We Made It! We… made it?

At this point in my career, I’ve seen many things and while I have yet to see everything, I’ve seen enough to know what strengths I have and don’t. I’ve seen the rise of Paradiselandia from the beginning until now and have been every role and then some to get to that point.

Recently, we stepped into that most illustrious of spotlights that every large and growing company tries to break into at some point: public trade. We’ve now entered a rarefied space with an entrance marked in three letters.

I don’t know how to explain how disconnected I was – and still am – from that moment. The things I’m connected to are here on the ground with me. Those things – those people – are stressed because we’re out here doing our best while not having a clue.

This isn’t to say I’m in any way ungrateful for the opportunity or the experience, but I’m one for intrinsic rewards; I do things to the best of my abilities because I care about the people it touches; including the people here working with me.

When kindness and a good culture prospers, that’s where the win lies for me. But standing near a table as we toast, I look at people and think about the individual lives that make all of this work. Their challenges. The things they spend late hours, early hours, and weekends to make happen.

The stress on their faces as they aim for these things. The moments they open up and share things that frustrate them or anger them or sadden them.

Is this what winning looks like? Souls ground into powder and fragmented culture where people start to forget the people we needed to be to get here on an interpersonal level? I don’t mind losing if it does.

When I think about what winning looks like, I think about the way we got there and how connected everyone feels to what we’ve achieved. I hope we haven’t gained the world while losing our soul in the process. Very few companies can or do.

Diversity & Inclusion in the real world

Where I work – Paradiselandia, of course – a survey was sent out asking what parts of a Diversity and Inclusion initiative they would like to be a part of and what issues they would like to solve. For the sake of timeline, that was in July.

We are now approaching the latter part of October.

A few weeks before that, we had a Pride event here and the people of Paradiselandia were out and about there. The next day, I asked one of the HR folks if we have any kind of internal initiative for the people who work here.

HR person: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Well, I’d hate for people to see us at all of these events for pride and such, but not feel safe and seen while working in this office. How are we making that an intentional part of our culture?”

A week later, I would learn that the person who sent the initial survey left the company and no one was assigned as her successor. A different, well-intentioned person, came to the office a week later and I asked them what was happening there.

It turns out that they have no idea how to make this work, but they have tried with an FB workplace group. I asked a bunch of questions about who we are talking to in these communities (PoC, LGBTQ+, etc) about how to scale a community initiative like this and after getting those answers (“We haven’t spoken to anyone and we don’t know where or how to start honestly.”), I made some suggestions for follow-up actions and we went our separate ways.

The follow-up actions involve me.

Because they have to. Yes, I care about these things and I volunteered as such. I live to make communities where people who are usually made to feel unsafe or uncared for can find a bit of relief and I’m happy to be a part of things like that.

…but also? If I didn’t volunteer, this wouldn’t happen because no one knows where to begin when thinking of ways to deal with people like me or the spectrum of marginalized groups that exist. Also? Only two people have been involved until this point in trying to even broach the subject in a formal, company-wide manner. I am the only person who followed-up to find out what happened after the subject was brought up.

I can’t help thinking about how often it is that if you are part of a marginalized group you are constantly having to spend time and energy to teach people how to include you. How to be aware of you. How to treat you properly. Always educating and having to be on hand to educate lest you be rendered invisible or worse.

The truth is that, in the real world, Diversity and Inclusion sounds really cool. Socially conscious. Aware. Who doesn’t want that as part of their brand?

But also? It requires people to actually be those things. That means google. That means reading. That means a lot of hard conversations that expose you to a world beyond your perspective in which you are not ever going to be the center. That means dealing with a lot of pain and anger from people who are asked to draw forth their trauma again and again to explain things people could look up and/or defend their right to be angry in the face of injustice.

That also means being accountable to do better with what you learn.

The lion’s share of making that happen falls on me and people who look like me because we have to know these things in order to function. And isn’t that the funny part? The punchline? That every Diversity and Inclusion initiative in the real world is a seance. A summoning. A thing in which, in spite of all the resources we have available, doesn’t happen unless the marginalized speak up for it again and again and again.

Design Struggles: Transitioning

It’s Tuesday and I’m sitting at my desk willing the energy of the last DesignHaus meetup to get me through this powerpoint and accompanying google doc wherein I have to explain my vision for how to execute on community development and growth.

I’ve spent a few weeks looking up user research and UX design, then finding patterns between the roles and writing a job description for it. That went into the doc and the powerpoint as I have to now convince people that this role at the company is important and that I should be the person to step into it.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate how exhausting this side of design jobs are?

By “this side” I mean having to convince people to do what they already know they need to do. You know you need a visual refresh on your branding, but also let me explain why you should do what you specifically hired you to do with 39 powerpoint slides plus another 5 slides with concepts for each.

“Part of being a designer is being able to tell a good story, so we should…”

Stop. Stop and go have a white claw. If I were talking about trying to convince an external 3rd party that had no idea who I was or why this was critical, then sure. Consultant mode: activated.

However, when you are working in a company with multiple people stating that a UX-specific mission must be done and you bravely state, “So I hear this is an issue, I’d be happy to step in and help!” only to get the reply of, “OK, but then again… do we need to do that….” as clients are at the door asking where in the JIRA their product enhancement request for 10 years ago is…

Why? Why do this? What benefit – other than feeling someone else squirm under the pressure of this power dynamic – do you get out of a scenario like this?

Realization and Release

Jay and I have been friends and so we’ve spent a long time chatting about this and that. On this particular day, my destination is Atlanta. On my way there, I see a police officer behind me. My hands become clammy, and I break into a cold sweat.

I explain these sensations and Jay feels that this is a good time to remind me that I only feel this way because of the media. About how police calls happen. About how yes some people do terrible things, but my involuntary, bodily reaction to the car in my rearview mirror was unwarranted.

When I quoted the Federal Bureau of Investigation on crime statistics and brought up recent events, he responded that if black people were doing positive things, they’d be on TV more. I asked what he watched.

Fox News.

I hung up and didn’t reply or respond to anything for a few months. Two weeks ago, he texted to ask me why I had not communicated or called.

“Well, when I explained to you that police in my rearview mirror gave me a low-level panic attack, you dismissed my experience as invalid. I took the space I needed to deal with that.”

I thought we were friends; I don’t understand why you would just cut me off like that over a difference of opinion.

I explained that my very real life and the lives of many others were not matters of opinion or debate. As the exchange receded into the back of my mind, I thought about how many times this has happened before.

He then sent me to a video of a black man sharing his reasons that reparations shouldn’t exist. I asked how this was relevant and got silence.

Now I’m here. In these situations, while there is a lot to be said about giving people chances to grow and evolve and learn, the discussion we need to have is one in which we see a person who holds a belief that is poisonous to us and is unwilling to have that perspective changed in any way.

Sure, they say that would be willing to given facts to back up claims, but then those facts – normally coming from painful experiences from ourselves and many others over hundreds of years and easily accessible on google, on the news, or just by interaction with other humans – are dismissed or derided if not entirely unremarked upon.

As this happens, I settle into the sobering truth: they aren’t changing for me. It’s not that I cannot save them, but rather that there was never any saving to be done to begin with.

The new normal for me of late has been looking at this across many communities and having to just pack things up because… what else am I going to do?

Sure, bygones could be bygones. I get that people are messy and imperfect, but I also have no tolerance who see discussions on systemic oppression and decisions on ice cream flavors on the same level of importance and are unwilling to change that fact about themselves.

And to be frank: do I want that? Why would I? It’s poisonous.

Suspended Animation

By and large, I tend to be on the minimal side of the line when it comes to owning things; I cycle through things I have – digital and non – on regular cycles and then rid myself of those things I don’t have a real need for. The Goodwill, in spite of my best intentions, sees me every few months or so as I continue to pare down on things.

However, today finds me staring down a box of letters from a friend-become-girlfriend-become-friend-again and it feels like I’m in a crucible. These are crystalline moments of openness to each other and I am loathe loathe to be parted from them.

On the one hand, we are more the people in those letters than we have ever been and we are also different people than we were at the time of those letters. Which is to say, having those letters in the scheme of things is not important unless, of course, we never speak again.

On the other hand, these moments of openness with people are rare. I part with many things easily, but handwritten letters? In 2019? When will I ever have that again?

And so the two sides of me war every single time I look at this letterbox. Also in here: an old journal. It’s amazing how so much, yet so little has changed since that writing. Work has the same issues, but I have had many different experiences and that raw feeling of writing just as the adventure was fresh on my bones… how would I ever recreate that?

Maybe it’s just that tendency humans have toward seeking immortality, but ugh. I don’t even have another word. Just ugh.