Hello, hello! Welcome to Productivity, WIthout Privilege. I’m Alan Henry, and I’ll be your host this evening. It’ll be a few moments before your table is ready, but if you’d like, I can seat you by the window and get you a drink on the house while you wait? Excellent, I’ll tell you a story while you wait.
Earlier this week I caught myself feeling jealous of someone I’d never met.
It was an unusual feeling because I’m not a jealous person. If anything, I’m usually the first person in line to congratulate someone on their achievements. I mean sure, I can get a little envious when I see someone with a nicer kitchen than mine, or a cooler gaming rig than mine, but I usually translate those feelings into thinking about ways to obtain the things I want for myself, not seething over the idea that I can’t have them, or that someone else does.
But it did get me thinking about pride, jealousy, and how important it is to surround yourself with people who affirm your achievements and compliment your abilities and accomplishments. People who challenge you to be better without minimizing the things you’ve already done, or the things you know you can do. Those kinds of people are highly underrated, and sometimes it’s not even that you need to intentionally seek them out—they may already be in front of you. Think about the people you follow, the people you read, or the people you look up to who inspire you to be great at the things you do. Or the people you learn from because they’re great at what they do. Think about the people in your life who see your abilities clearly and encourage you to not just rest on your laurels but reach further to your own dreams and goals. Those people are invaluable.
In my own jealousy, I got caught up in some pretty common thoughts: Geez, what do they have that I don’t? Why are they worthy of all this attention when I’m not? Why do people gravitate towards them when I have to work so hard for the same exposure?
The thing here is that there are answers to all of those questions, real and true answers, but the questions themselves aren’t important. Well, they are in a structural sense, but they’re not important on an individual level, because they serve as a distraction from the core issue—that instead of focusing on the work that someone else is doing, you should focus on the work that you have to do, or are doing right now. But that’s cold comfort when you feel like you’re busting your ass and someone else is the one benefiting either from your efforts (like someone who works with you that takes credit for your work) or that you’re not getting the opportunities to shine even though you’ve been putting in the blood, sweat, and tears.
That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with people who see you. We all want to be praised and acknowledged, but that’s different: It’s just as important–maybe more important—to be seen for who you are, not a caricature of your identity, your field, or who someone else expects you to be.
A lot of this has to do with the whole “Seen” part of Seen, Heard, and Paid (which I urge you to preorder, if you haven’t already. Either way, I thank you!) where it’s important to spend time on work gets seen, but also work on yourself so you can be seen. We all need the be seen for who we are and for the things we do, and for the things we want to do but haven’t managed to get to yet. When we aren’t, we find ourselves feeling alone, wondering why no one appreciates us, why our accomplishments go unnoticed, or why we feel as though we’re never good enough compared to others.
Far more qualified people than I have studied the whole “don’t compare the behind-the-scenes of your life to someone else’s highlight reel” issue. You know, where we view our own struggles, failures, (and yes, our achievements,) in comparison to the achievements others share in our friend circles or post on social media? Because we see our peers wins but we don’t see their challenges along the way, it’s easy to forget that those achievements may have come at great cost, or at the expense of their time, energy, and effort. And sure, in some cases, those wins may not really be deserved, and they got them because they were lucky, or privileged, or in the right place at the right time.
I’ve found those feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and jealous judgment are strongest when I forget to tap my friends and peers: people who see me for who I am as well as the work I put in. When I do reach out to those people, they remind me that when I’m feeling down because I haven’t accomplished everything I want, or because it feels like something I want feels out of my reach, it’s not because it’s impossible, it’s because I just need to keep pushing towards it.
These are the same friends who kept me accountable when I wrote my book, who told me when I said I didn’t know if I’d ever write a book that I could, and that I should. These are the same peers I interviewed for my book, and were heartened when I came to them for their expertise. These are the same colleagues who encourage me to take time off to relax and recover, or to slow down at work because I’m overdelivering when I don’t need to. The same people who remind me that if I truly do want to go where I want to go, I should go for it and it’s on me to get there, not that I can’t do it.
So this week I urge you to surround yourself with people who push you as well, gently, of course. People who’ll support you whether you take that leap you’ve been thinking about, and will also support you if you decide it’s not the right choice for you. People who don’t want to make decisions for you, but would very much like to see you actively live your life in the way you see fit, rather than passively sit by and watch your life happen to you. Perhaps that means reaching out to friends for lunch or a coffee or just a walk in the park. Perhaps it means finding a support group at work, like an employee resource group for your community or profession. Whatever that looks like to you, I encourage you to do it, because when you don’t, you find yourself making moves out of spite, out of anger, out of sadness, and out of pain or longing. That’s not healthy for any of us.
The first step to making sure you’re truly seen for who you are and the things you do are seen for the achievements they are is to make sure to support yourself with people you know are in your corner, truly and honestly.
Silencing happens—just not to who you think, by Ria Sardesai: I really don’t want to talk about the newest bad op-ed or the awful track record of the folks who wrote it. After all, I wrote a whole newsletter on how “I care about us” versus “I care about me” is the latest bad faith frontier in opinion journalism. But this notion of “self-censorship” and somehow that some people–predictably, it’s always the most privileged among us—have the right to speak freely (which they have) without fear of consequences or being held accountable for their views (which they do not have, and should not have.) And of course, it’s equally hilarious that a college newspaper is more intellectually honest on this topic than one of the nation’s leading journalistic institutions. Hilarious perhaps, but not surprising.
In Life, as in Wordle, Success Often Depends on Where You Start, by Kavita Das: This is another bit of a cheat because, yes, I edited this article. You didn’t think that Wordle could be an analogy for socioeconomic privilege, did you? I didn’t either, until Das pitched the idea to me. But she’s right—as with anything in life, the privileges and benefits you start your life with follow you through your development, and affect how you behave and how much you’ll succeed later on. Already have a great vocabulary, well educated and well-read? You’ll likely do better at Wordle than someone who didn’t have the opportunity to get good schooling or read a lot of books. Could that latter person compensate? Sure—but it requires work, time, energy, and access on their part that they may not have, and arguably other people wouldn’t have if they had those benefits to begin with.
TikTok's algorithm leads users from transphobic videos to far-right rabbit holes, by Olivia Little and Abbie Richards: I love TikTok, I really do, and like any platform that I love, I commit myself to looking at it critically, or else I wind up letting myself love it so much that I turn a blind eye to its faults. And as much as my FYP has steered me directly to my interests and I love that for me, it’s also even more proof that for other people, that same algorithm that leads me to hilarious videos by D&D players making memes, it’ll lead someone who engages with a Bad Person to even more Bad People. And frankly, those bad people are counting on the algorithm to do their work for them. After all, why risk getting yourself de-platformed when the platforms are more than willing to build your audience for you?
While I’m working, I often listen to audio dramas and other spoken-word stories, but if I go without listening to music while I work for too long, I get a little antsy. I don’t really know how to describe it, but I genuinely feel unsettled if there’s no music in my life for too long, and that’s probably an artifact of how I was raised. My family’s home was always full of life and music, and even though I’m an only child, every weekend morning there’d be jazz or soul or gospel music weaving its way through the air from my parents’ stereo to my ears, no matter where I was in the house.
So in that same spirit, this week I give you one of my favorite long-running music podcasts/radio shows, Freefall Radio, hosted by David Bassin, out in San Francisco. You can listen in many places, including as a whole podcast on iTunes, but my favorite is Mixcloud (which is free.) You’ll see a lot of labels for the show, usually “Jazz” or “Afrobeat,” and those are correct, but Bassin’s track selection transcends genres and creates perfect music to work to, vibe to, or, sometimes, if you miss doing this as much as I do, sitting down and truly listening to.
Give yourself a music break this week, and I’ll see you back in two.