That moment during ‘Waitress’ where I wanted to stand up and scream

Not the typical response during a Broadway musical, perhaps. Especially one built on the bubbly, emotional-fueled songs of Sara Bareilles. But, it wasn’t Sara’s fault that I felt compelled to stop the show and decry the scene unfolding on the stage.

If anyone needs to be blamed, then I will point a finger at the original book’s author, Jessie Nelson. Although I don’t like to blame others. It’s counter productive.  Instead, let me offer an open letter (are those still a thing??) to the writer about what bubbled up inside me at the pivotal scene in the musical:

Dear Jessie,

Former NC State basketball coach Jim Valvano said: “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Adopting that approach to evaluating a day, I can proudly share that I had a heck of a day yesterday thanks to seeing the traveling production of Waitress. However, I also experienced a level of frustration that left a stain on my memory of the show. It has to do with this:

Waitress2

Jenna is a woman who has clearly endured years of pain and suffering due to an abusive relationship. She is a dedicated friend and employee; she creates and shares willingly. She is not perfect; she perseveres yet doesn’t allow herself to achieve actual happiness.

But then she has her baby and EVERYTHING IS SUNSHINE AND ROSES. She has the courage to leave Earl and start her own business. She reclaims her self-worth and finds her entrepreneurial chops. Obviously, she shares this newfound realization in a musical number dubbed ‘Everything Changes’ where Jenna sings:

“Today’s a day like any other
But I’m changed, I am a mother
Oh, in an instant
And who I was has disappeared
It doesn’t matter, now you’re here
So innocent
I was lost
For you to find
And now I’m yours, and you are mine.”

I do not doubt that such a moment could have such a profound impact on someone’s perspective and life. Yet, as an audience member struggling with infertility, it felt like a reinforcement that achieving motherhood is the ultimate quest. My life remains in gray until that moment of bringing a life into this world. If my life was a mess prior to this moment, then it will be magically scrubbed anew. 

If that is the measuring stick we’re using for women like Jenna, that such troubled lives can be turned around completely after taking on the role of mom, what does that mean for those of us who cannot — or don’t want to — take that journey? It reminds me of my former high school students, many of whom actively sought getting pregnant in order to create something to love — and something to love them — in their lives. 

While I applaud Jenna’s metamorphosis, I do wish that it didn’t have to be fully centered on becoming a mother. Because that makes me feel sad, inadequate, and worried that I don’t ever fully realize my best self if I can’t become a mother. Will I be able to experience that type of love and empathy? Will I ever feel that overwhelming sense of joy that I have watched play out in film, TV, books, and now a musical?

I know you can’t answer my questions, Jessie. But thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Katie

The costs of emotional labor

Stop Telling Women to Smile

Emotional labor: something we give daily, often without much consideration. And, it is also something we demand daily from others. Again, this expectation often stems without much thought or deep analysis as to why we expect others to give their emotional labor freely and what the ramifications and costs are for that individual.

Let’s back up for a moment: what is emotional labor? Here are a few examples and perspectives:

“In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.” – Rose Hackman, The Guardian

“Emotional labor includes the management of negative emotions and the cultivation/performance of positive emotions as determined by the nursing role (Bolton, 2001). In addition to the specialized, technical labor required of today’s nurses, they are required to effectively manage their own and others’ (e.g., patients, physicians, aides, coworkers) emotions, so patients and their families retain a sense that calm, confident, and effective care is being provided. As others have shown, however, the expectations surrounding the performance of such emotional labor—or the management of one’s observed emotional displays for pay (Hochschild, 1983)—are not equally distributed across all occupational sectors or incumbents (Fixsen & Ridge, 2012Wingfield, 2010a). Beginning with Hochschild’s (1983) original study, for example, the performance of emotional labor has been framed as a gendered experience linked to sociocultural stereotypes of women as more emotionally competent and community-oriented (Ridgeway, 2008).” – “I Can Never Be Too Comfortable: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside”, Marci D. Cottingham,  Austin H. Johnson and Rebecca J. Erickson, National Institute of Health

““When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama during that epic, make-you-want-to-cry speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the next 15 minutes, Mrs. Obama moved a nation from the needle of fear and hate sharpened so dangerously by Donald Trump. FLOTUS spoke to the hearts of a country, dealt with the hate of an opponent, invoked a bloody history, and re-imagined “Make America Great Again” to “America is the greatest country on earth.” She lifted the DNC from confusion and controversy to optimism and committed engagement. Essentially, FLOTUS was doing the emotional labor so many Black women do in nation building, movement building and electoral politics. Black women’s emotional labor matters.” – Esther Armah, Ebony Magazine

Bottom line: there are expectations built within our culture that women, especially women of color, have to take on certain tasks and perform in certain ways. Why? Somewhere in our DNA, we were born with a skill set that makes us the best:

  • caregivers
  • event planners
  • notetakers
  • listeners
  • secretaries
  • assistants
  • customer service representatives
  • nurses
  • wait staff
  • flight attendants
  • doormats

Whatever we can do to make your experience the most pleasant, we will. Or, at least that’s the social value underpinning the concept of emotional labor. And that value does not require or even suggest that women should receive greater financial compensation for that work; equal access to power or decision-making; or even outward acknowledgement of their contributions.

Conversations around emotional labor are happening with greater frequency, which is great. Yet, how do we shift from deep discussions to real actions to address this social and economical inequity?

Reader! You can make an impact on this at your workplace, on boards you sit on, wherever you have the space to exercise privilege and power. And, you can most certainly take responsibility for shifting these norms within your own mind.

Don’t pigeonhole women to play key roles within a team/organization.

Y’all: I’m tired of the assumption that because of our “good handwriting”  or “innate skills” we will want to be the secretary/note-taker of the group. Those roles require the individual to divide their attention between participation and record-keeping, which means less opportunity to fully participate in the process. Women, especially women of color, have been shut out of these processes for eons. Step up and assume that role. Hold other men in the group accountable for doing the same.

Provide financial compensation for trainings, speaking engagements, and knowledge-sharing.

I work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it: we feel stretched when it comes to allocating funding for professional development and thought-leaders. Whether we’re planning a conference or hosting a forum, we request that experts donate their time and talent for our cause/purpose. Good for our bottom line = not equitable for said speaker.

We live in a world where we have access to vast amounts of information, and most of it comes without a price tag. At least, a visible one. But, we need to recognize that within that tweet (shout-out to Monét Noelle Marshall who educated me on this frequent type of informational co-option sans compensation) or workshop, someone is providing a service for you. They aren’t just “doing their job” but are actively participating in arming you with knowledge to make a difference, which will often result in a net positive for you/your organization. Pay them. If you don’t have the means to cut them a check, find other ways to compensate them in the exchange: a meal, in-kind marketing and promotion, etc. While those other options are fine, I would still argue that actual payment in cash is the ultimate goal. We can do a better job to allocate those funds within our budgets from the start. (Yes, we’re talking about being intentional.)

Let go of norms that people in certain jobs should act in a certain way.

There are certain jobs in our world that fall under the category of “performance”: dancers, musicians, actors, etc. The server at the restaurant is not one of those jobs. Neither is a receptionist. There are a myriad of examples where any gendered or non-gendered individual can hold a certain title, but we (consumers) expect different outputs depending on whether we perceive that person as female or not.

It behooves us to question our own emotions when we feel slighted in a service experience. Is our reaction based on our perception that the individual, because of their gender, should have acted in a certain way? What are the dangers of the assumption? Lost wages, lost jobs. The continuation of gendered norms that transfer to the next generation. The toll it takes on that individual (self-worth, self-acceptance).

As a white woman, I cannot and should not speak for women of color who are disproportionately burdened by emotional labor expectations. Here are voices speaking to this intersectional oppression and ways to dismantle such discriminatory norms:

A final takeaway from Adia Harvey Wingfield in a 2016 Atlantic piece on this fraught and frustrating topic:

“On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.”

Featured image credit: Clyde Fitch Report: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2016/02/black-women-misogynoir-communication/

Reflection: 2.5 months as an intentional shopper

Like many projects that I have embarked on before, I start strong and then, after some time, the great fade comes.

I blogged earlier this year about my goal to become a more intentional shopper after being inspired by Ann Patchett’s “My Year of No Shopping” essay in The New York Times. Many friends shared their own pursuits to live a more minimalist life; to increase support for local business; and to break the habit of instant gratification.

January = I rocked out. I crafted detailed lists when I went to the grocery store and stuck with them 100%. I shifted out of the “I need to buy” mindset; I evaluated what already lined our pantry and freezer shelves and attempted to become creative in the kitchen again, letting go of adhering to recipes. For meetings scheduled at coffee shops, I carried a bag of change from our collection to pay for those 12 and 16 ounce drips. Less reliance on the credit card. Using resources I already had. More shopping at the Farmer’s Market and at Compare Foods. More coupons. One Amazon purchase where I could cash in my points. And, no, I didn’t buy a book.

One month in, and I was winning! 

Then…February.

I’m not sure what happened during those 28 days, but I essentially pulled the rug out from underneath myself. More eating out; less accountability on how and where I was spending my dollars. Now, I didn’t completely fail in my goal for that month; some ways that I tried to be more intentional about my shopping included:

  • Using a gift certificate at The Scrap Exchange to purchase supplies for Valentine’s Day card-making rather than buying cards elsewhere
  • Cleaning out my bookcase and selling more than a dozen to Letters Bookshop in downtown Durham [transparently: yes, I have absolutely leveraged that credit to acquire a new book]
  • Seeking out more free activities/spaces where I felt less pressure to make a purchase.

Yet, I still slipped. Instead of purchasing one item to bring to a meeting, I justified purchasing two. I had more drinks out.

And this is why it is wonderful to have such thoughtful friends. One of my favorite nonprofit & public television rockstars, Sarah, forwarded me another NYT article on March 1st as she checked in on my shopping challenge. One of the “a-ha” moments for me in reading this piece was the advice to “confront your triggers.”

I can definitely be an emotional shopper. Running by the grocery store after finishing a workout or before eating a meal spells trouble for my ability to stick to a plan. I’m hungry and tired; I want to reward myself and that’s when I see my cart filling with items like Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream or Kite Hill cheese that are both delicious and unnecessary (and really expensive!).

Another one of my triggers is seeing products and events on social media. I want to do it all! But, I can’t — due to time, money, and capacity. But the desire remains and can propel me into purchasing tickets or showing up to a space where I will no doubt spend money.

Like I reflected in my prior post, none of these actions are inherently bad or wrong. It’s more about recognizing the “why” behind these choices and being at peace that there will always be more. Our world loves to promote scarcity, which is so far from reality.

After taking a few steps back last month, I’m feeling good about getting back on track. It’s about finding a balance between militancy and blowout.

 

Beyond the hype: a Real Life Resume

Every job-seeker’s best friend and worst enemy: the resume. We can thank Leonardo da Vinci for introducing the modern take of selling ourselves on paper.

(What would Leonardo da Vinci’s resume even look like? Thanks to the Internet, my question has been answered.)

As someone who went through the process semi-recently of updating and recasting my resume, I find the entire process laborious and limiting. Sure, you as my future employer want to quickly see how I performed in previous professional experiences. You want to understand the scope of my responsibilities, the actions I took, and how those actions brought growth and achieved goals for the organization.

But, if our workplaces are where we spend the majority of our waking time during a day, and if we’re going to foster authentic relationships with the people we work with, would you want to know things about me beyond my previous titles and functions? 

1900120_10102965431288815_7319629917357037206_n

Like my love for photos in cut-outs?!

While the interview process opens the door to explore what attributes and skills we would bring to the table (and those darn weaknesses too!), most of us won’t get that far in the process. The employment funnel is narrow. As our sectors continue to emphasize the role of inclusion, diversity, and equity as part of our hiring practices, why not then also re-imagine what we’re asking from applicants in the first place?

Last year, Unilever nixed resumes all together.  Instead, the company starts with LinkedIn profiles (arguably a similar platform to resumes) but then puts applicants through neuroscience-based games. The AI system matches outcomes to key positions available, which has resulted in a more diverse workforce and a shorting hiring window.

Other companies, in step with the digital age, have requested candidates to send them examples of their web presence (i.e. social media accounts) in lieu of resumes. Additionally, online applications offer open-ended questions, such as “What is the best job you’ve ever had?” to learn more about the person’s fit. Many of us can check a lot of the same boxes when we apply for a similar job. What makes us stand out from the pack?

I’d like to throw out the idea of a RLR (Real Life Resume) that could be in addition to a professional CV or as part of an application process. Or really, let’s burn recycle traditional resumes. How many do you have sitting around in old portfolios right now? Different versions saved on your computer? How many did you leave on your former employer’s computer?

doit

What would we include on our RLR? (Yep, we’re going full acronym now, folks). Well, that depends! As you think about what skills and strengths you’ve picked up in the course of being human, what would you want your next boss to know? What are the learnings that make you the right person for the job?

I’ve thought about this question at random times, like when I’m folding laundry or lose another earring (because if I had to name a real life weakness, it would be maintaining pairs of earrings. How do people do this? I have a drawer full of sad, lonely earrings). Here are some items I would put on my RLR:

  • I like to get things done quickly and efficiently. I refuse to leave one grocery bag behind in the car, no matter the number of bags, the weight of each bag, or that my arms are under threat of losing circulation.  Ethos = leave no one behind. 
  • As an only child growing up on a street filled with many retirees, I learned how to use my imagination, such as inventing other people to join me in a game of Clue and pretending I was the next Shannon Miller competing for Team USA in the Summer Olympics. Although the latter dream was shattered (literally as I went through the glass top table in our living room), I walked away with a more resilient, creative spirit. And some cool scars on my ankles. Creativity is critical for innovation, and having fun. 
  • Being tidy? That’s so passe. I’m a master of making piles. Piles of all sizes. Short piles. Tall piles. Piles of papers. Piles of clothes. A combo pile even! Why put something away that you may need later — tomorrow, six months from now? I have learned the art of piling from my mother; this family tradition may extend back generations. Documentation is a tad fuzzy on the topic, but take my word for it: my craft can transform an empty desk into a sight of wonder. Or, at least busyness. And aren’t optics undervalued in this day and age? Piles project productivity. 
  • At times, my mouth wants to work faster than my brain will allow it. The result? I provide humor and delight through my ability of selecting the wrong word to use.  Aaron has dubbed this skill “word scramble.” For instance, I’ve told Aaron that I look forward to going whaling in Alaska someday. I may have also used the word “undercarriage” during a board game with friends that may have inspired a future tattoo. Despite the initial shock of embarrassment, I am right there laughing along with you. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Whether it’s the realization that my kitchen floors will never be crumb-free or my cats will never sleep past 5:00am ever again, I’ve learned how to let the small things go so I can refocus my energy on what matters. If that’s not a skill from real life to bring into the work place, I don’t know what is.

Other potential candidates to offer up during my next job hunt on what value add I can offer: freestyle rapping; competitive skeeball; making tofu tasty.

What I can’t offer: faking accents; a decent poker face; pretending that I enjoy stuffing envelopes.

What would you on your Real Life Resume? 

Knowing when to step aside

I’ve crawled into bed after 11:00pm the past two nights. As a conditioned morning person, I am feeling the grind this morning.

Speaking of feeling the grind: when it comes to leadership positions and the people who hold them, when is the right time for people to move on in order to bring in a fresh perspective and style to the work?

michael-scott-rather-be-feared-or-loved_orig

Transitions in leadership have enormous implications for an organization’s strategic direction and culture. But, our nonprofit sector seems more comfortable sticking our heads in the ground rather than preparing and planning for the inevitable and necessary.

That’s right: necessary. Our society values longevity and gives credence to those who stay in positions of power for years. But, at what cost? That isn’t to imply that such leaders always fail or bring harm to the organizations they serve. That certainly could be the case. It’s more about recognizing that our influence and decision-making will put the organization down a series of paths aligned with our values. Yet, think of all of the other roads available to the organization that could have an even bigger impact. But, we’re not able to see those options, not because we don’t want to, but because we operate from what we know. If we haven’t walked a particular walk, then we’re not going to be able to find that way.

A lot of people have asked me this year how it feels to no longer be on the YNPN Triangle NC Board of Directors. Did I miss it? Was I sad to no longer be a part of a tight-knit group of motivated, dedicated leaders?

21544035_1617036455005436_6661688092159660813_o

This was the North Carolina contingency in Atlanta for the 2017 National YNPN conference. What an easy group to love!

When put that way, of course. The organization brought incredible people to my life who have become some of my closest friends and trusted confidantes. But, when it came to my role, particularly after serving as Chair for three years, I knew that I had given all of myself on the playing field. While I had the institutional knowledge that can be a justifiable reason to encourage a leader to stay, I also had the baggage of my five years of experience dragging behind me.

As a leader, it is my responsibility to prepare the organization to continue moving forward without me in the picture. When people have asked me about my feelings related to leaving YNPN Triangle NC, I could confidently respond that I knew the chapter was going to flourish because of the committed people around the table.

One of the best lessons I learned as Chair: surround yourself with people who aren’t like you. Leaders need to be challenged in their ideas, assumptions, and visions. It is not only unfair but impossible for one person to have all of the skills we’ve identified as necessary to be a successful nonprofit leader. Nope. Not a real thing. Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector still operates in this mindset (a la the solo Executive Director model aka martyr aka magician).

I was struck the first time I heard “One Last Time” from Hamilton. George Washington, through what historians have discovered, recognized his limits as a leader and took action to transition the power of the Presidency. Such forethought was not the norm during that period (nor in present day, sadly).

One lyric in particular stood out to me:

If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone

Yes, let’s acknowledge there is some trace of ego laced in this idea of building something that will outlive us. Yet, I would argue that it’s more purpose than ego: who doesn’t want to be remembered? Who doesn’t want to leave some sort of positive mark on the world that is lasting? Isn’t that the reason many of us work in the public and social sectors: not necessarily for individual recognition but to have a hand in shaping better outcomes for all people and our broader world?

There’s no blueprint for knowing when it is time to step aside. I believe it comes from a combination of internal reflection (gut-checking) and being open to receiving feedback from others. It’s hard not to take it personally: you want me to go?! No no. It’s not about you. Let’s say that again: it’s not about you. These organizations are about the people the mission seeks to serve: you just have the privilege of being on other side.

Let’s make a commitment, especially as emerging leaders, to be willing to step aside and not grind our organizations/staff to the ground. Let’s commit to having open conversations about leadership transitions — preparing for them as we would any 990 or board report. Let’s commit to building a team around us full of people willing to challenge us, bring new ideas to the table, and share the responsibility of achieving collective goals.

We’re gonna teach ’em how to say goodbye.