Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
Now that 99% of my social life is being performed virtually, I’ve discovered the advantages of multitasking. It’s not that I’m not listening to you - it’s that sitting still on the phone makes me restless and impatient. I got through large lecture hall classes in college by crocheting a massive afghan that I still use today. Think of these activities as ways to help me pay closer attention to you.
Things I have done while my phone was on mute:
Squeegee my sliding glass door, inside and out
Unload the dishwasher
Make a sandwich
Wipe out the microwave
Draw in my bullet journal
Floss my teeth
Update our whiteboard
Feed my parrot
Dust the baseboards
Eat a bowl of oatmeal
Organize my desk
Wipe fingerprints off my tablet
Make a fairly large breakfast
Wash the pans
Have a sneezing fit
Change into my gym clothes
Make the bed
Get in the elevator and ride down to the lobby
Examine my hair for split ends
Give my parrot a vigorous scalp massage
Sweep the floor
Look at your photo and wish we were together
I’ve done a lot of things while I was talking to you with the phone on mute. One thing you can’t accuse me of, though, is texting anyone else at the same time. At least the only person I was talking to was you!
I got a new job, and one of my first priorities was setting up automatic deductions for my retirement plan.
Hopefully, this is the most boring thing I’ll ever say.
It should be boring because it should be seen as:
Almost too obvious to mention
When instead it’s one of the most commonly procrastinated tasks. Women especially tend to refer to it as confusing or overwhelming. I did, too, until my first husband spent our entire house savings behind my back and I wound up divorced and flat broke.
Now I think of financial planning as the ultimate in self-care.
You think a hot bath and a massage would be relaxing? Try knowing you have an emergency savings cushion.
Out of all the causes of a tension headache, in my opinion, money worries are the worst. I used to lie awake and cry myself to sleep because I was so freaked out about my finances. Now, it’s one of the touch points I use when I want to calm down.
I set up my first retirement account when I was 26, a couple years after my divorce. I felt old as the hills, like I had been procrastinating for years, but the truth was that most of my jobs didn’t allow for such an option.
I remember the first time I got a quarterly retirement statement, and it said I had about $40.
“There are double digits in my retirement account!” I said to everyone in my office. “I can retire for... half a day!”
This is a good joke to make around older, more established people. It makes them feel better about their own situation.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and that account has significantly more in it than my entire annual earnings from that job.
Time does most of the work. It really is “set it and forget it.” For every minute you spend reading materials and figuring out where you want to allocate your funds, you get a year of peace and tranquility.
I was determined to learn all this investing stuff as a young woman because I had learned the hard way that you can’t trust anyone else to do it for you. I also knew, from observing older women among my friends and family, that I would probably get old, too. Older ladies that I knew were almost exclusively broke.
It’s been my observation that elderly people tend to live around 15 years longer than they thought they would.
Nobody can picture themselves being old, frail, and poor. Why would you want to??
I understood, though, that if I had forty years to prepare, that was plenty of time to try to take care of Old Me. Even if I always earned well below the median. Even if I lived alone and had to do it all by myself.
The irony here is that my frugality attracted my second husband. Not only am I still in charge of my own money, I have a partner to share expenses, and he’s in charge of his own money, too.
This is where the challenge came in. It was time to set up my new portfolio at my new job. Since we are working from home, for the same employer, in the same room, and it was the end of the day on Friday, my hubby noticed what I was doing. (Probably because I talk to myself a lot).
He wandered over and started peeking over my shoulder.
This is a moment of choice.
It’s so easy to sit back passively and let another person make our decisions, take our risks, do our labor. Like when I had to assemble my own office chair this weekend - it only took an hour and an Allen wrench, but I was also doing laundry and I would have loved to just have someone else do it!
There is nothing like the pride of knowing you’ve done it all yourself, though. I’m sitting in my chair right now, enjoying it so much more than the wooden folding chair I was using over the past three weeks. And that is an analogy for the two types of retirement I could have.
I thanked my husband for his interest and reminded him that I had a strong track record in choosing my own investments. I broke even in 2008 (+0.25%) and I’ve beat the market a few years.
He went back to what he was doing, probably smirking on the inside, because he loves that I am good with money. He also loves that I can stand up for myself.
The default at my employer, it turns out, is to set aside 10% and put it in a target date fund. That’s totally reasonable. It was a weird moment though to see that they had chosen the same date I would, and also to know that there are now only twenty years left of my traditional career arc.
It’s a long time, though!
I maxed out on everything. I like to think of it as being ‘extra.’ I like to think of my investment choices as somewhat flamboyant. Rather than whatever image people have of extreme savings, I like to see it more as the ‘sequins and a feather boa’ version. We’re allowed to put 15% of our incomes into our 401(k), pre-tax, so I do. I also put aside another 10% for my IRA.
We save more than that, of course - we like to live on just half our income - but where we put the rest of it is a different subject for a different day.
Where did I put my funds? It doesn’t matter, really, because there are only maybe a dozen or so options for most employers. Those funds are generally only available to institutional investors, which is cool because it means I couldn’t get into them as a freelancer.
Really the only thing that matters is that Old Me is going to look back and be proud of the decisions that Young Me made. We still have time, and time is better than money.
(Although money is pretty darn great, too).
We’re quaranteaming, which means we’ve been seeing each other in person an average of three times a month. Our quaranteam buddy, QT, has been getting a lot of flak about this from her other friends. Not because they’re worried about her exposure risk - on the contrary. They’re jealous and they think she should be open to hanging out with them as well.
Most people in our community think we should be 100% open and back to “normal.”
The rationales behind these opinions are interesting and worth looking at.
On the one hand, our friends say, they are immune to COVID-19 and therefore safe. On the other hand, since they got tests and we didn’t, we shouldn’t assume that we actually had it. (We must have been sick with something with identical symptoms, for an identical time period, that was definitely NOT COVID. Which, if true, means they should be afraid of getting that as well, just as they want us to fear that we could still pick up COVID from the community).
This is a really weird mix of beliefs. I definitely had it, which means if an infected person sneezes on me, it will magically evaporate on contact and can never scientifically smear onto anyone else. Since you did not get a test, you have to assume you are at risk - from anyone *except* me, because I now have mystical virus-elimination powers. I’m like... human Lysol!
Others in our community, like on Nextdoor, are fixated on the problem of why they aren’t allowed to go to the salon and get more nail art. All they have to do is disinfect the surfaces before they reopen! Everything is fine!
Completely absent seems to be any understanding of what “airborne” means.
These are the reasons why I feel no urge to go out. The people who would be at stores or restaurants are people who seem to be lacking in even the most basic grasp of how viral transmission works. Even now.
It’s not that this is scary - I’m afraid of far fewer things since facing death.
It’s not scary.
I read that something like 1/3 of women and nearly 2/3 of men in the US never wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Not sure how much that changed, but I’m willing to bet every single one of them intellectually knows we’re supposed to wash our hands. I bet they could demonstrate, for the chance at winning $50, that they have the technical competence of washing their hands thoroughly. They just don’t think it affects them or anyone around them. Why waste 20 seconds half a dozen times a day? That’s like... minutes!
Every now and then I imagine going back to the world that once was. I imagine going out to do things I was doing earlier this year. The first things that come to mind are the long lines, the trash and wet drink rings that people leave behind at their tables, the overflowing trash cans, the shrieking kids, the various people who kick the back of my seat.
Being home for a few months has reminded me of the peace and tranquility of my own living room.
I think about driving somewhere, and I remember what it’s like to be stuck in traffic, the people who head for the exit across three or four lanes without signaling, the tailgaters, the honking, the time we saw a car pulled over on the freeway with three-foot flames coming from under the hood. Where am I going in this fantasy? Work? The airport?
Ah, the airport. More long lines, having my bag searched, the security pat-downs, the last-minute gate changes, the interminable waits at the restroom, the inevitable bare dirty foot stuck between the seats and propped up on my armrest.
It’ll have to happen eventually. At some point, “things will go back to normal” and I’ll have to start readjusting to the epic noise, filth, and inconsiderate behavior that used to be a routine part of all our days.
When will I venture forth to hang out in my community?
I’ll go out like everything is normal when we’re at zero cases.
Zero cases would actually indicate to me that things were under control and that I had nothing to worry about from getting a second case of maybe a different strain of COVID-19.
Honestly, right now I’m worried about picking up anything, the common cold or the flu or *any* respiratory illness. Staying home, and wearing my N95 mask plus a face shield on the rare occasions when I’m forced to go out, seems hugely preferable to being sick in bed again any time soon.
When will I go out and travel again? When would I fly on a plane?
When both my continent and the other continent are at zero cases.
I have it in mind that there will eventually - soon, within a year or two - be some sort of personal air filtration device that can be worn for up to 12 hours without recharging. Hopefully more like 18 or 24. I picture a helmet or perhaps an entire flight suit. If I had something like this, I would consider flying sooner. I might even rent or lease one if I felt like they had a realistic way of being cleaned between uses.
Until then, I really can’t see being at an airport in any city or getting on any plane for the near future.
It’s not entirely COVID that I’m worried about, although having had it, I’d really prefer not to die that way, thanks. How depressing. What I’m worried about is that my nearest airport had around 700,000 individual human beings per day passing through it, not including the occasional companion animal. If there’s any respiratory illness anywhere on the planet, chances are it will appear at LAX within a day.
I started flying alone at age seven, a time when I was still learning to write in cursive and memorizing my multiplication tables. When I think back, I probably picked up a cold or some other bug as often as 1 in 3 flights. I was sick for three weeks after my first international trip. I was sick after the trip when my husband proposed. I was sick as recently as our wedding anniversary last year. Now that I recognize the pattern, there is no “back to normal” for me. At *minimum* I will never fly again without safety glasses and an N95 mask.
I’ll go out again, eventually. I’ll wear more PPE when I fly. I’ll probably be more avoidant when I go out in public, like the movie theater (and I might wear a mask there, too).
Will I start socializing with friends and acquaintances? If they can demonstrate that they understand the basic fundamentals of public health, yeah, probably. When we’re down to zero cases.
I’ll go out when I feel like going out is more fun or relaxing than staying right here, in my nice clean comfortable peer-pressure-free living room.
We had “the talk” today. The new talk, the quaranteaming talk. If you haven’t been party to one of these conversations yet, take note; you probably will be soon.
The young ones call it DTR, or “defining the relationship.” There’s this awkward point when one person realizes that the other may not have the same interest in exclusivity or commitment. Then comes the Catch-22 moment: the DTR conversation may kill the relationship, but it can’t continue without it.
If you thought that was awkward, wait until it actually becomes a matter of life and death and also involves a multi-familial org chart.
There are three reasons why we’re having the talk with this specific person:
I live my life in the crossroads between FREE HUGS and TRUST NO ONE, only now one of those roads is closed. After getting coronavirus in the circumstances that I did, I’m rethinking how I make decisions and who is in my circle of trust.
A big part of that is no more vouchers, no more “friend of my friend is my friend.”
Okay, it’s one thing to make connections between people, write references, help people on projects, or have conversations when it’s virtual. What I’m talking about now is being in the same room with another person.
One of the changes we’re going to see is that hugging and shaking hands will take on entirely new and deeper meanings. Another is that a couple feeding each other cake at their wedding ceremony will be doing something much more dramatic, something that may feel like more of a gesture of commitment than trading rings. The kiss! People may faint when they see newlyweds kiss for the first time.
I’ve always had an open door policy. We used to have an open house night every week and sometimes whole carloads of people would show up, only one of whom we had met before. We hosted couchsurfers all the time.
Those days are done.
I mean, I hate it? But I also just spent a month trying not to die. Until we all have spacesuits, I can’t be taking any chances.
I know for a fact that most people don’t understand this attitude yet.
Teenagers outside in groups of half a dozen, no masks, or maybe one hanging off an ear
Majority of people on the streets in our neighborhood not wearing masks
Nextdoor blowing up with posts every single day complaining about the “lockdown”
The same person who got me sick now meeting her trainer IN PERSON - somewhat legit since they both tested positive for COVID and recovered, but that doesn’t explain his other clients
Our friend’s neighbors hosting a “free beer” stand in front of their house
Our downstairs neighbor leaving repeatedly for two hours at some point between midnight and 5 AM, we know because his puppy howls on continuous loop, do his parents know? Doubtful
I think there are a few broad categories of reaction to self-isolation, based on what I have seen and heard.
Skeptics who think it’s “just a cold” or “just the flu”
Young people who feel immortal
Well-meaning people who don’t know how far 6’ is and won’t do a thorough job with hygiene
People who know the rules but think it’s okay to cheat, just a little
The category of person who is extremely strict and has strong self-discipline and self-control is a very, very small category. I can list off on one hand the people in my acquaintance who would qualify for an interview for my bubble.
Most of them live far enough away that it’s a moot point, at least right now. When we get limited travel back that may change.
Here’s the deal with vetting people to be in the bubble. You aren’t just vetting them, you’re vetting EVERYONE ELSE they may meet in person. Any one of them could be... sloppy.
The best parallel for this type of arrangement comes from the polyamorous community. We could really use some guidance from them and I hope they’re willing to share. How do you have these conversations about boundaries and trust and honesty and health and safety? In a cute way?
I know several poly groups - it’s quite common in the Pacific Northwest - and I have watched several split up in what I considered predictable ways. Lot of moving parts, to coin a phrase. I was privy to one group debate when one member kept dating on the side, outside the group, after being chastised. The main rule was that everyone in the group got tested every year, but introducing a bunch of random elements made that rule ineffective for all of them, and by ‘all of them’ I mean a lot more than three.
The reason I trust our friend is that we had this conversation about which of our local friends and relatives could be considered trustworthy, and we agreed that none of them could! She can’t trust her parents because she doesn’t trust her brother-in-law, and obviously that takes her sister off the list. I’m not her best friend, but two of her other close friends have been flagrantly breaking social distancing and a third has turned full pseudoscience.
There is another reason that I trust her judgment, besides trusting her as a follow-through person who has a strong track record of keeping her word. She has health conditions that made COVID more dangerous for her, and having been sick for weeks, she has a vested interest in not going through that again. I believe that she is at least as scared as I am of getting breathed on by a less serious individual.
“I just feel like everyone else is diseased,” she said, and that’s the attitude that I need to see right now.
What qualifies as ‘trustworthy’ and ‘reliable’ and even ‘clean’ now all has to be reevaluated in a new context. Someone who would never dream of stealing from my purse or talking about me behind my back might cheerfully expose me to coronavirus again without thinking it matters, or maybe even realizing it had happened. Right now the three of us are part of the 0.1% of Californians who have been officially confirmed to have COVID-19, so this kind of negotiation may seem outlandish, but keep it in mind. It may seem more relevant to you in a few more months.
Working at home is a whole different thing when suddenly you find yourself with coworkers. I used to contentedly wander around the house in my underwear, swigging San Pellegrino from the liter-size bottle, and writing whenever and wherever I wanted. Now there’s this cute bearded stranger doing who-knows-what across three monitors. It’s quite distracting.
(He’s not really a stranger; it’s just that the beard makes him look like a completely different person).
Imagine the swap from his perspective. One day he has his own private office with a door, and suddenly he has to share his workspace with two ladies who talk to themselves, both of whom are bipeds and one of whom has feathers. It’s a lot to fit into 650 square feet.
The way we’re adapting and sharing space is to simply indulge in separate mornings.
I know people who are chipper when they first wake up. In fact, my little parrot Noelle is one of them. She greets the day by making kissy noises and calling out “Whew!” Me? I’m more like one of those lawnmowers that won’t start until its cord is pulled several times. I doubt I’ve ever done anything good or interesting before 10:00 AM in my entire life.
My husband, on the other hand, is an extreme lark. Starting his workday at 7:00 AM is something of a prosocial compromise.
Some of you are saying, Ah, but you don’t have kids. Anymore, true, we don’t. Most people our age do not have little children at home. If there are two adults in the home, there’s a simple tradeoff, which is that one of you takes mornings and the other takes evenings. If neither of you is much good in the morning, then one can do baths and story time while the other gets clothes and breakfast prepped the night before. Or flip a coin.
What always surprises me is how so many households will allow for a culture in which someone or everyone is cranky all the time. Someone resents someone else for relaxing or enjoying any kind of peace and quiet. Someone tries to take a nap or sleep late, and someone else comes in and shouts at them and forces them to get out of bed. It’s awful. Personally I won’t stand for it.
Now that we’re all stuck indoors together and trying not to drive each other nuts, isn’t it time to let sleeping dogs lie? Or at least let sleeping people sleep?
I’ve built the culture of my household around High Quality Leisure Time. Reason: so that *I* get my share! I want to be able to take naps, therefore I must support others in their right to take naps. I want to be able to read quietly, therefore I must not distract others when they want to read quietly. I have things to do, therefore I need to accommodate others when they also have things to do.
Separate mornings are such a great way to do this!
We started this practice early in our marriage. My husband asked that I not get up with him on weekday mornings, because it would make him want to hang out and talk to me. He has always had his morning routine down to the minute, one of those proverbial “set your clock by him” guys. Even one minute of “good morning sweetie” and he’d have to recalibrate.
This is fine by me, since I’d prefer to sleep until 9 AM every day. Fortunately for me, almost everything I do is clock-free and virtually all my appointments are in the evenings.
It doesn’t really make sense for us to get up at the same time. There’s no need. We’d get in each other’s way, since we only have one bathroom and our place is so small we can’t even be in the kitchen at the same time. This is what I tell myself on the rare occasions it occurs to me that I’m spoiling myself by sleeping in.
Two hours of quiet time at the beginning of the day are worth four hours later on, when the phone starts ringing and all the meeting invitations start popping up.
Not everyone has a job. For instance, my auntie just reminded us that she has been retired for eleven years. She earned it! Just because you’re not reviewing engineering drawings or filing a patent doesn’t mean you can’t make use of separate mornings. It’s fair to have two hours to yourself, to read or stare out the window or doze off or whatever you like.
Honestly I think that everyone should be free to exert privacy on demand. Sometimes you just need a little breathing room, and that’s fine.
It’s a pretty common reaction to feel frustrated with someone else for having more fun than you are, for relaxing when you are not or for being able to concentrate deeply when you can’t. I blame the individual for this. If someone else is relaxing, then sit down and relax. If someone else is doing focused work, then you can do yours. If what is disrupting you is a power imbalance, such as unequal division of caregiving or household tasks, then it is your responsibility to advocate for yourself, set boundaries, and negotiate.
If an extreme lark and an extreme night owl can negotiate a schedule that they can both survive, then I think anyone can negotiate anything.
The nice thing about the separate mornings is how well it works. I offered to hang out in the bedroom longer, if he wanted more helmet time to focus, and he said he was always excited when I came out. It makes him happy to know that I am peacefully sleeping while he works. Though probably not as happy as it makes me to not have to wake up at 5:30 AM.
Mornings might not be the time to divide your living space. For others, it might work better to have a break in the middle of the day, or to go to bed separately. Some people need more sleep than others, and that is not a moral crime, it’s a simple fact of biology and neurochemistry. Why fight it? Accept it, appreciate it, and find a way to use it to create some privacy and peace of mind, both for yourself and for everyone else in your household.
Sorry I’m late. A situation came up that I had to resolve. You see, my husband just asserted that Skittles are a type of gummy candy and I had to deal with it personally. I had my phone in my hand, ready to ask the manufacturer on Twitter, when he finally capitulated.
Then we both laughed really hard and hugged it out.
We counted it up, and he is on Day 21 of self-isolation already. Remember when we thought we might have been exposed at the beginning of the month? Turns out we were lucky. The week he stayed home was the week we might actually have been exposed by someone who has since tested positive.
The situation changes when you start to hear of people within one or two degrees of separation who are sick... or who have already succumbed.
One degree of separation: Someone you know
Two degrees of separation: Someone they know
Stanley Milgram’s 1967 experiment leading to the “6 Handshakes” rule was confirmed by Microsoft in 2008. The idea is that everyone “knows someone who knows someone” who can eventually carry a message to basically anyone on Earth. A case could be made that with social media, the distance is much shorter, as almost anyone can send a message to any organization or celebrity who has an account. (Or whose agent has an account).
If I’d tweeted @Skittles, the official brand account, asking them to resolve my “argument” with my husband, there’s a good chance I would have gotten a response. Possibly a public response. It’s funny, right? Maybe they’d even send us some merch.
We could use some humor right about now.
I feel extremely fortunate to be isolated with someone I like. World affairs have nudged us just that little bit closer. We’re putting in more effort to be considerate and thoughtful, to set up little surprises for each other, to demonstrate affection.
We’ve realized that touch is the new luxury.
We used to have a joke that one of the best reasons to be married and monogamous was incurable STIs. Every now and then, one or the other of us would see a headline about some emerging sexually transmitted gross-out, and we would show each other, followed by one of our tag lines.
“Oh, darling, let’s stay married... forever”
This is even more true for COVID-19, where standing within six feet of someone is the new cheating.
“You touched the same doorknob as WHO?!?”
When the news started getting thick and viscous, we were still venturing out in public, though we had already stocked up on siege supplies. We would run across someone we knew, and they would rush over to bump elbows with theatrical glee. I was impressed that this bizarre social innovation had spread so quickly.
Ideas - memes and jokes - can spread around the globe in a day. Crazy to think that we are all united by this, our ability to internalize new dance moves, gestures, or catch phrases and use them as social currency.
I’m with it, I’m in the game, I get it
I got it
(You thought I was going to say that I just lost the game, didn’t you?)
It’s more important now than ever that we focus on what unites us, because it’s so easy for a single individual to break the new social contract. I’ve seen at least three cases in the news already of a person aggressively coughing on someone - or something, like $35,000 worth of groceries - and what is the point of that?
To feel powerful in the face of fear? To fight the invisible?
There are two sides to the pendulum, with individualism on one side and community on the other. The perfect medium is for each person to balance self-interest with regard for others, to find self-actualization in a way that contributes to the greater good. It’s good for all of us when any one of us is happy and doing well, right?
This is one of the main differences between America and other places in the world. We value extreme autonomy. I DO WHAT I WANT. This is why we’re perpetually fascinated with serial killers and so many of our movies and TV shows involve a murder. Other parts of the world place a higher value on their shared culture, or the family unit. The pendulum swings back and forth, between ME and US, and we didn’t really have much farther to swing on the selfish end.
We can’t hug it out anymore, either.
I think there will eventually be a thing, like a huggable robot toy, that sends virtual hugs. Say it’s a stuffed sloth with actuators inside. You can hug yours and have it send a hug to mine, and it can awkwardly pat my back.
I’d be one of the first customers, because I’m a FREE HUGS person.
Last week I was on a group video call with one of my Free Hugs friends. I saw her face, I heard her voice, and I could feel the ghost of a memory. She is the best hugger. I told her once, “I just can’t resist you!” She was sharing how hard it’s been to be isolated at home, since she lives alone, and I would have done anything to reach through the screen and hug her from 2000 miles away.
Sometimes I just sit and think of all my friends and what they are like as huggers, and I remember the last time we gave each other a big squeeze. Sometimes it’s been years and years, but I still remember.
I remember you.
We’ll get it back. One day, we’ll be able to mix and mingle freely again. I’ve been thinking of that day, of the first weeks after we’re free to touch each other socially, of the cries of joy that will rise up as friends run to each other and lift each other off their feet.
I’ve missed you so much!
I hope we carry this with us, this longing for social contact. I hope we always remember how much we need each other. I hope we can keep reminding ourselves, even as the current moment makes us testy and irritable... I hope we can remind ourselves to be kind and caring, to hug it out if we’re lucky enough to have someone TO hug.
C’mere, you. Aww.
The last few days have felt like 87 years, am I right? I’ve been doing what I usually do when I’m in the Place of Uncertainty, which is to gather as much information as I can. What I’m picking up right now is chilling me to my very bones. There is misinformation and highly dubious behavior everywhere right now.
What do we do about it?
Last week I found myself in the position of thought leader. We were having an emergency meeting, and I discovered, to my astonishment, that I was the best-informed person on the call. How does this even happen when nobody really knows anything?
I scrolled through my blog, trying to remember which day I posted that “We Prepped for Coronavirus.” (March 3) We... actually bought our supplies at the end of February?? Has it been that long already? It seemed simple and obvious for anyone who reads the news to be aware that the trend line wasn’t going in the right direction. Time to mitigate risk.
“Up and to the right, up and to the right” for INVESTMENTS, not epidemiology
As I started hearing from more of my friends and colleagues, and reading more reports on Nextdoor, and even scrolling through Facebook (which I haven’t done in several years), I started to realize that what is standard operating procedure in my household is actually very fringe behavior for our culture.
Start with deep background, supplement with updates from trusted sources and subject matter experts, apply critical thinking skills, and run scenarios with favored sounding boards.
Isn’t that how other people react to current events?
I’m writing about the problem of fake virus news in this way because a bulleted list of conspiracy theories and actual facts NEVER WORKS. That kind of thing palpably does not work on the people who need it. I’m writing for the benefit of my fellow thought leaders, because the designated “smart person” in your circle of friends is probably you, yes, YOU, the one who is reading this.
You have to look them right in the eye and talk them through their pseudoscience, piece by piece. Praxis. One at a time, patiently and with all the lovingkindness you would show to anyone you care about, if you knew they had only months to live.
I live in a bubble, not just of privilege but of highly educated and brilliant people. A bunch of people in my social group have PhDs and a couple of my dearest friends are actual professors in STEM fields. The smart people are staying home, partly because their employers sent them and mostly because they know higher-level math. They look at the data and nod and trust the experts.
Ah, but I also know people with advanced degrees who are *not* getting with the program.
I was talking one such friend who was trying to convince me that we have nothing to worry about, because there were “only about 320 cases” in “all of California! The entire state!”
All the blood drained from my face. The last I heard, it was... six.
I’ve heard several people repeat the idea that “it will go away when the weather gets better” because “warm temperatures kill it” when they are missing the obvious, which is that the inside of a person is almost always significantly higher than that.
Only about a dozen people in my acquaintance seem to understand the concept of social distancing, or how viruses spread. “For those of us who need a break from ‘social distancing...’”
I love you, and you know that’s not how that works, right?
Do you understand that you could be contagious for two weeks before you even felt any symptoms? And that’s why we have community spread?
PRETEND YOU HAVE CHICKEN POX
People have been panic-buying at the grocery store in our neighborhood. Store hours have been cut back. People are showing up at 5:45 AM every morning and standing in line for over an hour so they can stream in and buy toilet paper. Which is fine, but... People are bringing their entire families into the store and cramming themselves into these tight lines. Panicking their way into the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Can’t one parent go and have everyone self-isolate at home? Or at least wait in the car?
The way people are reacting is like they are preparing for a cross between a hurricane, a terrorist attack, and... werewolves.
Quick, buy bottled water before the storm hits land... NO
We have to keep shopping and going out or the microbes will win... NO
We have to stay together, hold my hand, we’re going in... NO
Y’all been watching the wrong horror movies
It breaks my heart to know how many families have already been impacted by this thing, and how it’s spreading farther because so few people are as educated about basic public health concepts as they are about, say, helping a dog that has been left locked in a car in hot weather.
We do gradually learn, as a species. It’s fairly rare for people to die in structure fires now, for instance, when it used to be a constant problem in the Victorian era. This is because we have worked very hard on institutional inputs like smoke detectors, fire drills, crash bars, EXIT signs, and fire codes. Same thing with airplane crash fatalities. Little by little, every time a disaster happens, people take notes and start trying to avoid it ever happening again.
At least we have the scientific understanding of germ theory. That was not obvious to past humans, not by any means. The first thing the medievals did during the Black Death was to cull domestic cats, not realizing that the vector was actually... rats and mice. Oops.
The silver lining to this pandemic is that it has everyone talking and taking it seriously. Pop culture is eventually able to absorb new ideas, like “stop the shooter” and “don’t let the terrorist take over the plane” and “don’t leave a dog in a hot car.” We start adjusting to new social norms. We aren’t there yet with basic public health concepts, like how viruses spread, but we’re, um, going to learn it now. On the fast track.
Please won’t you help me by using your social capital with your friends and family, and making sure they understand what is going on?
There are two main settings for people at work: Always available, or mainly concentrating. Those of us who need helmet time to get anything done are starting to realize that almost nobody else has the luxury of signaling, “I need to focus so come back later (or not).” Now that many of us are working from home, sometimes for the first time, we’re going to have to design a new set of signals to communicate our availability.
If you have kids at home, teach these concepts as a game. Kids tend to be hardcore rules lawyers, especially the little ones, and there’s always one who loves being the warden or bad cop. Choose your little Enforcer and have fun.
The #1 best respected signal in the tech world is: headphones. Wearing headphones signals to everyone that you are doing deep work. Interrupting someone who is working with headphones on is discouraged and should only be done if it’s truly urgent.
Note: discuss with all members of household a painstakingly precise definition of what “urgent” means. May vary by household.
Again, former nanny here, kids like structure. They like to know how to get a win and they like being able to predict important things, like How do I get him in trouble? and When is the next snack time, it’s been 18 minutes already. Many colleagues and roommates are pretty much the same as preschoolers, only taller.
I normally work at home with my parrot, who is much shorter than a preschooler but also more devious, louder, messier, and more inclined to chew through things such as metal, or the baseboards. Birds are very into elaborate protocol. Cats, I dunno, you’re on your own as far as setting cat guidelines.
My husband has been sent home to work with us. He is on teleconferences anywhere from 3 to 8 hours a day.
Did I mention that our apartment is 650 square feet? And there is no wi-fi elsewhere in the building?
Since we are both often on overlapping calls, our first priority is making sure we don’t interfere with each other’s audio. This unfortunately includes both our work, and ordinary household tasks like fixing lunch or running water in the sink.
After a week of turning our little shoebox into a coworking space, we’ve used our understanding of lean manufacturing principles and business productivity to devise a system. The goal is to communicate without communicating. Just like a hotel might ask patrons to signal the state of their towels by either leaving them on the floor or hanging them up, we want something that we can check at a glance.
This is what we’ve come up with:
A whiteboard with a basket of colored dry erase markers, an eraser, and a spray bottle of cleaner. I set it up in the living room in landscape format, and drew a line down the middle. We each write our call schedule in blue ink, with red ink available for important notes.
The first day we did this, we realized that all his calls were in the morning and most of mine were in the evening, so one or the other of us would need quiet for over twelve hours straight.
Four colored manila folders that I dug out of our file box. I cut them in half along the fold so we each have a matching set of green, yellow, and red. The other color is orange.
Green: Working, but open for conversation
Yellow: Deep work, do not disturb
Red: On a call, quiet please
He displays his cards at his desk, where he does most of his work. I put mine on my side of the whiteboard since I tend to range from room to room.
The orange folder is to slide under the bedroom door to say it’s safe to come out. (I take calls in the bedroom, but we also sleep different hours, and I don’t want to suddenly burst out the door and unintentionally interrupt a presentation).
The idea with using all this visual communication, rather than texting, is that we’re often doing stuff on our devices and a text message can be disruptive. Visual signals are faster and easier.
Signals also work for little kids who can’t read yet.
If someone in the household turns out to be color-blind, or not everyone in the room speaks/reads the same language, a similar effect can be produced using shapes or objects. Maybe a favorite stuffed toy faces the room for an all-clear, but faces the wall when... ugh that’s creepy, never mind. Ask your kids what they suggest.
This type of flag is called an ‘andon.’ They are used with great efficiency in manufacturing environments, and they work well at home too. For instance, if there is an empty bottle of shampoo, the last person to use it puts the empty bottle on the counter, and the person who makes the shopping list sees it and makes a note. Even pets can learn to communicate this way, like the dog who picks up her leash with her mouth, or the cat who stands next to the empty bowl.
We’ve found that using workplace practices at home helps us to feel more respectful of each other. We are able to run our household with few or no conversations about who does which chore. These practices have helped us have more fun on vacation, too.
When our daughter was at home, the three of us could work quietly together for hours at the same table. I would write, my husband would write code or review drawings, and she would study. It was a very cozy feeling. No doubt it served her well when she went off to college and had to share space with three roommates in one apartment.
The thing about quiet time vs. the usual free-for-all is that there’s no reason to ever stop. Everyone deserves to be able to concentrate or take an important call. Everyone should be able to read quietly or take a nap without being disturbed. Respect is like anything else: give what you wish to receive.
We got a head start on this whole social distancing/work from home thing, because my husband was already home sick. Further, we suspect that we may have already been exposed to COVID-19, which is extremely sinister because the symptoms were relatively mild. I had to talk him into staying home one more day, so he didn’t cough on anyone, and that was the day they sent everyone home.
“They” meaning basically every engineering firm in our entire region.
This is the moment that every shy person, introvert, and/or helmet-time person on a maker schedule has been waiting for, the dream of a lifetime! Think how much more productive everyone will be! Think how much more we’ll all get done!
A real discussion from our bedroom:
Him: I’m worried if it’s ethical to go to morning classes at the gym. [the gym next door that is five minutes away]
Me: You worked twelve hours today and you’re concerned about taking a 6:00 AM gym class?
The problem for most “people like us” isn’t working at home, it’s NOT working at home. Like, around the clock. We’ve had to institute a formal sign-off procedure with at least three steps. Close work laptop. Eat meal. Take shower.
My husband and I met at work. We were casual lunch buddies for ages before we ever considered each other in a romantic context. Fourteen years later I sometimes still feel like, “OMG, kissing a colleague, so wrong” and I’ve actually dreamt about [censored] in a conference room.
If anyone were prepared to share a 650-square-foot home office, it would be us. Our apartment is essentially a hotel suite in almost every respect except that we have to change our own towels and we have a bigger bottle of shampoo.
There have been... some complications.
The first is that we’re ridiculously excited to be work buddies again. We keep making the mistake of turning to each other and talking. The other day that led to taking turns trying to knock each other on our butts with a compression strike to the midsection. (Acting out a highly dubious scene from a TV show). It had escalated rather quickly when his phone rang with a business call. Oops!
(If the above sounds alarming, we are both belted in multiple martial arts and we would never lay hands on each other in a disrespectful context, partly because I’m much farther along in Krav Maga and situational combatives).
The second complication is my little parrot. If you know Noelie, she is deeply obsessed with teleconferences. Often she has met at least a couple of the participants, and she recognizes their faces. She *knows* those are her real friends on the screen. She will throw a conniption fit if she isn’t on the call, which means imitating electronic sounds at 70+ dB until someone picks her up and puts her on camera where she can see herself.
She also has a theory-of-mind issue. It goes something like this. “If you are quiet, it’s quiet time, therefore I will be quiet. Alternately: if you are making noise, it’s noise time, therefore I will make noise.” Rule is in play whether you are on the phone, watching a movie, or running the blender. WHOO, NOISE TIME! She will start her daily practice session, which consists of an hour of chattering, kissy noises, whistles, beeps, electronic sounds, hammer strikes, and even ping pong games. If you think a daycare or kindergarten is noisy, may I introduce you to my personal one-bird band.
In practice, one or the other of us has to grab the bird and entertain her during a call. Since we are often on dueling conference calls at the same time, she is milking the situation for all it’s worth, beeping her little diva heart out.
When we try to take calls in the main section of our apartment, we interfere with each other’s audio. That generally means I need to get up and leave the room, and that means either the bedroom or the shower. No wi-fi in the hallway.
You wouldn’t think so, but all of this ad hoc alternative-mode productivity has produced a very upbeat, carnival atmosphere. We are strangely more accessible and getting probably 50% more work done than we would during a normal week.
[cite declaration of 2020 as year of “no normal weeks”]
It’s mayhem, and some of us actively enjoy mayhem!
Crisis mode = not boring
We have had to set new policies to try to respect each other’s boundaries. What I’ve been learning this year is that nobody respects a middle-aged lady’s mental bandwidth. Nobody!!! Not age peers, not other women, not elderly people, not teenagers, not professional colleagues or random members of the community, nobody. My husband included.
I was on an emergency conference call, dealing with a high-priority novel systemic issue. My husband started waving his phone at me from across the table, talking to me about the stock market. I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, the cover to my tablet, and held it up between us. He leaned over to peer around it and try to make eye contact, so I moved it again. DUDE!
After the call, he apologized. I told him it might seem strange, but I do occasionally have real work to do, as often as an hour a week! (Joke, go ahead and guess the real number). I’m not afraid to pull rank on him during the workday, as long as we can reconnect and find each other as friends later that evening.
What we’ll probably wind up doing is holding a standup meeting each morning, arranging our schedule so that we both have privacy for our respective calls. We’ll probably both wear our big headphones, like he used to when he worked in an open-plan office. We actually have a folding screen that we could set up as a room divider.
We’ll get through this weirdness together. We’ll have to, one way or another, since we are each other’s designated contact on our living wills and advance care directives... Emergency room buddies, nurses pro tem, sworn companions with a blood oath between us. In sickness and in health. We just have to improvise the part about “at work or at leisure.”
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies