So, I’m not sure where you stand on the whole New Year’s resolutions thing. Whether you’re a big believer in the power of making them, personally or for your business. Or whether you think the whole thing is ridiculous and you roll your eyes at the mere mention of them.
Maybe you’ve already made and broken a few. If so, you wouldn’t be alone. The failure rate, according many reports is around 75 or 80 percent. Most folks who make resolutions have given up on them by mid-February. (A study by author and psychologist Richard Wiseman, suggests that people who have the most success keeping their resolutions are those who set step-by-step goals or tell others about what they’re trying to change.)
I have to admit, I’m not much of a resolution-maker.
Resolutions end up feeling kind of heavy to me. And they often bring out my inner rule-breaker, the part of me that makes me good at doing creative work, but bad at following diets.
I do like the practice of selecting a word for the year, however. It’s probably just semantics, but somehow that feels less packed with “shoulds” than making a resolution.
So that’s something I’ve been personally doing for over 25 years now. I choose a word and share it with some significant folks in my life every New Year’s Eve. That word becomes something of a north star for me to follow, a touchstone I can graze my hand across now and then as a reminder of an intention, versus a “do this or you're a total failure” kind of deal (which is how I feel about resolutions).
As founders of SmallGood, Mylene and I often use January as a time to think about our business – what went well last year, what we’d like to change and improve in the year ahead. Because we believe that if we aren't moving forward, we aren't going anywhere.
In other words, we're STUCK. And stuck isn't a good look on anyone.
I remember vividly the first January we did this, when our company was only six months old, and Project Management kind of became our de facto word for the year. (OK, I know “project management” is two, not-so-sexy words, but yeah, I still think it counts…).
That year we committed to using an online project management platform called Avaza, to keep track of our projects and our hours. Yes, this meant we both began religiously filling out timesheets again, something I’d hated doing when I worked in the big agency world and thought/hoped/prayed I’d never have to do again. Turns out, keeping track of the time you spend on various tasks and projects is really key in running your own business well.
Hmmm. Who knew?
This January, Mylene and I have been talking about our business again and about how we can improve, and what our intention for 2020 might be. And what’s come up is a word that we’ve been thinking about and talking about quite a bit these past couple years. And we have decided it’s time to not only make it our word of the year, but to add it to our guiding principles – the values - of our company. It’s something that we believe needs to become core to who we are and how we behave. Something that can inspire us on a daily basis and motivate us to do better work for our clients and become more conscious, kind, just and whole people.
That word is: Antiracism.
Did you see that coming?
Maybe it surprises you, because if you know Mylene and me at all, you know we’re thoughtful, caring, “progressive,” well-meaning white women who, from the moment we started this company, have been committed to diversity in our hiring practices and in those we partner with. And we formed SmallGood especially so we could help the branding and marketing efforts of companies and organizations that were trying to make a positive impact, who were believers in justice and equity and trying to make the world better for all the people who share this planet.
So, we are definitely NOT racists.
But, we’ve been coming to believe that being “not racist” is not enough.
This has been a journey for us - sparked by clients we’ve worked with, community meetings and conferences we’ve attended, and books and articles we’ve read, podcasts we’ve listened to and relationships we’ve developed. And by no means do we have any sense of what exactly this will mean for us moving forward as a company. We just know, we need to say it out loud and commit to it. Maybe even put it in a graphic.
Reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist, was particularly powerful for us this past year – because he makes things so clear. And actionable. “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist.’”
Working with clients whose organizations are fighting for racial equity, has also been powerful.
In fact, I remember this one very clarifying moment in a meeting a couple of months ago with one of our clients, Jose Rico, executive director of Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Greater Chicago. He was talking about the cultural values (mostly unspoken) that are at the center of so many organizations and businesses in this city and this country, things like “perfectionism, a sense of urgency, defensiveness, valuing quantity over quality, belief in only one right way, paternalism, power-hoarding, fear of open conflict…” and I was nodding my head in agreement.
Then he added, “These are white supremacy cultural values.”
My first reaction was… “What?”
My next reaction was, “Oh.”
My third reaction (which came a little while later) was, “Wow. How might things look differently if these values weren’t what we expected or accepted or based success on, in so many of our businesses and organizations, or in our country?”
And I realized that these values are so deeply embedded in the fabric of our lives and culture that’s it’s hard to see them. And although these are not things I want to hold as values in my life or we want to hold up in our business, it’s hard to change them, and maybe the only way is to be on the lookout for them, to name them, and address them when they come up, even if it seems weird and uncomfortable. As Kendi says, “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”
Now I realize - words like “antiracism” and “white supremacy”- are supercharged.
They can close down conversations, feel accusatory and divisive and threatening. Talking about equity and diversity is much “nicer.” Much more palatable. But for us, it has helped to say these specific words out loud and to push ourselves to a place where we don’t feel so comfortable and “together.” A place that’s challenging for us.
It’s like walking on unfamiliar ground, heading down a road that doesn’t feel neat and clear and smooth – a path that’s more cobblestone than carefully graded cement. Cobblestone streets are usually beautiful…so beautiful…and where they can take you are destinations that are usually really worth it. But they’re also tricky because they’re not tidy, and you can easily end up slipping and falling on your ass along the way if you’re not careful – or even if you are careful.
So, we may do that too this year -- end up on our butts in a ditch, having done or said something “wrong.” We certainly won’t do this perfectly. But, we are trying to let go of our perfectionism on this…as well as we can…which will clearly be imperfectly.
We would love to talk more about this with any of you, about how it might play out in our business or in yours. If you’d like that too, we hope you’ll reach out. If enough folks are interested, who knows, we might even host a dinner to talk about it more in-depth.
Also, in case you’re interested, here are some of the groups, events, podcasts, and books that have inspired us along this journey.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
National Public Radio’s Code Switch podcast.
The New York Times, 1619 Project podcast.
The learning and training in antiracism we’ve gotten from groups like
Another great resource is the website from W.K. Kellogg Foundation, HealOurCommunities.org This is where you can find out more about the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) process, initiated and sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation and about the upcoming National Day of Racial Healing on January 21. You’ll even find tools and resources for individuals and businesses there.
And if you’re in Chicago, we encourage you to learn more about TRHT Greater Chicago, being led by Woods Fund Chicago, in partnership with Field Foundation of Illinois, Metropolitan Family Services, and the Chicago Community Trust. They’re bringing together all kinds of people throughout this city to speak truth and heal, eliminate racial barriers and policies and reclaim our humanity. Their goal is nothing less than making Chicago the first antiracist city, a place where everyone belongs. And a real home for us all.
You can visit their Facebook page to find out about the local events going on next week around the National Day of Racial Healing and how you can be a part of them.
One final recommendation: “I Am Not Your Negro” the documentary based on author and activist James Baldwin’s unfinished book, Remember This House, reflecting on race in America, was another important piece of our journey this year – you can watch it on Amazon Prime.
To close, I’ll leave you with a quote that has become important to us recently, from James Baldwin.
Here’s to a 2020 of facing the hard stuff and changing whatever we can.