the key to finding meaningful work

"Berry Hard Work" by J.D. Hancock
“Berry Hard Work” by J.D. Hancock

The Stupid Gender

Work operates like an eraser on chance or luck. – Emi Kolawole

Fortune favors the prepared mind.” “Make your own luck.” “Never tell me the odds.” Ok, the last one is more Han Solo than personal development, but there’s a strong thread of advice that comes down through the ages telling us that while we may be subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we can often influence probabilities. I can’t control whether a hurricane hits the coast – but I can choose to live in the midwest, where we don’t have them.

Ms. Kolawole’s blog post from the Pop Tech: Rebellion conference in Camden, Maine takes this idea to an almost militant level – and that’s a good thing. She was inspired by the presentation of another powerful speaker, Regina Dugan, who delivered what Ms. Koloawole called “the girl-power message we need.” As a father of four girls, I was interested to see what it was. Turns out it was simply this: work. As she put it:

Work has no race, no gender — no boundaries. It is just a raw material we all have to give. There is love in work, and vice versa — there is dignity, strength and, yes, even salvation. There is power.

It’s no illusion that it’s harder for women to work in our culture. Whether it’s glass ceilings or wage discrepancies or rape culture in the workplace, the problems are prolific and almost insurmountable. It’s kind of a shame that the majority of the work being done to fix these problems is being done by women when it’s a problem that was created in a great part by men. You’d think more men would own up to the problem and actually try to fix it. Instead…we have things like #gamergate (note: if you have no idea what gamergate is, count yourself lucky and simply take my word for it that it is almost-but-not-quite masculinity’s most shameful manifestation of modern times).

Or we have moments like the Open Space I facilitated this last weekend in Seattle. One of the sessions proposed was “Where are all the female leaders?” I was not part of the discussion – my job was facilitation – but I did see the dozen or so people there in the session having a passionate conversation that lasted for hours. At the end of the day during the closing circle one of the participants said “It was amazing to be in that session – because there were men there, and they were feminists. It was so refreshing!” I’m happy, of course, that it was a good session – but how sad is it that the mere presence of a couple of men who believe in equality would be refreshing from the rest of life? Even in a city as supposedly liberal as Seattle?

How much luck, my fellow men, are we managing to keep our world from by refusing to create an environment where more than half of the population can flourish and do meaningful work?

It’s a good question, but it’s not the point I wanted to make with this post.

The Fortune Filter

Part of the selfishness of men in regards to work comes, I believe, from an insecurity. It’s unfortunate that the etymology of the word “feminism” leads so many to believe that it’s only women who benefit from it – in the same way I have trouble writing about the “patriarchy” since I ampater familias. Here’s a brief clarification, for those who may not be aware:

Patriarchy screws everybody over, men and women, just in different ways.
Feminism is about fixing that. For everybody.
If you don’t know those two things, you have some catching up to do.

One of the biggest ways men have been warped by the patriarchal system is through the idea of work. Success, success, success! You must be rich and powerful and the provider and if you aren’t – if, say, you want to stay home with your daughter and take care of her while your wife pays the rent – there is immense social pressure to look on yourself as a failure. Just look at the hit movies Mr. Mom or Three Men and a Baby or any “family” sitcom, where the jokes are based on the premise of men being incompetent when it came to raising kids or maintaining a household.

When I was a single Dad, the most useful magazine I read in terms of keeping up the home was “Working Mother.” It had great activity ideas, helpful articles on budget meals, on organizing closets and cupboards and more. It was great – except for the ads. Over an over they would reinforce this idea that the male is not suitable for housework – or, at most, was a nuisance to be covered up. I’m lucky – I have a father and grandfather who both were the epitome of masculinity and also cared for children and helped around the house.

But what do you do when you want to find work that will be fulfilling enough to get past that social stigma? What if you want to stay at home with your daughter while your partner works their job, or you want to stay at home and run your own business instead of working for “the man”?

I believe that the prolific Maria Popova inadvertently revealed the secret in her recent interview with Tim Ferriss. In it, she explained how she chooses the works that she curates on her blog:

“Does this illuminate the Grand Question that faces all of us: how to live well?” (emphasis added)

What if that were the criteria for all of our work? What if that was how we chose to decide what job to take, what clients to accept, what books and movies and music and more we chose to fill our lives?

I don’t know that it would work. I’m sure there would be many false starts. But I suspect that, when you came to the end of your days, you would not wish you had lived those choices differently. I believe that as philosophies go, you could do much worse.

Because we surely could all do much better.


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