I’ve been thinking a lot about work and careers recently. After living in Johannesburg, South Africa for almost two years, I started a new job in an unfamiliar field in 2017. That job involved a country change as well, and because of my new role and new home, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my identity as a female, visibly Muslim, person of colour shows up at work, how to do well at work, how to find energy for projects that I want to pursue, and how to balance and manage the projects I want to do with family life and relationships given that “making things” often requires solitary focus and lots of time. It’s hard to find one book that addresses all those questions, so I’ve been reading different books for different purposes.
To understand how to make creative work something that sustains you I recently read “The Hustle Economy” by Jason Oberholtzer and illustrated by Jessica Hagy.
You can find my video reflections on that book below:
And to help me work through that feeling of “am I doing any of this right?” I recently read Kirstine Stewart’s book “Our Turn”. From the Head of the CBC to the Head of Twitter Canada and part of Twitter HQ, I’ve been impressed and inspired by Kirstine Stewart for a long time now. Before she was thirty, she was the head of Paragon Entertainment, and by her early forties she had worked with Hallmark Entertainment, CBC and Twitter. Under her leadership, Canadians saw Muslims on television for the 1st time on the CBC show “Little Mosque on the Prairie” and the organization became a more representative and responsive public broadcaster. While “Our Turn” didn’t address the person of colour aspect of my identity, I thoroughly enjoyed Stewart’s discussion of her leadership journey, what she’s learnt from the organizations she has been a part of, and how women are uniquely placed to be strong and effective leaders in today’s world.
Here are my video takeaways.
For me however, what was most compelling about this book was the chapter “So long, Superwoman” which challenges the narrative that women must be perfectly balanced and “do it all.” Instead, Stewart proposes “work-life flow” where sometimes you need to push harder at work and you are able to devote less attention to other parts of your life, and other times you need to push hardest at home, and take a step back from the intensity of work. Hearing that felt like confirmation of something that I find hard to articulate – in weeks when projects are overwhelming, it is hard to sleep the right number of hours and work out, in weeks when work is calmer, I find it easier to get in my steps and reflect. Sometimes trying to balance is what stresses me out even more, and Stewart’s recognition and description of work life flow felt like permission and freedom to acknowledge the rhythms of my life.
When it comes to “having it all”, Stewart says that the question is unhelpful without defining what “it” is, and emphasizes that figuring out what “it” is needs to happen with men. Couples need to talk about what it is that they want their lives to look like, and what the “it” they are seeking looks like, in order to be partners who support one another and are moving towards shared goals instead of moving in two different directions. Stewart stresses that you need have explicit conversations of what it is you actually want for your life and not make assumptions about what each other wants, because those assumptions may be surprisingly incorrect.
Her discussion reminded me of Shonda Rhimes’ reflections about marriage in her book “The Year of Yes” where she explains that she knows that her priorities are her work and her children, and that she knows that there is no room for another person. As she describes it, there is a door she needs to reach to access her creativity but the door is five miles away and she has to run towards it in order to be able to open the door. The run involves procrastination and doodling and YouTube videos and staring at a blank page, and the more she runs, the fitter she become and the easier and faster it is to complete that five mile run. Her kids are vital to her and she always has time for them, but she knows that she does not have space in her life for another person, and so she is not married. Rhimes’ boundaries of her life and work are quite clear, but I appreciated Stewart’s advice because it speaks to a different set of circumstances – wanting a rich family and home life, and wanting to succeed at work as well.