Big news! I’m opening the doors on a new coaching practice, with the heartfelt intention of supporting people through change. Read on to understand why I think this is so important right now, or reach out if you want to learn more about how we could work together.
IN 2000, OCTAVIA BUTLER wrote in Essence magazine about why trying to predict the future was so important:
So why try to predict the future at all if it’s so difficult, so nearly impossible? Because making predictions is one way to give warning when we see ourselves drifting in dangerous directions. Because prediction is a useful way of pointing out safer, wiser courses. Because, most of all, our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.
Notice here that Butler isn’t counseling that we simply try to see the future—like correctly divining tomorrow’s winning lottery number. She’s arguing for trying to influence the future. Prediction, in this context, isn’t about forecasting, but rather about moving towards the future you want—about building rather than betting. And that building happens in both “thought and deed,” that is, both by taking action but also by orienting our thinking.
In Emergent Strategy—which draws from the work of Butler and other SF/F writers—adrienne maree brown refers to this as “practicing” the future. I like that. I take practice to refer both to a kind of rehearsal but also to showing up and putting in the time—practice not only as an exercise but also as training or preparation, or as experimentation and play. I distinguish practicing from planning in that the former is located in the present, while the latter presumes some authority over the future. That is, practicing doesn’t require that you know how you’ll get somewhere, or what steps will be necessary between here and there. It asks, instead, what you want the future to be, and to act and think as if you know that future is possible. Not to prescribe a preordained path but to take one step, and see where it takes you. Then, another. And another.
It’s a cliché at this point to say we live in a time of uncertainty. But the future is always an undiscovered country. The degree of uncertainty we feel bears little relation to an unknown and unknowable future. It’s a reflection, instead, of our relationship to the present—how we are thinking and acting and shaping what’s to come. That’s where we can find the seeds of hope—in believing and moving towards what we believe, one step at a time.
I want to posit that, in a time of great uncertainty—in an era of climate change and declining freedom, of attrition and layoffs and burnout, of a still-unfolding rearrangement of our relationship to work—we would do well to build more space for practicing the future. Not merely anticipating it or fearing it or feeding our anxiety over the possibilities—but for building the skill and strength and habits to nurture the future we need. We can’t control what comes next, of course. But we can nudge, we can push, we can guide and shape, we can have an impact. We can move closer to the future we want to live in, no matter how far away it seems to be.
A WHILE BACK I left a VP Product job without a plan. This is not to say I left recklessly or thoughtlessly. I left with an intention to practice—to practice different relationships to work, to practice rest and meditation, to practice being of service. If you asked me when I left what I would end up doing, I probably would have guessed I’d eventually be back in more or less the same kind of role, but—hopefully—more able to manage my own burnout and with more clarity about what I wanted to optimize for in my work. But practice is a commitment to a process, not a predetermined outcome. And the outcome was not what I predicted.
Coaching has long been one of the sharpest tools in my managerial toolkit. It’s what made me come to love management, after some early years of feeling very ambivalent about it. But adopting a coaching stance, when I could, proved to be a powerful skill. Serving as a kind of midwife to change is a magical experience. The opportunities I’ve had to build close and trusting relationships with people, both my reports and others—when I’ve been able to listen deeply, sit with someone through big feelings, or ask open questions and discover the insight that bubbles up—have been the most rewarding parts of my career. The times when I’ve missed the chance to do that represent my greatest regrets.
I’m not making a pivot so much as applying a filter. Among the things I’ve observed from people with long careers is that there are often periods of accumulation—times when you’re gathering lots of skills or contexts or habits—followed by periods of subtraction—when you peel things away in order to focus on a few key intentions. It’s kind of like writing and editing that way: you write a whole lot, figure out what you mean, and then cut, cut, cut to get at the good parts. Now, with nearly twenty years of management behind me, lots of products and platforms, more than one go at being a founder, several mergers and acquisitions, and tons of mistakes and hard-won lessons along the way, I’m cutting everything back but the coaching.
I’ve made lots of career changes over the years, but this one feels fundamentally different. In the past I’ve mostly moved opportunistically—not without care, but not often with a lot of forethought. Which isn’t a judgment: those opportunities were good and real, and they often resonated in the way that only the right move at the right time can really do. But now I feel a certitude I have before only daydreamed about: my job, for the next many years, is to coach people as they build the best work lives they can, as they design and contribute to a culture of work that is fulfilling and sustainable and just, as they live long and healthy lives that are enabled rather than curtailed by their jobs, as they practice their own futures—making all our futures brighter in the process.
So: if there’s something in your work that needs attention—deciding your next step, getting your team to flow, repairing a strained relationship, or anything else that feels foggy or unattended—let’s talk. If you’ve never had a coach before or if you aren’t sure if I’m right for you, or if you just want to try it out, reach out and we’ll go from there.
Practice implies prototyping and iterating, and I intend to do as much of that in public as makes sense. So expect more posts here—both on the topic of work and around it—plus opportunities to prototype with me (think: participating in workshops in the alpha and beta phases). And lots more to come—stay tuned.
(Reading recommendations will continue apace, of course.)
First, the rereading: Jenny Brown’s Birth Strike continues to be one of the most illuminating treatises about the longstanding effort to curtail reproductive rights, and how women and others have responded in kind. Her angle is that you can’t comprehend the struggle over abortion rights without digging into the labor implications. Deeply relevant to current events.
In a completely different vein, Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory describes a sprawling, city-sized factory with a river and restaurants and housing, and a seemingly endless supply of inane, meaningless jobs. It manages to be a very light read while also skewering you in place.
Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World is about building more inclusive writing workshops—but also happens to be one of the best things I’ve ever read about giving feedback.
Lauren Groff’s Matrix begins in 1158 when Marie, seventeen and very tall, is exiled to a royal abbey. Groff’s language is gorgeous, and Marie’s story is deeply subversive and satisfying.
Spear from Nicola Griffith is a short and enchanting tale of a girl with a great and powerful longing to become who she must. I loved it unequivocally.
Lastly, I finally read both The Power of Myth, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, and Women Who Run With the Wolves, from Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Both argue that myths are sources of collective wisdom that we have lost touch with, to our own peril. But the myths are still right there waiting for us to come and collect them.
Thanks, as always, for reading. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, or what your biggest challenge at work is right now. I read all replies, and will keep whatever you share in confidence.