Do you actually care about other people?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer and star of comedy series Fleabag, surrounded by her Emmys

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer and star of comedy series Fleabag, surrounded by her Emmys

I’m always happy to receive Jocelyn K Glei’s newsletter in my inbox, for she always shares all the insightful articles and links on productivity, and more importantly, on hurrying slowly, which is a quite clever wordplay on moving at your very own pace in this very fast-paced world without ever losing yourself. She mentioned she had been ‘steeping’, like tea — which is a clever metaphor to think of if you ever find yourself slowing down, gathering your thoughts, letting them be richer and flavourful before sharing them with everyone else. I like that very much. It feels a lot like what I have been doing these days — found something, wrote in my Moleskine, flipped through the pages in a day or two after, found the connections, wrote something here.

I have been thinking also about how writing had been some sort of litmus test of the state of my mental health. When I was healing from severe burnout 2-3 years ago, I couldn’t bring myself to write. I left my newsletter dormant — which is still dormant now because I am still trying to pick up the momentum but also I have been reading a lot I am having trouble to pick up which books to feature — and I couldn’t even write for no one’s consumption, not even for my personal journal. It is pretty indicative because I believe writing had opened many interesting opportunities in my life, and if I stop, then the opportunities are put on hold. It was even hurtful at that moment because it seems indefinite. I am happy now that I get to write again.

Speaking of burnout, Jocelyn shared a link to Anne Helen Peterson’s newsletter — of which I just subscribed to because they all seem interesting — on alleviating burnout, not just for yourself, but also on others:

…think deeply and consistently about how your own actions, and standards, and practices create burnout in others.

That can be as simple as not being the one who emails at 9 pm on a Saturday (just because it feels fine to you, and maybe not even like a personal burnout behaviour, doesn’t mean it’s not creating expectations of always-on-ness in others). How you act — as a manager, as a co-worker, as a partner, as a parent — has ripple effects that extend far past the immediate relationship.

I noticed also last year that I stopped responding to one-liner messages (e.g. hey Zana) with no context in the beginning, of which people would only fill in when you answer it, even hours after. Not only it’s unproductive, but I also think it’s rude and manipulative. Somebody put up a good guideline for these No Hello chats, and I wholeheartedly agree.

What I learned from my own resilience in healing from burnout is this very thing: to spend a bit of time caring about others. I no longer send texts to people I work with after 5 pm according to their timezones (and I also stopped responding after my own office hours, much to the chagrin of some but they were OK when I explained) and if I have to send an email late evening or during the weekends, I would schedule them to go the day after in the morning during their office hours. If I want to talk to friends about heavier topics, I would text them beforehand to ask if they have the mental capacity for that kind of discussion, and will only proceed if it is OK with them. Of course, like a lot of things e.g. climate issues, burnout is one of the results of deeper causes e.g. company culture mismatch, organisational overlook etc. but it is good to think of how we can also improve on interpersonal levels, such as the examples above.

Then there’s also another whole level of caring which involves more societal and systemic changes, as Petersen has exemplified in the case of Uber vs their drivers here:

I thought of this earlier this week, as the California legislature passed AB 5, a “controversial” bill that forces gig economy companies to classify their employees as….wait for it….employees. (If you’re not familiar with the long gig economy employee saga, the narrative, in short = companies like Uber, Handy, DoorDash, etc. got off the ground by classifying their employees as “independent contractors,” thus immunizing themselves from labor laws and/or calls for ethical employee treatment.) But under AB 5, all those “contractors” become employees subject to California labor protections/benefits, which means: unemployment insurance, paid parental leave, overtime and mandatory rest breaks, workers comp, at least a $12 minimum wage, health care and/or health care subsidies, and, most important of all, the right to unionize. 

Uber et. al. are furious, and Uber has indicated it will litigate the ruling, arguing that its drivers aren’t, uh, central to its business model (of driving cars!!!). It’s unleashed a bevvy of counter-PR, suggesting that the law would FOREVER CHANGE the rideshare industry and CREATE GREAT INCONVENIENCE to users. (The reasoning = Uber will be forced to decrease the number of employees if it actually has to treat them like employees, which will decrease the number of people driving in your area).

Which returns us to the question of creating burnout in others, and how it relates to the actual economy. Are you willing to embrace that truly slight inconvenience — and maybe pay a few dollars more — so that a person’s job is significantly less shitty? Think about in practice: are you willing to wait five more minutes for an Uber so that, when you get in, you know that your drive has health insurance and is making a living wage? Are you willing to have slightly less so that others can have significantly more? Or, as I like to think about it, do you actually care about other people?

If you’re actually serious about treating burnout — yours, your partners, your future children’s — you have to be serious about treating it for people you might not even know. If you want to actually make life better, more livable, less of a slog for yourself, that involves making it better for a whole lot of other people as well. For that, you don’t need a self-help book with an asterisk in the title to blunt the profanity. You don’t need a better organisational app. You just need to legitimately and actionably care about other people.

On a happier note, did you know Fleabag — THE Fleabag series which just bagged FOUR awards at the Emmys (Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Directing for a Comedy Series, & Writing for a Comedy Series) — started as a Kickstarter campaign with only 54 backers?! Time to work on that project we have been putting on hold now.

Comment 1

  1. Pingback: New kind of poorly paid hell – Two Kinds of Intelligence

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