Let go of the fruits of your labor

I’m a person who thoroughly enjoys the creative process of identifying problems and seeking possible solutions. Astrologically, this shows up in my 5th cusp Aries Moon in my natal 6th house. I like the work of the creative process, I like bringing that work into my day to day, and I enjoy seeking solutions as part of my way to serve others and elevate their causes.

There’s the shadow side of this kind of behavior and mindset that community oriented work is plagued by – ego and saviors. While I’m fairly confident that while folks will carry on just fine without me, I’m also there and a part of that team for a reason. This doesn’t mean, though, that I always have an easy time letting go of contributions that have had value and being okay with their absorption into the whole.

At the same time, as a trans person of color in areas of work that are often very racially homogenous, I have extra doubts and feel a need to assert or vocalize my contributions, in part for myself to overcome any unintentional biases that might exist within my circle, and to offer an example that yes, an internal evaluator, a systems administrator, a product manager, a data analyst, or a business analyst can look like this.

In some senses, my own privileges could be seen to undo the idea that these kinds of roles or areas of expertise are equal opportunity. I’ve taken on these kinds of roles but I went to an Ivy League college, and went to a Big 10 prep school and my mom’s a professor and I’ve started two separate Master’s degrees (hopefully I’ll actually finish this second one!) and I feel comfortable with retaining a 10% learning budget for myself at this point in my life.

I believe fully in letting the work speak for itself, though my behavior has not entirely caught up with my belief. I’m curious now about letting my work speak for me as well. At an Edward Tufte one day course I went to recently, one of the topics discussed in order to make data credible was to have clear information on the author of the work, as well as when and where the data came from. The data source had been on my radar in the past, but the author of the data product less so. He named an important theme in calling out authorship. Authors all have their own biases, in data preparation as with anything else. They also all have their own areas of expertise. Knowledge of the author (especially if you have access to their other related works) gives you knowledge as to the types of bias that guided the crafting and curation of the product you’re consuming. It can help you be a more skillful consumer, and it also gives credit to the author!

It is curious that within organizations the idea of authorship so often gets left in the dust, or only held as tacit knowledge by those proximate to the author or hear the first presentation of an idea. Afterwards, often unintentionally, but possibly by design, the work is absorbed into the organizational knowledge banks to be exploited as it can. How much of the hesitance to share early thinking freely would be removed if authors in organizations got credit for their contributions not just on the first round, but in perpetuity?

Some hold on more than others.

Of course, this does happen. In organizational lore, you’ll often hear a name of some departmental predecessor be summoned to discuss a body of work that usually can’t be found, but has a space in someone’s heart or mind as relevant to the times. When this happens, we summon a specter that is in part the memory of a person, and part composite of all the other conversations, learning, and disagreement that went into creating a meaningful learning moment for that individual. We often talk about this as a legacy, and forget or act as though a legacy isn’t a composite community experience. It necessarily is.

So I’m stuck again. A spark is not a fire, but a fire must grow from a spark. It’s important to understand where and how to generate sparks to ignite larger fires of innovation, but the spark alone won’t keep anyone warm. Is this why sparks are so quickly consumed — because without communal energy, and other sparks joining yours, it’s even less likely to create a blaze?

So many great creations in human history emerged in similar times in different but independent locations. There are whole discussions about this, but for now perhaps it’s best just to consider that these points of convergence are a strong signal that when your spark joins with another, it’s more likely that you both benefit from seeing a solution you support take root in the world. A single spark may catch, but you can’t be disappointed if it doesn’t – and we’re probably all better off that the world doesn’t work that way.

Regardless, it’s still worth honoring, naming, and remembering the sources as well as the community that fans the flame.