09 // Signs & Survival

Who do we become in survival? What remains after?

No one is just ok.

I have engaged, (perhaps overindulged) with the onslaught of news that Covid-19 has brought to our doorsteps. I have friends who have lost loved ones overnight and know others who were not able to attend a dignified burial for the risk of exposure. Some are standing over hospital beds in ICU wards. The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged and decimated families and the pain will ripple for some time. My ideas of work, its necessity, and how meaningful it is to me, are all in flux. It is good to have work to do and to feel well in doing it well. That is different from our idea of what working does to us, and what it means to have it taken away. For some, it is an inconvenience. For others, it is an issue of livelihood.

I tried writing about it, but that was an exercise I was not fully prepared for. These days, ‘enough’ is defined by being here. This terrain is a substance we have not encountered before, and there are no maps. We are all forced to become cartographers of the present.

It seems that overnight, the interwebs are overrun with epidemiologists, futurists, and policy experts. The business of expertise is going through upheaval, largely because the fallacy of having answers has been replaced by a more sobering thesis: in a world with few answers, are we being given the quality of questions we deserve? What are we seeking to answer? What day of the week is it? Never before have charts been better at illustrating nuances of my own life.

I had originally planned for much of Q1 to be spent working through a different set of questions about the world of work, and what that currently means. It’s clearly halfway through Q2, and I’m trying to just get my bearings. But I have been thinking about working through a few things:

History is a necessary inconvenience.

Much has been said about the Spanish Flu of 1918, and the direct and real corollaries between what we are experiencing and the similarities to what damage was done globally, and how recovery felt.

But there is another example, that I'd argue is even more apt to some of the outcomes we are already experiencing and seeing in the United States: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It is a story, like the one unfolding before us, that sets the socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological weight clearly in chilling detail. The present sometimes looks like the past, sometimes on a faster loop with familiar scenery and different characters.

(A lot of things) are about the math.

Our desire for economic forecasts increases when our ability to accurately forecast decreases.

- Morgan Housel

Not all information is created equal or sourced adequately. Why?

That's why how we count is sometimes only an exercise in making ourselves feel better, and not a conversation about harsh realities that are being exacerbated. Intellectual jousting about what the market is doing because we can only agree that we disagree about what is happening and why it's taking place. Then again, how we perceive numbers is a different conversation. It’s also irrevocably political.

Plus, most models we see, are hypothesizing a moving target. But those same models can help It is all imperfect. Understanding that might be the key to helping make everything more useful.

Predators don’t need prey. Just insecurity.

All of us pay for convenience somehow, somewhere. But when panic is palpable, there the feeling that information is rare becomes a storm unto itself. When everything feels harder (and is in fact, more difficult) you can corner any market selling it to those who might have been without it in the first place or simply feel plagued by guilt for not knowing something they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be expected to have known. Selling aspiration is an easier lift than communicating value.

Over-optimization (can be) a trap. Oversimplification is its spoiled cousin.

The psychological effects of a pandemic last much longer than the disease itself. Of all the things that come with it, one of the most pervasive indications is that the toll of shame is expansive. We all feel it somewhere, albeit in different ways. It impacts every factor of our well-being, and make it that much harder to feel the psychological safety we need to make decisions that are in our best interest. Shame for what we should have known, could have done, didn't see, should have prepared for, should have been resilient too. Whether the reality is right or wrong, is no comfort at the moment for how we feel and what our responses may be. It also says nothing about the work we do to make the living we want. Regardless, self-doubt is a raging river with big rocks.

Our toolstack(s) are being upended and fortified.

I’m not sure the question is whether Asana is better than Trello which might not be as good as Notion, which doesn't do what Monday.com does. If you have the means and space to ask it, it actually: To what/whom is my alignment too, and does this specific tool help me get there without incurring a huge cost of switching? Tools are only as good as the ends that they aid us in, not in the celebration that they could bring us somewhere.

Slack never replaced email.

They were successful in telling me how much less email I'd get, and building a product to support that thesis. Eliminating an incumbent necessity like email is difficult. Being a tool that could reduce my anxiety around my inbox though? LOVE TO SEE IT. In a newly minted normal, autonomy and the distribution of our work is taking shape, but it’s too early to call out exactly how and what that shape may look like.

Ideological battles will be fought in the same places we go for insight.

A friend recently opined on Marc Andressen's soliloquy on growth as a "Manifest Destiny 2.0". With enough leverage, public opinions become philosophies because they can travel at the speed of our attention. We are in a time of rhetoric about what could be bumping up directly against the reality of what is and the history of what has been. If you build something new, innovative, and what becomes of the ‘nation inside a nation’ we already have?

Community helps sustains us.

Given the distance between us, time in and among the people we hold close are clear. Even the way we describe jobs that focus on community is lacking. But it has never been more of a conscious and consistent need in our day to day interactions. Psychological safety is a prerequisite hard to come by when we can’t go by to see the things that were part of our routines. In starting new ones and deconstructing others, there is a gap that can form. Whether its group chats, slack groups, or webinars, we want to gather. With anything though, what moderation and sensitivity look like, is a complex jumble of unlearning, testing, and stumbling through cognitive overload.

It’s hard, but it is also different.

This is happening to everyone, but not in the same way, and not with the same outcomes. The future is uncertain, the past is obscured, and the present can have a certain kind of instability in it. Stress is something we can feel, but the extent of how that stress expands and spreads is cut across fault lines. Inside of all of that, are the seeds of the stories we tell, the meaning we put to words, and what being heard means.

Nostalgia and art (still) transport us.

Travis Scott sat on a planet, had 12M people involved, and released an exclusive NERF gun, all inside of Fortnite. Teddy Riley reminded us that proper preparation prevents poor performance, but memes live forever. A soundclash to choose whether WizKid or Vybz Kartel is the superior artist in the most subjective way possible? YOU LOVE TO SEE IT. No matter how it comes or where it comes from, what we remember, and how we experience that, is continually etched and imprinted on our memories. We find ways to take ourselves where we need to go, even when it feels far. The vehicles will look different, but the scenery can still be beautiful.

Be well and take care of yourself.

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