I had a conversation this week with a friend currently on the hunt for a new job. We were talking about the interview process and musing about how much of your real self you're supposed to bring into those engagements. I want it to be true that if you intend to be your genuine self at work then you should bring that genuine self to the interview. My friend's conclusion of the process thus far is: some amount of code switching is still required. You have to know the right moment to be your true self and the right moment for that self to be the Man Behind the Curtain, pulling levers and throwing switches, while your interview appropriate Oz takes center stage.
That conversation got me thinking about immersion and assimilation. When I took German language classes in college, they were taught immersion-style. There was no English in the classroom, all the instruction was delivered in German and all the interactions among students were also in German. Beginning that course was definitely jumping in to the deep end, but it was incredibly effective and a lot of fun. Instead of learning German through English, I formed a direct connection to the language I still feel to this day.
Before college, I took French in middle and high school to fulfill my state-mandated second language requirement. I picked it because my mom studied French and I thought it would be cool for us to speak French together. I started in sixth or seventh grade and continued through my sophomore year. None of those courses were taught in an immersion-like manner. I got high marks in all my French classes, but of that 5 years of continuous study I remember almost none of it now.
German, on the other hand, I took for only two years and still feel comfortable holding a simple conversation. My vocabulary is not as vast these days since I don't practice regularly enough to maintain it, but the grammar and structure of the language feels like a permanent part of my personal communications array. Even if I forget the German word for something, I can at least talk my way around it well enough to get my meaning across.
My friend's experience with the job interview process seems similar to my experience learning French. I learned what I needed to know to participate in what was happening at the time. I studied diligently and performed well in class and on tests. But as soon as I stopped taking those classes, I stopped needing to maintain that information and my French essentially evaporated. Once the interview process is over, that secret code is no longer necessary and you're faced with a different immersive experience of fitting-in to a new workplace instead.
And that is so strange to me. Why are job interviews so notoriously not job-related? The hoops candidates must jump through these days leave some well qualified people out of the pool and give a distinct advantage to humans who can speak the language of Interviewing more fluently. Just as standardized tests allow children who have developed the skill of taking a test to shine while discounting and demoralizing students whose aptitudes and expertise shine through other applications.
One reason for the disconnect is probably that we're not being completely honest with ourselves as a society. It's quite clear to me the public school system is designed to mold children into young adults who can be productive in our capitalist economic system. At some point, it became common for employers to require college degrees for entry-level positions, so many college programs continued the molding beyond primary and secondary education. The standardized method of schooling children into adulthood is basically just one big immersion program. By the time those folks graduate into the working world, the language of being a productive cog in the economic machine is essentially second nature.
I have found value in totally immersing myself in some places or activities. I just spent a whole weekend at a Contra Dance camp and it was magical. Spending concentrated time sharing a fun activity with lots of other people who also delight in that same activity is incredibly fulfilling. Part of what made my dance immersion such an enjoyable experience is that I chose to be there. I put regular life on pause for a couple days to jump into the deep end of moving my body joyfully with friends.
Voluntary immersion can be nice. But having to assimilate is not so nice. Visiting an environment with particular protocols without receiving a briefing ahead of time is disorienting and challenging. Things like standardized tests, job interviews, and navigating health care in the US are all examples of systems set-up for only one kind of correct interaction. Unfortunately they are also systems that many more than one kind of human must interact with.
That means it's up to the individual person to be sufficiently resourced and informed on the often un-spoken rituals required to pass the gauntlet of education, hiring, or healthcare. That's. Absurd. This entire world is made up of people. It only makes sense for the systems, institutions, and infrastructure to function for all those people. Those pillars of society should consider and value every iteration of person. And they should be designed as understandable and accessible to all those kinds of people. Otherwise, what are we even doing here?
Information and Inspiration
It's just a phase
Phases. They’re everywhere. The moon has phases. Fashion has phases, usually called trends. The weather has phases we label as seasons. People go through phases, individually and collectively. We even have special titles for those age-related phases most humans pass through, like childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. Zoom out far enough and humanity goes through phases en masse we refer to as generations. Take an even broader view and we have historical ages and prehistoric periods.
When I was a kid and I heard adults talk about someone "going through a phase" it always sounded disparaging. As if the only phase a person could go through was a bad habit they picked up and hadn't put down yet. Thinking about it this week, I realized that every aspect of my life is actually a phase. The good and the bad. I went through a phase when I always had a pet cat. Then I discovered I could breathe more easily without all the dander, so I entered my current phase of living without cats.
Like a lot of people, my tastes and preferences have changed over time. Not necessarily because I have grown wiser or progressed to a more sophisticated existence, although that does also happen from time to time. But sometimes I just do something differently than the way I did it before. Like all the hobbies I've taken-up, enjoyed for a while, and moved on from. Or the many iterations of my self-expression. They are all phases, some just last longer than others.
The western swath of humanity has been in a colonialism phase for the last half millennium. I'm ready for us to collectively overcome this phase, but it's going to take a lot of people doing a lot of work to get us to whatever is next. It can be difficult during a phase to imagine any other potential reality. We look at what’s happening right now and think this is the way things are, the way things have always been, and the way things will be forever. The irony of that falsehood is that humans are incredibly adaptable. That’s our number one survival technique and we employ it constantly.
Humans also have astounding capacity for imagination, unlike many other creatures. So why is it so damn difficult for us to imagine the potential of our own adaptation? There are many examples of major shifts in our collective history, like the time folks skipped 10 entire days forward to switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Or that one time we shut down much of society for months that stretched into years because of the Covid pandemic. We can definitely do drastic shifts, most of us just choose not to most of the time.
Maybe one reason is our societally reinforced practice of short-sightedness. Maybe it's the emphasis on perfection baked-in to our institutions and systems. I have definitely avoided starting some things because I wasn't sure I could get it completely right. Undoubtedly, there are many contributing factors. One important one is our perspective. As soon as we forget that what we're doing is only a phase, as soon as we start thinking the habits we have are permanent pillars of our person-ness, the higher the stakes seem and the more daunting the prospect of shifting.
There was the Julian calendar phase. Then there was the Gregorian calendar phase. Maybe we'll make it to the 28-day-thirteen-month calendar phase, whatever that will be called. We've had the north is up on maps phase. We could just as easily have a south is up phase, or an east is up phase. And maybe looking at our world from a different angle would help each of us look at ourselves from a new angle. Seeing where we are from another vantage could help us see all the places we could go.
Humanity is not just going through phases; we are a phase. There was a time before we all existed and there will be a time that comes after us. It's impossible to predict what will usher-in the next phase of the universe or when it will begin, but ultimately it doesn't matter. The universe never rushes through its phases. Stars form, burn brightly, then fade into darkness. We are each born, we live, and eventually we die.
As long as I continue to hang around on this planet, I'd like to do my utmost to select my next phases with intention. I'd like to remember they don't have to be the perfect next choice, or a permanent next choice, just a little something that moves me ever so slightly in the direction I'd like to be headed. It's easy to forget at any given moment that I'm just passing through. But it's worth pausing and looking up once in a while to find a reminder. I've had other phases, just like you. And there are many more to come. Let’s choose ones that bring us all closer to health, safety, and satisfaction.
Information and Inspiration
I did a favor for a friend without them asking because they have been overwhelmed lately and I thought it would be nice. They thanked me and asked me not to help them in that particular way in the future. I was a little bit crushed because that act was an expression of my love for them and they did not want it. It doesn't feel good for an offering of love to be unwanted. But what I didn't do in response was make it their problem. I did not insist they hear or process my feelings of disappointment in their disinterest in my act of service. I respected their boundary and talked through my feelings with somebody else.
Later in the week, I was on the other side of a similar interaction where someone offered me an expression of their love that I did not want in that moment. They did not handle it quite as gracefully and needed to tell me all about how it made them feel to have been refused. It's a brave thing to advocate for oneself and assert a boundary, especially to a person who we love and care about. Made even more difficult if the emotional consequences of asserting that boundary are that I must then also do emotional labor for the boundary-crosser.
Those back to back experiences got me thinking about access and entitlement. Many years ago when I decided to divorce my first spouse, my parents were not the first people I called. I called my best friend and I called my sibling. I needed a particular kind of support I could not have received (and didn't want) from my parents. Unfortunately, this was a challenge for my mother to understand at the time. She called me thrice upset. Firstly because I had not called her to tell her right away. Secondly because I had not confided in her all my many reasons for leaving my spouse beforehand. Thirdly that I was abandoning my relationship instead of trying to make it work.
A few years, many conversations, and a lot of processing later, I understood that my mother saw herself in my first spouse. Their similar stories of childhood trauma manifested in similar expressions of that trauma as adults. Most specifically, they both struggled to believe they were worthy of love and sought to prove to anyone who claimed to love them just how much they didn't deserve it. It is a strange and human thing to resist so completely the thing which we most desperately want in our wounded heart of hearts.
For my mother at the time, me leaving my spouse because he had finally succeeded in pushing me all the way away was alarming proof that she too could be cast aside at any moment. Confirmation that someday someone she loved might tire of being tested and leave her to suffer alone and uncomforted. And none of my mother's feelings were any of my responsibility. I am not required to reveal my inner self to anyone, even if doing so would assuage their discomfort.
No one is entitled to access my internal world. No one is entitled to see any part of my Self I do not want to show in any given moment. Any time I reveal a part of me to another person, it is a gift I offer. And that gift that can be accepted or refused because that's how consent works. Just as I am not obligated to share, no one is obligated to see or hold or appreciate any part of me or any particular vulnerability I express.
This is true for everyone. We each get to decide what we share of ourselves and with whom. And we can each change our mind any time we want for any reason, or for no reason at all. I want to share myself for my own reasons; so I may be seen in the fullness of my humanity. I don't want to share my internal world for the sole purpose of accommodating someone else's insecurity. And I especially don't want to share my authentic self to alleviate someone's discomfort when that discomfort is rooted in their own unchecked assumptions about my thoughts and feelings.
Of course as humans we relate to each other through our shared vulnerability, so it is difficult to have a close connection with someone without sharing any part of ourselves with each other. But the point is: no one else can tell you what you must share, when, or with whom. That decision is up to you. And one person sharing of themselves does not obligate another person to reciprocate. If you want to give the gift of a certain expression of your love, it has to be okay for the other person to not want that at any time for any reason.
This is a challenging concept for many folks in modern American society. Even people who agree intellectually that everyone should have individual autonomy still find it challenging to live-out that value in their lives and relationships. Probably because there's a great deal of messaging to the contrary. Just look at basically all messaging intended for or broadcast about fem-bodied and fem-presenting humans.
Just as we are not entitled to know what anyone else is thinking or feeling in any given moment, we are also not entitled to know what kind of body parts someone else was born with or currently has. We are also not entitled to understand why a person expresses their gender in any particular way. And we're not entitled to feel comfortable with someone else's gender identity or gender expression. Yet a whole lot of people think they deserve to know at a glance whether someone has indoor or outdoor plumbing and get upset when they can't tell using long-established gender norm markers.
None of those feelings are the responsibility of anyone except the person who is feeling them. People with gender expressions outside the boy-girl binary are not obligated to explain themselves. No one is required to receive your thoughts, feelings, or opinions about their clothing, hair, makeup, or any other aspect of their self-expression. It's okay to feel however you are feeling about whatever you're having feelings about. Put on your big kid pants and bring those feelings to a friend or counselor or your journal to process through them.
Media does not show us many good examples for how to hold our own feelings and avoid burdening others with them. Wednesday, the TV show, is just such an example that misses the mark. Wednesday goes to boarding school, where she meets two boys who both take a fancy to her (and dislike each other - very original). Maybe she also fancies one or both of these boys. They each make invitations, which Wednesday refuses. Then they each get mad at being refused. The boys don't get access to Wednesday's time and affections just because they want it and asked nicely, but this is a TV series so other characters intervene and cajole her into dating one or the other. It's so close to being a fem-liberationist show in a lot of ways, but doesn't quite get there.
We even have bad examples of well-meaning folks slathering their own emotional experience all over everybody else in a professional setting. Take an article I read this week about relabeling what is often referred to in the accounting industry as a "clean-up job." The author begins by explaining their personal aversion to the phrase and their regret to have created so many messes as a child which their parent cleaned-up and which they were not aware enough to be appreciative at the time.
They ask fellow accountants to choose another description for the correcting, re-ordering, and untangling work we do with a set of books in-need. They also explain at length how we are wreaking havoc by referring to that work as "clean-up." This author is bringing a lot of added emotional value to their discussion of this particular topic. It’s important to consider how our word-choice impacts others, and it’s also important to remember that not everyone experiences the world the same way we do. Be thoughtful with your language. And also, it's okay to call a spade a spade.
Feel your feelings. Express your feelings. Share your feelings. These are all parts of being human. Just please remember that your feelings are not the sacred truth of the universe. They are your experience of the world and the people in it, informed by all your past experiences and traumas and privileges and the narratives handed to us during our development and each and every day we continue to exist. Your emotions do not entitle you to access or time or resources.
I know our world does not show us how to handle our emotions with grace or understanding. We are not taught how to experience or express our feelings in a healthy and sustainable way, especially the most powerful and intense emotions. But it’s worth learning how to listen to yourself and how to explore underneath those feelings to identify what’s driving them. That exploration gets you closer to the truth of what you need and want. That clarity will allow you to honor your own autonomy and uphold your own boundaries in a way that respects the autonomy and boundaries of everyone around you. And if we all practice more of that, we all gain access to greater health, peace, and well-being.
Information and Inspiration
But what's Phase 2?
I went to a restaurant this week and hanging on the wall next to the bathroom sink was a sign that read “she believed she could, so she did.” When I got back to the table I noticed the same saying on the coffee mugs as well. On its face, it seems like a pleasant and uplifting sentiment. Empowering even. You go girlboss. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. But there was also something about it that needled at me in the background.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized what was gently tugging at my subconscious: Phase 2 was missing. That inspirational phrase tells an incomplete story. A fuller account would be something like "she believed she could, so she put in the work, and then accomplished the thing." Belief alone does not make things happen. Belief is what convinces you it's possible and worth trying, but the taking action part is what actually makes things happen.
That abridged inspiration reminded me of the underpants gnomes from the "South Park" TV show. In one episode, the kids discover gnomes stealing one kid's underpants. They follow the tiny thieves back to their gnome cave where they have amassed an enormous horde of underpants. The gnomes explain underpants are big business and share their strategic plan:
None of the gnomes can recall Phase 2, so they continue diligently executing Phase 1 waiting for Phase 2 to make itself happen. Clearly not a sound business strategy. Also not a sound life strategy. Although there are plenty of us chugging along doing the same ole, same ole waiting for something different to pop into our lives. And it's not really surprising, given all the messaging we're constantly bombarded by about how we just need to buy the right thing or look the right way or be the right person and all our troubles will be over.
I think we can take an alternate lesson from this situation. If you have an end-goal in mind, it is extremely helpful to have a plan for how you will accomplish that goal. Sometimes it's critical, even. Without a plan you may never realize your goal, or you may spend a lot more time or use a lot more resources getting there. But efficiency is not the only measure of worth, value, or success. Sometimes it's fine to jump right in to Phase 1 before you know what Phase 2 will be. There's value in figuring things out as you go.
It’s also okay to zero-in on one ingredient that really helps make something happen, like belief in yourself. Maybe you've spent a lot of time practicing all the other parts of what it takes to accomplish this kind of goal and the only reason you haven't yet succeeded is because you haven't previously included that one final critical component. The key to enjoying the process, whatever its shape or structure, is being clear about what kind of experience you are signing up for.
If you want a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience, have at it. I cannot function that way all the time because I like to plan and I value order and structure in my life and my pursuits. I enjoy the experience of goal-setting, strategy planning, evaluating progress, and seeing the aggregate of all my actions coalesce into an accomplishment. That doesn't mean it's the best way to get things done, it's just the way I enjoy the most. Know thyself.
There are also plenty of aspects of life we don’t need (or want) any kind of plan or end-goal in order to participate in or enjoy. Friendships are a terrific example of something that begins indeterminant and develops without clear initial direction. We don't know when we first encounter another human how our connection will grow or fizzle over time and amidst ever-changing life circumstances. That's part of the fun of human connections: they start with an idea and then you get to see where it goes organically.
Like friendships and relationships, it’s good to do some things just to do them, or for the experience of having done them. Like play, for instance. Humans get a lot out of play no matter who they are or what life circumstances they exist in. With play, there doesn’t have to be a grander purpose. There definitely can be, like playing a sport to accomplish a title. Or playing a game to develop a specific skill or learn more about yourself. But we don't need a reason; we can just play for the sake of play.
I think a lot of people (especially adults) forget that. I heard an interview this week with a scientist discussing his research into why humans play. He had a lot of theories about what evolutionary advantage play provided to humans at various historical points in our becoming the beings we are today. It was interesting, but it all seemed too focused on “getting to the bottom” of a mystery that's only mysterious if you assume humans wouldn't have continued to play unless it provided some quantifiable valuable to humanity. What if it wasn’t about utility or advantage? What if it was just... enjoyable? That’s valuable in its own right.
We modern humans living in societies shaped by colonialism have inherited a particular system for measuring the value of our pursuits and our selves that doesn't serve most of us terribly well. We measure many things in terms of productivity. There is much less, if any, emphasis on how much pleasure or satisfaction we derive from something, excepting whatever displays of pleasure or enjoyment we can also profit from. Which is why social media influencers exist as a phenomenon.
Capitalism makes it necessary to value some of what we do in terms of productivity at least some of the time. Which is why I have tried over the years to make money from things I enjoy. Sometimes that has worked out well and other times it just sucked the fun out of an otherwise delightful pastime. Like the time I started an alterations business and it turned sewing into drudgery instead of a fulfilling and enjoyable way to participate in capitalism. I'm grateful to have settled into a reasonable truce with my current business: using a mix of skills I enjoy and skills I perform well to accomplish mostly meaningful work.
I would love to spend more of my time doing things that bring me joy without having to also consider whether all the bills will get paid. I think we all would. And what amazes me is that we absolutely could. There are plenty of resources in the world and the math checks-out. We could all have healthcare and education and housing and food. We just need to rearrange what we value, how we value those things, and assert the will to make it so. That's humanity's missing Phase 2: tax the ultra-mega-wealth-hoarders and Phase 3 can be taking care of everybody else.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.