Episode 2

Published on:

18th Sep 2023

Reimagining Digital Communities with Tara McMullin

How do we honor our humanness when engaging with others, especially in an increasingly anti-human landscape? Join us as we welcome Tara McMullin, a renowned writer, podcaster, and producer who has spent over a decade investigating the future of work. Tara shares her evolving perspectives on work, business, and how she navigates this complex landscape through her writing. From the challenges of leading an online community to reimagining community in a digital age, Tara offers valuable insights on fostering connection in today's world.

Guest Bio

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who has dedicated her career to exploring the future of work. With a wealth of experience spanning over 14 years, Tara has become a go-to resource for coaches, influencers, educators, and professionals in various fields. Her book, "What Works? A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal Setting," offers valuable insights and strategies for achieving success in the rapidly changing business landscape. Tara's expertise extends to hosting the popular podcast "What Works?", where she engages in meaningful conversations about navigating the 21st-century economy while preserving our humanity. Her work has been featured in leading publications, including Fast Company, The Muse, and Quartz.

Listen to the What Works Podcast here.

Learn more about Tara’s work and read her writing here.

Key Takeaways

00:11:58 Community management and the emotional labor it requires.

Discover how the emotional labor involved in moderating online spaces can shape our digital experiences. Tara dives into the crucial yet often overlooked roles of moderation and community management in today's digital landscape. She also opens up about her personal journey, grappling with mental health and a sense of identity, which led to a significant awakening regarding self-care and how she engages with online communities.

0:33:23 How do you define community?

Tara shares how she finds a sense of community by immersing herself in the work of others, such as reading books, listening to podcasts, and engaging with writers on platforms like Substack. Her goal is to create work that resonates with and serves others, even if it's not through direct interactions like DMs or comments. Community doesn't require a minimum number of interactions or minimum criteria as long as mutual concern exists.

00:40:00 “Where am I drawing attention to my human value?”

Tara emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the humanness of individuals in online interactions. She discusses the need to move beyond perceiving others as mere users or avatars and instead engage with them on a deeper level. By embracing our shared humanity, Tara believes we can foster authentic connections that transcend the limitations of platform-centric interactions.

Additional Resources

  • What Works? A Comprehensive Framework to Change the Way We Approach Goal Setting by Tara McMullin: Tara McMullin shows you how to transform the way you set and achieve your goals to create a gentler and more fulfilling way to work toward what you truly want. In the book, you’ll explore what’s driving your pursuit of “more” (more money, more things, more prestige, etc.), set commitments to help orient your growth, and organize your actions as part of a holistic learning process.
  • Immunity to Change Framework by Robert Keegan and Lisa Leahy: Tara recommends this framework as a tool for understanding why we struggle to make desired changes in our lives and how to identify and challenge the assumptions that hold us back.
  • The Managed Heart by Arlie Russell-Hochschild: Tara recommends this book which explores emotional labor and its consequences, including dissociation and self-alienation. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing the emotional aspects of work, not just in community management but also in the broader knowledge economy.
  • Want to dive deeper? Take our free 30 minute training, Community Event Mastery. Access it here.

Next episode: A response to this episode!

This podcast uses the following third-party services for analysis:

Chartable - https://chartable.com/privacy

Welcome to Make it Kick Ass, where we help leaders of growing communities bring their people together with purpose and lasting impact. Join us as we explore how to make events engaging, exciting, energizing and profitable so that you can build a healthy, sustainable community. I'm Isaac Watson, founder and lead strategist at Kick Ass Conferences.


And I'm Nessa Jimenez, operations Manager, at Kick Ass Conferences.


Now let's make it kick ass together. Hi everyone, welcome back to our podcast episode for today. We are so excited to have our guest, tara McMullen, with us. This is going to be an exciting conversation. We're going to cover a lot of ground here and we're going to have some fun while we're doing it, talking about all things self and future of work and all just. We're going to be all over the place. Just wait, buckle up, here we go.

So without further ado, tara McMullen is a writer, podcaster and producer. She has investigated the future of work for over 14 years and I've known her for quite a few of those 14. I don't remember exactly when we met, but it's been a hot minute. So she works with coaches and influencers, from independent educators to marketing professionals and gig workers to micro entrepreneurs. Tara probes how today's independent workers navigate the uncertainty and precarity of the 21st century economy.

You know little things and through this she wrote a book called what Works, a comprehensive framework to change the way we approach goal setting. She is also the longtime host of what Works, a podcast about navigating the 21st century economy with your humanity intact. Incidentally, this is the podcast that I is usually my go-to recommendation for people pursuing any kind of business effort, because it's just fantastic. And Tara is also because that wasn't enough the co-founder of Yellowhousemedia, a boutique podcast production company, and Taboud. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, the Muse and Quartz. Tara, it is an honor to have you on here and to have these conversations, as always. Welcome, welcome to Make it Kick Ass.


Well, thank you, isaac and Nessa, it is so great to be here.


Yeah, we're excited to have you and I know that Isaac just went through like a little bit, a little list of your accomplishments, but I wanted to hear from you and your own words, Like tell us a little bit about yourself and like the work that you're doing and your professional focus right now.


Yeah, so my work today is really about, you know, I've started to sort of put it in the category of criticism and just really looking at what's going on in culture and media and the online world and thinking about it through the lens of independent work and the future of work.

And so I think that our work is changing, how our relationships to work and to ourselves as workers are changing. I think we're in a period of just really rapid economic evolution and a lot of that is going in ways that are very sort of anti-human or definitely anti-worker, and a lot of the social contracts that we've had around work for the last 50, 60, 70 years are being broken open in ways that are making life really, really hard for people who work, which is just about everybody, and those same ripple effects then go through all other sectors of the economy as well. So whether you are someone who owns assets, owns businesses, you're an entrepreneur or you're someone who doesn't work like, I'm really interested in how our discourse around work impacts sort of the ripple effects into all of those different groups of people and how we can figure out how we can make the 21st century economy something that does work for more people than historically, a capitalist economy has worked.


It's amazing In following your journey across the years, this is I wouldn't call it a pivot, but at least a shift in the past couple of years in how you've been approaching these conversations. I think a lot of it stemmed from the start of your podcast what Works and these conversations that you had with business owners about what it means to run a business and whatnot. Was there a catalyst for this current shift in the conversations you're having and this kind of introduction to critiquing how we work today?


Yeah, so I both see the work that I do today as pretty different from the work that I was doing before and also a continuation of that thing, so I often reference that. From a very early age, one of the questions that's been a driving factor for me has been why do people believe what they believe and how does that impact what they do in the world? It's why I studied religion in college. It's why I continue to study religion today, why I continue to study philosophy and look at sociology and look at critique from a wider, or criticism from a wider perspective as well, and so that particular thread has gone through my work year after year after year, but only in the last. Well, actually, let me back up.

d a little bit more. And then:


Yeah, so you, over the years, you've also led and hosted communities around these conversations. How has your community responded to this shift in these conversations and how has that affected your business?


Yeah. So this is how long do you have? Well, I would say that the response to how I think about and how I approach business and work as that's evolved. My audience and my communities have evolved with me and I think most people that were invested whether that was financially or just emotionally with me came along for the ride and they were seeing the same sorts of things that I was seeing and had questions and I was willing to take those questions and wrestle with them and naturally, of course, that then kind of evolved how I was doing what I was doing and for whom. You know. Obviously people fall away. Or there's a negative response here, a negative response there, no problem, up until the end of 2021, business-wise it was very much a continuation.

So I started in:

The end of:

eased operating at the end of:


I'd like to dig into that a little bit, because in conversations that we've been having with community managers of all sorts, there's a lot of talk about burnout moments and this kind of perpetual need to work in the community to keep it rolling along, and it in a lot of ways it can result in very unhealthy practices. Can you tell us a little bit more about some of those, those symptoms that you encountered, that kind of gave you the sign that you needed to step away, and how you kind of grappled and coped with that?


Yeah, so I have also been having these conversations with, you know, like Reddit moderators and community managers, just even recently, and thinking about moderation and community management as this like essential 21st century economy skill and how little it is valued. It is the reason that companies like Twitter and Facebook and Substack or whatever make money. That it is. They are moderation companies. They don't know that, they don't believe it and it's why they have the problems that they have, but it's also why they make money. So, with all that being said, we worked really hard at the what Works Network to have a firm, flexible but really firm structure around that community. So you know, we had community policies, we had a full-time community manager. I was not managing that community right. That is not my skill set. We had all of these things in place and just kind of creating those things is affective labor, if not emotional labor. But as the sort of environment, both online and in the wider culture, shifted between 2017 and 2021, we were running into more and more sort of road bumps. And something else that's kind of cropped up in the last couple of years for me is that I learned that I am autistic, which is something that I had sort of suspected for a really long time, but also, like, could not bring myself to fully investigate, and when I did, it was just so obvious. But for me, my experience of autism means that I see what people need. I see their underlying motivations, I see sort of the code that's underneath how they're presenting to the world, because I have to rationally and consciously construct those things to understand social context. I see that really really well. What I'm not good at is personally dealing with those things, but what that meant was that I was in a position that's still in a position where when something sort of like, when something difficult comes up, I'm the go-to for, like, how do we handle this? Right, and I can do it. I can rationalize and consciously help someone work through, like, okay, I think this is going on and this is going on and this is going on and so this is what we need to do, but it is incredibly taxing work for me. The other thing that was kind of going on in all of that, too, is that, whatever my internal experience was, I put on myself but I think it was also a very real expectation that when I showed up on Crowdcast or Zoom or wherever I was showing up that I looked a certain way, I talked a certain way, I behaved a certain way, and so I had this experience in August 2021, where Sean and I were about to hop on a client call and I had just been crying because I was so just broken down that whole month. I was just spontaneously crying, which, if you know me, is like not a thing that I do if I'm healthy. It's not even a thing I do if I'm unhealthy Like I have to be really, really unhealthy anyhow. I had just been completely crying.

The camera, you know. The call started, the camera came on and I saw myself in the camera. Go, you know, on the screen, go, hey, how you doing. And I didn't. I couldn't recognize myself in that moment, like the person on the screen was not me. It was this weird, very tangible, concrete experience of dissociation that I was unfamiliar with and it scared the crap out of me.

But in that experience, in a nutshell, was what I was dealing with on a day to day basis, multiple times a day, and it was just really, it's just breaking me down. So it was in that month when I really started to think okay, what's my next step? Where do I go from here, how do I rearrange things so that it's better for me, so that I can handle this better? But you know, I came home from that trip and I was, you know, just kind of mulling still all of these things over, at the same time that I'm like googling, like should I check myself into rehab, like what is wrong with me?

And so at that point, you know, I said to my therapist like this is what's happening, and she's like, well, how do we fix this? And I'm like I can't do this anymore. And it was sort of that realization and then basically had the same conversation with my full time community manager as well. Just wasn't planned, it was just like you know, she's saying how do we, what do we do, where do we go from here? And just realizing like I can't do this anymore. So being able to admit that put a lot of things into motion that allowed me to wind things down and then step away at the end of that year. I don't know if I answered your question, but that was what came out of my mouth just now.


I think you did. I really appreciate your openness and honesty with that and I think that's those kinds of feelings are going to resonate with a lot of people who work in any kind of space, whether it's community management or not. That where you have this kind of need to perform in your work, I mean I think we all do at some stages, and there's a degree of that that is healthy and sustainable and whatnot. But there there come times, like what you experienced, where there is this massive mismatch between the two things.


Yeah, I think that Arlie Russell-Hawks Child's work on emotional labor is super important for anyone who's wanting to understand what community management, community leadership, moderation does to a person. And so she wrote a book in 1981, I believe it was called the Managed Heart, where she examined, she spent a lot of time with what were called then stewardesses, and then she also spent time with people who worked in debt collection and call centers and she was looking at like, okay, these are two very different, very distinct jobs in which people are required to perform emotionally as part of the job description. So emotional labor in the last few years has taken on a bit of a different context and a bit of a different connotation. But where the term originates is with Hawks Child's work in the Managed Heart. And so she talks about how flight attendants have to fix their face If someone's yelling at them. They have to remain calm and smile in the face of people being awful, abusive, aggressive, and they have to stay calm. That part of their job as the person who makes things safe is that emotional response.

So it doesn't matter what you're feeling on the inside, you have to project this particular emotion With call center people or with debt collection. It's the complete opposite thing, right Like you might be deeply empathizing with the person on the other end of the phone and you have to maintain this outward power and kind of almost shaming or definitely shaming attitude toward the person on the other end, no matter what you feel for them. And so this sort of manufactured separation between internal emotional state and external emotional state within the context of work is then what she calls emotional labor, and she talks about how emotional labor has sort of mental and emotional consequences, the same way that manual labor has physical consequences, and so she talks about how dissociation and self-failination are one of those consequences, but also that you lose the ability to understand how you are feeling inside. Because of all that, if eight, nine, 10 hours a day you are performing an emotion that's different than the emotion that you are feeling, you actually lose the capacity to identify that internal emotion, and it's not just like the identification that's the problem, of course. It's that when we can't identify things, we're not actually feeling them, we're not actually able to respond to them. How do you do self-care if you're not able to recognize when you are in need of self-care because it's been worked out of you?

So yeah, I think it's a great book. First off, it's just, it's really good. It is academic, but it's very readable and I think it would be a really great read for anyone who's in one of these kind of roles where the emotional work is part of the job description and it really does. I just so love that she's willing to say no. This has real consequences. This is just as consequential as manual labor. It's different. We need to address them differently, but it's something that we need to take really seriously and I think that's true. It's definitely true in these very sort of affective jobs, but it's also true for just about anyone in the knowledge economy too.

Like the expectations on our emotional states and our outward presentation is so great, especially when we're communicating online and we don't have all of the same resources that we do when we're communicating in person.

You know we're having to gesture more wildly.

You know I find myself oh my God sorry, very small digression I took a couple of writing classes over the last few years and they were all on Zoom, which I hate, and I would find myself sitting as a student in these classes but doing the thing that I do as a group leader, which is smiling really big and my eyes are big and I'm sitting up straight and I'm nodding. That like that, right there, like no one else is doing that. Everyone else is like swamped over and you know they're not anywhere close to their camera or their microphone or they're too close, but there's me. Yes, this is wonderful, keep going, please, right, like, why am I doing that? But that, in a nutshell, is what these jobs do to us, it's what these online platforms do to us, and it's not a problem as long as we know that it's happening, that we're compensated for it and that we are given the space and resources to take care of ourselves. And that's what doesn't happen in the vast majority of online communities, or offline communities, for that matter.


That is so true. I resonate with that.


I relate so hardcore to what you just said because, like during events, especially online events, that we've done like I'm usually moderating the chat and like getting people to talk or like I'm leading like networking events and stuff, and I've noticed that cause I there's a couple of Twitch streamers that I really liked, that I watched, and I catch myself like in the chat, like being like trying to be the hype person for the streamer and I'm like what do I do it?

You know, like I'm just here to enjoy myself, like you know why am I doing this? But yeah, and so I definitely caught myself doing the same thing, like assuming that role for everybody else, cause I'm like, oh, this, this is what you're supposed to do, right, but related to what you were saying about this issue, about like community specifically, and going back to what you talked about emotional labor, so when you were as the community leader, you were creating community for others, right, and you have the community manager, you had that structure, but where was the community then for the community leader as yourself? Right, like what, where were you getting that community? And how has that changed, maybe since you were in that role, to the more freelance role that you do now?


Yeah. So this is one of the hardest things I think about being someone who has at least some platform, some prominence, some reputation as a leader in the space, is it? There is no community. I have friends, I have relationships, but also, in the midst of all of this, I only have so much bandwidth for social interaction, and mine is extremely low. So, like you are my seventh call this week, which is highly unusual for me, and I will absolutely collapse tonight. I have one more to go after this.

I don't know, we don't know how this week happened. It was just a whole mix of things, but I was sick to my stomach on Monday thinking about all of the calls that I had to do. So anyhow, all that to say that for me, the social interaction I have to do for work, the things that I get paid for at that time, did not allow me to have social interaction on a friendly basis I didn't or on a basis where I could show up in a community. But also the other hard part about that and I don't have an answer to this particular problem is that there is no community that I could go into that I knew of anyway, where somebody didn't know who I was and you can't talk about. You can't ask for help you can't talk about. You know your problem was so and so client, because that's traceable, right, it's not hard to figure out who I'm talking about. It's not hard like I can try and cover all of my tracks, but I can't like there's no way for me to do that, and you know we deal with it now too, with podcasters like where would I go to get help on a client problem that we're having? There's nowhere. The people know who we produce. You might not be able to run down a list of it, but it wouldn't take long if someone wanted to figure it out right. And so it's really lonely on top, and you know that's something that I hear from other people over and over and over again.

As I said, you know I do have personal relationships Kate Strathman or Kate Tyson, now Charlie Gilkey. You know lots of not lots, but a core group of people that I can talk to, but I can't talk to them if I don't have the bandwidth for it. And so part of what needed to happen, with me stepping away from that, from the community, was reclaiming my bandwidth for relationships that were more to way. You know cause. I was getting to the point where Elif Sean was getting so upset with me because I literally couldn't talk to him at night. I couldn't talk to him in between calls. I had nothing left for him. So how it's changed is very, very slowly.

did it. It was at the end of:

So that's that I do have a little bit more room for just, you know, random text message conversations with friends and I think, the people that I've stayed in touch with best and who I do have that more mutual relationship with are the people who just will remind me on a regular basis. I don't expect a response from you on this, or if you don't respond to this, I'm not mad at you, mm-hmm, and I won't think you're mad at me Like this is cool. I know you have limited bandwidth. That has been. Kate and Charlie are two wonderful examples of people who have done that for me, where it's like, okay, I don't. Like you are demonstrating that you're thinking about me, that you care about me, that you are there for me, and also you are demonstrating part of that by saying it's cool if you can't text me back Like I don't care. That's been incredible.

So that's not really an answer to where I find community now, but that is for me. Well, I will also just say to you that one of the things that I've had to kind of come to terms with over the last couple of years is that I just don't need lots of friends, and it's really weird, you know so many people don't get that. They just don't. And when I say I don't need lots of friends, like I've got my husband and I've got a couple of people that I text message with, and there are lots of people like Isaac, that I have so much affection for, but also, like I probably couldn't keep up a two-sided conversation for more than like an hour like this once every couple of years. Right, it's nothing with Isaac, it is everything about me, and that's a weird way to live for a lot of people, but that's just how I'm wired, like literally, that's how I'm wired.




It's totally about it, like, I think I in a way. I think that's kind of the problem that's been created with this concept of like thought leadership, where the thought leader has to be super popular and the thought leader knows all the things. So then they find themselves in a situation where you know it's hard to ask for help when you've been selling yourself not you, but, like I see on LinkedIn, for example, it tries to be nuts with, like everybody's a thought leader, like if everybody's a thought leader who's listening to the thoughts, like I don't understand what's going on, right, and so it has created this vicious cycle of how do you have community when you're trying to be like the one on top right? And so I'm interested then? And what do you think? How do we solve that problem then? Because, as humans, like we need community. So what do you think in relation to like the work that you do, what possibly can be done right?


Yeah, I mean. So again, this is a hard one for me because I don't need community, I need some social interaction. I need, like I need to message back and forth with people every so often.


And I need to be able to, but that is community.


That is Sure no.


I really like the definition of community, where we're talking about community as mutual concern for each other, and so the sort of informal relationships that I might have on Substack or on LinkedIn or wherever, or like in podcast conversations, to me is not community. It's a great social interaction, it's a great conversation. I'm glad to be able to be a part of those, but it's not something that I feel like I belong to. It's not something that I feel sort of a long-term or even anything less than a, or anything more than an ephemeral relationship to. But I will say that you know, for me, I think that part of where I find community is just immersing myself in the work of others, and what I mean by that is reading a lot of books, listening to even more podcasts, and now, just in the last couple of months, I've switched my newsletter over to Substack, and Substack is a really cool place where writers are doing really cool things. There's plenty of crap on it, too, right, and there's plenty of, you know, reactionary righties that don't like radical lefties like me, but there is a large contingent of people who are just thrilled to be able to talk writer to writer on a daily basis, so that's been really great as well.

But, yeah, I for me, I find my quote-unquote community by actually engaging with other people's work and I hope, like my goal, my dream, is that my work fills that role for someone else too, like that I don't have to be DMing with them or replying to comments for them to feel like I've thought about them and, you know, realizing that they are one of thousands but still that I've considered their needs, their questions, their sort of deviations from the norm and that I've made work for them. So, yeah, it's a non-answer, but it really is the answer for me, but I do.


I no, but it's solely fair. Yeah.


And I think that it highlights for me the core principle that community is different for everybody.

And I think what you've described is that you have, through understanding yourself better and what you need and also what your kind of limitations are and your boundaries are around social interactions you've been able to find, create a small community. Like there's no definite, like community doesn't equal minimum number of things or minimum criteria. You have found a way to build up the people around you that support you in the ways that you need, and for you that means friends that are low-stakes, right Like, who respect you, who reach out, who are there for you if you need it, but there's very low expectation on return or output, and that seems to be working. So that's and that's great. I think that's fantastic.

I want to shift slightly into your more recent work in what you're doing, and the one thing that I really admire is how researched and kind of holistic and thoughtful your writing has been your writing and your podcasting and content In thinking about especially what you were talking about earlier about work being anti-human, and I want to kind of twist that, invert that and focus on how we can become more pro-human. And so I'm very curious in the work that you've done recently, what have you learned or discovered or what new ways are you seeing that people are looking to connect with each other through this year and beyond, especially on the heels of a pandemic where we were so isolated, where there was so much emotional labor brought to bear and exposed out in the open. How are we looking to connect with other people going forward?


This is a great question, and also I think that people don't know how they want to connect. Yet I think that there's a lot of acknowledgement that things are very broken online and offline, that the tools that we've been given have not delivered on what they claimed they were going to deliver on, whether that's Zoom, or whether it's Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or whatever. We're not being served by them. But what I see is people just being like, oh God, now what If this sucks? This sucks, and also I can't do things in person anymore. I forgot how, and so I am seeing just a lot of people, and so I am seeing just a lot of very blank faces, like literally, when I talk to people, it's like, well, I don't want to do this platform anymore, I don't want to do that platform, or I don't want to do it in this way, but I don't know what to do. I don't know how to meet people, I don't know how to talk to other podcasters, I don't know how to talk to other writers. What do I possibly do? And so I wish I could say here's the trend that I see, or here's what I've seen work for other people, but, honestly, other than what's worked for me, which is just not going to work for the vast majority of people. I can't pretend to know that.

However, the piece that I wrote today was sort of on how we make meaning online and keeping in mind that any way that we are performing online and any way that we are constructing or creating meaning online is a conscious act. It is the thing that we are doing for a certain purpose, and anything that we can do to bring more awareness to how we interact with other people, how we see other people, like being very aware of what's called our intersubjectivity, recognizing that I am human and that you are human, and then engaging on those terms not I am a human, you are a user, or I am a human, you are an avatar. That's where communication breaks down. That's why platforms break down. It's why communities break down, but the more that I can be aware of the person I'm talking to is a human who has their own needs, their own desires, their own frameworks, their own beliefs and ways of acting in the world right Back to that original question the more I am open to whatever right Like and when I can. When I do that, when I can see that, when I see other people do it really beautiful connection happens. And it's platform agnostic right, you can still do it on Facebook, you can still do it on Twitter if you want to. You can do it on Zoom, you can do it anywhere.

But it's that jump to recognizing the humanness in the other person that, I think, is the key to remembering that you yourself are human and the key to remembering that work is a human endeavor, because culture, capitalism, all of these systems are constantly pushing us toward more and more machine-like behavior, and that's not some weird AI thing that Tara's gonna get up on our soapbox about. It is just like, literally, if you're asking yourself if you're performing efficiently today, or whether you were productive enough today, you are talking about yourself in terms of machines. Right, these are machine terms or they're like agriculture terms. Either way, they're not human. And so, the more that we start to become just even become conscious, you know that when I'm talking about how productive I am, that is not an appropriate measure of my human value today. Right, and it's fine. Like, if I want to be more productive, cool. But where am I drawing attention to my human value and the humanness of the value that I'm creating? Or the value that I'm engaging with or the value that I'm consuming. Those are the things I think that are going to help us build whatever's next.

I said to someone this week that if anything could, if any one word could, describe the period that we're in online and the media that we're consuming and creating online. It's turbulent, right. We don't know what's on the other side of this. We know that Mark Zuckerberg is gonna find new ways to sell data and put ads in front of us. We know Elon Musk is gonna do something wild to Twitter next week, right, like, I don't know what it's gonna be, but it's gonna be weird and it's gonna look real dumb. You know, and I know, that Substack is gonna make a decision I don't agree with. I know those things and I know that, as long as I keep coming back to awareness of my humanity and your humanity, that I will be able to figure out what the right next step is for me.


Yeah, that's incredible. I'm like, yes, yeah, and that's why I've really enjoyed your writing, because it really it does what a lot of writing does not do, and it's like recognizes people's humanity and as whole people right, and not just a worker, not just the manager, right. So then my question is like you get it and you talk about it, but how do we help people that don't get it like cross that line? Do you know what I mean? Do we get them to finally like crack that open and start working towards that?


Yeah, I mean I ask myself this question literally every single day. Every single piece that I write is like how do I take people on this journey with me? Because I've been on this journey for many years now, trying to unpack these things, trying to notice these things in different ways, and I've built up this like huge encyclopedia of glossary in my head of like all of the different things that I might be pulling on to tell a particular story or unpack a particular idea. But I think when we're in conversation with someone, or when we're teaching a group, or when we're standing in front of an event, I think what's most important is to be open to questions. So if someone's coming to you and they're beating themselves up about how productive they are or aren't, or how efficient they are or aren't, it's like why is that important to you? Okay, that answer. Why is that important to you? Why do you? You know? Where did you find that message? Where did that come from? What are you afraid is going to happen if you don't become more productive, don't become more efficient? And recognizing that some of those fears are about real things and real consequences, because we live in the society that we live in, but also being able to acknowledge. That is a step toward being able to acknowledge the next thing and the next thing after that. What I'm always very careful about is when I'm trying to unpack these things. It is baby steps, it is all right. This is what you're feeling, thinking, doing. Let me you know, I'm gonna repeat that back to you. Let me make sure that I've got this. Then you know here. Have you ever thought about this question before? Have you ever thought about this assumption before? Okay, let me tell you where I think this might be coming from, and then let me tell you where that came from. And then let me tell you where that came from after that. Right, and just really breaking it down, so that we're not ever asking people to make a leap that they're not ready to make.

I will also say, just on a super practical level, that a tool that I really love is the immunity to change framework by Robert Keegan and Lisa Leahy, and this framework is about understanding why we don't change the things that we say we want to change. Right, like, if I want to stop I don't know if I want to stop forgetting the laundry in the dryer, which is, like my number one thing that I do, like I don't know, the laundry is in the dryer, I don't feel like folding it. Why, if I say that I want to change that, why won't I? Because I can tell you now I won't, right. And so the idea is that you walk through sort of understanding, not just this habit that you, this bad habit that you want to change, or this thing that's preventing you from hitting a goal, but you start to understand what you're what they call your competing commitment is what, underneath that desire for change, are you actually more committed to? Because we all have them. If there's something that you want to change and you're not changing it, there's a competing commitment there and underneath of that there's an assumption about why or how that commitment is actually more important. Right. And then so they kind of leave off with a big assumption and, like you, work to change the big assumption, then you can change the competing commitment and then you can change the thing you actually want to change.

I like to look at that big assumption not just for what it is, but for where it came from. What are the identity aspects of that? What are the political aspects of that, the social context around it? It's not enough to just know that this thing exists. We also have to know, like, who the stakeholders are, how our class, our status is involved in that.

And until we know those things and we can't really unpack that big assumption. So that's the other thing that I just really like to think about. When I'm talking to someone who's maybe newer to these ideas, or certainly when I'm writing, but also like if I'm putting a talk together, how do I get to the big assumption? And then how do I unpack that assumption through these sort of political and systemic layers so that I can show people it's not you, you aren't the problem, it's these other things. And now that we know that it can be our choice and our responsibility to figure out how to live in these systems, as long as they exist, in a way that works for us and a way that is, in their own way, resistance to those systems, Thanks for listening to this episode of Make it Kick Ass.


We hope you found it entertaining and helpful. If hosting a community event is on your radar, visit GetEventLabcom to take our free 30-minute training called Community Event Mastery. That's GetEventLab.com, or use the link in the show notes. Make it Kick Ass is hosted by Isaac Watson and Nessa Jimenez. Post-production audio by Chris Nelson at Mittens Media. Our theme song is Feel it by Dojo for Crooks. Make it Kick Ass is a production of Kick Ass Conferences, an event strategy and design agency serving leaders of growing communities.

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About the Podcast

Make It Kickass
Community Event Mastery
Make It Kickass explores how leaders of growing communities can make conferences with impact, gatherings with purpose, and an attendee experience that knocks their socks off. We uncover the strategies, tactics, and tools we use every day to bring our clients’ conferences to life. If you've ever wanted to host a life-changing conference, this podcast is for you.

Find us at kickassconf.com or geteventlab.com

About your host

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Isaac Watson

Isaac Watson is the founder and Executive Producer at Kickass Conferences, an event strategy and production studio based in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac helps community leaders develop and deliver transformative events for their audiences and inspire them to build a better world.

A maker and introvert at heart, when he’s not working his magic behind the scenes in event strategy and production, he’s usually at home in Vancouver, Washington working on remodeling projects, gardening, cooking, learning to sew, and building LEGO.