Be more interested in what you discover than what is told.
After reading your piece about your tiredness and what that is about for you, I read Adam Grant’s piece in the NYT. His piece runs parallel to yours, where he asks, are you feeling blah, meh? And then offers, there’s a name for that: languishing. Which didn’t feel right to me. I couldn’t help but think of his privilege. Of skipping the loss and suffering, and suggesting that distancing of this year is some kind of psychological problem that can be fixed with a mindset shift. Geez. Languishing almost sounds nice, like taking a nap and resting up before getting up to go about one’s day. That’s not what I’m experiencing. Is this what white guys actually feel?
Remember how, at the very beginning of this pandemic, we found ourselves reevaluating the routine question, “how are you?” As we realized how ridiculous, even inane the question sounded, we’d rephrase. Sometimes we would repeat it, with an emphasis on different syllables. Really, HOW are you? Or, How ARE you? And even, How are YOUUUUU?
And now, about a year later, most of us are back to asking it without much thought.
We get a fine or an okay. And then we all move on.
We’re back to “normal”. Or at least we’re mostly trying to be.
WHY AM I SOFT IN THE MIDDLE
You were not alone in sharing Adam’s piece and then posing this type of question.
Grant’s post reminds me of the lyrics of You Can Call Me Al ( below) off the Graceland album. In the song, he asks “why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard”. The lyric is talking about a totally self-absorbed person, whose focus is on their private needs, isolated from real troubles in the world.
As you suggest, it is easy to point out how much languishing isn’t the total picture. As 75% of US workers can’t work exclusively from home, they were at greater risk during the pandemic. Or, how far too many people are still grieving. Or “terrified”, given hate crimes that are rarely correctly called that. Or how 1 in 4 women have been pushed out of the workforce. Or how we are affected by zoom fatigue, which creates a kind of self-consciousness that is linked to increased anxiety and depression. (I know my fair share of people who are getting plastic surgery or new orthodontia after seeing their own face all the time. That’s gotta be related.)
And maybe even challenge things that look like languishing but probably aren’t.
For example, when Dale’s Diner in Waterville, Ohio, closed last week. It had more customers than any time in its 10-year history. The problem as the Dispatch reported it? There are no applicants for its many job openings, with concerns that the pandemic relief packages are causing people to languish on the sidelines. The brilliant sociologist, MacArthur Fellow and writer, Tressie McMillan Cottom, and I discussed it on Twitter to point out this is just as likely that people are deciding not to risk their own lives for anything less than a living wage.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
So, we now know Adam’s word, and I already shared mine (weltschmerz), but what is yours?
Most of us have no idea. But we need to. If we simply accept other people’s words, we don’t hear our own voice, our own truth, that distinct point of view born of Onlyness. If we don’t ask our team the question, we can design the “return” to work as normal while denying what people need.
So, how are you? How are they doing?
It could be you feel empathy for those who lost their job due to economics or were asked to do dangerous things with no hazard pay. That maybe inspire you to influence a policy change by asking your team to talk to Zeynep Ton and learn about how Good Jobs leads to more growth. It could be that your workplace is still thinking everyone needs to work near a certain office, and you now cherish seeing your garden grow; maybe you put together a set of ideas for how to be more flexible. It could be that you want to do your day job and also address social injustices you’ve witnessed in recent months (voting rights, George Floyd/Chauvin’s guilt), and so you’re wondering how to be more committed to social justice without being overwhelmed.
(Fill in your own blank _________). Here’s a good list that might prompt you.
Strategy is the process of going from “here” to “there”. If we don’t know the answer to what we’re feeling now, we won’t answer what we need to feel fully alive. This is why naming “this” matters.
Hear your own “here”.
CALL IT BY IT’S NAME
Sentiments are often dismissed; work is a place of reason, training, and logic goes the thinking. Yet, feelings are a source of clarity: how we know what matters to us. This knowingness is foundational to Onlyness.
Be curious. Ask, how are you, really?
Whether it’s as a peer or as a boss or as a friend, your job is to be so present, so we can each hear the sound of our soul. So we feel seen as ourselves.
As we “go back” to what will be called the “new normal”, naming let’s be intentional about what we want and even need to feel. (And, pssst, your needs matter). So that work is where we can each be fully alive, contributing the value that only we can.