworking the first chapter over and over isn’t the best way to finish a novel. “I had twenty pages of the most elaborately reworked prose I had ever read. I threw it all away and then I started again.”
  • Why including sexual violence in the book came so naturally. “It would have felt unrealistic to me I think in retrospect to have a more sanitized version of a college world. That wasn’t the college world that I knew, at least.”
  • What it’s like to lose your faith at 17. “My entire life is divided into before and after. And that aftermath has in a lot of ways felt like an aftermath where a predominant note has been grief.”
  • How she handles online harassment. “Every woman writer I know who is online in any way is getting harassed—that seems to be a part of our online lives, which is so awful. So, there has been harassment, especially anytime I write a nonfiction piece that has anything to do with gender or race or, god forbid, both.”

Links:

Plus:

  • Embracing a shitty first drafts mentality—in writing and pretty much everything else.
  • How perfectionism makes us feel safe and in control, but actually shuts down progress.
  • Fuck yeah to saying no! Did you know you can rest even when you're not sick?
  • Why capitalism hates that you have a body.
Aug 01 2019
47 mins
Play

Rank #5: Quiet Leadership with Rachel Robertson

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Introvert, extrovert, ambivert: how real are these labels? And how can we use them to do a better job of making space for more types of people—without pigeonholing anyone?

We’re joined this week by Rachel Robertson, a designer and UX lead at Shopify. We first heard about Rachel when we stumbled on an article she wrote called “An Introvert’s Guide to Collaboration.” In it, she talks about how she used to carve out work she could do independently—but realized this was keeping her from growing, because she wasn’t exposing herself to different perspectives that could improve her work.

> I love when people share their experiences and their perspectives… and I always benefit so much from that. So there was a point in time recently where I wanted to participate more in that conversation, and not just be a consumer of everyone else’s points of view.
> —Rachel Robertson, UX lead at Shopify

We ask Rachel more about her experience as an introverted person, how that’s changed her approach to leading a team, and what companies can do to make themselves more inclusive to people like her.

Also in this episode, we:

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

Katel LeDû [Ad spot] Finding the right job is hard work. Good thing there’s Shopify. Shopify is on a mission to make commerce better for everyone—and they’re looking for impactful, ambitious, and passionate people to help them do it. If you want to be part of a diverse team that loves solving problems—and help entrepreneurs around the world start and grow their businesses—then you should check out Shopify. Visit shopify.com/careers for all the info [music fades in, plays alone for 12 seconds, fades out].

Jenn Lukas 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. We’ve got tons in store on today’s show: we’re going to check in on our vocab swaps; we’re going to share our Fuck Yeah of the Week; and of course we’re going to hear from a great guest. This week we are joined by designer Rachel Robertson who’s here to chat with us about how she learned to collaborate as an introvert, and what that taught her about leading teams with a range of different needs. So, speaking of being an introvert or an extrovert, I was at a conference just this past week and they had these really interesting signs outside the lounges. So they had these two lounges where you could kind of chill out between sessions or if you wanted to skip out on a session, and one of them was labeled “The Introvert Lounge” and one was labeled “The Extrovert Lounge.” And it was pretty neat, I’d never seen something like that where they specifically labeled one to be, you know, where you could do quiet stuff or you can be doing work or checking email. And the other one where you could have a conference call or plays games or chat with people. And one of the things that happened after that conference was that … a tweet went viral of a photo of this and there was like such a divided conversation about whether this was good or bad. The people that thought it was good were like, “Oh my gosh, this is how humans work.” And the people who thought it was bad were like, “This feels kind of like… judgy to people who are extroverts, or judgy to people who are introverts.” Or it feels like, “I don’t want to be labeled as one or the other,” and it really got me thinking I feel like introvert and extrovert has been this like really common discussion just in the past year or two, and I’ve always felt kind of weirded out by the language even though like probably most people would be like, “Sara, you’re an extrovert.” Like, “Sara, c’mon like you’re—you’re an extrovert. It’s pretty obvious. Just own it.” And I agree with that, but I also feel like there’s something weird about having that as an identity versus like being like, ok, sometimes I feel extroverted and I want to do extroverted things, and other times I don’t. And like, you know, sure I trend more to one side more than some people. But, I don’t know, I guess I’ve always felt like that was a way that we try to like put people into boxes and so, I don’t know, I’m curious: do you identify as an introvert or an extrovert, and what does that mean to you?

KL I definitely—I identify as an introvert based on I think the one thing that I have read routinely about, you know, sort of what defines an introvert and that is—or this is the part I relate to the most—which is that I recoup my energy by being alone and having downtime and sort of if I am in heavy social situations, I—I need to sort of like have that recuperation time. But I also feel like I’m extremely social in a lot of situations and when I go to a party I like to chat with a lot of people and I don’t—I don’t necessarily feel inhibited in terms of meeting new people or like talking to folks but, I don’t know, so I think I have—like now that you’re saying that I feel like I’ve felt sort of torn about it and I feel uneasy because I don’t know if I do fit squarely in one of those boxes. Yeah, so, I don’t know, that brings up an interesting question.

[3:50]

JL I liked a lot of the comments on this Twitter thread that brought up, you know, where do—where do ambiverts fit in? And I was like, “Huh, I haven’t heard that phrase before.” And so the ambivert is mix of extrovert and introvert and I was like, “Oh. Thank you,” because people when they see me I think, similar feeling, they assume I’m an extrovert. And that’s maybe just because like I’ve been in social situations, I do public speaking. But, the same way as you can tell like, I don’t really mind the public speaking but I get really tired afterwards, and I just like—there’s times where I can get a mix of like the energy from being around people, but I also want to like go to my hotel room, order room service, and just hide. And so there’s definitely a big mix of things. It’s weird to me when I hear that idea of like, “I need to recuperate by downtime,” I can’t imagine any other way. Like I can’t imagine not having downtime. Like the idea that someone doesn’t, like… is that really like a thing that people don’t want downtime?

SWB Yeah, I guess I feel like this is why I think that the concepts of introversion and extroversion are super helpful, but the identity labels are not always as helpful, because I think humans need downtime, and there’s—there’s differences in how much and when, but absolutely, like I consider myself fairly extroverted in a lot of scenarios, but I also need to hide in my room sometimes, and I also get to a point where I feel very tired after a lot of social interactions. I just think that that is true for all humans at some point and the points obviously differ, but there’s been this attempt to, again, right, like it’s convenient to give people a label and be like, “You’re this and you’re that,” and I think that the reality is just so much more nuanced. And I think that that’s one of the things that—it’s like step one is just recognizing, like, people have differences, and step two is recognizing that those differences almost always fall on whole spectrums and people don’t have the same experiences. And that seems to be a harder shift to get people to—to sort of take seriously.

JL Yeah. I really liked that they were addressing this at conference.

KL Yeah!

JL But I didn’t love the versus vibe. And that’s the thing that I feel like all these things—like we had to do one of those Myers Briggs personality tests at work one time—and all that ends up with I feel like is people judging you. And it just felt like it was one of those things you’re supposed to do so you can work well together with people—

[6:21]

KL And like know more about yourself.

JL Yes.

KL Whatever but yeah.

JL Which in an ideal world, if you can get that to work, is great. However, it doesn’t always work.

KL Yeah.

JL And that’s the part that I think is tough.

KL It’s almost like—I get the—I think I get the thing that they were trying to do but, you know, obviously hindsight and looking back on it and being like, “I would’ve done this differently.” I mean it’s almost like saying, ok this room is going to be like chill—a chill vibe and quiet—and you can come in here and just like do your thing, and listen to music or whatever. And then this room is going to be games. And so there’s obviously going to be an element of, you know, getting to know people in a social—like interaction. That kinda feels more like you get the idea without having to be like, “I’m a this.”

JL You didn’t tell me there were games.

KL Yeah [laughs].

SWB So—so, speaking though of like hindsight and like, oh gosh. Huge shout-out to Confab, the content strategy conference that I was at, and, specifically, to Tenessa Gemelke, who runs the event. She’s sort of like the director of all things Confab, and after this tweet blew up—you know, it’s like retweeted 4,000 times and there’s this like huge debate happening in the thread— she talked a little about, oh, you know, “I learned a lot from reading these comments.” And one of the things that she said was that when they designed this she was really imagining it like the—the copy underneath each of these signs is, like, punching up. So she sees herself as being super extroverted and one of the things it said on the lounge copy was like—on the introvert lounge was where you can “hide from extroverts.” And she thought that was funny because as somebody who identifies as extroverted, she was like, “Oh, you know, this is—this is punching up. This is not making fun of people who might feel uncomfortable with it.” And she realized that that wasn’t the case for everybody. And—and I think that, you know, I think that the intention makes a ton of sense, and I bet that they’re going to do something similar again but I’m confident they’re going to have some slightly different labels. And, you know, I liken this a lot to the same kind of stuff I’ve talked about with when it comes to user experience design. Right? Like professional work where… it’s so much more helpful usually to ask people what they want to do than it is to get people to define who they are, because defining who you are is really fraught and almost always if you try to make people define who they are by like selecting this category or that category, there are going to be people who do not fit the boxes. And I think that that’s the same here. And I happen to feel comfortable using both rooms, right? Like I used one room when I was doing quiet things and then I used another room when I saw a bunch of my friends in there and we were going to play Apples to Apples, and that was fucking great, but I don’t know that everybody would feel comfortable that way.

[9:04]

JL Yeah. I mean I would sit, generally, in the quiet car on an Amtrak train, but sometimes I’ll walk over to the cafe car and get some train wine, you know?

KL Oh look at you! [Laughs]

JL It just—it just depends a little bit. However, I don’t necessarily want to be put into the same group as the other riders that I’m riding with on an Amtrak train because I don’t think that necessarily we would fit into the same sort of focus group labels just because we ride on the same kind of train on the Amtrak.

SWB Well, uh right, again, like I go to the quiet car all the time on Amtrak because I want to do some work and I don’t want to be bothered randos and that’s great but that doesn’t mean that I identify as “quiet person.”

JL Doesn’t mean that you can’t have an Amtrak hot dog.

SWB I don’t eat rail dogs [laughs]. But you know what I mean? Like if I tried to say, “No, I’m a quiet person.” You would all laugh at me. I am not a quiet person. But I’m a capable of being quiet during a train journey because I’ve chosen to be in a quiet environment.

KL You know who’s not capable? A lot of people [laughter]. And I have very often appointed myself as the Quiet Car Patrol. So, just, you know, I’m very fun to ride the train with.

SWB I prefer Quiet Car Vigilante [laughter]. You have to, like, mete out justice in the quiet car.

KL [Laughs] It’s so true.

SWB The worst I had was somebody who was watching YouTube videos with no headphones.

JL In the quiet car?!?

SWB Yes.

JL Shame.

[10:29]

SWB Extreme shame. I know. Listeners, I love all of you, except for the ones who are doing anything without headphones in the quiet car. So, I think we all are kind of on the same page that like we have varying degrees of introversion and extroversion and like fitting neatly into one box or the other is maybe not always helpful or even possible but I still think it’s so interesting to kind of talk about those different facets of people and I think a lot of business culture has really been like designed with the idea that more extroversion is the ideal. That like, that is the best way to be, and that if you’re less like that, you should try to be more like that. And so one of the things I was really excited about when we talked to Rachel, our guest today, was that she was kind of pushing back against some of that. That it’s not like there’s one better way to be, it’s that we haven’t necessarily optimized workplace environments so that more people can be successful in them. And so I’m super interested in talking about these concepts—even if they don’t perfectly fit—because I think that that’s so valuable to start to look at, like, well what do we change in the way that we operate our companies? Or what do we change in the way that we run meetings so that they become places where like more of us can, I don’t know, not be miserable—

KL And thrive.

SWB Totally. That’s probably a better answer than not be miserable.

KL I totally agree. I can’t wait to hear from Rachel. Should we do it?

SWB Let’s do it.

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[13:28]

Interview: Rachel Robertson

SWB Rachel Robertson is a UX lead at Shopify—which is, full disclosure, as you probably already know, a sponsor of ours that we’ve had for quite some time. But that’s not actually why we wanted to talk with Rachel today. The reason we wanted to talk with Rachel is that we stumbled on this awesome article that she wrote called “An Introvert’s Guide to Collaboration.” In that article she talks about how she used to carve out work that she could do independently. And then she realized that it was preventing her from growing because she wasn’t seeing new perspectives and learning from other people as much as she wanted to be. So we’re going to talk today about what she did to change that, and how that realization has shifted the work that she does as a designer and also the work she does as a leader. Rachel, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Rachel Robertson Thanks for having me.

SWB So let’s start with this article. What was it that made you realize that you needed to get better at collaboration? Or find a way for collaboration to work for you?

RR There wasn’t this like ah-ha moment, but I realized that I wasn’t having as much impact as I could have if I was working more collaboratively. At the time, as I mention in the article, like Shopify was growing quite a bit, and I knew that in order to have the impact that I wanted to have and, you know, be a good role model for more women joining the team, that I needed to start collaborating. Some things that I realized was that it’s really important to understand the people who you’re working with and for them to understand you, and to like be the person to help facilitate that inclusion in the team, and to work actively with each other.

SWB You know it’s interesting because as somebody who thinks of themselves as introverted and finds it difficult to kind of be more, I don’t know, I guess assertive or vocal in situations, it puts you in sort of a vulnerable position to have to tell other people what you need. How did you get to a place where you felt comfortable doing that?

RR Authenticity is something that’s really important at Shopify, and so people are encouraged and supported to be their authentic self. And, you know, to be your authentic self, you have to really be honest about what your true needs are and who you are. So I felt like the environment already kind of optimized for helping me feel comfortable doing that. But my challenge was more about how I typically tend to stay in my own head and internalize, and in a lot of cases, again, I think it’s just a personality thing, I tend to overlook my own needs. So I need to be really intentional about not doing that in order to sort of like participate in this culture that I work in.

SWB Yeah, so, let’s talk a little bit about what those are, because I know you mentioned in the article that you started doing this thing where you created like a blueprint for yourself to kind of help people understand where you’re coming from or what you need. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like, what is it that you need? And sort of like, how did you … articulate that or formalize that in a way that other people could use?

[16:26]

RR The blueprint exercise is basically just an activity that a team can do. It’s a practical review of outlining who you are as an individual, what your preferences are, any work quirks that you have. And I think this was actually a method that—I mean I didn’t invent this, I probably found out about this idea from someone who found out about it from someone else. But as someone who is on the quieter side and has sometimes struggled to kind of like break into conversations or kind of like build a rapport really quickly with people, this method resonated with me because it was something structured and specific that I could do that communicated sort of like what I bring to the team, to my teammates. But also it’s really important if you’re working with people to understand them and that they understand you. So bringing them into the activity as well.

SWB Yeah. So, tell us more. So, you mentioned that it’s a structured activity. For people who haven’t read the article yet, we’re going to link it in the show notes. But can you tell a bit more? Like what goes into that blueprint? What are the different pieces to that activity and sort of what does it reveal about you and about your team?

RR Yeah, so I had down things like, “What is your superpower and your work quirks?” So by that I mean preferred methods of learning or, you know, your communication style, anything that you can think of really. Skills and interests. People’s backgrounds because that’s always interesting I think. And what people can come to talk to me or whoever is filling the blueprint out about, which kind of reveals the things that they feel they really bring to the team. A fun fact about me is that I have a bachelor of fine arts in contemporary dance, specializing in choreography, and that I had this little dance troupe for a while. And it’s just, you know, kind of like a little humanizing fact about myself that’s a point of interest.

SWB And what kinds of stuff did you end up learning about your teammates this way?

RR You pick up the things that are unique about everyone, but also make the connections over things that you have in common. So, you know, there’s kind of—it’s nice to see that diversity in the team, but also the things that you have in common. And then a big one is kind of the fear of public speaking and the nervousness of being around the center of attention. That one’s pretty common in my team.

SWB And yet here you are being interviewed for a podcast today.

RR Yes, I know [laughs].

[19:00]

SWB How are you feeling about that?

RR It’s exciting. I mean I am—I am nervous, not too nervous, but it’s exciting because right now something that I’m excited about in my professional growth is, I’m trying to practice feeling a bit more comfortable exposing myself to a broader audience than, you know, just my day-to-day team. So it’s a bit scary, but also I’m motivated to do it because I’m trying to grow in this area.

SWB Yeah that’s really interesting. So as somebody who’s not necessarily very introverted, it’s—it’s interesting for me to listen to people who talk about, you know, wanting to kind of like keep things more to themselves and being more likely to kind of retreat internally, and yet simultaneously having that desire to get out in front of people and to be able to talk about things. So how do those things come together for you? What makes you want to share the things you know and sort of talk more publicly?

RR I guess if we’re talking about introversion I should probably define a little bit about what that means to me. So for me it’s, you know, aspects of being more internal and in my own head and really needing to be alone a lot of the time, and drawing my energy back from being alone. But I don’t see it as something that I’m trying to get over or deal with. I think it’s just, you know, part of who I am and it is being my authentic self. I try to stay in tune with what is motivating me, and things that motivate me are, like, personal growth and having an impact, and I love when people share their experiences and their perspectives—like reading about it, listening to it—and I always benefit so much from that. So there was a point in time recently where I wanted to participate more in that conversation, and not just be a consumer of everyone else’s points of view.

SWB What I’m really struck by in what you’re talking about is that you realize that there’s is sort of like a benefit, frankly, to the world of people who are more introverted feeling comfortable kind of stepping out of their comfort zone a little bit and speaking up. And so I’m curious, how can workplaces, and also, like, society in general, do a better job of supporting folks who aren’t naturally extroverted, but still have tons of goodness to share?

RR I guess just in society in general, like, characteristics of people who are more extroverted tend to be maybe looked up to a bit more or rewarded a bit more. And I think that’s because people who are extroverted tend to be a bit more open and think on the fly, and like open about their thoughts on the fly. And there’s this perception of trust almost because of that openness. Whereas if you’re a bit a more introverted, it can sometimes come across as you’re holding things back. So for me personally, I always think about trying to manage that perception or just be aware of it.

[22:04]

KL As I’ve been listening to you talk about all of the things that you’ve done and all of the steps you’ve taken, it makes me feel… like I really wish I would’ve known some of this or just thought to kind of like explore it a little bit more, especially when I made my last career change, which was coming to A Book Apart. And the main reason for that is because I went from, you know, working in a sort of a traditional organization, a traditional company, where it was lots of people and, you know, teams and structures that I was really used to, and then all of a sudden I was remote. And I was working with, you know, a team of people who I never saw. So I really—like thinking back on that, and even today I think it’s still a challenge—the struggle of, you know, collaborating with people that you don’t see when it’s easier for me to just do the work on my own. I think, like, I’m looking back on that, and I think it was—that’s why some of that felt harder, because I also had to get over this like physical boundary. So I guess I’m just thinking, I feel like this could be part of an onboarding exercise where you talk about a blueprint or that type of thing. So I think, I don’t know, I think it could be a really nice way to kind of get folks to talk about, you know, where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are so that there’s—it feels like there’s more support.

RR Yeah definitely. I think the format of things, too. Sort of practicing a bit more mindfulness and inclusion in the format of things. I mean, I’ll give examples in the workplace. Like meetings are a big one. Often these are kind of set up, there’s a room with a lot of people, and it’s, you know, maybe not moderated. And if you’re more comfortable speaking up, and a bit louder, it might not necessarily be the best format for people who are a bit quieter, right? So, yeah, I think there’s a lot to do with format and just being mindful of different peoples’—like the way that they think or how they communicate.

SWB Yeah, you know, as somebody who typically speaks up in meetings or conversations—I mean, it depends a little bit on the audience, but I tend to be, you know, one of the people who’s comfortable kind of jumping in—I think it didn’t used to occur to me that that wasn’t true for everybody, or that they needed different things to feel comfortable doing that. And I really I feel like I really started to learn about that a few years ago when I got more interested in things like facilitation. And so as you were speaking I was thinking about some of the tools I use when I’m facilitating, and so, you know, for example making sure that some of the activities that we do if I’m facilitating a workshop are activities where people have a chance to kind of like jot down ideas or collect their thoughts individually before they’re supposed to pipe up as a group, you know? Or there are other techniques like that give people different modes of participating. Like sometimes it’s they can add stickies to a wall and then their ideas definitely get up on the wall, and, you know, and then we can talk about them. Sometimes it’s having those few minutes to write something down before it’s time to take input from everybody. But I started thinking a lot about, you know, what are the ways that we can structure these kinds of sessions so that more people feel like they can take part in them? And also so that, you know, it’s not just the loudest voices that get heard—because I can assure you, the loudest voices are not [chuckling] necessarily like the smartest or best voices in all scenarios.

[25:44]

RR Yeah. Like I always appreciate going into meetings where there’s going to be ideation or sharing ideas to get a bit of context ahead of time from whoever’s running it. Agendas actually really help.

SWB So that brings me to something that I noticed in your article and I would love to hear more about. So there was a picture you included of something that was called inclusion pyramids that you have in meeting rooms around Shopify. Can you tell our listeners what those are and where they come from and what they’re for?

RR Yeah, sure. So they’re paper pyramids that are located in all the meeting rooms at Shopify and in some common spaces, and on each side there’s a little tip about making an inclusive meeting. And so this was—we have a diversity and inclusion team, and they developed these pyramids, these paper pyramids, as just as a friendly reminder to be mindful of fostering inclusive meetings. And they’re kind of passive, right? Like they’re—the way they’re used is that they’re there. In different meeting rooms there’s different messages on the different pyramids. And the way I use it, personally, is, you know, like I noticed just in the course of meeting I, you know, I’ll glance at them and there’s a few that over time have stuck with me, that I try to be mindful of during meetings, whether I’m running the meeting or just participating.

SWB What are the ones that have stuck with you?

RR Yeah, so, there’s about, I think, two or three. The first one is about how meetings aren’t for everyone. They’re not everyone’s jam. And it’s really important to seek input and get feedback from people who were quieter during the meeting. Another one is around being mindful of people if they’re joining remotely into a meeting. We have really sensitive microphones in the office here and so trying to avoid typing or having side conversations during the meetings. Those are the—the two that are always at the front of my mind. And then of course like another one—the other one is if people get interrupted, you know, being intentional about bringing that conversation back to the person’s point or to the person.

SWB Yeah. That’s so important. I mean I think also about the way that sometimes people will get, you know, like their point will kind of get trampled over or ignored or whatever and then somebody will bring it up again a few minutes later and it’ll get attributed to a different person and sort of making sure that you’re giving people credit for their ideas, too, and that you’re, you know, you’re identifying where they came from. That kind of thing I think about a lot.

RR Yeah. Yeah, it can happen especially if—if the conversations are getting pretty lively or vibrant, right?

SWB Yeah and I think a lot of times it happens without people realizing that that’s what they’re doing, or without any sort of like malicious intent. And then I think sometimes it happens for other reasons that are more complicated, like I remember reading about the Obama White House, they—the women who worked there did this like amplification strategy, because they felt like they couldn’t get their ideas heard. And so they would specifically seek out each other’s ideas and amplify them and say like, “Oh I really liked what so and so said about blah blah blah,” to like make sure it was ingrained in people that these ideas were coming from the women, which I thought was super interesting. And I think, you know, it’s indicative of what was going on in that culture that that was a problem they were having. But yeah, I think using all of these techniques to kind of look at how do we think about things like meetings, how do we think about our workplace culture to make sure that people with different perspectives can be heard. Because you mentioned something earlier about, you know, like you’re not trying to change who you are. You’re not trying to stop being introverted. And I think that’s really important, because I feel like that’s what a lot of advice about how to succeed at work is, is like, “Oh! You should just become a different person!” As opposed to looking at like, oh actually we should figure out how to play to the strengths of lots of different types of people.

[29:46]

RR Oh yeah. Yeah. I’ve read the books that have that message [both laugh].

SWB So I think we have a lot of listeners who would also identify as being introverted and would also, you know, love to be more collaborative, but don’t necessarily work for companies where they feel like that’s easy to do or where like maybe, you know, you mentioned that you felt like the culture really supported that there. What advice would you give to somebody who’s just kind of just trying to figure out where to start, or isn’t sure that they feel safe speaking up about what their needs are?

RR Mm hmm. Yeah. I—I think my advice would really be to first identify like what is behind that struggle. Like what is actually going on there? Is is that you haven’t been communicating what your needs are, or have you tried different ways of approaching that? Are there different people that you can talk to in your organization to like get your needs heard or get support from? And then of course there’s other situations perhaps where the support just really isn’t there from the company or the organization, and I haven’t been in that situation, but if it were me I would probably think about trying to find a place that is more supportive.

SWB Yeah, I mean, I think it’s not that easy necessarily for everybody, and not necessarily in all industries, but something I think a lot about is, like, when I’ve seen friends who’ve been in clearly toxic work environments, it’s really easy to blame yourself or to think, like, you must be doing something wrong. You must be the one who’s problematic, or whatever. And I think it’s helpful, even if you don’t necessarily have a plan to go somewhere else, but it’s helpful to be able to just see it clearly and to be able to say like, “Wait. No, no, no, no, no, no. The problem isn’t me. The problem isn’t that I’m an introvert. The problem is that this place is doing these specific things that are preventing me from feeling safe and successful here.” You know, I think even just that knowledge can be empowering.

[31:46]

RR Yeah definitely it’s like the first step, right? You have to know what is actually going on, what is the case, and then think about different courses of action from there.

SWB So. Ok, so, now that you’ve kind of gone down this path of figuring out how to work more collaboratively and to have more of a public presence while also being true to yourself, how has that shifted sort of like what you want to do next in your career or with your goals?

RR I think I just want to do more of that. Like I want to keep getting better at it. As I mentioned, the big one for me is working on getting a bit more comfortable with things like public speaking, and, you know, putting myself out there, whether it’s writing an article or, you know, speaking to you lovely ladies here.

SWB So, I think that that’s great. I would love to hear you speak and write more, because that article you wrote about collaboration was really valuable to me, even though I don’t work at a, you know, a traditional company where I have a lot of teammates. I work with different people all the time, and it was really useful for me to think a little bit more clearly about, what are some of the assumptions I might have going into meetings? And sort of challenge those assumptions a bit. So, thank you for that. I’m looking forward to what else you have to say. Where can our listeners find out more about what you’re working on and what you’re interested in?

RR Yeah, so people can check out things that I’m writing about on ux.shopify.com, along with all of my other brilliant colleagues on the UX team.

SWB Well, that’s great! Thank you so much for being here today and we have really enjoyed talking with you.

RR Thank you [music fades in, plays alone for four seconds, fades out].

Vocab Swaps

JL Hey, so in Season 2 we introduced the vocab swap, which was just our chance to look at some of the language that we use in, you know, our everyday lives. Things that maybe you were like, “Ugh I wish there was something else I could say in this instance.” You know, like “kill two birds for the price of one”? That’s not what you say at all [laughter].

SWB What—I have a series of questions! [Laughter]

KL Is that like Payless BOGO?

SWB Why are we killing birds and—

[34:04]

JL This is why I need you to tell me how to swap my vocabulary!

KL Why are we killing birds and—

SWB We’re not killing birds.

JL Ok. So instead what we’re really trying to do here is find better things than what I’m currently saying right now. So, does anyone have any others besides killing birds for a vocab swap so that we can talk about this week?

SWB I have one that I came across just recently that I just never thought about, which is so true for so many of these. And that is the term “grandfather clause.” So a grandfather clause, as you have probably heard in your life, is some kind of policy that is old and outdated and most people don’t have that policy, but because you had it before a certain time you get to keep it, right? And the term actually comes from after the Civil War, during Reconstruction in the South, in the 1890s. A bunch of Southern states started enacting things like poll taxes and literacy tests. And so of course those were designed to keep black people who had just recently been granted the right to vote from actually being able to vote. So the problem for the people who were enacting this legislation was that if you had poll taxes and literacy tests, that would also disenfranchise a lot of poor white voters, who were often illiterate as well. And so that meant that that would cause an uproar. So what they did to ensure that they could keep black people from voting without keeping white people from voting was enact this thing they called a grandfather clause. And that meant that if you or your family had had the right to vote prior to 1867, you could vote, even if you couldn’t pass the tests. So the 15th amendment was passed in 1870 and that’s when former slaves were given suffrage. So that means that in 1867, of course, no black people could vote. And in 1867, all of these white people could vote without passing any tests or paying taxes. And so the result is that white people ended up being grandfathered in, and black people had to follow the new rules. So that was declared unconstitutional in 1915 for reasons that I hope are pretty clear, but we still hear that word a lot.

KL I’ve even worked at jobs where like I, you know, I miss some arbitrary cutoff and like the—the pensions weren’t available to me because I hadn’t been, you know, quote/unquote “grandfathered in.”

SWB And so it’s like a term that we don’t really think about because you’re—you’re like, “Ok! Grandfathered in: that’s meaningless, right? Like that’s not—that’s not sensitive language.” But I think the history of that is super problematic, and I have found myself, you know, questioning using that phrase and sort of like questioning how common that phrase just sort of slips in in weird places. So, I don’t know, do you have any fun ideas for [chuckling] different ways to talk about grandfather clauses?

[36:47]

JL I really like legacy. So legacy policy or legacy clause or legacy rule. I think legacy pretty much describes what a lot of these instances are.

KL Yeah and I think in some contexts you could say, you know, this is a historic rule or a historic guideline that we’re working with or whatever. I mean, I think then in some cases it’s actually a special case, and that’s how people are talking about it, which feels a little like, let’s actually call it what it is if it is a special case.

SWB Right, or like you’re being granted an exception of some sort, yeah. Yeah. And it’s like such a little thing, and I bet most people don’t think that much about it when they say it, and also like you think like how often does that even come up? But it comes up surprisingly often in anything contractual, and I was actually a little bit bummed that that wasn’t something that I knew about, that I didn’t know like sort of the provenance of that language. And now that I know it just makes me think about how many historical terms come from places that I don’t really want to replicate.

KL Totally. I feel like ever since we started this, I’ll find myself saying something and I’m like, “Is that what I really mean?” And, “Maybe I should explore that. Like, am I using it correctly?” So I’m glad that we’re doing this.

SWB And I mean, you know, I don’t think it’s like—I don’t think anybody can be perfect with language. I think there is no such thing, right? Because context shifts all the time and audience shifts all the time, and if you are talking to people with different cultural backgrounds, expectations shift. But I do think that there’s something that’s so valuable about taking that moment and being like, is this just a thing people say without thinking? Or is this what I actually mean? Like, what am I communicating with this phrase, and am I communicating some things that might have consequences that I don’t intend?

KL Yeah. A little bit more awareness and just I think it’s never a bad thing if you take a pause and think about what you’re saying.

SWB I think a lot about habits and how powerful habits are, and I think that you can obviously learn a habit to—to trade one word for another. But, even broader than that, I think you can learn the habit of being more intentional with language, and so I think for me just talking about it on the show and like recording that and sending that out to the world gives me a really good reminder to check in with myself and take it seriously and to not brush that off. And I feel like that has been really good for me, and I hope that that’s good for some of our listeners too.

KL I think so too. I was just going to say, “Fuck yeah,” because this feels like a Fuck Yeah. But we haven’t even gotten to that yet.

[39:22]

JL But we can!

Fuck Yeah of the Week

KL What is our Fuck Yeah of the Week?

JL Our Fuck Yeah this week is fuck yeah to deleting apps from my phone.

KL Oh boy!

JL Yeah. See ya, apps! I’ve gone a little bit like clean-house wild recently because I have been like following some of the news that’s been like happening along in 2018 about this while time well spent movement which was originally coined by the people doing humanetech.com maybe a little bit co-opted by Facebook now. But there’s a bunch of companies that are sort of embracing this movement. So there was just recently Instagram was reporting that they are going to start showing you through their usage insights, the time spent on their app. So you can see how much time you are spending on Instagram. And Google just released some time management tools to their new Android P system, and Facebook and other apps are doing similar. So the thing is this whole idea of like, looking at, like, what is technology doing to us? Are we spending not just really too much time, but what kind of time are we spending with our apps? And do we know how much time we’re spending on our phones?

SWB And I think like a lot of us just don’t know, because you see these stats about like number of times people look at their phone in a day or whatever and it’s like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, and you do it without thinking. But I also, you know, I’m a big fan of cleaning house in my apps every once in awhile. It’s like a little—like my little Marie Kondo exercise. I got a new phone recently and I totally deleted a bunch of apps. I kind of went through and I was like, “Am I actually using these? How many of these are tracking data?” You know I had turned off a lot of that data tracking, but there’s this huge amount of stuff that’s being tracked. I deleted Facebook long, long ago because it’s super creepy and it’s a time suck. However, they—they also own Instagram, so I’m not sure that the tracking situation is any better for me now. But I do really appreciate any effort to kind of get people to kind of take stock of how technology has changed our lives and whether they’re happy with that. And if you know anything about me, you know I don’t go around like lauding big tech companies very much, and I don’t want to do that here because I think that like a lot of this is sort of like kind of a—a shallow response to a lot of negative press tech has had this year. But I do really think that, like, being able to take stock of what you’re getting from it and—and, like, have there been consequences to all the good things that you’ve gotten from technology? Right? Because there’s obviously a ton of good stuff I can say, like, about keeping in touch with friends and family and like being able to have instant access to like pictures of my nieces, which is pretty great for me. But then it’s like, what are the negatives that I often don’t take stock of?

[42:08]

JL Yeah it’s interesting, so I was like reading a bunch about this whole idea of like digital wellbeing, and how we can change it so that it’s—we’re just spending more time doing the things that we really like. So like, you know, once I deleted more things from my phone then what was left were the things that like maybe I enjoy more, like my Breaker podcasting app, you know? Or I do still have Instagram on my phone, but like again, I’m trying to figure out how to make that work in my life right now to like, I don’t know, where I’m not like hating myself after I’m like, “What did I just do?” So like the other morning, somehow, we got my son to daycare like really fast and I had like some extra time and I was just like scrolling in my kitchen, drinking coffee, like looking at Facebook. And I’m in this like just like local neighborhood group and there was just like—there was this thread and it was just like—it was about the Kendrick Lamar concert recently, [laughter] and I just couldn’t stop reading it. There was like 426 comments and I was like, the stupidity of some of like the people posting on this were just like—I was like—I just needed popcorn. Like I was just going through it, but then next thing I know it was 20 minutes! And I’m like reading through all these like stupid comments and I was like, “What am I doing?” And I was like, “How did this benefit me?”

SWB I mean it’s—it’s kind of like watching crap TV, right? Where it’s like, it’s not—look: if you need a little mindless time, that’s ok. Everybody—everybody has their limit and needs some mindless time, and you are a busy mom of a young toddler and you got him to daycare and you had a little window of time. Like what are you supposed to do? Pick up Tolstoy? Like I don’t—

JL But that’s like, you know, I could’ve—I could’ve walked to work in that time, which like I have been doing a little more of, or like I could’ve just like sat outside for a little bit and not looked at a screen. So that’s the thing I do think—and not to say that that’s not other people’s like mindless time or that I don’t watch like TV sometimes but, you know, it’s weird the other day like my husband was commenting about the fact that like, we like got a new couch last year and it’s not as comfortable as our old couch. And he’s like, “God this couch is just not comfortable.” I was like, “Yeah, but we don’t watch as much TV.” [Laughter]

KL That’s such a good point. Yeah!

JL So it’s like, if it’s just not there, like, you just won’t do it. So if I delete these apps, then like maybe I won’t spend as much time on my phone.

SWB Totally! I guess I just mean, like, it’s cool if having some mindless time looking at an app sometimes is sort of, you know, like what you need at the end of a difficult day or just like it’s fine like I don’t want to shame anybody for wanting to—

KL Yeah.

[44:40]

SWB—kind of—

KL Or like just how you are going to spend 20 minutes at that moment. It’s fine.

SWB Right. I mean like it’s just like when I watch House Hunters International on a plane [laughter] where like I just need to zone out and enjoy some me time. But I think it’s also a question of, like, when is that what you’re doing, and when is it that you’re just kind of like mindlessly wasting time and—and actually coming away from the experience feeling really unsatisfied? And—or just having that be, like, the default behavior. And so you know like, “Oh I’m not doing anything else so I guess I should watch crappy TV.” “I’m not doing anything else, so I guess I should play with my phone.” And, like, trying to be more aware of that.

KL Yeah. I recently, like in the last couple of months, a friend of mine had told me about this app called Moment, which basically just tracks entire usage of your phone. So it tracks every app usage, every time you pick up your phone, every time you make a phone call, every—like every time you do anything on your phone. And I used it for like 36 hours and I was like, I [laughs] looked at it several times and I was just like, “I’m not ready to face this.” Like, I just can’t. However, it was part of an exercise I was doing to kind of figure out where I was spending my time in a day because I was kind of like, “I’m working so much.” And like maybe I could be a little bit more, you know, constructive, or like sort of package my time a little bit better so that I feel productive but also have some free time and like don’t feel guilty about it or whatever. And though I stopped using the app, I made a decision which has benefited me way more than using the app, and that is to not look at email while I’m in bed, and that I’m only allowed to start looking at email once I sit down at my desk for the day. And that was a huge shift and it has like improved my life, like, levels and levels.

JL That’s awesome. I mean this goes back to our episode of Shannah, you know, we were talking about financial planning and like looking at a budget because until you make a budget, you don’t really know where your money is being spent. So I think until you use an app like that or start like thinking about his stuff, you don’t really—you can’t really tell how much time you’re spending on certain websites or certain apps.

SWB And I think just like figuring out how much money you spend eating out or whatever, if you haven’t really been tracking it, you’re going to underestimate it. Like, I’m sure I would underestimate how much I use my phone, and I can definitely say, “Yeah, but it’s all this work stuff.” Right? It’s like, “Well, you know, like I have conference and then I’m in between meetings where I have to travel to them, so I’m like on Slack on my phone.” And it’s like yeah, that’s true but like, that’s some bullshit [laughs]. Like you—that’s not counting a lot of other stuff you’re doing. Especially I noticed something I do that I’m going to try to stop doing is like, I will go and kind of like mindlessly scroll Twitter and then like not tweet, and like consider tweeting a bunch of times and then not tweet. And like, I don’t have to tweet. That’s, like… the goal isn’t even that I need to tweet more. It’s just that, like, I want to be more intentional about when I want to part of that and when I’m not part of that, and mindlessly scrolling it, except for like it being a good way to sometimes get some headlines really quickly, like you get a sense of what’s happening in the world. You don’t need to do that for an hour and a half. You can like do that in five minutes. And if I’m not going to be actually like communicating with people and making connection and like contributing ideas, then like I should fucking close tab. But sometimes I am also that person who’s like, “I gotta get off Twitter.” And I close the tab and then like literally 30 seconds later I open a new tab of Twitter without realizing it!

[48:21]

KL My favorite is like, and then I’ll just like pick up my phone and look at it and I’m like [laughing], “What am I doing?!”

JL Well that’s it for this week’s episode of No, You Go, the show about being ambitious—and sticking together. No, You Go is recorded in our home city of Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thanks to Rachel Robertson for being our guest today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, make sure you subscribe and rate us on your lovely app which you can use to listen to this podcast [laughs]. We all do. And it really is awesome because your support helps us spread the word. And we will be back next week so we will see you then [music fades in, plays alone for 30 seconds, fades out to end].

Jun 05 2018
49 mins
Play

Rank #6: Show Me the Data with Tracy Chou

Podcast cover
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We’ve all heard companies talk big about how they value diversity. But many still aren’t willing to quantify how they’re doing: who works there? Who’s getting hired and promoted? Are people being paid equitably? On today’s show, we talk about diversity, data, and how one engineer’s call for hard numbers shook things up.

That engineer was Tracy Chou—a leading voice in tech industry diversity and inclusion conversations. She’s a wildly talented software engineer who believes in the importance of increasing transparency among tech companies, the need for tech to value a humanities education, and the pleasures of spending way too much time on Twitter.

> As an engineer, I’m so used to having to have data for everything. But the lack of data on the workforce side just felt so hypocritical to me. It seemed like it wasn’t really a problem that we wanted to solve if we weren’t even looking at the data.
> —**Tracy Chou,  Project Include founding advisor **

We talked with Tracy about:

  • What the real picture of diversity in tech companies looks like and where the numbers are.
  • Why it’s important for tech companies to get comfortable releasing data about their workforce, and why it’s critical to consider the intersectionality of diversity efforts.
  • A nonprofit Tracy helped to found called Project Include, which shares best practices around implementing diversity and inclusion solutions.

Plus, we talk about ch-ch-ch-changes and asking for help:

  • Specifically, change at work—how we deal with it and how it can affect us emotionally and physically.
  • And yup, we constantly have to remind ourselves that it’s ok to ask for help. The good news is, we’re helping each other do it more. Jenn even got to take a vacation complete with funnel cake, because she asked for help with childcare.

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] SWB Harvest makes awesome software for tracking time, planning projects, sending invoices, and generally helping me keep it all together at work. Or at least look like I have it all together—even if I’m actually still wearing sweatpants. I love how easy it is to use, whether I’m working solo or scaling up a larger team for a big project. You’ll love Harvest, too. Go to getharvest.com to try it 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]

Jenn Lukas Hey friends, 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. And today we are talking to Tracy Chou, who is an entrepreneur and an engineer whose push for tech companies to start revealing employee diversity data back in 2013 kickstarted a lot of huge changes in Silicon Valley, and put her on the cover of The Atlantic and Wired and a whole bunch of other stuff. It also led her to become a founding member of Project Include, which is a non-profit that is on a mission to accelerate diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. So we chat with Tracy about how she became a diversity advocate, how that’s changed her career and what she’s learned along the way. But before we do that, I just want to kind of check in with everyone. So, how’s life?

JL Life’s been a little wild this week. We kicked off some really big team changes at work. You know, some small changes, some big changes, but some people’s day to days got pretty changed up. And of course, seating changes.

KL Oh gosh, that can be a big doozy. How’s it going?

JL [sighs] Well, I can say this. People really just don’t care for change.

[All three laugh]

SWB [still laughing] No! Not at all.

JL You know, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about like why do people hate change so much?

SWB Because we all have habits and comforts and then you take them away and it’s very hard because inside we’re all just delicate little flowers. [Katel laughs]

SWB Seriously! We are!

KL Yeah!

SWB We are! It’s hard!

KL You get used to something and you’re like ‘wait, now everything’s changing and how am I going to adapt and how am I going to deal with this.’ And I think yeah, it just, it feels like it— it can feel overwhelming and especially when it has to do with sort of changing folks that you’re working with or places you’re sitting. Like I think physical changes can impact you a lot.

SWB And maybe also the thing with physical change like where you’re sitting is that nobody really realizes that it’s impacting them so much, right? People will underestimate how much of an impact that can have and so it’s the kind of change that can really affect your day to day, but that nobody’s kind of taking stock of and and it’s sort of assumed that that will just be fine. And I think that those changes are hard, right? The ones that we don’t invest enough time in planning for and understanding that there is an emotional component to it. The other thing I think about when it comes to change is that oftentimes people will know that the company needs to change and they’ll complain about the way it’s organized and it’s so hard to get anything done and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And yet when you try to enact changes, it’s really difficult to get people on board. And I think part of that is also like change that people are choosing for themselves versus change that is being done to them. And the reality is, nobody likes to feel like there is something being done to them and so that’s one of the biggest things I always think about is how do you make this something that people feel a little bit included in or consulted on? Or at least how can you put it into terms that will help them see it as something that is going to help them in their day to day or take away some of the pain that they were experiencing in terms of workflow or whatever. And of course, that’s not always invested in and it’s also not always true! Like for some people it’s it’s not actually solving the personal problems they had even if it’s solving company problems. And then it’s like okay, how do you get people on board and sort of get them through that hard part of of shifting gears?

JL One of the things we do with team changes that I think is really good is re-establish team norms. So sit down with everyone and everyone sort of discusses just like, what are the routines and what are the beliefs and the things that are important to people as a team. And I think that can really be helpful with new teammates to be like ‘here are things that are important to me, what are things that are important to you, and what’s it going to be like to live together at work?’

KL Yeah.

SWB Do you have any sort of particular structure for doing something like that?

JL We have the scrum masters run that and sort of they have a questionnaire list that brings stuff up. So, people eating lunch at their desks or how you use the shared space or the tables. So we—like I said, we switched the teams so we had to discuss ‘hey, can we still use this table to watch Jeopardy at lunch?’

[All three laugh]

KL Very important!

JL [laughing] Yeah!

SWB Yeah, bullet point number one: Jeopardy!

JL Right? But I mean also things like how you point stories. So pointing stories is basically a level of effort of how much an effort will take to get some sort of feature work done or something at work. We do daily stand ups at work where people tell you what your status are at meetings. You know, what time is that? Or are you doing them over Slack or like virtual stand ups? I think it can also be things like ‘here’s how I receive feedback best’ or ‘here’s how I think we should handle reviews of other people’s work.’

[5:18]

SWB Yeah, I mean there’re so many questions that come up when there’s any kind of change like that. Since I don’t work in a company—but the kind of consulting I do with companies is always about change because invariably they are coming to me because they realize that their content or their user experience isn’t working as they want it to and the reason that it’s not working is always rooted in their not being able to make it work as a company. The way that they’re organized, the way they do things, who’s in charge of what. So, I have to talk to people about how their jobs are going to change and how things are going to be different. And I’m a big fan of having people practice some of those skills. So if it’s like okay, we are going to do a different kind of writing process where instead of—you know—you produce this content over here in this department and then you ship it out the door to this other department, there’s going to be a collaborative process. Well then, okay, we should practice that. And so we’ll do that in a workshop setting where we’ll pair people up and we’ll actually practice—how do we work on these things together, how do we share drafts and get feedback from each other? And I think that those kinds of low stakes practice sessions—because you’re not doing your real job, you’re just kind of practicing the new thing in a short period of time—I think that that can help people feel more comfortable with talking to people they aren’t used to talking with.

JL Yeah and I mean I also think that it lets you feel more in control, and sometimes if you embrace that, if you know change is coming, you can do more exercises like that. And sort of prepare and be ready for this. So if you are expecting change or just knowing it can happen or knowing specifics, you can just be better ready I think to deal with it.

KL I love thinking about kind of how a different perspective or sort of embracing a different kind of approach to the change can kind of help you through it. It makes me think of when I was at National Geographic, we would go through organization changes from time to time, but at a certain point, we actually went through a really big physical change where we went from everyone was in cubicles and not just cubes that were like low sort of where you can see everyone. It was like six feet tall and offices and everyone went to cubes that were like four feet high. So, everybody could see everybody—including managers, it was all sorts of like all different levels, and people were really freaked out. And one thing that we realized immediately was going from sort of a perceived sense of privacy to not having any, meant that we kind of had to think about the workplace etiquette a little differently and just no one had thought about that. Like no one. It wasn’t—you know—a matter of management doing something wrong or folks not thinking about it, it just was like ‘oh, wait we have to work together a little bit differently.’ And something I’ve actually seen work really well is at a co-working space I go to here in Philly. [Laughs] Someone made these little coasters that were like red light, green light. So basically you put your little green circle up if you were ready to chat to people or didn’t mind having people coming up to your desk, or you put the red one up if you were like ‘I’m going to be heads down and working on something.’ So—I just think this idea of kind of looking at things a little differently too can help.

JL It’s like Fogo de Chão, [Katel laughs] the Brazilian steakhouse where green means bring me more meat and red means no I’ve had enough.

KL [Laughing] Exactly.

JL Yeah I mean I really like that because we used to say the universal sign was headphones, but I think we all know that doesn’t work. I was reading a bit on Harvard Business Review about this. They had some interesting things about finding humor in the situation, talk about problems more than feelings, don’t stress out about stressing out, focus on your values more than your fears—this idea that remembering that you’re you no matter what the change is can really help you. The change doesn’t have to define who you are. But something else I really liked was this like ‘don’t expect stability,’ where they talk about this 70’s research that was done where they studied two groups of managers and one group thrived and the other didn’t. And they said—you know—the adaptive leaders chose to view all changes as an expected part of the human experience, rather than as a tragic anomaly that victimizes unlucky people.

KL Yeah!

JL And then the struggling leaders were ones who were consumed by thoughts of quote on quote the good, old days. And they spent their energy trying to figure out why their luck had suddenly turned sour—because they kept looking back to something that wasn’t there anymore.

SWB That’s so interesting too because that just reminds me so much of politics, right? You have so many people who are talking about the good, old days. And you’re like ‘wait, when were the good, old days and for whom exactly?’ And I think it’s true at work too where it’s like when people get obsessed with the good, old days, those are probably also mythical. Right?

KL Yeah..

SWB They may have been good for some people in the organization but it’s undoubtedly that they weren’t working for other people.

JL And the other thing that you might like if you dig in, you might be like ‘okay, well this part was good, but this part wasn’t’ and you can think about how to get that good part back. So if what you missed was that you sat with someone or you worked with someone really closely that you didn’t—you know—make sure you’re setting up time for lunch with them or maybe you set up pairing sessions where you still work together. But you know, trying to figure out what it is that you did like and then what are things you can apply moving on? What are the things that you’re excited about now? And what are the things maybe that you didn’t really like then? And maybe you didn’t get a chance to work on these exciting things or work with this person and now you do get to work with this new person or you do get to work on this new project. Or maybe this new seat allowed you to clear off the desk that you’ve been meaning to do. [Laughs] It’s funny, I was actually like—in the seating change I ended up not moving seats and I’m like ‘ugh, but I’ve got all these boxes I’ve got to bring down.’

[All laugh]

KL [Laughing] You’re like ‘no, I need a move to help me reorganize.’

JL *[laughs] *Yeah, so just—like you’re saying. Trying to figure out really what are the positives moving forward? If there are things you will miss from those days, how do you keep them up and try to make the best going forward, as much as you can. I mean, It’s always hard and I don’t want to make it ever sound like that’s easy, but I think we can all do it.

[11:26]

[Music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]

Time Trivia

SWB So we’ve been talking a lot about change and our interviewee today definitely talks a lot about change in the tech industry as well so I’d like to get to that interview, but before we do, we have one last little segment. It is brand new, it is called Time Trivia. Because we talk about time on this show all the time! We need more time, we try to balance the time we have, we rant about how we are sometimes feeling a little bit unbalanced. And so our friends at Harvest wanted to see if we could stump each other when it comes to time. So let’s see. Katel, you’re up today and our theme is women authors. Are you ready?

KL Oh gosh, let’s do it.

JL Okay, Katel. Here is your first question. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected twelve times before it sold for an advance of only £1,500. Now she’s sold more than four hundred million copies. How long did it take her to write that manuscript? A) 5,000 hours, B) 15,000 hours, or C) 50,000 hours.

KL Oh my gosh, this is already a lot of numbers. I’m going to say C) 50,000 hours.

JL Katel— that is correct!

KL [Gasps] Yayy!

JL It took her six years to write Harry Potter.

KL That’s a lot of hours!

SWB We even tried to stump you with the twelve times £1,500, 400 million copies—you were unstumpable. Question two. More math, sorry. [Katel laughs] Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights under the pseudonym Ellis Bell in 1847. If she’d been paid a freelance rate of $50 an hour – pretty good in 1847—how much would she have earned for her wild, passionate tale of Katherine and Heathcliff’s love?

KL Ugh, I love this book.

SWB Is it A) $740,000, B) $60,000, or C) $330,000?

KL Ohhh my gosh, I’m going to go with B) $60,000 even though I feel like it should be more.

SWB It is way more. It is actually $330,000 because it took her nine months to write that book, which is still a real short time considering how great that book is, ugh.

KL Yeah, it is! I’m glad it was more than $60k.

JL Okay, Katel, last question. Stephanie Myer’s classic tale of vampire love and lust—yes, Twilight[laughs] has become a five-film series. If Stephanie had been billing her time to clients instead, how many 15 minute increments would she have billed? A) 870, B) 8,700, or C) 87,000?

KL Ooh. 8,700?

JL Katel, you know your 15 minute increments. That is correct! B) 8,700.

SWB Two out of three, not bad. I think that’s a winning score! So, thank you so much to Harvest for sponsoring our time trivia today and for supporting women authors, which they do, and women podcasters. So check them out at getharvest.com.

[Music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]

[14:34]

Interview: Tracy Chou

SWB Tracy Chou is a wildly talented software engineer, who has also become a leading voice in tech industry diversity and inclusion conversations. She has been an engineer at Quora and Pinterest, an advisor to the US Digital Service and is one of the cofounders of an organization I am personally super fond of and that’s Project Include. She was named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 tech list in 2014 and she has been profiled in everything from Vogue to Mother Jones. So I am extremely excited to welcome Tracy to the show today. Tracy, thank you so much for being here.

So, you went to Stanford, you interned at Facebook, you were one of the first engineers at Quora and one of the first engineers at Pinterest. That is kind of like a perfect Silicon Valley pedigree to a lot of people. Except, you’ve also written about feeling out of place during a lot of that time and not necessarily feeling like the industry was designed for you. And I’m wondering if we can start there—what was it like in the beginning of your career? And what was exciting about it and maybe what was not so great about it?

Tracy Chou Yeah, so I grew up in the Bay Area surrounded by tech and I think that made it very easy for me to naturally fall into the tech industry. When I started working in tech I think I just accepted things for the way they were, including the lack of gender diversity, racial diversity. I honestly didn’t notice or think that things should be different. But there definitely were experiences I had when I started working that felt off, but I didn’t know how to articulate or pinpoint them. I tended to blame myself or think that there was something wrong with me when I had a lot of coworkers hitting on me all the time, for example when I was interning. And—you know—when I started working and felt like I might be treated differently, I assumed that it was because I wasn’t as qualified or there was something about the the way that I was approaching my work that was inferior and therefore caused people to treat me differently. So it took a while for me to put all the pieces together, and so I was just talking to a lot of other people in industry, other female engineers. One of my early conversations that really started to make me aware of these sorts of issues systemically, was with Tristan Walker who is an African American founder. And he had reached out to say that he had seen some of my writing about being female in engineering and wanted to share that he had similar experiences even though he wasn’t technical and he wasn’t a woman. Being the only black person in the room oftentimes felt as alienating and he could really identify with a lot of the things that I was saying. And that helped me to see how pervasive the sort of experience of marginalization is. Even though the tech industry is one that tries to pride itself on being so innovative and designing the future, being this engine of progress, there are so many ways in which it is still very backwards.

SWB What year was that? That was like 2010,11,12 in there that you were really kind of getting going in your career and having those experiences?

TC Yeah, the first sort of Silicon Valley tech internship I had was in 2007, but I started working full time in 2010.

SWB So in 2013, you wrote this post on Medium that got kind of a lot of attention, where you were calling out the lack of data about women who are working in tech—and maybe specifically working in engineering, and the lack of success metrics attached to company’s diversity efforts. So if companies maybe had diversity efforts, they didn’t necessarily have any sense of whether they were working or not. And so that post kind of blew up and a lot of companies started sharing their numbers in a GitHub repo. And for listeners who aren’t familiar with GitHub repos, it’s just a site where you can work collaboratively usually on software projects, but you can also do things like collaboratively share data. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that happened. First up, what made you sit down and write that blog post and did it feel risky when you did it?

TC I had been working in the industry for a few years at that point and had gotten to know a number of the female engineers at other companies. And it started to be this thing that I would keep track of in the back of my head like which startups, which companies had which female engineers. Whenever I went into rooms I would automatically start counting, so it was just something that I was keeping tabs on personally. At the same time, I was looking at diversity at Pinterest and I wanted to make recommendations to the team about what we should do to be more diverse and inclusive. Facebook and Google were getting a lot of really good press around their parental leave policies, for example, and lots of companies were talking about how they were sending lots of people to the Grace Hopper conference, which is this big annual conference of women in computing. But I found it very hard to justify recommending any of those things to Pinterest because there were no success metrics. So these kind of thoughts were swirling around in my head when I went to Grace Hopper that year—this was October 2013—and I was at a breakfast where Sheryl Sandberg was speaking in front of the room and she made a comment about how the numbers of women in tech were dropping precipitously. Which, I didn’t disagree with the sentiment of, but it made me wonder what numbers she was talking about, because to my knowledge there were no numbers really out there. And so when I got home with all these thoughts rolling around my head, I ended up writing this post around diversity data. I was also reflecting on how the way we treated workforce issues was so different from the way we treated product development. As an engineer, I’m so used to having to have data for everything. We’re pretty religious about tracking all this data on our users [laughs] and understanding their behavior and that’s the way that we approach problem solving in product development. But the lack of data on the workforce side just felt so hypocritical to me. It seemed like it wasn’t really a problem that we wanted to solve if we weren’t even looking at the data. And of course I understood all the reasons why companies were skittish about even tracking the data because it would also mean that they would start to acknowledge the problem and have to solve it. But when I wrote the post, I wasn’t expecting much of a response. I didn’t think that it would be something that many people would even read, much less act on. I would also add though that in hindsight it seems like this post became big immediately and started this whole movement, but it did take some time as well. It was more of a slow, snowball effect. And so there were smaller companies that contributed their data first and the bigger companies took a little bit more time to process and work through what they wanted to do before they all started releasing their reports as well.

[21:05]

SWB When I look back on it, it kind of reminds me of in some ways like the moment that happened last year when Susan Fowler published her Uber blog post where there was this moment—the table had already been set for this conversation and it was just it pushed it over the edge or something. And I’m not sure if it’s exactly the same by any means, but it did really feel like a moment was happening and I’m curious, why do you think it ended up really snowballing? What was it about that moment that you think caught on?

TC I think there was general appetite to do something about diversity and inclusion. More people were acknowledging that it was a problem. And I think the way that I framed it, which was, “let’s just start sharing some data,” made the problem seem a little bit more tractable. At least there was a first step that people could take. There was one thing that an individual contributor, for example, could do. So if you’re working at a small startup, you can look around the room and see how many engineers and how many female engineers and count that up and submit that data into the repository. And it felt easy, actionable, and also clear that this would contribute to a broader cause. I think I had a little bit more credibility as an engineer working at a company that a lot of people knew. And I think that piece is still important, I could speak from the perspective of being on the inside. And I think also I just got lucky. In a lot of ways I think of this project as a startup where startups have the markets that they’re going after, the products they’re trying to build. Sometimes they’re too early and the market isn’t ready for them, sometimes the product isn’t just quite right yet for people to want to engage with it. A lot of things have to come together all at once and luck, timing, all of that plays in. And somehow this Medium post in a row and the GitHub repository that I set up just happened to be just right at that time to capitalize on this increasing intent from people in the community to do something. And I think I was the right person at the right time to be pushing on that message.

SWB If you’re an engineer or anybody who uses GitHub already, it’s also like, it feels sort of a natural place or a more comfortable place.

TC Yeah, I think the GitHub angle was also interesting because it spoke more to engineers and people who write code, as opposed to HR. So it was getting engineers submitting their data through pull requests, and those people were less encumbered by thinking through, what are the legal ramifications and what are the HR risks here. They’re just thinking, like, this is the team that I work on, I want to report the data on the team.

KL This is so fascinating to me too because in that post in 2013 you also focused really narrowly on defining the technical roles. You wanted companies to talk about actual engineers—not every other role, not business development or whatever. Sort of as a way of saying companies shouldn’t pad their numbers about the women they hire if women aren’t in those roles. And I see that point. I’m also curious if that perspective has shifted over the past few years or changed at all?

TC  One of the reasons why I wanted to be really specific about just tracking women in engineering is that for something that was crowdsourced, it had to be as simple as possible to contribute that data. The more you ask from people, the more drop off you get in that flow. So I wanted to make it super simple. But the other point about just looking at engineering versus the rest of it was that I did want to get away from that sort of padding of the numbers. And in the tech industry engineers are very much valued because they are the ones—we are the ones—building the products that are being sold, very close to the core value of the companies. So there’s this idea of looking at where the prestige is and how much inclusion you have there. Now that there’s more data coming out, we can see that even if you have a reasonable amount of representation across the companies, usually they’re lower ranked, few of those people are in decision-making roles. One interesting data point that I would love to see that is very hard to get is diversity on the cap table, and so that’s looking at ownership of the company—like who owns the shares. And I would suspect that ownership in these different tech companies skews very heavily white and male, because founders will have a lot of stock, early employees will have much more because the stock grants are risk-adjusted so people who are joining early will get much more stock, investors get stock, executives get a lot of stock. So even if your company has a lot of women, but they’re all in the lower-ranked, non-technical roles, the value that they get out of the company doing well is much less. So I really wanted to dig in on engineering within tech because that is so close to the core of Silicon Valley.

[26:05]

SWB One thing I’d love to ask about—we talked with Nicole Sanchez of Vaya Consulting back in June and her company focuses on diversity and inclusion in tech and consults with a lot of tech companies. And one of the things she said to us was that she flat out does not love the way that the numbers are being reported by tech companies right now, that there’s still a lot of gaming of the system because so much of the numbers is just about percentage of people in full and percentage of new hires, right? And that there’s not a lot of information about things like retention of those employees and seniority of those employees and, as you mentioned, who is actually getting a cut of these companies, right? Like who’s really taking home money? And so it sounds like—and I’m curious about your thoughts on this—but it sounds like the way that you were initially looking at some of these metrics was sort of really, really important at the time, but maybe isn’t quite enough to answer the questions that we have about how that industry is doing and to answer the questions that we have about whether things are getting better.

TC Absolutely. I think we need much more comprehensive metrics and there is certainly gamification of the current metrics that get released. I think getting people even into the flow of releasing any data was a pretty big step. And I think it’s good to keep pushing on companies to release better data. So one obvious thing is intersectionality—instead of just putting gender on one side, race on one side, looking at those intersectional cuts and just see is it just white men and white women getting promoted? How does it look for women of color? Those sorts of questions can’t be answered if all the data is being split out. I’ve been relatively heartened by how much companies have been willing to release—enough that we can look at their data and see that in the last few years even if we’ve made some progress on gender diversity, we’ve had backsliding on racial diversity, which is not a good statement on the industry, but at least we have that data that we can even point that out and see that some of these diversity efforts aren’t uniformly benefitting different people and, in fact, are causing some harm to different groups.

SWB  So another thing I was really hoping to dig into that I think you kind of touched on a little bit when you were kind of talking about technical versus non-technical roles, is I’m also curious how you feel about who’s considered technical in Silicon Valley and sort of the valuing of engineers when you are also kind of thinking about sort of the appreciation for what it takes to build tech products? I was reading an article you wrote—I think last year—about realizing that it’s not really just about engineering, and realizing the value of learning things like understanding people and human behavior and communication skills and—you know—liberal arts and humanities. And the stuff that you hadn’t necessarily taken that seriously when you were in college as something that was important for ensuring that the things we’re making aren’t laced with bias or harmful to people, and being able to think through sort of the impact of our work. And so I’m curious how you think about those things together. Like okay—we value technical roles a lot and so it’s important to look at who are in the roles that we value the most. But are there also issues around the kinds of roles that are valued or the kinds of roles that even exist? And how do we sort of make sense of that?

[30:25]

TC Yeah, absolutely. I think our whole way of approaching technology building right now is pretty flawed. I think for a long time we’ve unquestioningly assumed that technology is always progress. So whatever we do in the software realm will be positive. And we’re seeing very clearly now that that’s not the case. It’s very easy for the software products that we’re building to be used for harm or used in ways that we didn’t anticipate. And for the people who are building these products, whether it’s the engineers running the code or everyone else involved, we do need to think more holistically and broadly and contextualize our work in society and understand what the impacts of technology are before we can assume that we’re doing good. Some people have drawn analogies after the election cycles in the last couple of years to the sorts of ethics considerations that other domains have had—so, chemical engineering or in physics. When the people in those fields realized that their work could be used to create weapons, they had to think pretty hard about doing science or doing this kind of research and I think the people in the tech industry and in software right now really need to have that same sort of introspection and deep questioning. For a long time in the tech industry, we’ve really downplayed the value of a humanities education and and I think that is problematic. You see that reflected in compensation. For example, who gets these big payouts, who gets really big salaries. It’s tricky because also the sorts of value of someone who can bring in terms of the ethical reasoning and product guidance, that work is not as easy to value, put a dollar amount on. It’s a little bit easier to look at what an engineer is producing or what a designer is producing and say this is the value of their work and it ties very directly to the final output and I think if the whole system is fundamentally shifted around, we can start to see the value that non-technical folks are bringing, then hopefully that is reflected in the compensation and payouts as well. At the same time, you have this very classic supply and demand type issues around sorts of talent that you need, so the engineering salaries will be high for a while because engineering is very obviously needed and there aren’t enough engineers to fill all the roles. Even if we were to recognize the value of the non technical work that needs to be done, if there is such a mismatch in supply and demand on the technical side, the salaries will still be higher there. So there’s a lot of things to address systemically, but I think one starting point even just within the companies that we’re looking at is trying to shift the culture to acknowledge the different viewpoints that different people from different educational backgrounds and different training can bring.

SWB I think one of the things that’s also interesting and maybe compounds all of this, is the way that a lot of the kinds of roles that are more based in humanities or social sciences or that would benefit from that kind of background, they are tending to have a lot more representation of women in them, and so then you kind of have this interesting cross section of the skills are in less demand. Also we’re used to paying women less, or we’re used to putting women into sort of more caring roles versus rational roles, and so it’s hard to tease out all of those different issues that intertwine and result in gendering of who’s in what kinds of roles, and devaluing of some roles, and then also to have the conversation about well, “why is it that so many women are in these kinds of roles and not in these other kinds of roles?” And to be able to talk about all those things at the same time I think is really hard for a lot of people. It takes a lot of investment in the discussion to be able to pick apart things with that level of nuance, and I think a lot of the time organizations aren’t there yet.

TC Yeah, I completely agree. [Laughs] There has been some research into when professions become more lucrative and prestigious how they—how the men tend to crowd the women out. So, there used to be more women in software engineering and they were kind of pushed out. So the 37% of CS degrees in 1984 went to women and it’s been declining, the percentage has been declining since then. But in other industries as well, one that I found kind of interesting was beer making used to be mostly women and then men found out that beer making was cool and it became all male brewmasters. 
Even in things like cooking, when men reach the top and become these top chefs, it’s very prestigious. Even though women still do most of the cooking around the world, it’s just not viewed as as prestigious or lucrative for them. So as you were saying, there’s all these interesting dynamics at play and it’s really hard to tease out specific effects.

SWB Yeah totally—I think about some of the conversations I’ve had with folks when startups starting hiring people to do quote growth hacking and you’re like ‘wait a second—isn’t that—wait, aren’t they—isn’t that marketing? I think they’re doing marketing!’ [Laughter] But marketing was always more women in the field and growth hacking was this very hardcore bro kind of role. If anybody out there is a quote growth hacker as their title, I’m sorry if I’m making fun of your profession. But it is, it’s one of these made up titles that’s almost—I think—masculinized a lot of skill sets that were traditionally perceived as being more feminine. And then low and behold, those people are being paid a lot more money.

TC I think you also see this reflected in the maker movement—where it’s been rebranded as this very male type of thing where you’re making things. But if you actually look at what is being done—creating things from the raw materials—that’s stuff that a lot of women have been doing in different domains, but it had to get rebranded for men to be super into it and for it to become prestigious.

SWB Totally, like what’s not being a maker about being a knitter?

TC Yeah!

SWB You’re literally making things out of thread, right? [Laughs]

TC Yep.

SWB I’m amazed that we have not gotten to this yet because it’s so important, I want to talk about it. Okay, we have not talked about Project Include. So, you started doing all of this work to share this data that you were gathering and to talk about this issue. Can you tell us a little bit about how that grew into founding Project Include?

TC Project Include was eight of us women in tech getting together a couple of years ago. So, there was a lot of discussion in the broader sphere about the problems and everything that was going wrong, but not nearly enough about solutions. And for the people that wanted to do the right thing, they still didn’t know what to do. So, we thought that the highest leverage thing we could do was write down our recommendations and resource—what we knew to be best practice around implementing diversity and inclusion. Our initial launch was just a website with a lot of recommendations—everything from defining culture, to implementing culture, to doing training, hiring, resolving conflicts, measuring progress, and also a framework to think about all those things, so it’s not just like pick and choose some of these tactics and apply them to your org and then you’ll be fine, but thinking through more holistically how to approach diversity and inclusion truly inclusively so it’s not just gender or just race or just one facet of diversity and then being very intentional about measuring progress. So, there was a bunch of these recommendations we wrote down. The feedback we got from the community was really positive and people wanted us to do more with it, which is how we ended up incorporating as a non profit and adding Startup Include as a program where we actually work with cohorts of companies on implementing these recommendations. But our hope is really to drive these solutions forward and we’re focused on startups for now. We think that the highest leverage opportunity is with startups before they become too big and are hard to steer—try to get those good practices and processes in early and hopefully some of the startups that are thinking about D&I early will end up becoming the big companies of tomorrow and they’ll already have baked in these best practices. We also acknowledge that what we think to be best practice now may change and so we really do want to build more of a community around these issues and solutions and kind of in the same way that open source software works where you put stuff out there, everyone can benefit from it. As they’re using it, they may think of ways to extend it or improve on it and they’re contributing that back to the community—we want that sort of a community around diversity and inclusion.

SWB Yeah, that’s really interesting and I think it’s one thing to identify problems, it’s one thing to try to address them, but we clearly don’t really know how to fix this yet. So, I’m curious is there anything that you’ve found as you’ve been advising Project Include and sort of seeing it grow and adapt—is there anything that you’ve seen out there that you’ve really feel like you’ve been able to learn from and that’s helped to shape where you’re making recommendations now?

[39:54]

TC The biggest takeaways still are that you need metrics to understand where the opportunities are and also where things are going well. So we recommend that all companies do look at their data. It’s cool to see so many people trying out different things. I think it will take some amount of time before we learn which things really work in a long term sustainable way, but definitely excited to see lots of people experimenting with D&I now.

SWB So Project Include, that was founded in 2016, right? You’ve got a couple of years of kind of starting to shape the organization and provide more than just your manifesto, but also the actual community and practices and working with these companies. So I’m excited to see what else comes out of that.

TC Yeah, one thing we’ve been thinking a lot more about is how to achieve leverage impact across the industry and some of that is going to be working with other organizations. Earlier this year, a couple of us launched this project called Moving Forward to get venture capital firms to first of all, have anti-harassment policies and then publish them, make them available to founders and then also have points of contact as accountability. And so this came out of some of the #metoo harassment stuff that came out last year, where what we saw was that in that relationship between founders who were trying to raise money and venture capitalists that control this money, there is this gray zone of interaction where they’re not necessarily in a professional relationship yet. As in cases where there is a power imbalance, sometimes there are abuses of that power. So our idea was to push venture capital firms to be very explicit about what’s acceptable behavior between people that work at the firm and potential founders that they might want to be investing in or other people in the community. And so we launched Moving Forward, now have over one hundred firms that have their anti-harassment policies out there and the points of contact. This is something where I worked on that separate to Project Include, but we ended up realizing that there was a good opportunity for collaboration between Project Include and Moving Forward so I could serve as a little bit of that bridge.

SWB That’s so cool, it’s sounds like you just have your hands into so many different parts of this problem and like trying to sort of untie the knot from lots of different angles, which I really love.

TC Yeah, I mean there’s a lot to be done here—so lots of opportunity.

KL That is so true. I feel like we’ve been talking a lot about your work as a diversity advocate and I just want to go back to you for a minute, because I saw you write a while ago that you don’t want to just work on diversity issues because you love to code and you like your life a lot more with that in it. How do you balance those things and stay excited about both?

TC I still identify as a software engineer and someone that likes to build products and build things. Sometimes that means building teams and companies, but the diversity and inclusion piece will, I think, always be a part of my life and that conversation is still just so prominent in the industry, it’s hard to not take part of it. So that always be a part of what I do, but in my more full time capacity, I do like to be thinking just about technology, how powerful it is and how it can be used to hopefully impact the world for better.

KL I’m also curious—you know—if the move from San Francisco to New York has had any impact?

TC When so many things change all at once, it’s hard to say. I do think being in New York has helped to broaden my perspectives quite a bit. I’m not surrounded by tech people all the time and I like being around people who don’t think about the same things I do all the time and just to be surrounded by this greater diversity of people.

SWB We talk a lot about place on the show because I feel like so many conversations in design or tech or publishing or whatever can be so limited to such narrow places, so I’m always interested in—you know—kinds of perspectives that people can bring in. So we are just about out of time and before we go, I wanted to say: Tracy, I have been personally inspired by your work for a long time and I know I’m not the only one. So I want to thank you for being on the show and ask you, is there anywhere that our listeners can better keep up with everything that you’re up to?

TC The best place to keep up with me is Twitter, so I’m @triketora on Twitter. It’s t-r-i-k-e-t-o-r-a. I tweet a lot, so I also will not be offended if you follow and then unfollow because there’s too much going on, but that’s the best place to keep up with me.

SWB  Well I know that a lot of our listeners will definitely want to hear everything you have to say, even if you tweet all day. Thank you so much for being on the show.

TC Ahh, thank you for having me!

[music fades in, plays alone for five seconds, fades out]

Career CHAT

KL Hey y’all, time to talk careers with our friends at Shopify. This week we’ve got a tip on what to look for in a company from Shannon Gallagher, a product manager on the merchant analytics team.

SG: Being a lifelong learner is super important to me. I need to constantly grow and push my boundaries. The nice thing is, that’s one of Shopify’s core values, too. When you make a positive impact here, you can move into new roles, new disciplines, and new spaces. That’s had a huge impact on my career. Two years ago, I was on the recruiting team. Now, I’m in product management… And I’m still expanding my knowledge and reaching for new goals every day. This kind of environment means I’ll never get bored—or feel like I’m stuck in one place. The point is, you’ll love work so much more if you’re with a company where the goal is growth!

KL  Thanks, Shannon! If you want to join a team where you can keep learning and make unexpected and wonderful moves—if you want—then you should check out Shopify. They’re growing globally, and they might just have the perfect role for you. See what’s new this week at shopify.com/careers.

FYOTW

JL Okay, so I’ve got a fuck yeah this week, ladies.

KL Let’s hear it.

JL Sutter and I are taking a vacation this week.

SWB Fuck yeah! [Laughs]

JL [Laughs] I know, I mean we could just stop there, mic drop.

[All three laugh]

JL But this vacation is to Wildwood, New Jersey—and for those unaware of the magic that is Wildwood—it’s a wonderful place at the Jersey Shore with boardwalk, food and funnel cake, and soft serve ice cream. And perhaps most importantly—it’s only a bit over an hour from Philadelphia. And here’s what we knew. We wanted some time to get away to ourselves, but we’re not really in the place where we wanted to plan something big or get on a flight. We just wanted some time with each other. That’s not because we don’t love our son, but two years ago we took a babymoon, which we gave ourselves a long weekend before a major change in our family. And we’re going to have that again soon, so we wanted to do something like that. But how do you get that time to yourselves when you have a toddler? So we were really thrown off and honestly I just—was like ‘that’s fine, we don’t really have to do it,’ like—not a big deal. But then this wild idea came to us. Why don’t we ask his parents if they’re available to watch Cooper for two nights?

[45:48]

KL What did they say?

JL [Laughing] They said yes!

KL Yaaay!

JL And so it’s amazing what happens when you ask for help!

KL That’s awesome. And also grandparents love to help in that way.

JL It’s like—I don’t know why, but asking for what you need can be such a hard hurdle to overcome, but it can totally pay off awesomely, so I am saying fuck yeah to asking for help!

KL That’s awesome. This actually resonates with me, too, because when I take time off at A Book Apart, I have to make a point of putting it on the calendar and asking folks to cover some stuff while I’m out so that I don’t have to worry about it or think about it. Because otherwise I would never actually really get time off. Like I have to actually set up that—you know—those boundaries and ask for help and I didn’t realize that until late in the game and I was like ‘oh, I actually need to raise my hand and do this so I can properly take some time off.’ So I love this.

SWB I love this too because it’s actually a really good reminder for me. Because I think as both of you know—because you’ve called me on it before—I do not like to ask for help and I sort of take it almost as a point of pride to do it all myself. And that’s been good for me in some ways, but everybody needs help, myself included. And it’s one thing to ask for help, but it’s also another thing to actually accept the help and let go, right? Because part of what you’re saying, Katel, is that when you set that boundary where you’re like ‘okay, I’m taking a real vacation, can you please handle this for me’—you’re also saying ‘and I’m not going to check in so I need to be confident that it’s handled.’

KL [Laughing] Yeah.

SWB Right? And I think that’s something that’s hard for me—just to fully let go and to just say ‘nope, this is handled and I’m not going to get all anxious about this, I’m just going to accept that it’s handled.’ And I realize it’s not a lack of trust—it’s like I trust them—but it’s almost like my brain doesn’t trust me enough to fully let go, you know? [Laughter]

KL Yeah.

SWB I have to remind myself like no no no no no, you asked for help, now your job is to take the help and then walk away.

JL Yeah and it’s—it is hard to do things like that, but I think it gets better with practice. I mean, I read a bunch last year—some manager books and they talk a lot about just delegating things, delegating tasks and how important that is. But what’s really important is when you delegate the tasks, to trust that they’re going to get done and then be okay with the fact that whoever does them will probably veer from the way you were going to do it. So, we left an agenda or notes of what Coop’s normal day is for the grandparents and not to be like ‘you have to do it this way,’ but just so they have a guide-ish like ‘here’s what we would do.’ But I understand if you’re not going to do it exactly the same way and you know what, that’s okay. I’m okay with that, thank you for the help. I’m going to be able to now focus on other things that are more important than making sure that you did this exactly the way I would have done it.

KL Yeah, I think that is so true. I’m thinking about this and I feel like we need to come up with an acronym for all the parts so… accept help, let go, enjoy—ALE!

[Laughter]

SWB That’s also what I would like to have on my next vacation.

KL Yeah, exactly. [laughs] Well, fuck yeah to asking for help and to getting it, and we hope you enjoy.

SWB Eat some funnel cake for me.

JL Okay. [Laughing] You got it!

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 is produced by Steph Colbourn. Our theme music is by The Diaphone. Thank you so much to Tracy Chou for being on the show today. If you like what you’ve been hearing, thank you so much, you’re the best. And you could be even more the best if you would take a moment to leave us a rating or review on your podcast listening app of choice and let your friends know about No, You Go because we’d love to have them here too. We’ll be back again next week!

[music fades in, plays alone for 32 seconds, fades out to end]

Sep 11 2018
50 mins
Play

Rank #7: Be Your Full Amazing Self with Sydette Harry

Podcast cover
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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
46 mins
Play

Rank #8: Therapeutic Tarot with Jessica Dore

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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
48 mins
Play

Rank #9: Talk Money, Get Paid

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Talking about money is uncomfortable for lots of people—including us! But way too many of us aren’t getting paid what we deserve, and if we want to change that, then we all need to start speaking up—for ourselves, for each other, and for a more equitable financial future.

So join us for this deep dive into all things work money: how to ask for a raise, negotiate an offer, and deal with all the weird feels that come up along the way. To help us out, we’ve got clips from our first Collective Strength event, where we were joined by one of our most fave people ever: author and consultant Karen McGrane.

Plus, we asked y’all to tell us what advice you’d give your younger selves about salaries and negotiation, and a bunch of you answered! So we have tips and stories from folks at lots of career stages—all designed to help you feel more prepared to go get paid.

The more you do it, the less emotional it becomes, and the more it just becomes a very transactional kind of thing. The only way that you get to that place is by committing to yourself that you will negotiate every offer that you get... Every time you get a salary offer, ask for $5,000 more. Period. Every single time. And it can be more than that. Maybe you are making more money than that and it’s time for you to ask for $10,000 more or $20,000 more—I know somebody who once negotiated $100,000 more! Your ability to do that, though, starts with you being willing to ask for $5,000 more.
Karen McGrane, managing partner, Bond Art + Science

If you put some of this advice to the test, we’d love to hear how it goes! Leave us a message at (267) 225–5923, send an email, or find us on Twitter!

We chat about:

  • That time Sara took on more and more work without a promotion—and ended up way behind financially.
  • What we learned—and didn’t learn—about salaries growing up.
  • Why negotiating your salary over the phone is the way to go, even if email feels easier.
  • Why you should wait as long as possible to talk salary when you’re interviewing for a job.
  • The “PITA quotient”: Remember to consider what a job will take from you then set your rate appropriately.
  • Why Karen thinks you should always ask for at least $5,000 more in a salary negotiation (or, hell, maybe $100,000 more).
  • How to “lovingly plot revenge” when you find out your salary is too low.
  • Sorting out all the awkward feelings that come along with money talk.

Plus: What we’re doing on our summer vacation, big love to Harvest for supporting us all year, and fuck yeah to already hearing a money success story from a Collective Strength attendee!

In this episode:

Jun 20 2019
42 mins
Play

Rank #10: Pocket Rabbits with Eileen Webb

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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]

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[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
47 mins
Play

Rank #11: Know Your Worth with Becca Gurney

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What happens when one woman looks around her field and notices the leaders are mostly men? If that woman is Becca Gurney, she starts her own design studio, and creates a place that chooses to hire women, pay them fairly, and find clients ready to do the same.

Becca is a Washington, DC-based graphic designer, art director, and founder of Design Choice. She’s built an agency focused on social justice issues that’s vocal about fair pay and offering work those who are often overlooked in the field—women and people of color.

The hardest part is knowing what you’re worth and then sticking to it. I do a lot of research to understand what my worth should be and a lot of that research involves knowing what men who are doing what I’m doing are charging.
—Becca Gurney, founder of Design Choice

We chat about:

  • How Becca makes a conscious choice to look for new women and/or people of color to work with on projects, instead of hiring the same people over and over—and why you should, too
  • The truth behind being asked to work for peanuts all the time—even when you’re the founder of a design studio—and the importance of turning down work that doesn’t value you and your expertise
  • How to build a supportive network when you’re just starting out as a freelancer
  • Why keeping politics out of business isn’t required—and can actually help guide your work to new places
  • How to figure out what your male peers are making so you can be sure you’re being paid what your work is really worth

Links:

  • Design Choice, Becca’s design studio
  • She Freelances, a new site for finding freelancers for hire in the DC-area (and if you are a freelancer in DC, add yourself!)

Plus:

Jun 06 2019
53 mins
Play

Rank #12: Friendshipping Is a Verb with Mary Pipher

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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
49 mins
Play

Rank #13: Working the Double Shift with Katherine Goldstein

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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
51 mins
Play

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

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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
58 mins
Play

Rank #15: Many Ways of Living and Loving with Ada Powers

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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
59 mins
Play

Rank #16: Feeling Seen with Naj Austin

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What does community mean? How do you build one? And why do they matter—particularly for people of color?

We chatted with Naj Austin this week to find out. She’s the founder Ethels Club, a new private membership club and workspace created by and for people of color. And while Ethels is definitely a spot where you can perch with your laptop for a few hours, it’s way more than coworking: we’re talking exhibits from artists of color, mental health programming designed to destigmatize therapy and connect members to therapists of color, and so much more.

The first Ethels Club is set to open in Brooklyn in October—and that launch can’t come soon enough for the thousands of people who’ve flocked to her waiting list (including early investor Roxane Gay). So we asked Naj how she’s making it happen, what it means to build a business and a community at the same time, and why she’s committed to offering more than just a desk and some wifi to her members.

People are looking for spaces where they can feel seen, celebrated, and find like-minded people in real life.
—Naj Austin, founder of Ethels Club

We chat about:

  • How Ethels Club went from a spark of an idea to an actual business with Naj as CEO
  • Why Naj got fed up at typical investor meetings, and decided to raise funds from other people of color instead
  • When and how she took the leap from employee with steady pay and predictability to running Ethels Club
  • Why she thinks so many people are interested in a space like Ethels, which goes beyond a basic coworking spot
  • Waiting for Beyoncé to call (🤞🤞🤞)

Links:

Plus:

  • Why you should find a group of your peers to chat through challenges and celebrate wins with—like therapy, it’ll help!
  • Why Collective Strength (our community in Philly) is for women and femme or nonbinary-identifying folks—and we’re totally OK telling men to skip our events
  • Fuck yeah to every single beach body out there (except Sara’s sunburned thighs)
Jul 25 2019
45 mins
Play

Rank #17: Decolonize Everything with Christine Nobiss

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Indigenous communities face all kinds of injustice—from violence to poverty to climate change. Yet their voices are often absent from policy discussions. We talk with Seeding Sovereignty’s Christine Nobiss about what it would look like to follow the lead of Indigenous people, and why violence against Indigenous women needs much more of our attention. (This episode discusses sexual and domestic violence—please take care of yourself while listening.)

Christine is a Plains Cree-Saulteaux writer, artist, and organizer based in Iowa. She leads several projects with Seeding Sovereignty, an organization empowering the political voice of Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous women have managed to tenaciously keep our culture together, and keep our children healthy, and our communities going. We are the walking embodiments of a social impact strategy.
—Christine Nobiss, decolonizer, Seeding Sovereignty

We talk about:

  • How Seeding Sovereignty empowers Indigenous peoples’ political voice
  • How Christine got her start as an activist and organizer, what it means to be a decolonizer, plus what she’s working on now
  • The power of tapping into younger—and older—generations to build an activist movement

Links:

Plus

  • We dig deeper into the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the U.S. and Canada
  • We check in on the status of the still-not-renewed (!!) Violence Against Women Act, and why it needs everyone’s attention
  • And a big fuck yeah to running a 10k together, and swinging by Federal Donuts after. (Fun fact: this podcast became an idea during a run!)
Apr 18 2019
37 mins
Play

Rank #18: Pleasure is Virtuous with Sonalee Rashatwar

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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 ap