Here we go, we made it to December. The end of the year is nearly upon us. My year will end with a bang as I head to Berlin with Facebook to talk about community with around 100 other community leaders. My programs are wrapping up or going on a break for the festive season so that we can all relax and recharge before kicking off an outstanding 2019. As with previous years, Notes for the Curious will continue on it’s usual schedule. There will be an end of year round up of your favourite articles from this year and then we start the new year in style with the first Notes on the 5th of January.
For me, it’s been a very strange year. The highest of highs have been matched with an equal amount of struggle and soul searching. I find myself in an odd place, for me, of not knowing exactly what steps I will take in 2019. I wouldn’t say it is a comfortable experience but it is certainly a learning curve I need to have. Through it all I will be holding strong to what I know to be true. Curiosity, while it may have killed the cat, has never failed me. I am going to continue to get curious, learn and connect. And I’m going to keep on showing up here to share what I’m learning with you. Thank you for joining me for the ride.
Now, let’s get on with the Notes…
1) Be scared, do it anyway
Hand on heart, I had no idea what I was doing when I decided to see what Amsterdam Mamas (my not-for-profit) could become. I had a vague idea of what it could become, I had a much vaguer idea that some other parents might have needed it as much as I did. I did not know that in just under nine years we would have connected thousands of families in the city to a level of information and support that had never previously existed in this way. In fact, if you had told me that I would have a community of nearly 16,000 parents I would have laughed, then hidden under my desk for a while. The pressure of it all would have been way too much for me. I was scared when I started Amsterdam Mamas. I still feel scared of its potential a lot of the time now. I do it anyway. Being scared is one way I know that I am doing something important and worthwhile. It is when I become complacent that I consider it time to move on from a project. It’s not that I want you to be in a state of perpetual fear with your work in the world, more that I want you to know that part of doing good work is being scared. A manageable level of fear tells us how much we honour our work, paralysing fear is something else, a big red warning sign that you need to back away, but that’s a discussion for another time. Good work can also be scary work. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. We can do this together.
2) Letting go of perfectionism
If you’re going to do good work in the world and if you have ever been a perfectionist then one of the biggest obstacles you will ever face is yourself. Your bar for “perfect” is far higher than that which anyone else holds for you, and usually far higher than the bar you set for others. If you want to make progress you need to let go of your perfectionism. It will kill your dreams. What helped me was to consider everything I am doing an experiment instead of an end product. An exercise in curiosity rather than a demonstration of expertise. But what does that look like in practice? Here are three experiment Ahref conducted on social media to see what worked rather than what was perfect. You can too. Choose one thing you would like to get curious about and experiment. Let me know what you discover.
3) Why Instagram is making people miserable
In the words of Rihanna “I hate you, I love you, I hate that I love you…” Oh, Instagram. I’ve taken a hiatus from it recently as I found that I was curating myself in a way that didn’t feel entirely comfortable. It’s not that I got sucked into crafting the perfect grid, or creating an illusion of my life. It’s more that I couldn’t find the connections and conversations I wanted to have on there. I was passively consuming rather than actively engaging., and I really don’t have enough time in my life for that. Of all the social media, Instagram is the one that had the strongest reputation as a cozy, friendly place to hang out. Sometimes it is, a lot of the time it isn’t. No matter how many times I hide or report diet ads, or fat girl exercise ads in my timeline, Instagram keeps serving them up to me. As a proud curvy girl who loves the jiggle in my wiggle, the constant reinforcement that my body shape was undesirable and something I should invest a substantial amount of money in correcting felt draining on a daily basis. It seems that I am not alone in this. Instagram’s image as a place for positivity has taken a knocking recently, the pressure of positive perfection is more, it seems, than we can sustain and it is costing us valuable mental health.
4) Good gone bad
As part of the very first Notes for the Curious I shared a book by Jon Ronson about shaming on the internet. The internet has changed my life in many ways, mostly for the positive but I am very aware of the dark sides and the cost of living a (partially) online life. Being trolled, having hateful messages poured at you, constant criticism and cries of “do better, do more”, over the years it wears you down. As I have said before, I never expected it. I could not have imagined that people would become so irate at the work we do to connect parents, nor that they would feel so comfortable demonstrating such level of off-the-charts entitlement. Oddly, what has always interested me more than the words they say is why they say them. I believe that people, for the most part, are inherently good. What is it, then, that will drive an otherwise good-hearted person to be so hateful and selfish online? Yale University decided to find out. If this topic interests you too, please set aside a quiet time to read this article. It’s long but it really is worth it. If we want to change how people interact online then we are going to need everyone, from users to internet companies to change how we reward and reinforce the behaviour we see. We need to lift up the people doing good and stop unintentionally rewarding the people displaying undesirable behaviour. I would like to challenge you, in the coming weeks, to consider that in relation to your internet interactions and see how your communication and interaction changes.
5) Tell better stories
I was at TEDx Amsterdam for the 10th anniversary and I was reminded, once again, how powerful our stories are. I was gripped by every person who stood on the stage, fully engaged with their story and the messages it carried. Not everyone can be a TED level story teller but most of us could do better at telling our stories. I believe that stories are one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. They have the power to create change, to convey history and to make the world better. Or, as Alan Alda says in this video, knowing how to tell better stories is like mind control. Learn how to use that power wisely and for good.
Incidentally, Tell Better Stories is the name of one Instagram account where I do enjoy the conversations. The account is dedicated to highlighting the ways in which the world tells women to drink. I enjoy wine (and gin) and have no plans to give it up, but I have become much more conscious of the messages I am absorbing about alcohol from the media and also the messages I am sending in how I talk about alcohol with other people. See? Instagram can be a force for good. Sometimes…
Until the next Notes,
P.S. Due to my annual winter slow down, a full client roster and other projects needing my attention, I am not currently taking on any new client work. You can stay connected with me right here through Notes for the Curious as I work out what my 2019 will look like.
Who am I and who do I help? I’m Emmy McCarthy and I make small businesses better and help people create leadership in their communities.
❓ Do you have a burning question that you think I can answer? I don't have all of the answers, but that just gives me a good excuse to learn more. Hit reply to this email to send me your question.
🎙 Would you like me to speak on your podcast or present to your audience? I'd love to! Visit my speaking page to get in touch.
✍️ Did a friend share this edition of the Notes for the Curious with you? Thank them from me, then make sure you sign up for your own copy. It will arrive in your inbox every two weeks.