I don’t talk much about my day job over here. 35 hours a week I work on the technical back-end of email marketing and on website analytics for the Union for Reform Judaism (I’m not Reform, I just work for the institution, in case that wasn’t clear.) I take inspiration for my tech-related calligraphy projects from it, but otherwise I assume that no one is coming to the Geek Calligraphy blog to hear me blather about non-profit marketing or database integration woes. But this time I am going to talk about my day job, because I am doing something over there that has surprising applications to calligraphy.
For the past few months I have been doing a professional development program called Working Out Loud. I started it because lately I have had trouble focusing on long term projects and have found myself instead reading news coverage of the dumpster fire that is the world instead. Not that staying informed is bad, but this wasn’t healthy news consumption, and it wasn’t resulting in much action on my part; I just read and read and felt nauseated and distressed. I wanted help getting my focus back. I was initially reluctant to give it a try – I am deeply skeptical about corporate professional development programs – but a coworker whom I trusted vouched for it, so I signed up.
The five elements of Working Out Loud are relationships, generosity, visible work, purposeful discovery, and a growth mindest.
I was surprised to find myself far more inclined to apply the lessons from the program to my calligraphy work than to my day job, and not in the ways that might be expected. Yes, Geek Calligraphy is a small business and a “startup,” but instead of causing me to get more business-y about it, it wound up encouraging me to go the opposite way, particularly on Twitter, in two significant ways.
First, I decided to share more of my responses to things I am reading on Twitter. Mostly that takes the form of telling authors when I am reading and enjoying their book. I didn’t do that much before because I figured that authors get enough noise at them on Twitter, they didn’t need one more person up in their mentions. But the Working Out Loud exercises on “the gift of attention” inspired me to start. Most of those posts have gotten likes from the authors, so I guess they don’t find it annoying after all 😊 In one case I even took a selfie (I never think to take selfies, and when I do I am terrible at them) to show exactly how gobsmacked and touched I was by a certain passage in a book that resonated with me very deeply.
Second, I decided to make more of an effort to share process shots on social media. As a perfectionist, I find the idea of sharing images of my work in progress scary. How can I let people see anything less than my best finished product? But the exercises in being vulnerable, and above all the encouragement to work in a visible way while in community with other people, i.e. “working out loud,” encouraged me to give it a try. In September I shared process shots of a piece on Twitter as I was working on it, and I was surprised at the positive responses I got. Given how much I enjoy watching work-in-progress videos from my favorite artists online, I suppose I shouldn’t have been so shocked, but it never occurred to me that others would view my work the way that I look at theirs.
We just did Week 8 (of 12), and it contains a Habit Checklist. My circle leader, Larry Glickman, suggested printing it out but, ha, I wasn’t just going to print it out! I don’t do boring printouts on my walls, I do calligraphy. And, in the spirit of the Working Out Loud ethos, I want to make it available to anyone who will find it helpful for their personal use.
Download a printable PDF of the calligraphy. Feel free to print it out for your own use. It’s black and white for maximum friendliness to workplace printers. (No commercial reproduction, please.)
Would I recommend Working Out Loud to other people?
Yes, but with two caveats.
First caveat is that the program assumes that participants have a certain safety margin in their personal circumstances. I mean that in a financial sense, in a physical safety sense, and in an emotional labor sense. On the financial side, the program doesn’t require a significant outlay of money, but it does require time, and of course, time is money. In terms of physical safety, Working Out Loud encourages public vulnerability, which can be dangerous for people of marginalized identities, both in the physical world and online. For survivors of abuse or violence, it can be a panic-inducing prospect. WOL does emphasize that each exercise is always up to you and you should never do anything that doesn’t work for you, but the repeated calls for voluntary vulnerability could be very off-putting for those for whom vulnerability is not optional. In terms of emotional labor, the program encourages participants to be generous with their time and their expertise, which is lovely, but very hard to do when the world already expects you to work for free. Of course it is different to choose freely to give of yourself, but for some people and in some professions that needs to be preceded by a cost-benefit analysis of “will doing this for free once cause an expectation of free labor ever after?” Again, WOL doesn’t demand that you do any exercise that doesn’t work for you. But these are some things it is helpful to be aware of so that you can choose whether Working Out Loud will be a good program for you.
The second caveat is that I haven’t found any awareness in the course that, for some, the program will run up hard against structural inequalities. If your main resource is your network and your community is struggling deeply, they will have fewer resources to help you get ahead. Study after study shows that unconscious bias is alive and well, to say nothing of conscious prejudice, and it will make expanding a network and demonstrating work much harder for some people than for others. Expecting a self-improvement program to overcome systemic inequalities would be totally unrealistic, not to mention unfair. But awareness of the limitations in the face of such problems is crucial.
I do still recommend Working Out Loud. I am even making plans to start my own circle with some friends in the geeky professional community after I finish my first circle.