Episode 107: Summer of Aggravation
Published August 25, 2017.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. On this week's agenda Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's feature on the making of terrorist Dylann Roof, this week in menstruation, fired for heavy periods at work -- what the fuck? Plus Zadie Smith against contouring -- also what the fuck? And an interview with Nilofer Merchant whose The Power of Onlyness we're loving, and why there will never be another Oprah.
Aminatou: Aloha, Ann Friedman!
Ann: How're you holding up?
Aminatou: Oh my god, I am drowning in a pile of work. I was sick earlier. You know when you know that you're not being your best self? I'm having one of those weeks.
Ann: I mean on this end everything seems great. I know how much you do for yourself, for the culture, for the community. [Laughs] So . . .
Aminatou: You're so ludicrous.
Ann: It's looking good over here. I am feeling unusually on it because I haven't been traveling lately and I was like wow, that's all it takes for me at this point to feel like I have it together is taking one big thing out of the mix. I'm like okay.
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm like not having it together. I went to a doctor's appointment a week early, that's how not together my life is.
Aminatou: And then the nurse threw me a lot of shade. She was like "Oh, you're always ten minutes late so good. [Laughs] You showed up early." I was like get out of my life.
Ann: Ugh, do you do that thing where you set your clocks ahead so that you will not be 20 minutes late? Do you know what I'm talking about? Like how some people trick themselves.
Aminatou: No, I set all of my doctor's appointments in my calendar 30 minutes early because you know how the doctor is, right? It's like you show up and then you still have to wait which is ridiculous. And I don't know if you've heard but in Bill de Blasio's New York the subway has not been working all summer.
Ann: You know, I'm very up-to-date.
Aminatou: It doesn't matter how early you leave the house, you're going to be late for whatever the thing is that you're going to. And so it has been a summer of aggravation.
Ann: Ugh. Summer of aggravation seems like it's kind of widespread. I feel like focusing on things like the subways aren't running or my inbox is a disaster become achievable things to manage rather than Nazis are rallying in the street and I don't know what to do about the misdirected anger of hordes of white men. You know what I mean?
Aminatou: Whew. At this point I don't know. Those things are like same levels of aggravation to me.
Ann: Yeah. I mean do you want to talk about the news? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Not really because I haven't been reading the news. I've just been reading like tweets that friends send me. But yeah, what's going on in the news? Tell me.
Ann: Well, in my world I feel like the meaningful things that I've read this week, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's piece about Dylann Roof is 11,000 words of really difficult but also pretty incredible work on some of the things that should've indicated to us that the events of this presidency were a sure thing or definitely coming. But also some kind of surprisingly hopeful takeaways in a way. I would recommend it. I would not say it's easy.
Aminatou: You had some hopeful takeaways from that piece?
Ann: I did. Well, honestly like . . .
Aminatou: Like not to say there were no hopeful takeaways. I just didn't see that.
Ann: I don't know. I mean I guess not hopeful takeaways in the sense of she ends on the point that this is a community that is particularly like, you know, the church in Charleston where this act of terrorism occurred but also in a broader sense where they welcomed her as a stranger. There is a point about a spirit of resilience which is not to say that it's hopeful about the problem itself or that people who are this hateful and violent are all going to go away. But there is something in it that is [Sighs] maybe I'm just searching for a silver lining in everything lately but some of the things that she had to say about the way that that community in particular spoke to her and talked about their experience.
Aminatou: I think fundamentally we agree. I think we're just reading it differently. You're right, like Rachel Kaadzi's an amazing writer. If she writes it, I will read it. I wish she wrote more about Atlanta Housewives sometimes. Rachel if you hear this, please, we need an RHOA piece. But I think that I was struck by two things reading that piece. This sort of stuff is always going to be around. There's always going to be some loser asshole in a balding Friar Tuck bowl cut who is going to try to ruin people's lives. I think it's because we -- at least in the black community -- have this conversation so much about the place of resilience and forgiveness because I remember when that stuff happened in Charleston there was such a conversation around wow, these people are very Christian and they're very forgiving. And then there's this entire meme that you see all of the time whenever there are any kind of racist terrorist attacks that black people are supposed to forgive the people who oppress them. It was true in slavery. It's true in Jim Crow. It's true now. And it's basically the same thing that everybody is talking about post-Charlottesville, "Just forgive these people."
And I think that Rachel was really deft to avoid falling into that trap and instead talked about how black communities persist because of the people who make them up and they persist because justice is attainable and real. You're right, it was 11,000 words. I'm still sitting with it. She's such a great writer.
Ann: Yeah. And to be clear I didn't think that she was saying look at these people who have forgiven the horrible hatred. I took away as well that persistence part of it being something that is generated from within and generated from the love and support within that community rather than saying outwardly we forgive you or we need you or we expect something. That was my takeaway. It wasn't like oh, look at these good Christians forgiving.
And that frame, thinking about communities I am a part of and thinking about how I am investing in the resilience of the communities that I'm a part of at this time and others is a thing that I was thinking about after I read that. What's going to keep us all going not for the next three-and-a-half years but also indefinitely. I don't know.
Aminatou: Like forever. Yeah, it's crazy to me that in the midst of my insane week I had time to do that but I didn't have time to do very basic life maintenance/self-care things. So yeah, it's like it takes a really special person to make you read a long read immediately.
Ann: Yeah. So, I don't know, I mean I guess I would rather talk about that and the work that she put into that and the incredible reporting that she did and just focus on that instead of hate-filled rallies that are happening right now. And something that gives us a longer view of both what the problem is but also how people are persisting.
Ann: Well, you know, it's been a while since we've done a This Week in Menstruation. Do you want to talk about that?
Aminatou: Yes. Actually I read an article on glamour.com that had all of the classic signs of clickbait. Here's the headline: Woman Sues Former Employer for Firing Her Over a Heavy Period.
Aminatou: I was like what's going on? Did a deep dive. Like no shade to glamour.com, they had all the details. So this woman, Alicia Coleman, is a 911 call taker. She's suing her former employer -- that's like a job training and employment agency for people with disabilities, it's called the Bobby Dodd Institute -- because they fired her for period leaks that she had at work.
Ann: Wait, in that she accidentally bled on a chair or something and then they fired her?
Aminatou: Yeah, so she had an accident the first time and got sent up to HR and they gave her disciplinary notice and told her that she'd be fired if she soiled another chair from . . .
Aminatou: This is the language: she would be fired if she ever soiled another chair from sudden-onset menstrual flow.
Ann: Oh my god.
Aminatou: And then the second time it happened she was fired from failing to, and I quote, "Practice high standards of personal hygiene and maintain a clean, neat appearance while on duty."
Aminatou: So this is so insane because raise your hand if you have soiled a piece of furniture at work.
Ann: I mean . . .
Aminatou: I am imagining many hands raised. And if you're somebody who gets a heavy period you know the humiliation that comes with a period leak. Like this is . . . you know what I mean? First of all, nobody is like "Let me just bleed on this piece of furniture and that's cool." Imagine sitting at a desk job where you have to take phone calls and you can't at your leisure go to the bathroom all the time, and even if you could, whatever. You have chunked out on the chair, and that is a reason to fire you.
Ann: Ugh. I mean honestly this is one of the things that is baffling to me because I'm like aren't there people in HR or in leadership positions at this company who have gotten a period before? That's what blows my mind. I'm like how do you not understand that this is just a thing that happens?
Aminatou: It doesn't matter, Ann. If anything I would wager that women actually are bigger perpetrators of period stigma because of the internalized shame that they feel.
Aminatou: Please. Like your man boss doesn't know that you're bleeding. They're like fucking idiots. So her case, this woman Alicia Coleman's case, is being taken up by the ACLU. They are arguing that Coleman's termination violates Title VII which outlaws workplace discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Which is kind of -- you know, that's kind of novel. That's like a trick you would see on a TV show about lawyers. I'm glad that it's happening in real life.
It's like both ridiculous but also terrifying. Who doesn't unexpectedly get their period at work? And the fact that you can be fired for that instead of accommodated. You don't -- people bleed like that for many reasons. I believe that in this woman's case they're claiming it's pre-menopause. Guess what? That's not a condition that's protected by discrimination under the law.
Aminatou: So it's just . . . you know, it seems like clickbait. It seems like a little too crazy. Like the thing that I would've never thought about, like I would've never thought about that, and here's the truth, if you have worked with me I have definitely bled on a piece of furniture at our workplace. This is crazy.
Ann: Yeah. Honestly when you started talking about this I assumed it was something where there was an employee suing because she was subject to mocking from coworkers or judgment from coworkers. Like honestly it did not occur to me that you could be fired for something like this. Fired.
Aminatou: No, they're literally like this $70 chair that we got from the Chair Depot or whatever is more important than a medical condition that you have. Also people bleed. Get over it. Like imagine you get your period accidentally. It comes early; it comes late; or it comes in hot. Like you just don't know.
Aminatou: And the fact that that's one more thing that you have to think about, it's so ridiculous to me. I hope she wins. I hope this stupid business gets shamed to no end. But more than anything I really hope that it's a thing that more workplaces talk about because I cannot believe that this is possible that you can get fired for getting your period on a piece of furniture.
Ann: Yeah. I mean also tangentially related but this is adding to my desire to make a pre- or perimenopause episode of the show because I was talking to a friend who is having some pretty intense perimenopause symptoms recently and then reading that this woman's heavy and unpredictable periods were a pre-menopause related thing I'm like we really need to get on that. I'm adding it to the to-do list, so if you have a pre- or perimenopause story please send us an email. Going to do it. Going to talk about this in a way that is constructive and interesting as opposed to getting fired for a little bit of accidental free bleeding.
Aminatou: I know, but also couching the bleeding in standards of personal hygiene? My god.
Ann: Oh, god, I know.
Aminatou: It's like even on this show we make fun of menstrual feminism or whatever like talking about your period all the time, blah, blah, blah. But the fact that you still have people that think that it means you're dirty because you have a period is why it's necessary.
Ann: Right, completely.
Aminatou: This is why . . .
Ann: Meanwhile every person with a penis in that office is probably coming back to work after not washing their hands and that is not framed as a hygiene issue. Shocking.
Aminatou: [Laughs] Oh my god, this is why I work from home.
Ann: I mean statistically-speaking. Statistically-speaking.
Aminatou: Oh my god. Good job to this lady. Good job to the UCLA when they're not defending Nazis with my money.
Ann: Okay, have you seen the latest from Zadie Smith? I'm not talking about a novel.
Aminatou: No, but Zadie's been acting out this summer. It's been crazy.
Ann: Yeah, so the latest thing is that she is not into contouring. So at the Edenborough International Book Festival she was like "Listen, contouring, it takes too much of your time. It's a waste of time. Boys aren't doing this, so listen, little girls, don't spend your time on your face. Don't waste an hour-and-a-half doing makeup." To which I say cool choice for you, Zadie Smith. Do whatever you want to do with your life, but don't prescriptively declare how everyone else should spend their hour-and-a-half.
Aminatou: Totally. I think that in the context of saying yes, maybe my four-year-old daughter should not be contouring, like absolutely. Your four-year-old daughter should not own a Kylie lip kit or a KKW contour kit. All of those things are true. And I totally get parent concerns. You know how especially people who are not really in tune to how insidious patriarchy is and then they start having children and then they see it in front of their eyes? It's like all of those dad CEOs who then start paying their employees more money, like their women employees more money, because they're like what? One day somebody will treat my daughters like I treat other people's daughters? Can't believe it.
Ann: Right, buys one princess costume and is suddenly woke. That kind of thing. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah. You're just like what? When their kids turn three they're just like what, did you know that objectification is an issue? And I'm like excuse me, you've been friends with me for how long?
Aminatou: But anyway, so I get it. I totally -- and I agree, yes, having that conversation with your kids. I think that the Zadie Smith comments were really unfortunate because she extrapolated this greater thing about beauty, especially when you put in the context of kind of the idiotic piece that she wrote in Harper's this summer that was all about how black Americans need to finally get with the program. You're like Zadie Smith, you're very good at writing novels but you're kind of clueless about black global experiences even though you're a black global yourself because it's really easy for a conventionally pretty woman to tell people not to worry about beauty standards. There are reasons beyond objectification and capitalism that people participate in beauty.
I don't know, it just seemed very clueless coming from her who was wearing a turban and definitely had her eyebrows done and definitely had flawless skin complexion to be like "Oh, yeah, everybody is beautiful. You should not wear makeup."
Aminatou: It's like lady, open your third eye. There is so much more happening here.
Ann: Yeah. I mean also just this is -- there's a whole strain, I think, of women criticizing particularly other women's choices under the guise of feminism where I get so annoyed. I'm just like just because you choose it doesn't mean it's objectively the right feminist choice. Just choose your choice, feel good about it, and recognize that other people get to make other choices. Like I'm sure there are things in Zadie Smith's routine that I would be like you're spending how much time on what now? Excuse me? Like I just . . .
Aminatou: I mean are you kidding me? Zadie Smith's entire body of work is this. [Laughs] It's like her writing about beautiful people and rich people. It's like come on now.
Aminatou: But, you know, it's just like to me it's just one of those like when it comes to personal choices, should everybody be challenged? Absolutely. But like one, don't say stupid things. This was a very stupid thing to say. But also it just comes across as very preachy. Deal with your own issues. When your four-year-old daughter stops contouring maybe you can lecture other people about things.
Aminatou: You know, she's a very smart person. It's like choices don't happen in a vacuum. It's just always funny to me that this kind of advice too is always doled out at women. Nobody is just like young men, maybe you should wash your faces more and then you wouldn't look like Steve Bannon one day. You know, there's no male like beauty . . .
Ann: Or how many hours are you spending grooming your beard? What could you have accomplished in the 40 minutes you spent grooming your beard this morning?
Aminatou: People just love shitting on women. It's 2017 and if you don't know there are both positive and problematic aspects to the beauty industry then you're the fool.
Aminatou: Not the people who are buying Sephora lipstick.
Ann: Well there's also a way -- I actually think that as a rhetorical point to make the way to make a point like this without being judgy is to contextualize it as personal experience, right? Like there's a way -- if Zadie Smith wanted to sit up on stage and be like "Listen, I used to spend an hour-and-a-half a day contouring. I started to question why I made that choice. I don't do it anymore and I feel great," that's totally unobjectionable to me. The problem is being like hello, everyone who is spending time doing something that I find superficial who is already super judged by the minutia of their looks, maybe it's your fault. Like that is the wrong framing.
And so part of me is just like wow, again, you work with words for a living and you don't know how to frame this in a way that it is like it can be heard, in a way that it's valid. Like that to me is like -- that's like get it together. This is your job. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I know. And don't frame it like using your kid as some sort of universal experience, because also when I hear this all the time from parents, I'm just like how are you raising children that are standing in front of the mirror for an hour every day? And you refuse to take responsibility for it. Like somehow they're learning it on TV. They're learning it at other people's houses, but you have done nothing wrong. If we lived in a fair world this would be just as easily an indictment of your own parenting as it would be other people's problem.
Aminatou: Whew, listen, I don't got no kids and I don't got no problems so I'm going to be fine.
Ann: Do you own a contouring kit?
Aminatou: No, but I'm thinking about ordering the KKW ones because they're on sale and because I just want to have it. It's like I've watched so many YouTube reviews. Ann, you know I don't know actually how to contour.
Ann: Oh my god, it is a thing of mystery to me. It's like when people attempt extreme baking or extreme feats of physical strength, I'm like contouring, a mystery. Like what? [Laughs]
Aminatou: Oh, I thought you meant like makeup baking.
Ann: Wait, what?
Aminatou: I was just like wow, you already know about baking and you're telling me you don't know how to contour? That's the next . . .
Ann: Wait, what is makeup baking? I don't even . . .
Aminatou: Oh my god. So I have a passing knowledge of what contouring is. Baking I have no idea. I watch the videos all the time. I still don't get what it ultimately achieves but it is a makeup technique that people use and I don't get it. All of this to me is just like it's a ploy to make you buy a lot of makeup, because clearly I wear makeup and sometimes I even do it correctly and I only use a third of what the videos recommend.
Ann: Wow. Yeah, this is some advanced, advanced makeup knowledge. I can't even believe that I accidentally mentioned a thing that is a deep, deep beauty trick.
Aminatou: Oh yeah, I know. I was like Ann, you are so hip. You know all the lingo. No, no, you meant like actual baking.
Ann: No, as if. I mean I was raised by a woman who has never owned a single item of makeup and so I feel like I've been starting from a deficit my whole life when it comes to any beauty product so I am definitely not here to teach anyone about makeup.
Aminatou: Listen, I just like watching the makeup videos. I refuse to do them because in the time I've taken to watch the videos that's the allotted time I had for makeup that day. It's like not happening.
Ann: Yeah. I also respect the idea that listen, I'm not contouring. I'm just spending an hour-and-a-half watching contouring videos. Like reclaiming your time if that's what you want to do. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Reclaiming my time. Also I'm just trying to get it. It's like no two people do it the same way and all of it just seems like a waste of product to me but I'm mesmerized. I'm just like I finally get YouTube. It's been so long and now I have things that I watch all the time and I was like okay, I get how this -- I get where this part of my brain gets pleasure from. Thank you YouTube.
Ann: Ugh, I love it.
[Music and ads]
Aminatou: For our next segment I talked to friend of the pod Nilofer Merchant about her new book called The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. It's a book that I really enjoyed reading this year.
Ann: Who is Nilofer? Is she a biz lady? Is she a tech lady? What's her deal?
Aminatou: Nilofer is a biz lady and a tech lady who is really smart. She is like ranked on the Thinkers 50. Do you know this is a thing? The 50 best thinkers about management and business, a list probably we will never be on. [Laughs] Which is fine. But yeah, she's really cool, she lives in Silicon Valley, and she totally, totally gets it. She had this TED talk in 2013 that was called Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation that scared the crap out of me and that's when I started doing -- do you remember this phase in my life when all of my meetings were walking meetings?
Ann: Yes I do. You know what? That was like a deep tech period of your life. I feel like the walking meeting is something I associate with tech people. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Yeah, so Nilofer brought the walking meeting into my life. The walking meeting's still not gone. Yeah, so she wrote this book. It's really a vignette into what makes people unique and how you can channel your own power into making a difference in your world and in the world. We've talked about this concept of onlyness before which Nilofer refers to as it's the spot in the world where only you stand in. It's about your own distinct history and your own experiences and your vision and your hope. It's a really fun book, and here's my conversation with her.
Aminatou: I'm really excited that we're doing this, Nilofer.
Nilofer: I'm so glad because this is my favorite podcast and I'm going to squeal when I hear it come on the other side. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Tell us the name of the book that you've written.
Nilofer: It's called The Power of Onlyness and the subhead is Make Even Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World.
Aminatou: I love the idea of wild ideas.
Nilofer: Yeah. It's very Cheryl Strayed, right?
Aminatou: [Laughs] You know I wasn't going to say it but it's like business leadership writing meets Cheryl Strayed meets get your shit together meets like harness your own internal everything that makes you unique.
Nilofer: I think the whole thing about what is it you're going to do with your one wild and precious life from Mary Oliver was certainly the inspiration for Wild but there was also this thing that I think a lot of women especially faced which is we're told we're too weird, we're too wild, or I think the line I get a lot and a lot of my girlfriends get at least is you're too much.
Aminatou: Oh, god. Say that one louder for the people in the back. My god.
Nilofer: And so I was trying to figure out how to characterize the fact that we're not weird, we're not wild, and we're not too much. But sometimes you might seemingly think our ideas are wild, so how to even get those ideas through is what I was trying to get to.
Aminatou: Yeah. I love that you kind of posed the whole concept of onlyness in the book itself as problem-solving. Everybody kind of has the wish or the ability to want to make a difference and the thing that will almost always stop us is a lack of credentials or a lack of access to power or not being able to convince whoever the gatekeepers are in the hierarchy that you need to change to see you as somebody who is competent enough to do that.
Nilofer: It's true. How do we without status still make a difference? I'm not sure if you knew the story of how I actually coined the word. Do you know?
Aminatou: I don't think so actually.
Nilofer: So it was back in 2012, and remember I'm an innovation person. I'm not used to writing in this more personal way. So the background was I was trying to figure out how value creation was fundamentally changing and I could tell something had really shifted, so let's use an example we can all relate to. So back when -- because I have a lot of grey hair -- back when there were mobile providers where . . . you know, they used to pick what apps you used to have. So they used to maybe pick three or five things. It used to be called on deck. So Nokia, Samsung, Apple, Motorola, all those guys went through this long, laborious process of picking and then the developers probably spent two million in development to get even considered. And then Apple came along and said what if we just change the model so that we don't pick but the marketplace picks?
And you went from having, as a consumer, three to five choices to having literally thousands. As a company you went from having to actually control everything to letting the process be much more co-creative. And then the most fundamental shift was that it seemed like ideas from seemingly nowhere could actually have a shot.
And I was trying to figure out what is that? Because that seems like the tectonic shift of innovation where ideas coming from any place in the world -- and so I came up with that spot in the world only you stand in. So onlyness is this notion of connecting individual ideas that can come from any one of us into ways that can actually create skill because now you can find the ways in which other people care about the same thing and actually make that idea big enough to dent the world. So that's the history of the world.
What I noticed though was I forgot to address something, right? Which is I said oh, this is how the world's going to change in terms of innovation but then I hadn't actually addressed how. How would someone living out of their only actually make a difference? So that's where this book comes in.
Aminatou: I love this. The other thing too I think that you touch on really early on is learning how to know and how to evaluate your own value and I think that that's something that you've really helped me see for myself. But I think that in the book you just lay out such a thorough case for it, of like finding your worth in yourself as opposed to all the signals that society and everybody else is throwing at you. Why are you so passionate about this?
Nilofer: Well, I think like a lot of us I've lived my life through a series of stereotypes. So as an example I was raised an Islamic girl raised in India and then in America, raised to actually have an arranged marriage. So my identity and the worth that I had to the world was to be able to marry well. I wanted one thing more than to marry well, so I said fine, I'll do everything you want me to do as a family. I'll make sure you get your house when we do an arranged marriage. But I also want you to please make sure this guy will let me have an education. He was a pretty wealthy guy, the guy they were doing this marriage to, and I was pretty sure he was going to be totally cool with it. And they were like "No, we can't afford to ask because we want the house so we negotiated for the house but we can't afford to ask for your education."
And I remember just thinking but that is the one thing that will let me actually fulfill myself, right? But what everybody else was doing to me was saying for you to be good and worthy you have to be conformist. You have to do as everyone else wishes for you, not what actually derives meaning and purpose in your life.
And then of course I worked as an admin at Apple and saw that young people who didn't have degrees get passed up for their ideas, and then I worked inside big companies and saw that innovation -- the best ideas were often from the craziest places in the corners and yet they were usually the people who were ignored. So I just kept noticing how across different groups you could get dismissed even though you absolutely had something to contribute. And so then the flip is okay, how do you own that? How do you have your own sense of the technical term is agency, right? Psychologically how do you have that sense of agency that says I can and will and should advocate for my own perspective?
Aminatou: That's incredibly powerful. I identify so much with that as somebody who is from a developing country but also a woman and how much you -- it almost feels selfish to go, to dig that deep into yourself, you know? And believe that you can stand in your own worth and stand in your own ideas and be a catalyst for the change that you want to see as opposed to being part of a larger communal design. And so I don't know. I think that that's amazing.
Nilofer: One of the interesting pieces of research I found in the process of writing the book was that this is not something that's just women or people of color or young people or all the stereotype kinds of groups or the people who are typically not seen, it also applies to conventional people. So the statistic is that 61% of us give up our ideas and basically conform to whatever group we're a part of. 61%. And so then I clicked down on that data and it turns out that straight white men, 45% specifically, actually do the same thing.
So the examples were a young man who wore glasses in order to look more experienced or the guy who wouldn't admit that he wanted to stay home with his newborn because he thought that would make him look wrong to his colleagues, like they weren't professionally-minded or whatever. And so there's a bunch of people who are basically trying to figure out how to fit into some archetype. 61% of us are trying to fit into an archetype so we can actually be at that table.
Aminatou: Right, because it feels like that is -- it's a proven value that you can just be something that already exists.
Nilofer: Right, but that's not where our value is ever going to show up. Our perspectives, our individual tastes in the world, our novel ideas are going to come from a spot in something that basically it could be that no one else sees in the very beginning. But until we believe it's worthy of even chasing we'll never know.
Aminatou: That's true. One of the other things you discussed here is how your onlyness is that one thing that every individual can bring to a situation. So one thing that's really fascinating is how this all makes really good business sense because if all we are doing is looking at the same people in power to basically be a catalyst for innovation nothing really changes.
Nilofer: Right. I'd like to say this is the way we change everything personally, socially, and economically because until we actually figure out how to harness that 61% that's giving up their own ideas we're losing all the innovations, solutions, breakthroughs that humanity most needs. I'm fascinated by all the women entrepreneurs I meet who have these really novel takes and I'm like well where have you gotten funding? And they're like yeah, I'm bootstrapping it or whatever. And it's because they can't get funding. And you probably know the statistics that a venture capitalist spends less than 4% of its dollars towards women.
Nilofer: And the number drops even lower when you go to people of color. And I'm like but those people have solutions to offer. And so what you're actually saying is I would like to not solve cancer or I would like to not solve X, right, whatever it is, because I would like to not fund the people who are most likely to have the future of ideas.
Aminatou: What are good practical ways that you think that -- especially for people who listen to this podcast who are a lot of times early- to like mid-career and all have the same freak outs that we had when in our 20s and 30s, what are some practical ways that they can celebrate their onlyness?
Nilofer: So, by the way, I still have freak outs and I think it's perfectly fine to have freak outs.
Aminatou: Are you telling me that the freak outs last past 33? Because I'm really counting on that not being true.
Nilofer: Last week when I was recording the book I came home -- and I'll come back and answer your question, I promise, Amina. So I came home from recording the book. I literally came inside the house, found the softest blanket because I have different blankets in different rooms, found the softest one, curled myself into a corner with the blanket on top of me and laid there for an hour thinking I must be the biggest loser because I had just finished listening to myself.
Nilofer: And listening to yourself talk for six hours in the sound booth is a way to make you want to lose your mind first of all.
Aminatou: Tell me about it. I do podcasts every week. [Laughs]
Nilofer: Like the person's telling me you're not doing an uplift at the end of the sentence. You've probably taught yourself not to do that uplift at the end of a sentence because women are often punished for that. So I'm sitting here like processing all the feedback from the day and thinking about all the different ways I have even in my own voice conformed, right?
So back to your question, how do each of us do it? So I think one of the first things is to recognize that your history and experience, visions and hopes is everything, right? So break that down, history and experiences. Let's just start with for those of us that have had shit happen to us, most of us try to do this thing where we're like hmm, no, that didn't really happen, or we try to deny it and yet that thing is probably the reason why you give a shit about something.
So what's an example? So I used to be super embarrassed whenever people asked me where I went to school because I went to community college and then I put myself through a four-year school and then my university all in part-time programs. So whenever people ask I always sort of mumble it underneath my breath. But it was exactly that experience that helps me to understand why community colleges are the entranceway to people actually having a leg up in society, and I'm one of the biggest advocates of that system and how we can actually enable everyone to have a better education if we supported it.
Aminatou: This is blowing my mind because you are literally one of the smartest, most amazing people I know. I had no idea about this, about you, before I read the book.
Nilofer: Right, but I think that's the thing is sometimes like -- and now I'm so proud I came from a community college, and the thing that can be a source of shame can actually turn out to be the thing you love because it's the reason you care. I mean the fact that I sat there and plugged away for 12 years to get an education where most people had four years or six years says something about me.
So what is it that's happened maybe to you or that you've had to persevere or shit that's gone down that you have learned from? That is a strength, and most of us, especially if it's something we're ashamed of or something we're really sad about, we try to hide that thing.
One of the stories in the book is by this amazing entrepreneur Kimberly Bryant. Kimberly, when she founded the organization she's now a part of called Black Girls CODE she remembers she really struggled with naming it and she in fact went to a conference called Blogger which you might know because it's still around and she was talking to another entrepreneur and describing the problem. And she said this other entrepreneur, Adalisa (?), put down her papers and stopped shuffling them and looked at her and said "If that's what you do, if you're going to teach black girls to code, call it that."
And the tension that Kim had was the tension that a lot of people would have which is when something has been viewed as society as not as meaningful how do you then ascribe meaning to it? But you can, right? You can say you don't get to define it. I get to define for me what black means. And because it is a strength. And so as soon as she reclaims this mantle of what is strong for her she can derive meaning from it and she can derive purpose from it and that is the fuel that will keep her going.
Aminatou: I love that, and Black Girls CODE is an amazing organization that everyone should give money to if they don't already.
Nilofer: She's already trained 10,000 black girls to code in seven cities and that's expanding. I'm super impressed with her because the story of how she had to reclaim it is a story we can all do which is look at any part of our life, and if someone else has said for us that's not worthy, if we find it worthy, we can do that. We can make it worthy just by paying attention to it.
So the way back to actually being able to change the status quo is to make sure you never feel separated and alone. So who are those people that are going to help you actually test out your ideas, maybe challenge you, but hold that space for you to be able to do the thing that you need to do. And until you have that you don't have anything else.
And so a lot of what I spend the middle part of the book doing is really talking about how do you find those people? How do you first find them? How do you have a common framework? How do you have shared trust models so you actually can lean on one another, right? There's that song about lean on me. And if you can't have anyone to lean on you really can't go forward. And then the back half of the book I talk about how do you then lead change without losing the individuality of the people who first started the effort in the first place?
So I'm basically going through the arc from you to us to together and reminding you how to own and claim your worth, your ideas, your contributions, but then not having to give it up in the other processes you join with others and ultimately get shit done.
Aminatou: Well I hope that everybody will pick up a copy of The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. This is just the beginning of this conversation. Like how do you put your anchor down? And be the best person that you can be and make change for the community as a woman.
Nilofer: Yeah. If there's one change that I do hope happens here it's that we stop looking outside of ourselves to understand what it is that we have to contribute. Most of us are conditioned to do this comparative model. We're looking outside because that's where our eyes point and we go "Oh, how can I be more like Amina? Or how can I be more like Ann Friedman?" instead of going "What is it I distinctly can bring to this game of life?" And then bring it.
Aminatou: Seriously. We have all of the tools.
Nilofer: You have all the power.
Ann: I take great comfort in the idea that success is really thinking about your individual goals, your individual strengths, your individual desires, and leaning into that as opposed to being like how do I fit myself into this world?
Aminatou: The other reason I actually think this book is so perfect for our audience is because you know whenever you read books like this and then they give you examples of other people's lives, which is basically what this is. It's like vignettes into all of these very high-achieving people. It's the most people walk away with it being like oh my god, I want to be just like that person. Which is always like -- it's always the wrong takeaway. It's like no, you're not going to be Oprah. You're not going to be Ellen DeGeneres. You're not. It's not going to happen. The only person you can be is yourself. The reason I like this book is that it is couched in how do you learn from all of these people's experiences to accomplish the goals that you have for yourself?
Ann: Yeah. And I love that you mention that too because, ugh, we forgot to talk about that Vogue profile of Oprah which is one of the brightest spots of the past week. But in it . . .
Aminatou: Oh my god.
Ann: Oprah says there's never going to be another Oprah, not because I'm so special and wonderful, but because the ingredients that created who I am today cannot be replicated in this moment with what's happening in the world now. No one can exactly follow in the footsteps of someone that they admire. And I'm just like I think that is so smart and so true and I'm glad Nilofer is here to underscore that.
Aminatou: Yeah. It was so good, and I'm glad that you bring up the Oprah thing too because one thing that Oprah has always been so open about talking about, at least really early on in her career and kind of the media myth around her, like I remember all of the negative things that made Oprah into who she is, right? Like her childhood was bad and all of these things. And just realizing that the worst things that happen to you, those things don't define you. Like that is not what you're slated to be. To me that's the takeaway of all of these success stories. It's that bad things happen to everybody. Life is tough for everybody. Relative, of course, but sometimes people just have crappy things happen to them. And those things don't have to be the defining moments of your life. And in fact if you can find it in yourself to be resilient and to harness all of that, it then informs empathy that you have with the world. And I think that that's really powerful.
Ann: Right. Yeah. And acknowledging that what makes you different both in terms of what's been hard for you but also what you're unique good at and all this other stuff and the timing in which you exist and the people you've been lucky enough to meet randomly, all of that adds up to who you are and what you're doing. I always try to stress that if any baby journos are like "I want to do what you do," it's like sorry, not possible. It's going to look very different. [Laughs]
Aminatou: You're like I'm standing literally right here in my own moment.
Ann: Yeah, exactly. Like I'm sorry, were you born in Dubuque, Iowa, 1982? Did you graduate college exactly the year I did? Did you make every choice that I made? No? Then it's not possible then. Make your own choices. Chart your own course. You and the world will be so much better for it.
Aminatou: And also really trust the power of your own ideas. Like something that is so soothing to me is so few ideas are new. Nobody's inventing, I don't know, some sort of revolutionary new thing. Just trust your own gut, trust your own ideas, and bring your own ideas to fruition because that's probably the only thing that will ultimately make you happy.
Aminatou: And make you fulfilled. So all of that to say good luck to all of us.
Ann: [Laughs] I feel like that's how we should sign off every week, good luck to all of us.
Aminatou: Good luck to all of us.
Ann: Hope we'll still be here next week.
Aminatou: I know, I'm just like -- we'll still be here. Korea . . . North Korea does not want us to podcast next week. Maybe some of it is getting older. Maybe some of it is that we're living in this really bonkers time in history. But there's something really soothing about knowing that you have a lot of tools.
Ann: Ugh, great. All right. I'm going to use my tools and complete the rest of my work for the day now. [Laughs]
Aminatou: I'm going to use my tools to make lunch. You're the best. Gina's the best. Ann!
Aminatou: Did you watch Khaled's Snapchat?
Ann: Which one? No, I didn't. I've been not Internetting.
Aminatou: Did you know Khaled flew for the first time in ten years?
Ann: Oh my god!
Aminatou: He did it. He finally overcame his fear of flying. He's been talking about it for years. He did -- obviously Asahd made him do it which was great because Asahd is a wizard. But also DJ Khaled flew. I like almost cried, it was so beautiful.
Ann: I'm not even kidding, I pictured his arms widespread and him just like flying like a bird when you said that. [Laughs] Not in a plane.
Aminatou: Yeah, it's like imagine how much money he has turned down because he's so afraid of flying. He's finally going to be like Oprah rich now.
Ann: Right. They don't want you to fly.
Aminatou: They don't want you to fly. He was like I'm a lion, I've got to fly. It was like beautiful.
Ann: Isn't that a gryphon technically?
Aminatou: The best part of it is at the end -- obviously at the end of the Snapchat his team used his own money to throw him a surprise party that was like the "We did it" party. [Laughs] I was like this is too much. I'm so happy for Asahd. I'm happy for Khaled. I'm happy for all of us who will get to see him in international locations now.
Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website callyourgirlfriend.com, download it anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or on Apple Podcasts where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find us on Facebook -- look that up yourself -- or on Instagram at callyrgf. You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Our theme song is by Robyn. All other music you heard today was composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs and this podcast is produced by the beautiful Gina Delvac.
Ann: Okay. I'll see you on the Internet.
Aminatou: Bye, boo-boo.