The Default and The Deviation
Everything is interconnected and once you accept that fact, you can’t help but see all of the ways in which our lives are a product of chance circumstances and the various systems in which we are all unavoidably intertwined.
Systems can consciously, and often unconsciously, promote a certain narrative. Systems can quietly alter our sense of truth. Systems can coalesce to produce a dominant culture or behavioral norm.
It is our job as leaders, to question and challenge any assertion that reduces the spectrum of how people are able to show up, especially when it concerns aspects that people have no control over. It is our job to use our seat at the table to interrogate any system of exclusion.
Let’s dive in.
4 ante meridiem
Let’s play a game: which is better?
- staying up until 4am; or
- waking up at 4am
I’ve seen enough polls and articles to confidently state that the majority of people reading this would answer waking up at 4am. There’s an entire cult of early risers who write about the brain chemistry of 4am, or cite the number of billionaires who wake up at 4am, all leading to the natural conclusion: that waking up early is better.
But, is this TRUE?
- Sure, there are a lot of people who wake up early and are very productive.
- Sure, there are many people who are quite happy as they wake up.
- Sure, there are lots of billionaires who wake up early.
I am a night owl.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I often find it easiest to work from 10 PM to 2 AM, and sometimes even until 4 AM. I like the quiet. While my brain is cloudy in the morning and I have trouble maintaining focus, I am razor sharp in the middle of the night. Part of this is because at night, there are no responsibilities coming up. No emails. No calls. No texts. There is nothing but open road in front of me.
By contrast, in the morning, there will be calls, emails and meetings in the near future. For some people with ADHD, this can cause total executive dysfunction as the presence of something even several hours in the future can disrupt the ability to get a task started.
I’ve tried on several occasions to change my own natural bio rhythms and brain chemistry so that I could be one of the “good ones” who wakes up early instead of one of those strange nocturnal people. Yet, I keep coming back to what works…it’s far easier for me to stay up late than to get up early. The outcome is that I get a tremendous amount of work done the night before rather than the morning of. Yet despite my thorough self reflection and honest admission, I know for certain that there’s someone reading this right now eager to send me their tips for how to get up earlier, convinced they could be the one to help me finally get over the hump (see NOTE below).
But the truth is I’m neither happier, nor more productive when I wake up earlier, and that doesn’t help my salary very much.
So, in the end, there is really only this rational conclusion: I’m not wrong for being a night owl, just like others are not wrong for getting up earlier. We’re just different.
What we will see, however, is that where you fall on the 4am question, is also linked to a larger system.
NOTE: If you are the person I mentioned above, who after reading everything above, is still thinking about sending me your early riser tips, let me be clear: I am no longer interested in attempting to ”correct” what is not broken and have arrived at the point where I find any presumption that I should change what’s working for me to be arrogant, irritating, and insufferable.
Maybe it’s time you just get a job.
Part of the reason why there’s a culture around early rising is in part because business hours (and before that: farming hours) are fairly well established (9am-5pm). As a result, people tend to wake up earlier to succeed under the conditions. The system is partially responsible for the trend in early rising.
I work for myself. In fact, I cannot hold a job. I often (self-lovingly) refer to myself as “psychologically unemployable.” The mere thought of having a job with a defined start and end time, a manager, and a set bi-weekly paycheck with annual cost of living increases is enough to make me break out in aggressive hives. I’m bad with authority, and I have a virtually endless drive to pursue my own ideas and passions.
I love it but there are some drawbacks:
- inconsistency with my “salary”
- no 401K or retirement plan
- no healthcare
- a tax situation orders of magnitude more complex than those with jobs
- difficulty getting a mortgage; and
- until the brief pandemic-inspired PPP loans, no unemployment protection at all
Being self-employed, while being held up as the backbone of the American dream, is, in reality, sufficiently less supported by the system. Having a job, in many ways, provides people with more safety, security, and stability. What’s “normal” is having a job, and it’s designed that way because owners need labor. So, we incentivize that instead of having everyone go out and do the work they want to and keep the full results of their labor. The only way to gain respect as a business owner is to build a company where you scale and hire others. Only then will they write a Forbes article about you.
Working for yourself isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t benefit the system, so it’s more difficult…and it’s obvious.
The One Way
I am a white, cisgender male, in a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, who was brought up in relative affluence. Many of the experiences I’ve had are nested within the many unearned privileges these identities afford me by allowing me to pass for the default person that the United States is built for through its laws, financial incentives, and cultural norms. I am also an atheist, entrepreneur, with ADHD, who stays up late rather than waking up early. These aspects of my identity have presented some relatively minor inconveniences but nothing past feeling different, strange, or uncomfortable. While I will not discount the challenges I’ve had to deal with (ADHD masking throughout school was particularly awful), I cannot say I have had many substantial, consequential obstacles placed in my path. It shouldn’t be much of a hot take to suggest that many are not so fortunate.
What I believe leaders need to do, is embrace the idea that there is no one, single, right way. At all levels of work and politics, we need to reject and challenge this idea entirely.
- There is not one way to sleep and wake
- There is not one way to work
- There is not one way to be in a romantic relationship, nor does one even have to be in a relationship
- There is not one way to look
If you have a seat at the table then you are in the position to stand up to one-way thinking. We can no longer abide by a system that promotes and incentivize a single right way when we know that idea is fiction.
- We can redefine or retire the idea of what professionalism looks like, especially since the prevailing definition is exclusionary.
- We can rethink the way we manage our work environments to incentivize collaboration and equity, especially since the way we currently do it does not.
- We can create a political infrastructure that allows for differing opinions while still respecting individual boundaries.
Christina Blacken, Founder and Chief Narrative Strategist of leadership and equity consultancy The New Quo suggests the following exercise. Examine the beliefs and narratives you hold around your own abilities, leadership, diversity, and creativity and ask yourself these questions:
- What assumptions or broad generalizations have been made from these stories I have around leadership, diversity, and creativity?
- How exposed am I to divergent ideas and experts who are from different identities than my own with what I read, watch, and support? Who and what can I add to my resources to expand my cultural competency and social/cultural knowledge?
- What values do I care about the most and how can my behaviors better externally express my internally held values?
Our job as leaders is to continually lead toward a better tomorrow and we do that by constantly challenging the status quo and being on the look out for the trap of there only being one way.
Originally published at Jeff Gibbard.