One of my vague memories of the Clinton presidency is from a press conference. During a rough patch, legendary reporter Helen Thomas listed recent challenges and missteps, then asked the president if his administration was "going down the drain."
Those challenges seem quaint after the last 20 years (or 5 years or 2 years or few months.) But it does feel like everything is going down the drain pretty often, that our problems are insurmountable and the future unchangeable.
I've seen that fatalism in myself and it scares me because the surest way to get the future we don't want is to give up on it.
So, I ask myself, who benefits the most if I believe that:
- it's too late to change the course of climate change
- voting makes no difference
- my neighbors are my enemy
- our democracy is destined to fail
- losing is inevitable
- incremental progress is failure
- elections can't be trusted
- we're powerless to change things
It's a trap. That defeatism is, in fact, the goal.
I want to seek out people and organizations that are defiant, determined, and optimistic, the artists and activists who are realists, but refuse to be cowed. Our future remains unwritten—who is going to write it?
Big Joanie is one of those artists for me. I frequently turn to their song, New Year, for inspiration. I hope it helps you look at 2022 differently. Read the lyrics and put it on repeat.
It’s a new year
And I’m still here
It’s a new day
I’ll be ok
Don’t tell me to wait
It’s a new year
Feel no fear
It’s a new time
Now where’s mine
Don’t tell me to wait—Big Joanie, New Year
I've written three things in the past month, which is progress! Trade-offs makes the case for putting trade-offs at the center of work debates to clarify competing priorities and increase alignment on the team. Since I published it, I've had a few conversations that have helped me see how important trade-offs are in our personal lives, too. More on that soon. I also wrote Meeting Limits, an idea for how to decrease the number of meetings to increase their value.
You're Not Here to Be Perfect was just published yesterday. I've actually been thinking about it for a year and it turned into an ambitious undertaking. I've long been fascinated by lengthy profiles of Fiona Apple and 2020 was a feast. She's an incredible artist who is more honest with reporters she's known for a week than many of us are with friends.
It includes a quote from Bob Dylan that was my mantra this year. I enjoyed spending so long on this one and hope it resonates with you, especially as we start a new year.
Finally, A New Year was one of my favorite things I wrote for Uncommon. I return to it on January 1st each year. It captures my hopes and wishes for each of us.
May your neighborhood grow closer and may new voices be heard above the din. May you laugh uncontrollably and never run out of hot water. May you be free to take risks and able to help those who aren’t.
Yasmin Williams released Urban Driftwood (Pitchfork, Spotify), her second solo guitar album, in January and it's fantastic.
Equally wonderful is watching her perform and this Tiny Desk performance is a great place to start.
Tell me more
Who or what fills you with optimism?
Just hit reply.