Doing Away with Hobbies

After a few weeks on the road, I’m settling back into my regularly scheduled program and sifting through my thoughts on a number of things. I got a head start, however, at the tail end of last week, while volunteering at the 99U Conference in New York.

Let me back up a little bit: a few weeks back, I responded to a prompt on Femsplain and was selected to be published on their site. It’s a piece that had been sitting inside for quite a while, but I struggled to find the words, and then the venue, for all I was thinking and feeling. After a few weeks in their queue, it was published on Wednesday to a response that, frankly, overwhelmed me. Among the responses was an inquiry from the Huffington Post, asking if they could republish the piece on their site.

Now, this is a significant question. On the one hand, publication in the Huffington Post presents a level of exposure that is far beyond what I could generally acquire for myself. It goes without saying: as a writer, this is good. However, on the other hand, the Huffington Post counts on this reasoning (the promise of high exposure) as a rationale for not paying its contributors, something I don’t believe in. Their policy on nonpayment operates in stark contrast to that of Femsplain, who shut down briefly earlier this year when they ran out of money, rather than make contributors work without pay. So yes, eyes on exposure is good (see that thing I said above), but compensating people for hard work is better.

So I was left with a choice: with arguments on both hands, which one would be the dominant hand? I’m a writing righty, sports lefty, so that was no help 😉

It didn’t take long to realize that there wasn’t a choice to be made. I was reminded, perhaps by my surroundings and my attendance at The Daily Show the day before, of a great quote by Jon Stewart about values (pro tip: this is where the title of the post comes in):

Do I believe that a corporation that is able to pay people, should do so? Yes. Which means that even if they want work I’ve already been compensated for, I don’t play in that system. Simple enough.

Except it wasn’t. It was a hard decision, even though I knew what the right thing to do was. I was lucky to be fortified by a few of the talks at 99U in the days that followed. First Cap Watkins from Buzzfeed talked about a tool he uses with his team when trying to decide things. It’s a little crass, but I still love it.

When making a decision, or trying to figure out whose course of action to follow, Cap and one of his colleagues used to say “how many f***s do you give about this?” Whoever cared more, won. Similarly, Cap now does this when trying to make a decision on what to pursue. How much energy should he put into it, and does the fervor merit the gravity of the decision – or is it just about the win? Without realizing it, that was part of my decision. Yes, this is a value that I hold, but how many f***s do I give about this issue? As it happens, a lot – and that guided my decision.

Later, Yuko Shimizu gave an awesome talk about her thoughts on personal work and how it fits into your overall philosophy about your art. She drew a great comparison between popstars (those that actively seek mass popularity for their work), and originals (those looking more for the chance to be unique). She was also quite specific about the issue at hand; she is quick to point out that free work isn’t unilaterally off limits, but you get to make it serve your needs. Of particular note: people who aren’t paying you for work don’t get to “art direct” your work. This line of thinking also unconsciously informed my decision; you should get what you pay for. The level of vulnerability and openness put into that piece is not the sort I would put out without significant thought, and for an organization that valued that disclosure. In my mind, the value that Femsplain put on that public disclosure is greater. That matters to me, and it matters enough that I let it guide my actions.

Ensuring that values aren’t just hobbies can be harder work than we give it credit for. Sometimes letting them be a hobby is easier, or less messy, or more considerate of others’ feelings. In fact, as I think about it…several elements of the post that started it all speak to this principle. Where does your allyship turn into action, into activation? What causes are we for in word, but balk at when the time comes to confront them in our day-to-day lives? I’m nowhere near perfect at this, to be sure. It’s a struggle every day to move these ideologies from theory into practice.

But I learned this week that doing the right thing feels worth it when you decide to honor it. My stand likely won’t be the sea change that causes them to reexamine their practices (and in fact, I’m sure it won’t), but enough people believing that and acting on it, might. Do you do it because everyone can see? Perhaps – being a values educator, doing the right thing mattered because I teach people how to do this. But as Yuko Shimizu said later in her talk, you have to be able to sleep with your decisions. And Thursday night, I slept great.

What decisions have challenged your values? How did you decide how you were going to act?

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