Watch Me Work: How I Stopped ‘Speculating’ And Became Free
This is a lesson that took a long time to learn. And much of the learning took place in my personal relationships. But the lesson has translated magnificently to my role as a solopreneur.
First, I’ll define what I mean by ‘speculating.’
[I am offering this definition based solely on the emotional work I have seen women of color perform in their personal and professional lives. So, as a representative sample, it is limited. But as an experiential fountain of wisdom, it is limitless.]
Speculating is using your time, mental acuity, and social currency to try to anticipate and manage other people’s feelings, responses, and actions. And it is a complete waste of time.
This is what speculating looked like in the first 18 years of my career, when I worked for other people and in traditional media hierarchies:
Have an idea → Refine the idea →
Back it up with evidence →
Request to present idea to decision makers →
Spend days/weeks analyzing what I knew
about decision makers in order to anticipate
their reactions to my idea →
Overload the idea with watered-down
alternatives, trim what I needed to
make the idea happen → Prepare mentally to
remove myself entirely in the
service of the idea → Run the idea by
trusted colleagues who could help me further
speculate about responses → Present idea
(now believing that the idea will never be
approved because I punched so many holes in it,
and feeling demoralized).
Speculating always obliterated any enthusiasm with which I’d started out. The anticipation and preemptive management of people’s reactions and emotions drained me of any creative juice with which to do the most important thing: strengthen the idea.
But I worked in stridently politicized environments, with clear pecking orders, sacred cows (or bulls, since they were mostly men?) and impenetrable — sometimes indecipherable — organizational priorities. I suppose that all begs the question, “What did you expect?”
Naively, since I’d worked so hard to get into these places, and was sometimes wooed there, I expected that getting buy-in for my ideas would not require so much psychological maneuvering.
But that was necessary for survival, so I did it.
Then I started my own business, and, at the beginning, carried on with this paralyzing habit when I first launched my company. When writing proposals for clients I would replay key conversations in search of psycho-emotional clues that would feed my need to speculate (read: anticipate/shape/control) the person’s response.
I would employ a similar tactic when negotiating with collaborators; speculate about their needs and goals so I could shape an offer they simply could not refuse.
Within weeks, I realized that I was wasting so much time and effort doing something that was wholly unnecessary because there was no hierarchy, there were no higher authorities, and, most importantly, the risk of an idea not being approved was zero. As a solopreneur I have the privilege of choosing who I work with and the projects I work on.
I also have the freedom to fail.
And that’s what cured me from the speculation decease. Failing was no longer the worst thing that could happen to my ideas.
On the contrary, it is powerful when my collaborators and I try things that don’t work. We gain knowledge and insight. We improve our work dynamics. We make our shows better.
I no longer speculate about how anyone will react to my ideas. I simply present them as best as I can and embrace the fact that they can be amended, updated, upgraded, and even rejected outright. And that none of that means the idea is — and by extension I am — a failure.
The incredible result of training myself not to speculate is that I feel utterly safe bringing all kinds of ideas to my collaborators to build from, pick apart, and stomp on.
I am free. And I strive to make them feel the same.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams has been a multimedia professional for almost two decades. A former staff writer at The Atlantic, she was also the lead editor/producer of NPR’s Code Switch. She has now turned her focus to creating high-quality audio and film productions using the tenets of journalism she honed over her extensive career. In 2017, after falling madly in love with podcasting, she founded Lantigua Williams & Co., a podcast and film studio based in the Washington DC area. Juleyka continues to make inclusion a central theme in her work, which now focuses on creative-centered collaboration in digital formats. She’s still trying to fully understand her own experiences as a hyphenated American. Follow her @JuleykaLantigua