What #MeToo tells us about meaningful work.

#MeToo drives home the point that all work should be justice work.

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Video Transcript (edited)

Hi friends, it's Jenny Phillips at jenniferlphillips.com. I am back with you talking about meaningful work after a short hiatus. I had a birthday. I'm in a new decade. I had a little vacation, and I had deadlines. And now I'm really happy to be back in front of my green light, talking to you about meaningful work yet again. 

I want to speak today to a feeling that that a lot of folks are sharing. Certainly, the more I talk to people, the more I recognize this. It's a feeling of deep anxiety and concern that the problems we face together, as a society, are so complicated and profound that either nothing we do matters or nothing we do that is short of grand, brave gestures can make a difference.

And I'm here to say that, number one, yes, you might need to get braver and grander and make bigger gestures. But, while you're working towards that,there are other things that you can do. As an example, I invite you to think about the two major aspects of meaningful work. Put very simply, they are: (1) what do we do, and (2) how do we do it.

The question "what do we do?" is the one that I think weighs heaviest on people, because they recognize, in some cases, that they wish they could make a change. They wish that they had a different answer to that question. For people who also care about this stuff - about this question of meaningful work and how to be a positive contributor to society - it weighs heavy when you realize that you're in a deeply problematic industry, profession, or organization.

That reality may necessitate a very painful change. I would say painful and liberating! So, it's not all bad, but a big change - and change really can be legitimately scary. That fear is real, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. So, question one is "what do I do?”

For now, while I want you to continue to hold that question and challenge yourself to answer it honestly and answer that reality honestly, I also want to talk about how you do the thing you do. Putting aside for a minute this question of "what is my career? / what is my profession?" … it's really:

What do I need to bring in a new way when I show up every day - that better supports my goals of meaningful work and of making a positive contribution? To moving the needle in the right direction on these deep problems that we have? For that question, the HOW we do our work, I want to take the #MeToo campaign as an opportunity to reflect. Because...

Well, first let me say, "Me too." And, my respect and admiration to women who have been talking about their harassment, assault, rape, and other violations by men. Also, of course, deep respect for those who cannot do that or choose not to do that. Because they shouldn't have to.

However, I am glad that so many did because the #MeToo campaign has made the pervasiveness of sexism and of violent misogyny undeniable. The fact that women from all industries [and walks of life] are coming out to talk about these experiences - and to look men in the face and ask, "what are you going to do about this?" - is a powerful thing. And it's important that we acknowledge it happening across industries because we have to acknowledge a larger societal problem.

I want to share with you an op-ed from a couple of weeks ago now, from Bret Stephens at the New York Times. The op-ed itself is called, "Weinstein and Our Culture of Enablers," and one of the points he's making is that Weinstein - one person - was able to amplify his violence because of an industry - and colleagues and peers - who enabled him. The guilt is shared.

Here is what he wrote:

"The enablers were of all sorts. Corporate board members who declined to investigate allegations of his sexual behavior and now claim the news comes as “an utter surprise.” Assistants who acted as “honeypots,” joining meetings between Mr. Weinstein and his intended victims to give them a sense of security — and then leaving the predator to his prey. Reporters who paid him tribute with awards, did his bidding with fawning coverage, or went after his enemies with hit pieces. A lavishly paid Italian studio executive whose real job, according to former Times reporter Sharon Waxman, was “to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.” (A lawyer for the executive reportedly denies the allegation.) And then there was the rest of Hollywood." 

What this writer is describing is an entire industry that is structured and motivated to enable sexual violence. And, if you look at some of the stories coming out of other industries, you will see the same thing. So, to all of you who are going to work on Monday in some industry, I invite you to think very critically about whose voices are being silenced and whose vulnerability is being exploited for the sake of the industry, the organization, maybe your own job. No matter what field you're in, no matter what field you might be moving to, you need to show up and ask these questions. And me too, me too.

That's my ask to you from this video...that you reflect on the ways your industry and your work in it enable the kind of injustice, unfairness, inequality, and violence that we all know is wrong. What is in your power to change? How will you use your voice? And how will you strengthen your resolve to do that in the face of systems that want you to just ignore the problem. 

So, how you do the work is as important, in many cases, as the work you choose to do. And how you do the work is something that you can start to examine right now. You don't need to answer big questions about where your life is going. You just need to look yourself in the mirror and be honest about what you need to do differently.

I would be very interested in hearing from you about how this video hits. If it's resonating, I'd like to know. If not, I'd be curious to hear that too. And, I'm especially interested in how I might support you with the resolve you need to make the changes that are coming, whether they are the small ones that aggregate so powerfully, or whether they are the big ones that you're facing for your life and career. How can I support you in strengthening your resolve to do the hard things?

I'm working on all of this here too, and, frankly, talking to you this way strengthens my resolve, so I thank you for that. And I wish you best of luck as you go about this work alongside me. And, have a great weekend! Be rested, have some fun, think hard, and get back to it on Monday.

Take care. Peace.