Status update, December 18

There’s some stuff we all need to remember today:

1. You can make it. This is a brutal time of year, with a grinding set of conflicting expectations. I don’t know whether it’s better to plant your feet and stand up no matter what comes at you, or take a breath and let your head go under and trust that you’ll float to the top in a minute, or hunker down low and crawl under the smoke level. You can assess your own situation and decide what you need to do to make it through the next two weeks.

2. Work has value. Your work has value, whether you’re paid for it or not. Whether it’s something job-ish or emotional work or some other kind of work. All the extra work you’re doing right now that you’re not getting paid for has value. I appreciate it.

3. If you’re having problems with boundaries and clarity at work, it’s the responsibility of the manager to fix it. This includes confusion around roles, performance, bonuses, metrics, etc. If your manager isn’t clear about this stuff and you’re being trapped, don’t take it on yourself. And if you are the manager and you see the confusion and feel the drift, put on your big kid underwear and make some decisions and have some conversations. You can do it.

4. Your deadline is not today. Even if your kids are done with school today, you still have to work for two more weeks. You will get a bunch of stuff done next week, and the week after that. Not everyone’s going to be working, but there will be enough co-workers and clients and customers who want to get some work done with you that stuff is still going to come together. You can close those sales or finish those projects or do whatever your job involves. You still have a lot of time.

5. “We are going to die. Let’s love honestly, courageously, non abusively, stankly before that happens.” –Kiese Laymon   


(Go get a glass of water and drink it.)

Create a low-stress Christmas season for yourself

It’s back, and better than before! Get Christmased: Create the Christmas season that works for you and your family is a workbook that walks you through a process of figuring out what is meaningful about the Christmas season for you and what isn’t, and helps you make deliberate decisions about what to keep and what to toss during the holiday season.

Available in paperback for $9.99 (it’s taking 2-3 days to get to people in the US) or Kindle for $3.49 (instantaneous and you can read it on your phone with the free Kindle app). If you get the Kindle version, you’ll need a little notebook to write down your answers to all the questions in and sketch out your plans.

This is my labor of love, because I know how painful, confusing, and intense the Christmas season can be for so many of us, that I wanted to help us pull it apart a little and make some conscious choices that would help us instead of letting us keep feeling hurt.

Doing the workbook seems to help the most if you can get it done and planned before American Thanksgiving, so order now and then do it in snatches of time here and there while you’re waiting for your kids.

(Here’s the link to the Canadian Kindle version, for $4.59.)


A warning to employers

Oh, employers. The tide has just turned. After seven plus years of hearing and saying “in this economy” as an excuse for treating workers poorly and for employees to just take it because they’re scared of being unemployed, it’s no longer an employers’ market. The economy has improved enough that people aren’t afraid of leaving a job that doesn’t fit or that has bad management, because they know they can find another job. 

How do I know? Because I just said “What are they going to do, fire you?” to the third person in two days.

I am not a career counselor and I’m not on the employee side of What To Do At Work. I work with managers and upper management to help them create organizations and departments in which employees are engaged and happy and productive. But the other side of that is that I get to hear from a lot of employees what their managers are doing wrong. (And they’re doing so very many things wrong.)

[Side note: My 13-year-old is at his dad’s house today and he just texted me that he just watched the movie Office Space for the first time. I wanted to text back “Today you are a man” but thought that might confuse him. Later we can talk about how the movie is really not that different from the daily lived experience of a majority of people working in offices in the United States and the rest of the world. And why my whole mission is helping people not be Lumbergh.] 

Even a few months ago, when people were telling me about the random and disheartening things their managers did, they had a pervasive sense of sadness. Of realizing that there wasn’t anything they could do about it and they’d have to just suck it up if they wanted to stay and be able to pay their mortgages. People were being put on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) because their employers had reduced the number of jobs to reallocate roles so people were being asked to do too many things in ways that they couldn’t possibly succeed at, and then were being penalized for not being magical. Of course, when you’re on a PIP you’re scared and demoralized, so you’re not going to work any better (even if you are working harder), so there’s nothing useful or good about a PIP for anyone in the equation except from a documentation perspective that shifts all the risk from the organization to the individual. PIPs are all the negatives of capitalism without any of the positives, basically.

[Another side note: Every time I see “PIP” I think of Pip in Great Expectations, which makes me think of that scene in the old version of the movie in which Miss Havisham catches on fire in her wedding dress. My high school freshman English teacher, Mr. Oehlers, rewound and showed us that bursting-into-flames scene half a dozen times. (We loved it.) Little did I know then that it was the perfect metaphor for what happens when an organization gets so entrenched in structures and appearances that they stay mired in the past and can’t make good use of the real live people in front of them: flames.]

But now, people are getting mad about being treated poorly and are realizing that a PIP often means more about the organization’s problems than it does about them, and they’re poking their heads up and looking around and realizing that they are marketable workers. With skills and knowledge and flexibility and perspective. And that they can find a job that uses those skills and isn’t going to be as demoralizing as where they are now. So they’re looking, and not caring if they get fired while they look.

I was giving a recommendation for a friend to a potential employer last week. I knew my friend had been impressed with the organization during the interview process, so I figured I could be honest and go a little deeper with the company rep who called me. He and I ended up talking about two of the traits I think are most impressive about my friend–her sense of perspective and her loyalty to people and process. I knew he’d get it because those traits are values of the organization he hires for, and he did, and told me he was happy to hear it because it’s hard to know those things just from four or five interviews with a person. She got the job, and it was absolutely no choice to leave her current job, which sees her as an interchangeable cog with nothing special to offer. Her current job thought (until the moment she gave notice) that she was lucky to be there, even though they ran an organization that couldn’t deliver on the basics of being decent people, let alone put in the thought work about what kind of organization they are and what that means for their management or workflow process. They are never going to be able to keep good employees, because they don’t know or care who they are or who they employ.

When my friend and I were talking about how she spends her time in her last week at her old company, I said, “What are they going to do, fire you?” And then I had virtually identical conversations with two other people I know about how they can act while looking for an organization that values them so they can leave organizations that devalue them on the daily.

When I hear (or hear myself saying) something once, fine. Twice, I notice. Three times–there’s something going on and I should pay attention. And this is three times in two days of recognizing that being fired isn’t a threat anymore.

So, employers, managers, bosses, team leaders, anyone who needs people to help you do what you’re doing: You need to go a little deeper. Put in the deep work it’s going to require to see your people for who they are and what they actually have to offer your organization. Think about who you are as an organization and what you can be. Who do you need to fit that mission? (And if it’s not a mission, maybe you need to move on, too. Life’s too short to do work for bad systems.) Are those people sitting right in front of you, slowly withering or trying to get out?

If you have the wrong people working for you, fire them in a human, decent way that honors both of you. They will move on to something that fits them. (And maybe you know what that thing is and can help them make a connection.) And you now have the ability to hire the right person who fits in with your organization and your mission.

But know that it’s the employee’s market again. You decide who you hire, but if you can’t deliver on giving them a real reason to come in every morning that honors who they are, they’ll leave. The threat of being fired isn’t even remotely enough to keep them there, because they can find something else.


If you want to talk to me, lmk at magda at tilmorgroup dot com.

Let’s solve a lot of problems

From now through December 25 I’ll be offering a referral bounty for Flash Consulting: For every two paid Flash Consults you refer to me, I’ll give you a Flash Consult for free to use or give away.

“What’s a Flash Consult?” I will solve your problem for $250 in around 24 hours. Business, personal, work-related, parenting, life-work-relationship-kids balance, or any kind of mix of those things. I can’t answer anything technology or vehicle-related, but almost anything else I can solve for you. (If I can’t, I’ll figure out who to refer you to.) It’s all described here. Scroll about halfway down to read the testimonials. And I keep a blog about some cases I’ve worked on here, with a little about how I do it.

This is perfect for anyone who wishes they had help making some kind of decision, or for small business owners who’ve hit a wall on a topic but don’t want to hire a long-term consultant. Hand me the problem and I solve it for you and then leave all the implementation to you. (I hate implementation, and you don’t want to pay me to implement when you can do it anyway as soon as we’ve worked through what to do in what order.)

Basically, if there’s something you’ve been up at night going around and around about, pay me $250 to hold on to it and solve it for you.

I don’t tell anyone if you work with me, and you can do this totally anonymously, too. (We’ll figure out a way for you to pay me without revealing your name.) 

Back to the special offer:

You spread the word about my Flash Consulting, and tell your people to drop your name and email address when they hire me. When two people who hire me tell me you referred them, I email you to tell you you have a free Flash Consult with me. You should use your free one within a year, if possible. If you’re going to give it to someone else, tell me their email address and when you want me to give it to them, and I’ll email them a certificate for a free consult.

(I won’t tell you who it was that hired me through your referral, though, because privacy.)

You can also see where this is going if you want to give these as gifts–buy two and get one free. So if you have three siblings with problems, you can pay me for two and tell me their three emails addresses and I’ll send certificates to all three of them. Nothing says “I love you” at the holidays like solving someone’s problem for them.

Why am I doing this? Because Flash Consults are still the most fun thing I get to do professionally, and because I’m staring at hours and hours in the car driving kids around in the next few months and I do my best unraveling of problems in the car. So I’m trying to manipulate my schedule into working for me while at the same time giving you a reward for referring me to friends and associates, and removing your stress from trying to outfox your problem on your own. So everyone wins.

How does this happen? You send the website to anyone you know who has a problem they’re working on or a decision to make, or who owns a small business and is dealing with something outside their area of expertise, and tell them that when they email me to start the process they should give me their name and email. Then I take over and ask them where it hurts (that is actually the first question in the process), and then we solve some problems.

Questions? Lmk at magda @ flashcons dot com

A potentially incendiary post about pumpkin spice

The pumpkin spice craze of a few years ago has faded into pumpkin spice fatigue and loathing, and I’m begging everyone to make sure your ire is placed fairly.

“Pumpkin spice” is a gross combination of fake pumpkin flavor and chemically-reproduced spice flavors, and it makes things that shouldn’t taste like pumpkin pie taste artificial like almost pumpkin pie. This is what you should hate.

What you should not hate is the spice traditionally used to season pumpkin pie and sold mixed together as Pumpkin Pie Spice: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. This spice combination makes everything taste like the good things about autumn: a chill in the air, wearing sweaters, beautifully-colored leaves, running outside in comfort, and football season.

Note that you can put Pumpkin Pie Spice in things not containing pumpkin. I made a recipe for spiced cookies using cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, and they’re warm and autumnal and delicious.  You should try them (or get your kids to make them for you, because they’re easy). Also delightful: bake a sweet potato in the oven, then split open and put on a little butter and a few shakes of Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Real, actual cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice have never done anything bad to you.

You also should not outright hate pumpkin the fruit. Of course you don’t have to like it or want to eat it, because you’re an adult and you don’t have to like or want to eat anything. You’re the boss of you. But in its actual real pumpkin form there’s nothing to hate or resent about it because it’s just a fruit. You can say, “No, thank you” and wait for apple. Or you can eat it and enjoy its squash-like sweetness and creaminess.

If you do like pumpkin, one way to love it is to put some canned pumpkin in the blender with a little milk (cow or coconut), some powdered ginger, vanilla extract, sweetener, and ice cubes.

How did we go so far off the rails with this “pumpkin spice” thing if it all just started with an innocent fruit and four luscious spices? Well, capitalism, basically. The fact that actual pumpkin spiced with Pumpkin Pie Spices also tastes good with coffee left an opening for the military industrial complex to mess with us by fabricating artificial pumpkin flavor to put into coffee.

Blech. Come on, now.

If you want something that gives you the same warm, autumnal serotonin hit as pumpkin spice coffee but without that gross taste that makes you have to scrape your tongue off the roof of your mouth, there are a couple of options:

1. Put Pumpkin Pie Spice in with your coffee grounds when you brew coffee. You’ll get the deliciousness of the spices, without the grossness of the fake pumpkin flavor.

2. Make my Pumpkin Spice Latte Coffee Cake.  This is one of my favorite recipes I’ve ever concocted–it’s a moist and delicious coffeecake with real pumpkin, with a thin layer of coffee cheesecake on top.

3. Drink a cup of coffee while eating a piece of pumpkin pie.

This shouldn’t be traumatic.

tl;dr version: Just say yes to cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg/allspice with or without actual pumpkin. Just say no to artificial pumpkin and artificial spices.

Dear Jeff Bezos, I can solve your problem for you. Love, Magda

I’m not going to rehash the whole thing, but I am going to say that nothing in the original NYT article about how management happens is a surprise to anyone who knows anyone who knows anyone who’s worked for Amazon.

The way to have a well-functioning organization is to create an environment in which workers can trust their managers and managers can trust their people.

If you create an actively hostile workplace in which no one can trust even basic declarative statements, your company is not going to get the best work out of people. And your product is going to suck. Ask Microsoft. Or ask Ford, and then look at how they turned it around by requiring trust.

It’s not complicated to create an environment of trust in an organization. It is a process, but a fulfillment company should be all over process. 

Call me. I can teach you all RISWS and the larger theoretical framework behind RISWS, and within 18 months you’ll be someplace people stay because they love it so much.



Agile methodology, parenting, and managing people: some thoughts

This is going to be another one of those “everything’s connected” posts that people either love or hate, so enter at your own risk.

I think ALL THE TIME about how to free up people to do their best work and get into the flow state. It’s basically my whole parenting method: Facilitate and support my kids in experiencing a lot of things and then creating and maintaining their own boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them. And it’s what I think good management should be, too: Facilitate and support your people in developing their strengths and maintaining boundaries so they can do what brings meaning to them.

And I think a lot of the time about processes and systems. I am a problem solver even when I try to turn off my brain, and the way I solve problems is by looking for the moving parts. You can’t tell what’s a moving part if all you have is chaos. You have to have a system or process in place so that you know what are the set pieces and what are the variables. Then, at the next level of problem solving, you look at all the data of the variables and recognize patterns, and then the anomaly is where you start looking for a solution to your problem. So the more processes and systems I’m familiar with, the better.

Which is all a long way to explain why I was research agile software development methodology. I don’t write software, but I’ve worked for software companies and am familiar with the constructs of traditional software development, and I wanted to find out how agile is different. So I popped on over to and started reading. And then I felt one of those classic “OMG, you like peanut butter?? I like peanut butter, too!” moments of recognition.

Let’s roll back a little to talk about my process of developing the RISWS method of managing people, that gives managers a continual data stream of information on their employees so they can help them develop their strengths and remove barriers to engagement and productivity. I came from the basic assumption that it makes more sense to take the people you have and help them do their best and keep them engaged than it does to focus rigidly on roles and try to force people into them at all costs. And a lot of that is changing mindsets so that people are allowed to trust each other and focus on working together instead of on defending territory and roles. RISWS is a process that you follow to deal with the individualities of people and with the individualities of their problems and competencies. It’s a cycle that creates continual progress and continuous improvement and trust-building.

So when I started reading about how agile development uses the Scrum project management structure to get continual data and create an improvement cycle, I thought these two methods (Scrum and RISWS)  were really similar at the core, although radically different in the actual process. Both are focused on working in the middle of the process and making constant improvements. Both realize that a long process without feedback can lead to disaster. Both prioritize new information and decisionmaking that celebrates information instead of assumptions.

Agile is “iterative and incremental,” which is what managing people using RISWS is, too. No manager has to be perfect. Anyone promoted into a manager role can learn. Teams and their leaders learn together and improve together. Honest feedback–and then acting on that feedback!– is crucial.

And both of these methods seem a lot like parenting preschoolers. You can wait for your kid to do something wrong (and preschoolers are always doing something wrong) and then punish them for it once it goes too far. Or you can keep a consistent eye out and set up regular processes, so as soon as things start to deviate you can step in to offer guidance and correction (in the “let me help you make it better” meaning of correction, not the hot saucing meaning of correction) so the child gets help succeeding until they can do it on their own. Agile and RISWS are the same thing: watch carefully, help, don’t penalize.

The other thing I think is really similar about relationship-focused parenting, agile, and RISWS is that they’re threats to traditional power structures because they focus on people and relationships and they trust people and relationships instead of trusting rules and penalizing people. So even though they make so much more sense than the more traditional, control-based, oppositional methods of parenting, product development, and managing people, they can be tough to institute because they require that the people in power take their hands off the wheel and trust these relationship-based processes.

Trust people. It’s a timeless but still-threatening concept. In a lot of areas.

Some thoughts on managing and parenting while my kids are still gone

Today is day 20 of 21 of my kids being on their annual three week roadtrip with their dad, so I’ve been thinking a lot more for the past few weeks about managing adults in the workplace than about facilitating kids’ development at home*.

You know how you always think your boss knows what’s going on with your job so if they don’t fix things that are bad you assume it’s because they’re deliberately not fixing them to spite you? And how if you’re a manager you don’t know what’s really going on with your people because no one wants to complain and be seen as a whiner? So then everyone resents everyone? I developed a process for managers called Reporting/Interpreting/Solving Workflow Solutions (RISWS). It gives managers and team leaders a consistent flow of data that tells them what’s actually going on with their people, so they can fix things or give their people the power to fix them, and everyone can be engaged and happy and just do their jobs.

I’ve been working on RISWS with managers in the last year and have been getting good results, and just started a group through the process as part of a grant-funded study of the process. (I’m excited about it! The study leader is writing about it here:

It’s no secret that a lot of the way I show managers how to work with employees is related to the way I try to work with my kids. Employees are just people, and kids are just people, and managers and parents are just people. And all people want the same things: to matter, to be good at things, to be heard, to be valuable.

It’s a huge mistake–in my mind–to try to make your kids fit a checklist of well-roundedness instead of paying close attention to what they love and are good at, and encouraging them to run to those things. The same thing with employees–hiring someone and then trying to force them into a box you’ve created instead of looking at what’s fantastic about them is going to end up making everyone frustrated at work, and creating less value for the organization. If we’re being completely frank,it makes zero sense to pay good money for a salary and then not get the best out of an employee. People can sit at home being mediocre and frustrated on their own time. 

I had a meeting at my older son’s school yesterday about class placement for next year, and it forced me to focus on who my son is and what he’s good at, instead of choosing classes by what I think he should be good at. It’s not easy, this parenting the child you have instead of the child you think you have. I’m a lot better at listening quietly and observing carefully than I was before, and releasing my preconceptions about what brings meaning. One of my RISWS clients had a similar moment of realizing she was releasing a lot of unnecessary tension at work by admitting that one of her team members was really good at something that wasn’t strictly in the job description but could be useful for their team.

I realize that it’s a luxury to have the time and space and complimentary work area to be able to really think about parenting strategy for a big chunk of time. I miss my kids horribly during this three weeks, but being able to think about strategy and tactics and mission without being consumed by their immediate needs has been good. And a lot of managers are so busy putting out fires that they never really get to strategize about their team or team members.

I wish I could give everyone this kind of risk-free space. Parents to think about how to interact with their children to help them self-actualize, and managers to think about how to interact with their employees to help them stay in the flow state as much as possible. If some time and space drifts past you, grab it and let yourself use it to just think for awhile. It’s an investment in yourself, but also in the people you spend your time with.


* You know what’s super-easy? Being a fantastic parent by text. My older one’s been texting me throughout this road trip and I am KILLING IT when all I have to do is offer sage advice in written form. If only there was a way to do the first three years by text, this parenting gig would be fantastic.

The big Reddit mistake from an organizational and management perspective

When Ellen Pao came in to Reddit I didn’t have a lot of hope for her in the position, but I thought maybe the hail Mary could work. I mean, Ford had a hundred years of dysfunction and toxicity, but Alan Mulally was still able to turn that ship and allow the employees to create something new and healthier, and Ford’s in great shape now. So maybe it could happen for Reddit, too. But then it turned out that Reddit didn’t know how to do anything but eat its young, and now Pao’s gone and it’s evident that the site itself is rotting from the inside out and if I were one of the investors I’d be calling my tax accountant now about taking a write-off.

Whoever gets to write this case study for business schools to use is getting a peach of a story. This is basically the worst-case scenario in a lot of ways, and that starts with the mistaken idea people had that Reddit was in any way a disruptor.

There was nothing new about Reddit. We wrote slam books in junior high back when it was still called junior high and not middle school. My high school friends used to run dial-up bulletin boards from modems in their bedrooms in 1989. I was all over Urban Baby when my first child was a baby and I felt alone and isolated and unhappy and needed the adrenaline hit of arguing with strangers on the internet about arcane details of baby care and NYC playground politics.

Reddit was just Urban Baby for 23-year-old white men. Instead of organic pacifiers, BPPs, and what-your-i-banker-husband-is-really-doing-when-he’s-working-late, it was details about FPSes, sports, and why-don’t-girls-want-to-fuck-me. And because people were anonymous, they said some horrible things (along with a lot of really, really funny things).

It gave you a place to say things you knew you were an asshole for saying.

But being an asshole and getting away with it only works when something’s underground. As soon as it starts to become legit, and starts getting money and infrastructure and non-developer paid staff, a decision has to be made. If you make the decision you have to create and enforce community standards, and if you don’t (or aren’t willing to) make the decision you’re legitimizing violence.

So. Reddit made a decision, which we now know about because of the comments Yishan Wong made after Pao was ousted, to go toward legitimacy. But they were going to do it in a stealth way from behind the scenes, deciding on and enforcing standards and basically using quantitative game theory to decide what to allow as a sacrifice in order to be able to save the good stuff. Interesting, right? And, like, an actual strategy. So far so good.

The problem is that they made another decision that may not have seemed as important, but that actually created the current problem that’s killed them: They let their unpaid, volunteer mods stay unpaid, volunteer mods. 

Anyone who’s ever worked with volunteers know that they’re the gift that eats. You can get so much done with them, they save your resources for other things, and they can get so good at doing their jobs that they need little supervision, but they can also get so embedded that if they decide to go off mission–or decide to enforce what they perceive the mission to be–your entire organization can implode. And they’re very hard to control, because you can’t ever discipline them, because they’re doing you a favor. And you either can’t or have decided not to pay people to do that work. So you’re stuck.

(The management at Reddit knew that awhile ago–at least Wong did–but the general public didn’t really figure that out until Victoria Taylor was fired and all the mods shut down the AMAs and everyone was clutching their pearls about it.)

From a management perspective, volunteer mods are bad, bad news. When they’re embedded in your product so deeply (and in some subreddits they basically ARE the product), this is the management equivalent of the big Cascadia tectonic plate earthquake we all wish we didn’t know was coming. 

This management problem is why I’m writing about Reddit, btw. I’m not on Reddit. (I have a couple of friends who are Redditors, and they’re normal, educated, intelligent, kind people  who aren’t particularly traumatized by what’s going on.) I did my time on Urban Baby and Baby Center and I ran a FB group for Ask Moxie that self-destructed (I left right around the time Wong left Reddit), and I don’t have any desire to go into the bowels of another venue for arguing with strangers.

But I am passionate about helping managers figure out what’s going on with their people and how they can help everyone do really great things. And I think that could have happened (inasmuch as arguing with strangers on the internet ever does really great things) with Reddit. Except for the volunteers.

The mods didn’t seem to know that there was any kind of strategy to allow certain things but not others. They were attracted to the site because it was basically a place where it was cool to be a neckbeard. And because they assumed the founders of the site were neckbeards, too, who wanted them to have a place that was safe to say the kinds of things that showed they weren’t fit to interact with people except on the internet.

ETA: One of my aforementioned Redditor friends pointed out to me after reading this piece that many of the mods–and all of the mods of the happy subreddits–are normal people, not angry neckbeard MRAs, and I’m lumping them in with those bros here. I don’t mean to, and I want to mention that there are a lot of great people on Reddit, including mods. There’s still a huge problem with those good mods being unpaid, though–they work so hard that it can’t help but become very personal for them and they take so much pride in their contributions (modding is REALLY hard) that it’s never going to be easy to make decisions that are product or user or business decisions without big hurt feelings. It’s utterly reasonable, which is exactly why volunteer labor is incredibly tricky and dangerous.

And those volunteers and commenters were embedded in the site, the way the paid staff weren’t. The paid staff could leave or be cut loose–Wong, Pao, Victoria Taylor are all gone. But those mods were still there, suspending the AMAs and flexing their power every day. So now the “community” really is in charge, and they’re upholding values that aren’t what the founders–or most adults–have any interest in. This is like that LL Cool J movie in which they’re studying the sharks in that underwater lab, and then the sharks take over and trap them. The mods and Redditors are the sharks.

So, what is there to do? Well, back when I was on an amazing team a few years ago we used to joke around that if the product failed we’d just go home, sleep for the weekend, and then come back and create a new product. I don’t think that’s the worst idea in the world: Shut off the Reddit servers and sell the URL to a porn site, then all the paid Reddit employees take a week off and then come back the next Monday to start up the next thing. But if they’re going to do that they have to figure out how to manage their company and manage their employees to maintain boundaries and not confuse the users and product, and not let the control get away from them.

Hint: Hire more parents. We’re practiced in this healthy boundary stuff.

And that’s my takeaway. Not the not-shocking not-news that a bunch of undateable whiteboys on the internet are threatened by a woman who can read, and not the demise of another bulletin board site that was misunderstood by the huge corporation that bought it before it was ready to be bought, and not the fact that moving all the employees on-site is antithetical to good management practice for the way humans work now. None of that. Instead, the takeaway is that boundaries and understanding where the risk and control rests are always the most important things for any company, and your front line on that is allowing your managers to actually manage well and with authority. Even if it means paying people.

Imposter Syndrome, beginner’s luck, or lack of process

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Shannon Reed and I were joking around about writing a book to help people deal with being suddenly famous. (I think it was a joke, although now that I think of it, we did come up with a pretty solid outline of chapters.) At the time, Shannon had been in the New Yorker twice in a month, as well as McSweeney’s and Buzzfeed and a bunch of other places, and suddenly she was being noticed, even though she’s been writing and publishing for years.

When her first New Yorker piece came out, I checked in with her, and she said she thought maybe she had a little Imposter Syndrome, but then discarded that idea. I discarded it as well, because if anyone can write funny things, it’s Shannon. (She texted me through my entire two-year divorce process and my overwhelming memories of what I’m sure were a horrible and gruesome period are of her making me laugh.) But she was still all weirded out by the sudden fame, which was also confusing because she doesn’t care about being famous herself, but she does want her work to be famous, and it felt like people were conflating those two things. And we compared stories of weird things people had said to us because they thought we were famous. And we made up our fake book, about how to keep your head on straight during what could be utterly temporary fame and how to process all the mismatched feelings and the expectations that didn’t match reality.

Then a couple of days ago I read this post by The Blogess about why she doesn’t promote good causes people ask her to promote, and I nodded my head through the whole thing. People email me all the time to ask me to promote things, everything from blogging for depression awareness (every blog post I do has depression at the heart of it because I’m a person with depression, so) to clean water to raising money for a sick child to Kickstarting some new gadget that will improve parents’ lives to promoting some app that does something amazing. And the obvious answer is that you (The Blogess, me, anyone else who has even a little bit of fame or influence or whatever the current preferred term for internet recognizability is)  can’t promote any of it because you can’t promote all of it. And you don’t have a process to prioritize and sort through and then express to the people whose things don’t make the cut why they didn’t without being hurtful. If we were actual huge outlets with a bunch of staff to develop those processes, we could, but we’re just us, so we can’t.

Then, today my friend Carolyn Raship, who I admire immensely because of the way she rushes headlong into her own talent and into creative life, posted this post from Alicia Liu, “You don’t have imposter syndrome.” It is absolutely worth the read, and you should click over there now and read it and then come back here. There are diagrams. (I love diagrams.)

Liu has two key insights in her post:

1. It’s not Imposter Syndrome if you’re feeling uncomfortable because you actually don’t know how to do something. That’s just being a beginner, or not knowing something you still have to learn. Of course you feel weird when you don’t know something you’re supposed to know.

2. Calling that feeling of discomfort with not knowing something you need to know “Imposter Syndrome” pathologizes the process of learning.

YES. YES. YES. I’ll have what she’s having.

And as I was reading Liu’s post, it hit me that what many of us (especially women) feel as Imposter Syndrome ISN’T ABOUT OUR CONTENT KNOWLEDGE. It’s about PROCESS, or, rather, lack of process or unfamiliarity with process. 

Shannon knows she’s a good enough writer to be in the New Yorker and to have one of the most-read humor pieces on Buzzfeed–she doesn’t doubt her talent (or effort). Her discomfort was with the effects of being a stellar writer. She doesn’t have a process yet for dealing with increased demands, weird communications, requests, etc. I didn’t have a process for people recognizing me on the street and telling me I helped them survive their kids’ first few years and I felt like a fake, but now I do have a process for dealing with that, so I don’t feel like a fake anymore. The Blogess wrote that post to explain to everyone that she didn’t promote things, and writing that post was creating a process, so I’m hoping she doesn’t feel discomfort around those requests anymore. Even the example Liu gave about the ubertroll responding to her question about man pages wasn’t actually about her not knowing the content yet, it was about her not knowing the process that includes codebros mocking people and either getting around or ignoring them.

My takeaway from all of this is that even when you know your shit inside and outside, up and down, because of the natural progression of more and more people finding out that you are really good at what you do, you will be put into more situations involving new or missing processes. And that will be uncomfortable for you. So when you feel that discomfort, you don’t have to wonder if you think you”re really good at what you do. Instead, acknowledge that you’re doing something new and of course you don’t know how to do it yet and of course you’ll learn it and come up with a process to deal with it, just like you’d learn something new having to do with your actual content area.


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