Labor Day, 2019: Vocational Awe

image of deck chairs, end of seasonOk, yesterday was actually Labor Day.  I took the day off.

Now that I’m “blogging” at my newsletter, this space has become a bit ghost-towny.  I’ve decided to occasionally share some of the newsletter posts here, too.

“Vocational awe and (short)changing the world,” first appeared in Minimum Viable Passion:  On Management #37.  I’ve edited the original piece slightly for clarity.

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And if you don’t buy into it, if you’re one of those people who say, “Well wait a minute. Yes, my job is important. Yes, I really care about my career, but I also want to have a family. I also want to engage in a robust personal life.”

Then…you become someone who is seen as less effective, solely because you’re quote-unquote “less passionate” about your job. And if you’re seen as less passionate, and therefore seen as less effective, well, then there’s no room for professional growth.

Fobazi Ettarh in conversation with me, On Management #37

Fobazi Ettarh joined me to discuss narratives about changing the world and passion in the workplace. And a concept she named, and is exploring: vocational awe.

Is an organizational mission or profession so important that it’s beyond criticism?

There’s more from Fobazi in our audio. I edited our converation for length and clarity.

link to soundcloud audio

Fobazi’s work on vocational awe is informed by her experience as an academic librarian.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Look for vocational awe when you see a workplace narrative about being mission-driven, or passionate.  I see it in tech and startups. In not-for-profits.

At best, mission is a roadmap to a goal, not a license to treat people poorly.  Passion is an emotional state, not an achievement.

Seek to understand what’s actually being asked of you.  Also:

Passion, devotion, and awe are not sustainable sources of income.

Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Fobazi Ettarh

Fobazi Ettarh is the Undergraduate Success Librarian at Rutgers University-Newark.  She specializes in information literacy instruction, K-12 pedagogy, and co-curricular outreach.

Her research interests include equity, diversity, and inclusion in librarianship, and the ways in which societal expectations and infrastructures privilege and/or marginalize certain groups.  You’ll find more of Fobazi’s work here:

Photo:  20091128 by Douglas O’Brien, via Flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0.  Chuck’s cottage looks awesome.

Heart of the Matter

Hearts of Fold

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with Cynthia Schames, whose Abbey Post is democratizing plus-sized fashion through technology innovation.

We had chatted here in comments about the office culture in co-working spaces.  I thought that an expansion of that conversation would make a good blog post.

It would have.  Instead, though, we wound up talking about Abbey Post’s technology, and moved on to startup culture and values.

Early on, as a one-woman enterprise, Cynthia had her values front and center.   One of her values is transparency, so her values are online, for all to see.

Today, the Abbey Post team has added co-founder Lex Mustafin, a small tech team, contractors and brand ambassadors — and they’re being recognized!   Cynthia keeps a hard copy of her values at hand, reviews them frequently, and uses them as she makes decisions.

As a leader, I have a responsibility to create a culture that delights and nurtures and empowers employees.  So many companies, big and small, do this wrong.

I’m not saying I’m doing it entirely right, but I am sure that I give a lot of thought to the process, and I care deeply about building a company that’s reflective of the values I want to see in the world.

– Cynthia Schames

Cynthia has nailed something important.   Abbey Post’s values are her personal values.

Values are lived aspirations.  Life is a daily dance, most of us moving in and out of alignment with our values.

Unless we’re saints.

(How many of us insist we’re “fine,” when we’re not — even when honesty is one of our values?)

Once we share our values with employees, they’re no longer an aspiration.   They’re a promise.

And our people will be watching.  When our actions don’t align with our values, people have choices.  They can:

We need to get it right.

When an early-stage founder or business owner asks me, “When should we start thinking about values and culture,” my answer is always, “Now.”

To start, know your own values.   You can only behave to what you believe.   (And even there, you’ll miss sometimes.   I know I do.)

Over time, your values will operate differently.  When the team still fits around a conference table, teamwork can mean that every opinion can count, in every decision.

As you grow, that kind of consensus-building can slow things down.  Teamwork will look different at 25, 50, 500 people than it does when you’re at your first 5 people.

Keeping your values in mind, you’ll have a frame for making intentional choices about these inevitable changes.

First, like Cynthia, start by knowing what you stand for.

(11/17 update:  In 2015, Sourceasy acquired Abbey Post, so links to their site and values statements are no longer live…so I removed them.)

Photo:  Hearts of Gold by Alan Levine, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.