8/15/2019

On being … an inflection point

By Ingrid Sapona

Today’s column was inspired by a recent Smarter Living column by Tim Herrera in the New York Times. In that column, Herrera was musing about work habits and how perfectionist tendencies can get in the way of productivity. He used his own habit of starting a column and then putting it aside, returning to it “every few days, reworking the same few sentences” as an example. He described this behaviour as being an editing and re-editing spiral and dolefully admitted that the end product is probably no better as a result of the “incremental faux-progress”. Boy could I relate!

Herrera went on to talk about strategies for managing such behaviour. One that I found particularly thought provoking related to “inflection points”. Rather than paraphrasing what Herrera said, here’s a paragraph from his column that talked about it:

“At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse),” Dr. Alex Lickerman wrote in Psychology Today on the topic of just getting things done. “Recognizing that inflection point – the point at which our continuing to rework our work reaches a law of diminishing returns – is one of the hardest skills to learn, but also one of the most necessary.”

I find the idea of an inflection point beyond which what you’re really doing is just making things different quite useful. If for no other reason, assessing whether you’re at an inflection point is helpful because it involves stepping back and considering whether it makes more sense to continue spinning or to go on and take the next step. So, for example, when I’m in a re-writing spiral, by considering if I’m at an inflection point, my focus shifts from trying to find the perfect way of expressing an idea to deciding whether it’s better to publish and get the idea out there, trusting that what I’ve written is reasonably clear.

Indeed, there are other ways I think applying the idea could be useful. For example, have you ever found yourself in a decision-making spiral where you’re just weighing and re-weighing various factors? When that happens, maybe it would be helpful to look at it as a possible point of inflection. In other words, stop and ask yourself if you’ve considered all the relevant factors and – assuming you have – consider whether making a decision and moving forward from the inflection point is a better choice than continuing to spin.

I also love the idea that recognizing when you’re at an inflection point is a learnable skill. I have to admit, when I first read that, I was skeptical. But, in thinking about the actual steps that might be involved in applying it to different situations (like writing and decision-making), I can see how it’s something you can train yourself to do.

So, putting this new skill into practice, I recognize I’m at an inflection point for this column. I could go on, talking more about why the idea so grabbed my imagination. But instead, I’ll leave it to you to ponder whether becoming better at recognizing inflection points might be helpful in your work and life.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

7/30/2019

On being … invisible


By Ingrid Sapona

The other day I was meeting a friend for dinner after work and I decided to walk to the restaurant because it was a lovely summer day. Rather than taking the most direct route, I decided to walk through the University of Toronto campus. Whenever I go through the campus, I take note of the different banners that adorn the light stanchions. I’ve always loved such banners: they’re festive and they’re always a signal that something special’s happening or coming.

In the case of the banners around U of T, they remind passers-by of the importance and benefits of the University. For example, some banners feature the name of a prominent alum or faculty member along with information about that individual’s achievements. Others promote discoveries that are somehow related to the University, like Banting and Best’s discovery of insulin.

Because of my extended, leisurely stroll through the campus, that afternoon I read all the banners I came across. There was a series of banners with the word BOUNDLESS across the bottom. All of them seemed to relate to research I figure was being done at the University. One in particular caught my eye – it read: INVISIBILITY: SCIENCE FACT OR SCIENCE FICTION? It also featured a drawing clearly meaning to conjure up Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility.

I loved that the banner did exactly what I imagine the banner designer intended: it caused me to stop dead in my tracks and smile AND think about the question. As I pondered the answer, I realized I was in the part of the campus that hosts hard science faculties. That, I figured, had lots to do with the wording of the question.

Indeed, I immediately thought that the question of invisibility isn’t just relevant for those studying physical sciences. As it happens, the phenomenon of invisibility’s been on my mind a lot lately, but from a sociological perspective. I’ve been thinking about the different ways people have of making other people seem – or feel – invisible.

The feeling of being “unseen” is a common complaint among seniors, for example. As proof, they often point to all the marketing aimed at younger folks. But, beyond reminders that one’s not in the coveted demographic, I’ve been in many situations where others’ subtle behaviours have made me feel invisible.

For example, I’ve been in business meetings where it’s clear some people in the meeting had information that a few of us didn’t. When this fact subtly surfaces, it’s often clear it’s not meant to hurt or alienate. (By contrast, I was recently at a meeting when someone said: “I’m privy to information that you aren’t…”. When the person didn’t elaborate, it was clear to all that it was a power trip.) In any event, the result’s the same – those not “in the know” may as well be invisible.

Ignoring people’s calls, emails, or comments is another way people make others invisible. Again, I’m not necessarily saying that such behaviour is intentional – I’m just talking about the impact of such actions (or lack of action). No fancy invisibility cloak is needed: the person left hanging, unacknowledged is, in effect, invisible.

The question posed on that banner – and my admittedly weird riff on it – got me thinking about whether – or how – I might treat others as invisible. As I made my way to the restaurant, I couldn’t think of ways in which I might be doing so. In a business context, for example, I always respond quickly, even if my initial response is that I’ll get back to them. The same with responding to friends. Whew, I thought… not guilty…

But, given that the topic had been percolating through my mind of late, I thought it would be something I’d feature in a column. Then, as these things so often go, it came to mind last night as I was stopped at a traffic light. The road had a centre median and up ahead I saw a man walking down the row of stopped cars holding out a cup for change.

This gentleman said nothing and did nothing other than hold out his cup as he paused by every car. None of the drivers – myself included – gave him anything. In fact, as he approached my car, I consciously avoided making eye contact. After he passed, I watched him in my rear view mirror and I saw that the person behind me did the same thing.

As I sat there waiting for the light, I began to feel bad because I realized I had done my best to make him invisible. Regardless of the reason he was panhandling, as a fellow human being I should have recognized his existence by at least making eye contact with him. Shame on me…

I don’t think there’s any question that invisibility is a fact. Maybe there should be a banner with the question: Invisibility: What can we do to combat it?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

7/15/2019

On being … when to?


By Ingrid Sapona

Wimbledon 2019 wrapped up this weekend. I don’t really follow tennis, and I didn’t watch any of the tournament. But, it’s hard to avoid hearing about it while it’s going on. This year, one of the biggest stories about the tournament happened before I was even aware it had started. I’m talking about 15-year-old Cori Gauff’s first round win over Venus Williams.

The news reports focused mainly on the young Gauff, which is as it should be, as it was her moment in the sun. She certainly sounds like an impressive, poised young woman. It was heartwarming to hear that after the match when she shook hands with Venus, Gauff thanked her for everything she’s done for the sport. Apparently, Gauff idolized the Williams sisters growing up and said they were the reason she wanted to pick up a tennis racket. Imagine going up against an idol the very first time you’re at Wimbledon…

When I heard the story of the young phenom beating the 37-year-old I immediately wondered what Venus’ reaction was. It didn’t surprise me to hear that she was gracious. Apparently, when they shook hands, Venus congratulated Gauff and encouraged her to “keep going” and she wished her good luck. But it wasn’t what she said that I was thinking about.

I was wondering how Venus felt and whether – in the days after the tournament ends – this particularly newsworthy loss might weigh heavier than others. I wondered whether – or how – it might impact a decision she must face at some time: whether to retire from singles competition. Given her health issues, I imagine she’s been thinking about it for quite awhile. (She’s been public about the fact that she has Sjörgen’s syndrome, which is a horrible sounding autoimmune disease.) And, I’m sure she understands that even for those without health issues, it’s rare to remain competitive as a singles player as you near your 40s.

In the business world, the issue of when it’s time for someone to leave is often couched in a discussion of “succession planning”. That has a nice, noble ring to it, doesn’t it? But, I always wonder whether the person whose successor is being contemplated views it so objectively. If you still feel perfectly capable and enjoy your work, such talk must be hard. Now imagine that you’re facing replacement by a 15 year-old. I know, given that Venus started her Wimbledon career at the ripe old age of 17, perhaps it’s less shocking to her than to a businessperson. But still, I can’t imagine how it feels to be replaced by someone who is not even old enough to drive!

Part of why I found myself dwelling on it is that the issue of when (or whether) to retire is something that comes up a lot these days in my social circle. For many, their decision seems to hinge on economics. In other words, whether they can afford to retire with the lifestyle they’d like. In this regard, some probably envy Venus because that’s not an issue for her. But even when money isn’t an issue, perhaps ego is. I can’t imagine it’s easy for a professional athlete to walk away from their career because they stop winning. (Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if aging fuels professional athletes’ competitive nature even more because maybe they feel they have to prove that they’ve still got it.)

I’ve also been thinking about the cascade of other decisions that follow on as we get older. For example, there’ll be the question of whether to downsize or move into a place that’s more physically accessible. (Ah, those pesky stairs…) Then, at some point there’s the issue of when to give up driving, or when to give up owning a boat or cottage.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not writing about this because I’m down or depressed about facing such eventualities. I’m merely pondering them because I’m a planner by nature and Venus’s inevitable retirement has gotten me thinking about – to borrow a sports metaphor – what a winning approach to making life decisions might look like. My father’s approach was to not leap to action. Instead, he insisted on crossing bridges when you come to them. While that makes good sense, it can be easy to deny that you’re at a bridge. Indeed, I think we’ve all seen situations where people have postponed difficult decisions to their detriment.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with based on a strategy I imagine Venus might apply as she faces the end of her tennis career. I think that rather than focus on what’s ending (a 20+ year professional career), she’ll be focusing on making good decisions about the next phase of her life. I think such a positive approach is key. Of course, it remains to be seen whether I’ll be able to apply this strategy when it comes to some of these decisions as they come up in my life. But, I’ll certainly try to.

What about you? What decisions are you facing in the not too distant future? Any insights you can share about how you might approach such decisions?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

6/30/2019

On being … deserving?


By Ingrid Sapona

We had a particularly cold and wet spring. In general, I try not to get too fussed about the weather. After all, my livelihood doesn’t depend on it or anything. But I must admit that I did notice my mood was elevated last weekend when we had two warm, sunny days in a row.

On Monday morning I was chatting with a woman about how lovely the weekend was. I was surprised when she said, “Well, we deserve it after the spring we had.” While I couldn’t disagree that the spring was nothing to write home about, I didn’t really agree with her assessment about us deserving good weather. I realize she probably was just making conversation, but her comment got me thinking about my basic discomfort with using the word “deserve”.

I’ve written about other words I’m uncomfortable using. “Absolutely” is a good example. I find it jarring every time I hear it, even though I realize some folks use it simply to show their assent. I can’t use it that way – I’m far too literal to do so. I just don’t think there are that many absolutes in life. (Heck – in my most literal moments, I’d even object to one of the two items in the punchline about death and taxes being the only absolutes in life!)

Wondering if perhaps I’m misconstruing what “deserve” means, I decided to look it up. The dictionary definition was pretty much what I thought. According to Merriam-webster.com, deserve is variously defined as “to be worthy of” and “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital…”

The idea of merit and worthiness are at the heart of my struggle. I’ve always felt that to merit something you have to do something. Notwithstanding the day-to-day struggles, I don’t think that existing (or surviving a wet spring) earns you any favours or graces. In my mind, such a comment is a sign of an entitlement mentality, which I find offensive.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about using that word, but I do. Sometimes I wonder if my view comes from some deep-seated Christian guilt, or maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. I don’t know… But, whatever the reason, it’s a feeling I’ve had as long as I can remember whenever someone blithely claims they deserve something. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I think it’s ok to use the word. For example, if I’ve done something well and someone else praises me because they think I deserve the recognition – that’s ok. But for the most part, I don’t see deserving as something one should self-assess.

Realizing my view is pretty narrow, I turned again to the dictionary definition. When I read the definition, I realized I didn’t know what “requital” means. Apparently, a requital is something given in return or as compensation. With that in mind, I guess there’s a bit of room for self-assessment of being deserving. For example, if I’ve worked hard for awhile at something, I might feel deserving of taking a break – as compensation.

I know – this probably sounds like wordplay to many of you. In a way, I suppose it is. But if we’re willing to admit that weather impacts our mood, why is it any less important to think about how we react to words?

Anyway – now you all know that “deserve” is a word that gives me pause. What about you? Are you as literal as me about the concept of being deserving? Or maybe there are other words that trigger reactions in you. What are they and why do you suppose you feel as you do about them?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

6/15/2019

On being … unlimited


By Ingrid Sapona 

The other day a show on the Ontario public broadcaster (TVO) caught my eye. It’s called Employable Me. One of the series co-producers describes it as “a documentary series featuring job seekers who are determined to prove that having a physical disability or neurological condition shouldn’t make them unemployable.” https://www.ami.ca/category/2411/season 

Turns out, the series is incredibly inspiring and an excellent contribution to the Hope Project I mentioned starting in a January On being…. It also helped me see what a narrow lens I’ve seen the work world through. More on that in a minute…

Each episode features two job seekers. We first meet each job seeker as they walk into an office and sit down across the desk from an off-camera interviewer. With most of them, from the moment you first see them, you can tell there’s something different about them. For some, their physical problem is obvious (for example, they’re wheelchair bound), but with others it isn’t until they begin to talk about their condition that you realize how they’re different.

The next scene shows them in their home environment and we meet their families. The families are remarkably open about the challenges their son, daughter, brother, or sister faces as they venture out into the work world. They’re supportive and guardedly hopeful.

We then tag along as the job seekers meet with a range of professionals who assess their physical and thinking skills, capabilities, and interests. The assessments are fascinating – not the standard personality tests (like Myers-Briggs) that many of us have taken in a workplace setting. Because these individuals have lived with their physical or neurological problems their whole life, they know full well what their limitations are. These professionals help show them (and the viewer) the flip side – the workplace strengths and abilities they have as a result of coping with their limitations. So, for example, these job seekers’ ability to figure out work-arounds shows great problem-solving skills. As well, in a work environment, someone’s obsessive behavior can be seen as a heightened ability to pay attention to detail.

But of all the skills and traits, the most impressive quality each job seeker exhibited was tremendous self-awareness. For example, one gregarious young man who was born with many complex medical issues that he still struggles with, interviewed for a job at a senior’s residence. He teased and joked with the seniors during an art class. You could tell he and the residents enjoyed it and the position would be a great fit. But, he ended up turning down the job because he realized he’d have difficulty handling it when a resident dies. Another woman with Tourette’s knew that because of the energy demanded by her ticks, for her the physical demands of an 8-hour shift is the equivalent of a 16-hour shift. So, in her interview with the company that ended up hiring her, she specifically asked if they could accommodate her on a five or six-hour shift.

After figuring out how their strengths and skill might apply in a work environment, the next part was to me the hardest: finding potential employers to match the candidates with. It’s fine to conclude that a blind young man who enjoys sports and who holds a record in the 100-metre dash should consider a career in athletics. But, to my un-trained – and uncreative mind – that sounded pie-in-the-sky. I couldn’t imagine what kind of job that idea could translate to.

Well, they sent him off to a private boxing gym that was looking for a “member ambassador” that would encourage and motivate members. Hmm… I could see that – this guy has such a positive outlook and the fact that he doesn’t let blindness stop him from competing is motivating. But then, when the gym wanted to see how he did sparring with one of those huge, hanging punching bags – I thought they were kidding. How could they expect this blind guy to learn to spar? Well, the blind guy didn’t seem to think it was odd – he relished the chance to learn it.

The series really opened my eyes about a lot of things. For example, though I’m coming to this revelation too late to benefit much by it in my own career, it’s given me much better appreciation for career counsellors and Human Resource folks. Until this show, I never really saw them as specializing in seeing people’s capabilities and in helping folks achieve their potential. What a gift those professionals are.

The series also makes it very clear that physical disabilities aren’t necessarily career limiters. Indeed, those who have learned to cope with disabilities often have more empathy and are leaders capable of motivating others to achieve their potential. In short, the series has given me great hope as I realize that people are capable of coping with all sorts of challenges.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

5/30/2019

On being ... proud

By Ingrid Sapona

Some On being … columns feel like they write themselves. This one isn’t one of those.
Today’s column has been a struggle mainly because I’ve been debating about whether it’s too personal to write about. (I know that probably sounds odd, as most columns are pretty personal.) Maybe I should just admit that my struggle with today’s column is because it lays bare something I’ve been judgmental about for a long time. (Funny, I thought – OK, hoped – that admitting that would help the words tumble magically onto the page. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.…)

Anyway – the topic for today’s column came to me when I was at my sister R’s retirement party two weekends ago. R is retiring after 30+ years on the faculty of a U.S. university. The past 12 (or more?) years she’s been associate dean for academic affairs in one of the University’s colleges.

OK – so let me get the embarrassing part out of the way. Though I love and respect both my sisters immensely, I’ve always felt frustrated by what I see as R’s lack of ambition. I know what you’re thinking: you don’t get to be associate dean by accident. But honestly, in a way, she did. She didn’t seek the job out. She was asked/invited to apply for it and then she got it. So, you can see why I’ve always felt she kind of fell into it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think she deserved the position. She did. She is incredibly competent and organized. In the latter years of her tenure as associate dean, an increasing part of the work involved resolving complaints against faculty and students. Such issues involved working with diverse teams and crafting fair solutions – two of her particular specialties. And yet, to my way of thinking, if she were ambitious, she’d have proactively sought out such a position or tried to move on to a dean’s position after a few years. I know, pretty judgmental of me…

At her retirement party, the faculty and staff of the college presented her with a beautiful wood box filled with cards printed with thoughtful comments and reflections her colleagues wrote about her. After the party, I was reading the comments and I was moved by all the tributes. But one comment in particular struck me like a bolt of lightning. The comment was to the effect that R never approached things with an agenda. That rang true to me, as I figured no ambition = no agenda.

But the comment didn’t end there. R’s colleague went on to say that because R had no agenda, she always approached things with the best interests of the students and faculty at heart and with the aim of doing what’s right. That was the lightning bolt part. Indeed, it’s precisely because R didn’t have an agenda and ambition for herself and her career, that she was always able to steer toward being fair, finding consensus, and doing what she could to help others.

That last part also made me realize something about R that I’d never focused on before: of us three sisters, she has always been the most people-focused. In other words, her ambition was about forging bonds with others. Indeed, by going about her career in her way and on her own terms (rather than based on her little sister’s terms), she not only fulfill her desire to connect with others, she made a big difference in so many peoples’ lives. Who could ask for anything more from one’s career or life?

As it happens, last night I attended a women’s networking event sponsored by a big law firm. The event and panel of speakers centered around the launch of a book called The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women: Leadership Lessons from The Judy Project, edited by Colleen Moorehead. As you might imagine, the topic of women’s relationship with ambition was front and centre in the discussion. The first thing that stood out to me was the acknowledgement that even successful women find talking about ambition uncomfortable. Boy did I need to hear that, given my wrestling with whether to write about ambition today.

Ms. Moorehead, who hosted the event, kicked off the discussion by explaining that one of the messages that came through from the stories the women execs shared for the book is that women have redefined ambition. Rather than defining ambition based on the model that’s centered on greed and self-promotion, for women ambition tends to be broader and more inclusive. Moorehead calls it a “collective ambition” that manifests itself in ambition for one’s company or one’s team. Man-oh-man, that definition describes R’s version of ambition to a tee.

Before leaving the event, I went up to Ms. Moorehead to tell her how much I enjoyed the event and that I’m looking forward to reading the book. I also told her about the guilt I felt about having misjudged my sister as lacking ambition when, in fact, she’s always had an inclusive ambition. Colleen smiled and nodded.

As I turned to leave, she said, “Just be proud of your sister.” I turned back to look at her and assured her I am very proud of both my sisters and lucky to have them as role models.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

5/15/2019

On being … spoiled, really?


By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I don’t live under a rock, though, so I do know that a few Sundays ago fans were eagerly awaiting the premiere episode of the final season. But, other than the fact that the show is very violent and that there are dragons, I don’t know much more about it. As for the Avengers movie premiere that same weekend, the only thing I was curious about was who they’d cast in the roles of John Steed and Mrs. Peel. I couldn’t imagine anyone as dashing as Patrick Macnee or as sexy as Diana Rigg. Boy was I surprised when I heard the new movie’s about Marvel cartoon superheroes! (Surely I’m not the only person who thinks of a bowler hat and straight black cane when they hear of the Avengers.)

In the days after these (apparently) long-awaited premiers, there was almost as much talk about “spoiler alerts” as there was about what folks actually thought of the shows. I found the whole spoiler alert stuff over the top. Folks who complain about others spoiling things for them are self-centered whiners. If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie or the show as soon as it came out, that means something else in your real life took precedent. That’s life, folks. Besides, the shows aren’t like a total solar eclipse that only comes around to your area once or twice in your lifetime. Once a show or movie’s been released, you can catch it nearly on demand.

I think the burden of avoiding hearing about what happens is on the person who wants to remain in the dark. Of course, that would mean they might have to unplug from social media for a few days. Oh no! They might also have to avoid the coffee room at work if co-workers are in there, in case they decide to discuss it. It’s true, they may even have to avoid some traditional newscasts because the mandatory end-of-show banter might give something away. But relax … in a day or two the anchors will be chatting about some other non-news “news”.

I don’t see how knowing particular details – or even the ending – of a story really spoils it. Knowing that the ship goes down certainly didn’t spoil The Titanic for the millions of folks who went to see it. That’s because enjoying movies, shows, and stories isn’t just about knowing what happens or even the plot twists that get you to the ending. Besides, knowing what to expect can free you to pay attention in a different way. (The viewer who spotted the Starbucks coffee cup in that scene in Game of Thrones, for example, certainly wasn’t as focused on the plot or even the action of the scene.)

I think people who worry that their enjoyment will be spoiled if they learn anything about the plot or ending are missing the point. They don’t realize that in movies, shows and life, it’s the journey that provides the thrills, chills, intrigue, and satisfaction.

I imagine you’re probably thinking it’s a bit odd that the whole spoiler alert “phenomenon” bothered me enough to write a column about it. I’ve been thinking about that too. What bothers me is the amount of time and social energy that’s spent on things like superhero movies and fantasy dramas. In the meanwhile, folks are ignoring the very real, very terrible things going on in the real world.

Well, here’s a spoiler alert for you: while everyone’s busy escaping into fantasy worlds, folks aren’t paying enough attention to things here on planet earth. Indeed, the way things are going politically – and climactically – unless more of us start taking notice and action, I worry the ending may come sooner than we believe is possible and none of us are going to enjoy the journey.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona

4/30/2019

On being … a dose of consciousness raising

By Ingrid Sapona

Though I’ve never been particularly interested in fashion, I was intrigued by an article by an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics, and sustainability who teaches in the school of fashion at a Canadian university. The professor’s main point was that “fashion lovers need to reflect on how their consumption has an undeniably negative impact on both planet and people.”

The author talked about the slavery-like conditions of the millions of third-world workers, the majority of whom are women. She also talked about environmental degradation and pollution caused by the fashion industry, as well as the fact that more than 70% of the 53 million tonnes of fibre produced each year by the industry ends up in landfill or bonfires. One of the surprising statistics she mentioned is that the average number of times a garment is worn before it ceases to be used has decreased by 36% in 15 years. She also talked about “fast” fashion, which she defined as clothing that’s disposed of in less than one year.

The professor believes business as usual is no longer an option for the fashion industry. She set out some steps we can take that she thinks will make a difference. Besides paying attention to where one’s clothes are made and supporting ethical producers, she urges curbing overconsumption. She encourages consumers to join a campaign started in 2016 by Livia Firth (actor Colin Firths’ wife) called: #30wearscampaign. The idea behind the campaign is to ask yourself – before you buy an item of clothing – whether you’ll wear it at least 30 times. If yes, then buy it. But, if you don’t think you would, don’t buy it.

Neither the article nor the link to a story about the #30wearscampaign explained the significance of the number 30. So, I assume it’s relatively arbitrary. But, I think it’s a pretty reasonable number to get people to stop treating clothing as disposable. Clearly, with things worn every day (like socks and underwear) 30 is low. But, if you’re talking about a top you might wear every couple weeks to work, wearing it 30 times means you’d wear it for more than a year. So, even if 30 is arbitrary, you have to admit it seems a reasonable goal.  

I’m glad I took the time to read the article. It left me thinking about both my relationship to clothing and clothing’s impact on our environment in general. More importantly, it gave me parameters for measuring my own behavior vis-à-vis clothing and the environment. And, it got me thinking about other areas of consumption that I might gloss over but shouldn’t. Indeed, shortly after, a different area of consumption came into my focus.

My main client right now is in the electricity sector and I spend a lot of time at their office. When the dishwasher in their kitchen broke recently, they got a new one. A stick-on label on the front provided some sort of efficiency number. The fact there was such a label leads you to believe it’s a high-efficiency model.

People in that office are in the habit of running the dishwasher every day. Someone usually starts it right after lunch because people like to take home clean lunch containers for the next day. The first time they ran the new machine they chose the “turbo” cycle, thinking it would be quicker than the normal or heavy-duty options. It’s an understatement to say everyone was surprised when it became clear that the 3:00 showing on what looked like a digital clock in need of programming was actually the cycle duration.

When the cycle was done, we consulted the manual that came with the dishwasher. That’s when we learned that the “turbo” cycle (which does, indeed, run for 3 hours) uses less water than the other cycles. While that was interesting information, given that the company’s focus is electricity, everyone wanted to know how the different cycles compare in terms of energy use. Sadly, the manual didn’t provide that information.

Clearly, the dishwasher’s manufacturer – or perhaps the organization that grants the efficiency labels for such appliances – considers water use paramount. And you know, maybe as between water and energy use for dishwashers, that should be one’s primary concern. Though I feel a bit better knowing I only run my dishwasher only when it’s full, my motivation’s been because I figure it’s probably a big consumer of electricity. I’m embarrassed to admit that I never considered the issue of the amount of water a cycle takes. 

Though the connection between an article about fast fashion and efficiency ratings on dishwashers may not seem connected at first blush, to me they’re very much related. They both made me think about tracking my consumption based on some actual measure, rather than in the abstract. In short, they provided a dose of consciousness raising about my consumption, which never hurts, I think.

What about you? Do you give much thought to the different things you consume? Would applying some measuring standard help you change your consumption behaviour? Should we be doing more of that??

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona