I’m heartbroken (nauseous actually) about all the lives lost in Gaza again this week and our role in it. Thank you to my Jewish American and Palestinian friends for keeping this sorrow and pain in my line of site. Thanks to you, I’m doubling down on reminding/re-teaching myself and my culture about the deep power of empaths. I’ve been relying on my new book this spring to do that for me. Over-relying on it, actually. I forgot for a moment that I have a non-book voice too. 🙂 So here are a brief (for Lori) few words about empaths…
- Right to lose our way often. Creators have the right to wander, wend, and get lost as often as possible. To support each other in being lost, we listen first and at least as twice as long as we speak, and we share each other’s work and stories with the world. If we are asked to speak by another creator or world citizen who is struggling with being lost (not all do), we offer clues—not answers—as gifts for each other to find. Answers aren’t as interesting or useful as clues. Most days. We deeply love getting lost, finding our way, and offering clues for other wanders to find.
- Right to play. Creators can play whenever, wherever, however, and with whomever we choose, as long as we accept the responsibility to 1) invite all those that we impact to join us and 2) change the game together, on the fly, to suit the players and neighbors present with us. As Bernie says, “The players are more important than the game.” Earthlings deeply love play and improvisation and imagination and experimenting. All our children know this.
- Right to bask within difference. Creators are encouraged and supported in celebrating the different, the odd, the strange, the weird, the curious, the queer, the unexplainable, the horrible, the unshaken wonder within, and the outcast within ourselves and each other. We creators succeed in life in direct proportion to our ever-expanding and contracting ability to do this, and most of us set up daily and weekly rituals to practice doing just this. We deeply love curiosity and difference and outcasts and oddness, because we are all of that. As we stay with it, together, we come to love all of it. All of us.
- Right to trust humanity. Creators assume the best of humans and offer the benefit of the doubt to other humans without fear of being lied to, injured, taken advantage of, or killed. When we find that we cannot do this on our own, then we ask for help, accept help, and we help each other find people among whom we can try again. And we keep on practicing. We deeply love feeling safe in the presence of other human beings—particularly with those remarkably different from us—because this helps us feel safe when we’re alone and when we create and more confident and humble wherever we go.
- Right to be yourself and be celebrated. Earthlings are celebrated for being here, and being exactly who we are, from birth to death and in all the spaces in between. This is true whether we can see it and feel it yet or not and whether the humans physically present around us opt to participate or not. Trees, birds, soil, wind, stars, ancestors, and elders, for example, celebrate us all. When we aren’t able to be ourselves and feel celebrated, we tend to move and go get lost for a while. Or, to celebrate others to learn celebration skills. We deeply love to celebrate and be celebrated. Celebration eases the pain of loss, loneliness, illness, and death that are part of this beautiful life too. We deeply love all forms of celebration, even those that look and sound nothing like our own, and we love finding new holidays and learning new ways to celebrate.
- Right to receive an almost overwhelming amount of help from the place you live. Creators listen to the voice of a whole place before taking action. This means listening to the sounds and beings that your ears can hear when you’re outside, ideally walking or sitting on the ground, or inside with several windows open. For example, to change your part of town, listen to the people who show up; the birds, insects, and animals that show up; the sounds of the wind, plants, buildings, bodies of water, stars, vehicles, music, and any other sounds present; the ancestors now part of the ground and the sky; and then listen to the interactions between these things. Strive to be connected enough to learn from other whole places and beings taking or considering similar action. We deeply love this place we call home. She loves us back: which we can only figure out fully when we slow down and listen fully.
- Right to be a complete mess. It is not uncommon to see creators making complete fools of ourselves. We learn to proudly, openly share our works in progress, work that didn’t quite work, work that REALLY didn’t work, and work we’re stuck on and cannot proceed further on without help. We visibly ask for forgiveness when our fear accidentally hurts others. Proudly, openly ask for other perspectives and help. Proudly, openly share our difficulties, and our gifts, with our world, no matter how different or painful or odd they seem to ourselves or others. Proudly, openly weep and laugh. We deeply love earthlings, being earthlings, and all the messiness that attends us. Feeling broken? Emotional? Completely lost? Bring it on, baby! Creators can handle the mess because we love the mess and share the load as friends and community. We learn young here: there is so much art within the mess!
- Right to forgiveness. Creators make mistakes, try again, make amends, and receive forgiveness everywhere we go. We love spending time with new people and trying new things: both result in mistakes being made. Mistakes are part of our process. We learn to love being wrong or partly wrong as much as we love being right, because we—and those touched by our work and our selves—learn more (or perhaps we just remember better and longer?) when we’re wrong than when we’re right. This wouldn’t be possible without forgiveness and strong, generous, connected, wise, and wildly different communities. We deeply love living in a world so committed to experimenting, learning, growing, community, celebration of difference, and forgiveness.
- Right to not feel the need to receive apologies. Creators rarely expect others to apologize for being themselves, because we have the ability to move away (and we love to move), to imagine ourselves as others (and we love to imagine), and to create and believe rich, complex back stories (and we love to create). See #5. Creators prefer to focus on our creations and ourselves—looking inward to ourselves, our muses, our work, our nature (hello tree, my old friend), and our creator groups for solace and sense-making most days. We also know that we’ll mess up on this one because we’re human (fortunately, see #6, #7, and #8). Humans have expectations of others, and it often takes much of an individual lifetime of practice to let go of that need. Plants, animals, birds, insects, plants, stars, and soil are all far better at this one. Watch and listen to them to learn this. To show our respect for world citizens who differ from us on this, we apologize to those who need our apologies to feel whole. We seek to learn from those who differ from us on this.
- Right of shared space and home space. Creators respect our shared spaces, including the field of imagination, by treating them as our home: welcoming, comfortable, natural, and sacred within their messiness. Over time, we tend to blend what we believe to be shared (what citizens call public) space—blurring boundaries every chance we get—and what we believe to be home (what citizens call private) space for ourselves. And even when they overlap entirely, we honor both. We respect other people’s private space as private and our own need sometimes to return home. Just because we often experience this whole planet and universe as shared, and also as home, doesn’t mean all other earthlings can, or do, or want to, or even that we want to all the time. See #16 and #17. We deeply love our shared space and home spaces.
- Right to pilot your own friend ship. Creator friendships cross all imagined boundaries and last beyond individual lifetimes. Creators don’t attempt to be whole on their own (most days) and instead draw friends to them whose ways of being and skills and talents and lifestyles and struggles complement and stretch/expand their own. With certain people, our mutual energy expands exponentially. These are the friends we typically create with. Creation requires ample energy, so we move away from people when an energy drain is felt—even away from people we love, aware that movement back is always a possibility. Today, many of us are accustomed to being told that this way of being is wrong, so it’s become a right of passage into maturity for a creator to find peace with being who they are and contentment within being considered wrong by many world citizens. Friendships teach us to honor all energy. We deeply love friendships.
- Responsibility to own and evolve our own labels and titles. Creators have a right to experience ourselves as creators and co-creators instead of as a consumer, user, customer, planet destroyer, deplorable, snowflake, troll, wuss, woo woo, or any other lame-ass label human fear tries to force onto us. And. We have the responsibility to visibly live the labels and titles that we create. For example, creators create, barter, trade, swap, repurpose, recycle, grow, make, share, patch, mend, fix, gift, learn to love the old and the broken, forage, find, and live without what we don’t really need anyway, first. Then, we create some more for good measure. Only then do we buy. When we buy, we respect the seasons, respect the place we live, respect the earthlings around us, respect our bodies, and give thanks for what we’ve purchased and to all the makers who made it possible. As we can, we buy and sell with people who live nearby, with kind people, and directly with other creators, makers, artists, neighbors, small farmers, and other close community members who could use our support. Before we buy physical goods from a long distance, creators get a second opinion: we talk to an old tree or old animal first. We listen. If the tree/animal thinks it’s a good idea, then we proceed. Sometimes we get a second tree or animal’s opinion, but usually just for the fun of it. When our labels and titles lose energy, we have the responsibility to experiment, change, and create new ones as visibly as possible. Because we can, and so many others can’t, we accept this responsibility gratefully and we take it seriously in the way a two-year-old takes a toy seriously.
- Responsibility to walk in wonder, silliness, and gratitude. Earthlings are living, breathing, adorable, fluffy balls of gratitude, wonder, and silliness when we’re are born. Creators become more so as we gain experience and as we age. We are utterly surrounded by these things as we enter, as we walk in, and as we leave this world. We deeply love gratitude, wonder, and silliness—at all stages of life. Our responsibility is to learn how to stay with these core earthling traits no matter what (animals, creator ancestors, children, and true human elders are the ones to watch) and then to demonstrate them to others, particularly when people’s lives and worlds are falling apart.
- Responsibility of bees to make honey. Creators make things, grow things, and create their art or craft as if the whole world depended on it and as if their whole self does. We have the right to create/make/grow without explanation or apology for who we are, when we listen to the whole place we’re in and feel at our core that being who we really are is vitally important—even when we don’t know why yet (which, frankly, is most of the time). Deeply listening humans can trust their intuition. We are allowed to tell anyone who questions our value, including ourselves, to walk out into a field or the woods, find a bee hive, and talk directly to the bees about why they make honey. The bees will explain it better. We deeply love to make, grow, and create and to share our creations with others. That deep love of creation, and others, is enough. As with all these rights, to fully claim this right as our own, creators must experience this right as an innate right of all earthlings, not just humans. And of all world citizens, not just creators.
- Responsibility to work on your own—and walk away from others’—total bullshit. We stay present, listen, fight fairly, and fight for each other, instead of against one another. If this is our thing to work on, this is what we do. We are far too connected, and practical, for that work-against-each-other bullshit that some world citizen humans try. For creators, fighting against each other means fighting against ourselves—this flat out doesn’t work for creators. Ask literally any creator ancestor living or dead, human, plant, insect, or animal. Fighting yourself can be a teacher, yes. And still it’s one that you have to let go of to create interesting, new, or curiosity peaking work. Becoming a creator means letting go of the violence and the silencing within us in favor of creating. Again and again and again: this is a life-long daily practice. Humans who believe and do otherwise—who believe in violence and silencing as useful answers—are free to leave our presence as they wish: with our blessings. And we are free to leave their presence: as groups and as individuals. We commit to staying when we can stay—when it is our fight to fight—and to moving away or asking for more help before contempt builds a nest and sets up home within us. We move to regroup and rest and learn and grow and often because we see that it’s not our fight to fight to fight anymore or that with the help of others a fight can be reimagined into a spark and into flow. Those who allow violence and silencing of others to grow and fester within themselves cannot be recognized as leaders by creators. The violence and the silencing plugs their ears so they can’t hear the whole place that they’re in. Cut off from the world herself, they become isolated, predictable, and unable to move in interesting new ways, let alone in wise old ways, with others. Don’t be that guy. 😉 And when you are, forgive yourself, ask for forgiveness, and move on together.
- Right to cede your power to a government or organization and still be respected and loved. At the moment, world citizens who don’t claim these inalienable creators’ rights for themselves and their closest others—and who don’t own the responsibilities that attend this much freedom—cede their innate power to their national and state government constitutions and to their employers’ Human Resources policies. Creators who do accept these rights have the responsibility to treat world citizens with kindness and respect even when we don’t receive it in return. Especially when we don’t receive it in return. Because we don’t need to receive kindness and respect to have it—it lives within our communities, our work, our selves, and our home neighborhood, planet, and universe. Some believe that our art is for world citizens more than it is for ourselves. Whether that’s true for you or not (it doesn’t have to be), respecting the place we live means respecting those around us who don’t live, love, work, move, act, think, and worship like we do. We deeply love this place we live, which means loving all people here with us, even those who piss us off to no end, and not just other creators. Respect and kindness is how we demonstrate our love of this place. Many of us most enjoy the presence of other creators, because they allow us to be our whole weird and wild selves. The freest creators among us—elder creators—learn how to learn as much from world citizens who aren’t creators as those who are. Fully free creators can find the creator, and the citizen, in all earthlings. And love us all.
- Right to impact the whole world in a positive, lasting way. When we fully enjoy these rights ourselves, we dedicate our lives and our work to supporting those who want to, but can’t, fully enjoy them yet. We deeply love unleashing new creators and new work on the world. If we seek to impact the whole world in a positive way, then this is the direction we creators take. It’s not just about creating new work. Creators create more creators. Creator groups create more creator groups. Creator communities create more creator communities. Now try saying or singing that fast three times. 😉
- Responsibility to learn from everyone. This doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone: we learn a lot by reflecting on who we listen to, who we don’t listen to, and why. This instead reflects the fact that creators can cross more imagined boundaries than other world citizens because of our deep love of doing so. We know that we are as likely to make our next vital connection and breakthrough talking with the woman driving the bus in The Netherlands or dancing with the man who washes dishes in Nigeria or playing with the local street musician on the road side as we are by talking to the tuxedo-wearing keynote speaker at a prestigious event or putting a resume into the hands of “the right people.” Those who can cross old, imagined boundaries to learn have a responsibility to do so. When we do, we open new possibility doors in our world. Creators deeply love the possibility of learning something new, or finding nuance within the known, from everyone.
- Right to receive what we need. From ourselves. Creators don’t require others’ minds to be open, for example, before moving forward. The question we typically ask ourselves is this: “Is my mind open?” We don’t require others to be creative, for example, either. Instead we ask ourselves: “Am I being as creative as I can be right now?” This tendency of ours supports internally felt freedom regardless of where we are or who we are or what is happening. That said, our experience of “self” is fluid. We are co-creators. Our self might be an individual, a small group, a community, a forest, flock of birds, or an ocean, for example, at any given point. Because the limits of our imagination rarely stop at our individual selves, our rights—and the responsibilities of deep listening, deep kindness, deep fun, and deep respect—rarely stop at our individual selves. Huh. Wow. This is so cool! Damn it feels good to be a creator.
- Responsibility to move through ideas and beliefs as a community and to let go of things—including our old ideas and selves—when they no longer serve the greater good. Without our creators’ love of doing this, and our love of continuing to learn to do this better with friends and community members, future humanity will be uniform, dry, depressed, and dull as shit. Not that I believe that will happen. Not with Mother Earth at our backs and more people waking up every day now. Just be aware that doing this work often pisses off other creators, not only other world citizens. Evolving beliefs and ideas and selves isn’t easy for most humans. At this moment. But that’s going to change in this century. Watch for it. Practice it. Dance it. Paint it. Draw it. Play it. And you’ll see.
After 20. This space has been intentionally blank for the purposes of creation. Please finish this list for your community, as often as is needed by the community as a whole…
 This is known as the Bernie DeKoven Principle.
 If you’re a creator committed to a particular human, social justice, or environmental cause, partner with a few world citizens who you create energy with and who don’t define themselves primarily as creators like you do—people interested in (and who are dedicating their lives and careers to) social amends, conflict resolution, pulling forth awareness or heart-felt apologies, and social or environmental justice. Creators aren’t experts on justice: we’re experts at falling deeply in love with the world/ourselves/simply what is. So we need to partner with world citizens such as wonderful and open-minded attorneys, judges, social workers, cops, activists, educators, conflict specialists, librarians, community-center employees, scientists, government employees, spiritual directors, and even the best politicians—not just animals, birds, fish, and trees—to foster change in human culture if we want to witness culture changes in our lifetimes. Well-informed citizens like these tend to have strong answers and cross-community connections. Creators tend to ask new and forgotten questions and arrive with a presence, and with work, that helps citizens imagine themselves as part of something larger than they previously imagined. Partnering with these people is a good match, because we teach each other and help each other not take ourselves too seriously. We remind each other of our core-deep curiosity and core-deep abilities to shift, reimagine, and play.
I lose the mom I grew up with to Alzheimer’s every day. This loss began roughly 12 years ago for me and is with me every day. Others who love her live with similar loss—we each lose her in different ways and stages.
You may see her smiling face in photos and think that the woman you knew is with me. You are wrong.
The woman with me today is someone entirely new. She’s new each day now. This woman speaks very little. She doesn’t follow conversation. She no longer sleeps poorly: she sleeps much of the time. She hasn’t known my name, or her own last name, for more than a year now. She calls dad, lovingly, “The guy.”
When Daniel and I walk in, mom usually recognizes Eva the dog first, then looks up, remembering that she loves us. Or, she at least loves us for bringing a dog to play with her. She smilingly pulls the dog and I down the hall to her dresser to show us the new bracelet or socks or sweater that the guy bought her yesterday. “He’s so good,” she often says. The love and strength that it must take to awaken with a stranger in your bed each morning? Yeah, I can’t even fathom that one yet. Its a love beyond all reason. I revere both parents more as a result.
Spoken and written language gone, mom can’t tell her stories in traditional ways, so she gets creative: using props, gestures, silence, telepathy, empathy, almost-right words, and half words. Which is cool. I love her stories now: each one is a collective haiku crafted of magic. Dad’s stories have lengthened, artfully weaving past and present together: a shawl around our shoulders.
Some days, while mom and I are walking down the grocery aisle she says to me “Hey! I really like you.” And I flush, flattered, knowing that she likes me as a stranger. “That must hurt,” people assume and, too often, say. But most days it doesn’t hurt. I am with a woman who likes me for me. Because of who I am in the moment. She likes me without expectations, family ties, history, or baggage of any kind. And maybe sometimes, because I just put lemon cake—a favorite of hers—in the cart. This sweet new woman likes me as a total stranger. I like her too.
Loss has shown me how “I like you” can be more powerful than I love you.
Loss demonstrates that the coolest stuff is always happening around the words. Difficult to see at a distance, while distracted, or worrying. Loss stills me into better noticing.
This year, I notice that staying with loss has immunized me considerably against the promotion of the always-winning, always-first (and ultimately violence-inducing) cultural myth and its associated orange-haired icon that flashes out at me from all the screens. Those who scream that always winning makes us strong and powerful ultimately haven’t got a clue. Been there. So very glad to be done with that.
If you want to feel strength, gently stay with your loss or a least visit on a regular basis. Listen. Hold her hand. Slow down with her. Be her friend. Walk into and through anger with her: into and through hate. Weep. Breathe. Go for a walk. Accept help from nature and cool people. Eat healthy foods. And put an occasional lemon cake in the cart to mend your hearts. That, friends, is what deep winning feels like. It honors loss. Deep winning eases minds and lifts hearts in all directions around it. Deep winning is hearing “Hey, I really like you.” from a total stranger who you—lucky you—already love like family.
There’s an article circulating this week called Why Relationships Should Be ‘HELL Yeah or No.’ It’s targeted at millennials, and about love relationships, but the headline drew us in and got some of my Gen X friends and I talking about work projects and work relationships. To the point I was told to blog about it. So here goes: ideas about finding abundant life between HELL Yeah (I love this work!) and No (I don’t want do this anymore.) at work.
1. Trust HELL Yeahs and Nos about the work itself
Here at mid-life, I’ve noticed that I use a Hell Yeah and No approach for taking on new work projects and for sticking with work projects. Not out of any particular personal wisdom (which I’m hoping comes later in life): simply because when I don’t trust my own HELL Yeahs and Nos — and the HELL Yeahs and Nos of those I’m working with — we end up having way too many Oh HELL NO! moments. On work projects now, I’m all in, I take breaks when I’m not feeling all in, and then I return when I’m all in again. I allow others to do the same. Together we work on encouraging and allowing ourselves to do this and learning not to take it personally when others need to walk away. Helps us stay happy and interested and engaged and productive. Helps us know when it’s time to take a break, time to let go of responsibilities and take on new ones, bring others in to help or take over, and move on completely from work, too. The extreme ends of the spectrum can be helpful for making day-to-day choices about the work itself. This works especially well when everyone feels they have the ability to work while energized and to slow down or stop or leave or move on when they’re not.
2. The ends of the spectrum aren’t enough for long-term friendships and work relationships
Thankfully, humans are too beautifully complex and interesting to settle for just two choices. There is so much more to learn…
a. Ask “Where am I on the spectrum between Hell Yeah and No right now?” and be willing to move away from a new-to-you No
For me, work projects eventually end, while friendships and working relationships may last a lifetime. Long-term human relationships require an understanding of where I myself am on the spectrum between the HELL Yeah and No at any given time and a courageous willingness to shift, move, and let go. For example, there are many Hell Yeah-at-our-core people in my life who I have walked away from for a year, or a decade, during years that we, or our work, became Nos for each other. But that doesn’t mean they’re out of my life forever. When we listen to new Nos and let go of each other “for now” (well before feelings get hurt beyond repair and definitely before contempt settles in), then often the parting really is “just for now.” Many friends and work colleagues return, eventually. At least here in my indie, work-for-yourself corner of the work world. For those who don’t return, I still get to love the memory of them and pop online to see what they’re up to now and then, share a recipe, or share news about work they might be interested in.
b. Notice if your No is an intuition-screaming-loudly No or a self-doubt No and be willing to move toward the occasional self-doubt No
When it comes to new people, many Nos from the beginning tend to stay Nos, simply because they aren’t given the chance to come farther into my life. That’s ok. Sometimes our No instincts are screaming loudly, and when they’re that loud, they’re spot on. Trust yourself. I’ve left jobs, social groups, and spaces when a screaming loudly Oh HELL NO-for-me showed up. I’ve never regretted those choices.
Sometimes our Nos aren’t about the other person at all: they’re about us, being stretched, and our own fears about our ability to handle something. For example, I eventually became friends with a guy at work who was a No-for-me as a work partner the first time we met. I read his fast decision making and organizational political savvy as “slick and untrustworthy.” Yet we had compatible goals, complementary skill sets, and we decided to stick together. We eventually ended up loving working together because we had opposite strengths that we could suddenly both draw on. We ended up wildly successful as a result. He eventually became an Oh Hell Yeah! friend for life. I carry him in my heart now no matter where we go or what we do: the same is true for the other three friends in that self-organizing work group. For me, reimagining the No is about reimagining ourselves together. This tends to require trust and respect that starts with trust in and respect for yourself. Can I trust and respect this someone who is remarkably different from me? And can I still trust and respect myself in their presence? If so, and if they can say the same about you, then together we can reimagine ourselves, changing our initial Nos into a mutual Oh Hell Yes! I learned a valuable lesson from this friend about work partnerships and about myself. Sometimes we need a No to grow. To round out an amazing small work group. To collectively pull ourselves from good to great. To get to another level of Oh HELL YES! for all of us.
3. Watch for the hidden gifts within Oh HELL No! at work
Everyone I know has had many Oh HELL No! work experiences early in life. Many of them are about us: part of growing up and learning to play/work well with others. Many of them aren’t actually about us as individuals and are instead the natural outcomes of the antiquated work systems and cultural norms we inherited from those who came before us and the beliefs and ideas we unconsciously hold as a result. Our Oh HELL No! work experiences point directly at the real, often hidden, work that we are actually doing: improving our cultures and work systems for ourselves and those who come next. Many people make entire careers out of their Oh HELL No! experiences: tapping the energy within THIS WILL BE DIFFERENT FOR THOSE WHO COME NEXT! to pull forth massive social, professional, and personal change.
For those of us who love to work, and imagine ourselves working across our entire lives, I suspect there is never a complete escape from Oh HELL No! work experiences. There’s just too much work left to do to create work systems, cultures, and selves that more fluidly work well together and more fairly and justly work period. If we’re lucky, we can imagine the world of work into a playground: remaking many of our own No and Oh HELL No! experiences into sparks for innovation and change together. I believe that those of us who can imagine this have a responsibility to do so: not only for ourselves and those who come next but also for all of those today who are crushed, beaten down, or killed by old ideas and outdated systems and patterns of thought. This is my belief. For me. Part of my own Oh HELL YES! I’ve yet to live in a way that allows me to get entirely past Oh HELL No! at work now and then. Maybe next month. Speaking of that…
4. Watch extra close for the gifts within Oh FUCK NO! work experiences
I can say from recent personal experience that as you age — learning more skills, better understanding yourself and peers and environments, gaining more credibility and respect, and having more work colleagues willing to connect you to perfect-for-you others — that it is possible to delude yourself into thinking that you’ve moved past Oh HELL No! work experiences. And I can also say that it’s at this self-satisfied moment that you are perfectly primed and ready to land hard, on your ass, within an Oh FUCK NO! work experience.
This fall, Daniel unexpectedly lost his day job. Just like that, 85% of our income vanished. At the same time, we were also helping my parents (mom with Alzheimer’s disease and dad a tired primary caregiver of 10+ years) pack and move across the country. At the same time we were preparing our Seattle home for sale and awash in a sea of floor repair, countertop replacement, and cleaning/beautifying projects. And I was also trying to get not one, but two, books published. We were stressed, tired, and too busy. And I lost my way again. I took on several new work projects/clients in a hurry: rushing and making decisions out of fear and while exhausted. One of those clients had work processes and systems and cultural norms and expectations that were wildly outside my own comfort zone, and I had no interest in changing myself, or connecting with them, to make things better. But I stayed anyway. Out of fear. And just six days in I totally lost it. Frustrated. Angry. Trapped. After ending my work days sobbing, for three days in a row, Daniel had to tell me to quit. I couldn’t even see it for myself. I ended up hurting myself and Daniel, and to a lesser extent an old friend who offered me the work, and an employment agency, in the process.
My own Oh FUCK NO! work experience was not primarily the result of broken old systems and antiquated cultural norms and expectations. This one was the direct result of me over-booking myself, not standing in/working from my own power, and making decisions out of fear. I know the difference now between a primarily-a-Lori-problem and a primarily-a-system-problem and this one was on Lori. Yes, their system had problems. Massive problems. As do most of our large work systems today. But I showed up to work with zero interest in connecting and becoming part of any small group that could make them better. This was work I should not have been doing. I suspected it ahead of time. I became more certain the moment I started it. I knew it more deeply every day that followed. But I ignored my loudly screaming intuition. And, surprise, surprise, I landed in an Oh FUCK NO! work experience.
Fortunately, I have a wide support system, a great partner, and generous, forgiving work colleagues. I was given the chance to say “I’m sorry. I messed up. I shouldn’t be here. I need to go. Right now.” And I was graciously forgiven my mistakes. By everyone. The employment agency even let me keep a bonus I’d been given for bringing the client to them and for connecting them with others in my field. Nothing pulls forth gratitude — and drives home noticing the deep privileges in your life — like being graciously forgiven for making big, ugly-crying, pain-inducing mistakes….
5. Be open to receiving the you-specific gift/lesson/insight
I have no idea what you took from this essay for yourself. Unless you choose to share, that’s not even my business. For me, this didn’t begin as an essay about the deep privileges of my work life or my skin color. But for me, now, how can it not be? When I get to count on gracious forgiveness, the-benefit-of-the-doubt, and getting to be fully human in my work life — even when it was definitely me who screwed up — while countless others can’t? When I get to quit a job — even when I need the money — because I so clearly should not be doing it? While countless others can’t? That’s total bullshit. We can do better. We must do better.
These are the rights I will fight for, and speak up for, for myself and others: the right to be fully human at work, the right to make mistakes, the right to be graciously forgiven for mistakes and to receive the benefit-of-the-doubt, and finally, the right to give up work and move on to something else when your intuition is screaming at the top of its lungs that you moving elsewhere will be better for everybody. This is a much needed comfort, insight, and reminder here in a month when I’m feeling down about book sales numbers and wondering where my next editing gig will be coming from.
Today, if we’re lucky, even our Oh FUCK NO! work experiences can become gifts that point us toward who we’re becoming and where we’re going next. I’m ready to help move these rights from for-a-lucky-few to by intention for everybody who wants them in their work lives. I don’t have to wonder anymore if I’m ready to go there now. I’m already here. This is already part of my own Oh HELL YES! and I have my own Oh FUCK NO! experience to thank for it.
Last week, a lovely researcher named Toni showed up in our space. She’s doing her doctoral dissertation on coworking, studying the ways people who work in coworking locations conduct their work (how they collaborate with others, what type of work groups they are in, and what types of tools they use). Lovely work, yay Toni! And we hit it off as humans, so she’s coming back to cowork with us this Wednesday. Yay us!
As we talked about more traditional work, and about work in coworking and other collaborative work spaces, I said something out loud that I hadn’t put voice to before.
WORK is cracking itself wide open for us right now.
What we do. How we do it. Who we work with. Where we work. WHY we work. To what end or no end we work. What titles we shed and accept and create. What we choose to receive for our work. What counts as work. How work becomes integrated into ourselves and our lives and our communities. The relationship of being and doing. The relationship of work and play. The value of work itself. All of it.
Right now all of it is open and ripe for interpretation and for reimagination.
Work is cracked wide open.
There was once a kind, humble, and smart guy who said “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
He didn’t say when.
But to me it feels that now is when or the beginnings of when anyway.
Back in those days meek meant gentle, kind, and humble. To my knowledge, it hadn’t yet picked up the negative “human doormat” connotation some jerk decided to give it along the way. Being meek was about being present, being open. It was about taking the time to notice. Allowing time for others to do the same. About receiving.
And (holy crap, I may have just happened across a point in record time) here’s the thing about work cracking itself wide open.
To see it, to feel it, to notice it, to recognize it, and to do something about it, we must meet it cracked wide open ourselves.
Cracking open happens in too many ways for me to describe, but I’ll mention a few. Maybe it means making a leap of faith away from work that sucks the life out of you. Or allowing your hobby to take over until there is no time left for your day job at all. Or seeing potential in yourself and your community where others see none at all. Or being so drawn to people that you start giving them all your time and energy before you even fully notice it. Or it may be about losing your job. Or losing a person you love. Or waving goodbye to the you you used to be. Or caring so much for someone or something that you literally can’t do anything else but what you’re being pulled to do now for them and for yourself.
Nobody can tell us how to get there. But I can speak about what it feels like.
Some days, being cracked open feels so good it makes you weep for the beauty you experience. It feels like the whole universe is pouring into you, filling a joyfully self-emptied vessel until you have universe running down your face. Some days, being cracked open feels like courageous vulnerability and you notice that the only solid ground that actually exists are the hands that reach out to hold yours as you steady yourselves together. Other days, being cracked open can feel like being a walking open wound, broken, bleeding. But all days—all days—when you are cracked open you are present, you are noticing, you are receiving.
So you know where I’m going with this, right?
We’re bringing back meek baby!
Blessed are the cracked wide open, for we feel new possibility in chaos. We feel order in the apparent “mess” and we give it the space, air, and sunshine it needs to grow and become visible. And we receive it gratefully, humble, never entirely certain where it came from or where it’s going to.
And so here we are. Already present among the meek. Already cracked wide open. If we weren’t we wouldn’t have time for this, for us.
So we can stop worrying that we aren’t doing the exact right thing, reading the right article, meeting the right people, getting the right funding, putting the right thing on the resume, getting the major visibility, being asked to join the right group, or school, or job, or think tank, and everything else we’ve been told we should want. We can just stop. Stop worrying. Stop searching.
We are right here.
We are the gentle and the kind. We are the noticers, the receivers, the players, the goofballs, and the sharers.
We are the cracked wide open, and we are inheriting our earth one backyard barter, one bamboo bicycle, one song, one game night, one box of local vegetables, one story, one doodle, one homemade sock monkey, one photograph, one kind word, one swap, one share, one new best friend on the other side of the world, one cup of tea with neighbors, one game of hopscotch, one gentle response, and one gift at a time.
We are inheriting the earth because this story is the one that is persisting, sustaining itself, and thriving while other stories crumble to dust.
And we are in damn fine company.
Have you noticed?
According to the Google gods, it means: Characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits: “quirky charm”.
For me, the word quirky has become an indicator (aka, a Shrinkonian flag) for when I’m with someone of my culture. When I’m with Bas, or Tabitha, or Haulin Colin, or Martina of Swift Industries, or Del Webber, or Bernie, or Natalie, or Lisa, and so many others, I experience my true self, my best me. We’re all quirky—and many are farther down this amazing circular path than I am. I’ve come to think of quirky as the only defining characteristic of my culture.
When I’m at a business conference–even a really cool one like the Kaizen Camp here in Seattle this summer–I am experienced as quirky by many. “You turned your home in the CD into a free community coworking center? Are you crazy?” And the warmer response of people who fully recognize me as one of them: “Oh! That’s so cool!” That I am both crazy and cool was my own take-away from Kaizen Camp.
Quirky–both crazy and cool–is ok with me. Better than ok, actually. Through our Different Office work, I’ve come to think of Bas, Simone, Daniel, and me–plus all the storytellers we find–as the ambassadors of quirky. We are a gentle introduction to the real, wild, weird world that so many folks in the corporate world fear but that is really far more rich and beautiful and amazing and messy-delicious than you can imagine until you get here.
Our strongest ancestors took derisive words applied to them and made them their own. They owned their words. Today, the quirky are doing the same.
Quirky is an even better adjective than authentic because it is simultaneously more mature and more immature. And it can be both, bitches, because it’s quirky.
I certainly feel it as a higher compliment than authentic and mean it as such when I apply it to others of my culture. We, the quirky.
Because I’ve always been, or strived to be, authentic. But in Lori Land, you can be authentic yet still be in the dark about who you really are as a human being or what you really want or what you’d really love to be doing this very moment. That is, you can be authentic to/within what’s expected of you by cultural or gender or family or religious or other norms. And you can feel content and happy within that pre-assigned authenticity—at least for a while, because that is part of you too.
But it’s not the all of you.
To receive the adjective quirky playfully, with joy, ah! That’s really something.
It seems to mean that my own voice within me is being heard clearly by me. That my own fears and “I shoulds” are being put into proper perspective. It seems to mean that I’m starting to see my “flaws” as things I really love about myself and others (viva la long-winded bloggers!) or as the special bits that others simply don’t have to the same extent I do.
Receiving the adjective quirky playfully means that I love the aspects of myself that I formerly thought were things best hidden away, weird, not good enough. And more, that I’m letting others see these parts of me, inspiring them to be more themselves too.
Being quirky also seems to demonstrate that we’re being authentic to our true selves on such a regular basis that loved ones notice the change and experience it themselves. Loved ones can be the hardest to convince sometimes–because they loved and often see the previous you, not the now you. I warned Daniel recently that I strongly suspected I might be sending a whole ship-load of quirky his way this year, beyond anything he’s previously seen from me. He expertly demonstrated the very definition of loved one for me. He gently reminded me that I’ve always been quirky, that he can handle any amount of quirky I throw his way (as demonstrated repeatedly by what he’s already done), and that, in fact, my new levels of quirky remind him of the many reasons why he loved me to begin with. That my quirky brings out his quirky, most days. A win win. Nothing my individual self should fear. So I stopped with the fearing.
One of the best parts about the quirky culture is that things that used to make me furious have lost much of their power over me. Not just the things about myself that used to make me furious–like my desire to make homemade soup and paint rocks and can vegetables and put a cozy blanket on the sofa come fall instead of changing the world in bigger, better ways. But also the things that used to make me furious at others–like the restaurant chain Hooters, for example, the mention of which used to launch me into a 10-minute lecture to anyone trapped nearby about who should and should NOT be allowed to call themselves “a family restaurant.”
Most moments now, I no longer think it’s my business to judge or change my quirky companions on this spinning ball of beautiful blue-green floating through starry black space. This quirky self loves quirky wherever she encounters it most days, and creates and co-creates it too. If some people want to wear orange silk shorts and tight shirts to express their quirkiness, more power to them. Really really.
How lucky we are to be here now. Our home, quirky, home.