[INTRO MUSIC IN]
ALIDA: Welcome to the Care Work Podcast. I’m your host, Alida Miranda-Wolff. This podcast is for anyone in the business of providing care. Whether you’re being paid for it or not, you’ll discover what it means to offer care and how to take care of yourself in the process. For the last ten years, as a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practitioner, a care worker myself, I’ve focused on providing care to other people for a living. Now with this podcast, I’m hoping to create a culture of care in my community and help you do the same in yours.
ALIDA: Welcome to minisode number three. I am very excited to record my third ever solo episode, this time with the hopes of tying together the most recent season two arc. Which involved conversations with Tara McMullin and Kim Hunt. The whole idea behind this past arc was how do we expand our vision of care and who is a care worker. So Tara McMullin is a digital expert who produces content in all forms. Kim Hunt is a nonprofit leader, organizer, storyteller. She’s also somebody who runs a lab for making ideas come to life that bring about social impact. These are folks who are dedicated to offering care in ways that I think are really different for us when we think about what care is supposed to be, because they’re makers, they make things, they make things for the benefit of others.
And something that I was really reflecting on as I was going through these episodes was just this idea that when you are a maker and when you are caring for others by making things, there is a risk of not forming meaningful relationships. And something that I’ll talk about is specifically how they invested in relationships, in an environment, in an economy that basically says our relationships should be temporary. That if we are constantly going to be producing and creating and really leaning into that life giving impulse of, the new, the new, the new. We have to move on from people relatively quickly. That focus on maintenance goes away. And what sticks with me is there’s just this moment in Tara’s episode where she talks about a sociologist named Zygmunt Bauman who wrote a book called Liquid Love. And in that book, in her words, he talks about how in our modern consumer economy, we are predisposed to forming loose temporary relationships because we are horribly afraid of getting into durable relationships where the other person may have needs that we are not willing or able to meet.
So the whole theme of today’s solo episode is, how do we meet one another’s needs? Especially when we’re creators? Creativity, in particular, is seen as such an individual pursuit. I think about the book, Work Won’t Love You Back, and it’s divided up into two sections. It’s first the work that you do for love of others, and then supposedly, the work that you do for love of self or your craft. So the first few chapters are about teachers and non-profit workers and retail workers. And then we go into for the love of the work. And that is all about artists, designers, authors, people who do what is so called independent work that is not meant to serve the needs of others, which, of course, is totally untrue. We don’t make art just for ourselves. We want people to see it, experience it, be moved by it. And so what does it mean then, that we are consuming and producing a whole lot in our current social structure that is supposed to help us form relationships. But that really values the quantity of relationships, over the quality of those relationships? And of course, that is what I study. So I’m a belonging researcher. I’ve now written two different books about belonging. And I couldn’t re-listen to this point from Tara’s episode without going back to some of the data I talk about every day. Specifically, 90 million American workers are lonely, according to a report from Cigna. And for the last three decades, it’s been true that three out of five Americans don’t have any close friends.
There’s also this whole idea of something called social wellness. And that means that you are a person who has people you can rely on. And what it means to experience severe loneliness in our current environment, in our current social moment, is that if you need help, you have no one to turn to. And more than half of people between the ages of 18 to 25 and people who identify as mothers of young children experience severe loneliness. So, yes, Americans are very lonely. And Americans are also making more stuff than just about anyone, especially when it comes to content, whether it’s writing, videos, podcasts, art. We make a lot of things and feel very lonely doing it. Something else that I want to point out here, being lonely and being alone not the same thing. And this is where we have to come back to this idea of meeting one another’s needs, right? Because when people are lonely, their needs are not being met. And that’s true for ourselves and that’s true for others. So if I am alone, there is no charged sentiment associated with that. If I am alone, I am by myself. I’m not with other people. If I’m lonely, it means that there is a gap between my expectation and my experience. I desire more time with others than I am receiving. And so I can be lonely even if I am not alone. I can be lonely in a crowded room. I can be lonely in a relationship where the other person doesn’t feel lonely at all because their expectations are being met for what that relationship is supposed to be. And of course, what I’m really interested in is how this shows up at work.
So it’s going to be especially true in a space like care work, where there’s just a higher risk of loneliness because we are focusing so much on the needs of others that we may neglect our own needs, which means that we aren’t having the kinds of social experiences or interactions that we might want to have. But what I’m also interested in is that loneliness and burnout are related. And so much of the discussion around how we deal with other people’s loneliness and burnout is around what advice we give them, around their own self care. So how do we encourage people to take time off? How do we encourage people to take a bath or eat a nice lunch or take themselves out to a movie? And what I’m really interested in is something that Jonathan Malesic talks about in his book The End of Burnout, which is that burnout is a product of the unhealthy interpersonal relations we have at work. In other words, burnout stems from the demands we place on others, the recognition we fail to give, and the discord between our words and actions.
In order for us to truly be burned out, we have to experience exhaustion, which, by the way, is often confused with burnout. We stop there, but you can be exhausted and not burned out. You have to hit the three core pieces of Christina Maslach’s original Burnout Inventory to actually be burnt out. But exhaustion is the feeling that you’re just constantly drained of energy because you’re overextended. And I want to note that for many people, they’re overextended because they are not getting the recognition that they need or deserve, but also because they don’t have the relationships that they need to with others, where they can set healthy boundaries, or ask for help when they need it. And so we end up in this place, again, that Tara talks about when she’s talking about Liquid Love, which is we have these relationships that are transient and temporary, and because we’re not really investing in their long term durability, what happens is we use them up. We pull all of our favors out of that favor bank. We ask for more than the other person can really do sustainably. But we’re not counting on keeping those relationships for our lifetime. And so we’re more careless with them and therefore aren’t meeting other people’s needs. So that’s exhaustion.
But two is depersonalization. And when we are burned out, we feel that the people that we are meant to care for or meant to serve, whether that’s a, uh, customer, a student we teach, a volunteer we manage, that these people are problems, rather than the folks that we’re helping. Depersonalization is sometimes called cynicism. And I often tell people that, you know that you’re getting to a place of depersonalization if you’ve never really gossiped about the people you work with. And now you start. There’s a lot of resentment that is baked into depersonalization that is tied to, others are asking more of you than you feel you can really meet, but you don’t have a choice and have to continue. And then there’s lack of personal accomplishment. And this is a feeling that your work really doesn’t accomplish anything. And I will say that care workers tend to feel this the most strongly.
We actually heard this in Karen Thomas’s episode about one of the reasons that she left teaching. She would put everything that she had into her classroom and then the following year, those students would go into another classroom that maybe wasn’t configured with as much care and maybe undid all that she had invested. This can also be true for folks who are in big corporations and don’t see how the work they do impacts the world or even impacts the people around them. So they feel like their jobs are kind of BS. So that’s what makes burnout happen. And what I like to point out is if the problem of burnout is fundamentally interpersonal, relational, can only happen when we are in relationship to others, then the solution to the problem of burnout, just like the solution to the problem of loneliness, is belonging. Because in both situations, we’re treating the core problem, which is that we don’t have the level of relationship that we want to have with other people.
So how do we do that? I have a lot of ideas on this, and the first is by really looking at why we don’t meet one another’s needs. And it goes back to this idea of we do not have a confident relationship with the unknown. We don’t like things that are unknown. And really investing in long term relationships means investing in the possibility and accepting the possibility that we might have to do things we’re not willing to do or we might have to meet needs that we’re not willing to meet. And at the same time, if we want to address this problem of loneliness and burnout, we have to accept that a me, me, me, mentality is just not going to be generative. There’s only so much you can do by yourself, for yourself, and there’s compromise that’s involved. If you want other people to take care of you, then you have to be willing to take care of them. That may show up in different ways, though.
So, an example that I was thinking about recently for my life is my best friend Katina, moved to my area after living very far away for the last decade. And she’s also my son’s Godmother and has really important role in my life, my family’s life. I’m an only child. She’s probably the closest thing that I will ever have to a sister. And what I’ve noted about her is the way that she meets my needs are very organic and spontaneous and non judgmental. So, I can get away with not texting her for two weeks because I’m in a hole of my own misery and finally come up for air and ask if she just wants to come over while I do chores and she will. She’ll come over while I do chores, and she will hold the baby. She will pull up weeds and plant lettuce. She will listen quietly. She will share when asked questions. And that’s really the definition of holding space. That’s what she knows to do automatically. This comes easier to some people than others. For Katina, she’s definitely an acts of service person. And in terms of meeting other people’s needs, she has her method, which is she shows up and helps whoever she cares about, and she has that full expectation that that’s how you show up in community, which is something I’ve always admired about her. She really knows how to participate in a community in that way, whereas my default when I come into a community is, what can I fix? Who can I help? Here’s a list of ten things and how do I structure it and how do I cross things off of a list, and how do we do X, Y, and Z? I don’t necessarily ask, what would it be like to just be here and show love and care without turning this into a process or product.
But the reality is, when we look at what creates the sense of belonging, it’s really more of the small daily actions rather than the big, huge gestures that create that sense that you’re part of something greater than yourself, that values and respects you and that you value and respect back. So from all of my research and from my own experiences watching the people around me who are really good at creating community and also really developing durable, long term relationships, the tools that I have come to understand really help us meet one another’s needs are, one, we’ve got to ask more questions and assume fewer answers. I think we heard Kim give a lot of examples of how she was just willing to be in the ambiguous gray space with people as they figured out how they wanted to solve a problem or create a community space. So rather than coming in with a playbook of how we’re going to fix everything or do everything to really meet someone else’s needs, we should really go in and come with some thoughtful, broad questions. I also want to take us back to the very first episode of the Care Work podcast, something that I learned from Mickey ScottBey Jones and honestly learn from her every day, because she’s one of our phenomenal coaches. And facilitators in my practice is you’ve got to accompany without judgment. If I think about what Katina has done for me that has been so valuable, it’s the sense that she can just be there sometimes in total silence. And I know that she’s not critiquing or thinking about what I should have done differently or how I need to be better or that I need to be trying harder. She’s just there, and that’s enough.
And then finally this last piece, I think it actually comes up a lot in Tara McMullin’s episode, even though she doesn’t say it directly, but you have to attend to your own needs in order to meet the needs of others. So for those of us who are creating information products, if we’re doing it just to make money, just because we want to max out and then we try to sell it as a service to other people, we actually have a need that really hasn’t been met, which is a sense of financial security. A sense of being able to make it. And so we can’t really fully show up for other people. I think when it comes to attending to your own needs, the two biggest game changers for me have been, one, just a reminder that I keep on an index card from Brene Brown, which is when I feel resentful, irritated, frustrated with other people. Have I eaten? Have I had enough water? Have I slept? And if the answer is yes to all three, is there a boundary that’s been either violated by someone else or that I am not holding up that I need to?
And if I’ve got my basic human needs met and I’ve got my boundaries intact, then I’ll be able to show up for someone else. But it’s very hard to do that if you haven’t shown up for yourself. And then the other piece of this, which I’ll probably make another episode about, is I’ve been doing a lot of work on self leadership in my own therapy, trauma and healing practice. This idea of being able to un-blend the parts of self that are protecting you from pain that you have, or that are experiencing old wounds, so that you’re constantly reliving the same memories. And so if you find yourself in a situation where maybe your partner says something to you and you blow up, even though it was really a minor comment.
Being able to go into the parts of yourself and say, where is that coming from? Am I actually reliving a memory of something that was far more painful, and therefore reacting in this moment in this way because of that? How do I really lead the parts of myself, heal the parts of myself, so that I can respond in a way that’s proportionate? Because in order to meet someone else’s needs in a situation like that, I have to be able to decouple my past experiences of situation, circumstances, et cetera, from what someone in front of me is actually doing. That projection kind of erases them and means that I can’t really be there for them in that moment. Now, if you have ideas that I didn’t list out here, I would love to hear them. Please go ahead and comment or shoot me a note on social. I am always collecting ideas to determine how do we meet one another’s needs, how do we show ourselves care, how do we show others care.
ALIDA: Thank you for listening to Care Work. Please share this podcast with other care workers in your community so that we can collectively create a culture of care.
This podcast is a collaboration between Ethos and Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Your host is me, Alida Miranda-Wolff.
Theme music “Vibing Introspectively” was written and recorded by Logan Snodgrass.
Production assistance was provided by Ivana Savic-Grubisich.
Audio editing and podcast post-production were provided by Organized Sound Productions.