I spent this week in San Francisco gathering stories for the upcoming Different Work eBook series that Bas and I are creating. We’re gathering stories of groups and people who are doing work that they deeply love (most days), who are working beyond what they as individuals thought work should be, and who are changing what work looks and feels like for themselves, their families, their organizations, and their communities. I spent the week surrounded by people who are changing the very definition of the word work. I listened to their stories feeling amazed, humbled, heartened, awe-struck, connected, and inspired. The overarching feeling is one of gratitude. I feel grateful and lucky to be in their presence and doing this work. On the trip home, I thought to myself “I cannot frickin’ WAIT to read this book!” followed closely by the thought “Guess I should start writing it!”
Also, my week wasn’t entirely happy. One of the six meetings didn’t go as expected. My very slow researcher’s perspective/brain simply couldn’t keep up with one of the people I met with. I found myself struggling to keep up, to stay in the conversation, to understand what mattered most to this person, and at points, even to know what the heck was being talked about. Twenty-five minutes in I got a headache. I felt myself slipping out of my community self, out of my self-organizing group self, and into my individual self. And I witnessed my truth in the moment: that self was afraid. My mind darted around within itself, fretting, worrying, wondering:
- “Why am I not connecting with this person like I do with most people?”
- “What am I doing wrong?”
- “What if this person thinks I’m a complete idiot?”
- “What if I AM a complete idiot?”
- “What can I do differently?”
- “Do I have it in me to honor, capture, and tell this person’s story in our book?”
For me, this fear was a slippery slope and because of the slow speed at which I like to process things, I never fully recovered while we were together. I managed to get out less than half the questions we’ve been asking others for the book. More importantly to me, I didn’t fully connect with this person as a real human being. I moved away from learning and into judgment and from trust into distrust—first of my individual self and then out onto the person I was supposed to be there to learn with.
FAIL. “EPIC FAIL!” as my flash mob choreographer, Beth, sometimes shouts during rehearsals. Love you, Beth.
This failure hurt my heart in addition to my head, because from a distance I’d experienced that we were friends–and had imagined we may even work together–so it was a shock that in person I wasn’t fully feeling the same. I left the meeting, found a Starbucks (symbol of my Seattle home), and sat for an hour with a comforting green tea latte just thinking about the experience. Then I hiked up Powell Street to my hotel, got into bed, called Daniel, and cried. It took him 2 hours to convince me that I wasn’t the biggest loser ever to hit the streets of San Francisco. Love you, Daniel.
The next day I conducted my final San Francisco interview—an organization of 20-something bike couriers who built their business around a set of wishes that include riding their bikes every day, weaving work into a life of travel and adventure, paying their rent, and serving the people in their neighborhood. Wow. Our future truly is in amazing hands. My heart began to feel better. Thank you, Chas.
I also reconnected with the person I’d felt I’d completely failed and attempted to explain my experience of our time together. I received trust, kindness, and support. Thank you.
- Three community members shared their own difficulties with me, helping me more easily put mine into perspective (thank you, Jeffrey, Kate, and Egan)
- Four others asked for my insights and/or my help, reminding me that I’m not quite the loser I’d imagined myself to be (thank you, Doug, Bas, California Doug, and Ali)
- One told me that he was a better person for our time together (thank you, James)
- Four more jumped onto the sofa in my office and demonstrated that everything will be ok just by their comforting presence (thanks Grady, Joe, Ansel, and Bella)
Today, I’m almost fully restored to my community self—the open, learning, trusting self I’m becoming so fond of.
FAIL experiences are humbling, and, in hindsight, for me that’s a good thing. Hearts cracked more widely open can more deeply connect. This is good.
My faith-in-chaos way of working doesn’t work for everybody (duh), and some other people’s ways of working don’t work for me. Fantastic! Nothing wrong with that.
I just remembered why I first noticed that moving in the world as self-organizing work groups is more rewarding, fun, and effective than only moving in the world as an individual. Because when I show up as these groups, I can more easily find and connect with others who matter most to me right now and more fluidly say goodbye-for-now to others.
I learned something about my individual self. I know within minutes if I should work with a person this year or if we should wait, marinate, and become a future version of ourselves before we consider working together. I can also act on this awareness relatively quickly. That’s what happened to me this week. I’d imagined that I should be working with a person and within minutes I knew that wasn’t true. As we exist today, we would drain energy from each other instead of generating energy together. I’ve learned that it’s ok to trust myself about this. I don’t have to doubt my own ability to know who I should and shouldn’t be working with at any given time. This is big. For me this is HUGE, really. This is what working in the world as self-organizing groups and community has made possible for me. No wonder I feel grateful so much of the time.
Thank you, community, for helping me heal and for teaching me that I can more fully trust myself in the moment than I imagined I could. You rock.