This is very sound. If I had one piece of 2018 advice for literally everyone, it would be to talk, loudly and frequently and in detail, about the future you want. You can’t manifest what you don’t share. https://t.co/SeDwRqErnv
— Madeline Ashby (@MadelineAshby) December 31, 2017
That’s it. That’s my advice.
I’ve been thinking about how to do a(nother) year-end post, but there are already a lot of really great ones. I’m especially a fan of “The Year in Apocalypses” by Anthony Oliveira, and “The Pessimist’s Guide to 2018” over at Bloomberg is pretty fun. And of course there’s the more standard fare, like this Atlantic piece, or this piece in Wired. The end of the year is for reading and cross-referencing tech trend pieces, and seeing how many euphemisms for recession you can find.
There are lot of lists, this time of year, about what shocked you, or what you should be worrying about. Sometimes there are lists of things you should be excited about, or things to anticipate (usually movies). But they’re always lists, not a single over-arching piece of advice you can follow, like the North Star, from one moment to another.
So, here it is: talk about the future you want.
I know this sounds absurdly, comically simple. But it’s also the same advice you’d hear if you were looking for a new job, a new partner, a new place to live, any change you wanted to make: tell people what you want. Tell people what you’re looking for. Tell them you’re on the hunt. Your network can’t help you make it happen unless they know you want it to happen. Nothing changes until you change it.
Further, 2017 was full of discussion about “normalization” and “Overton windows” and “fake news” and other forms of weapons-grade bullshit. It’s true that you can persistently shift a conversation to baseless falsehoods if you try hard enough, and stay on message. That’s a given. That was a given decades ago. Or maybe you forgot how cigarettes used to be sold to pregnant women and people with asthma. That’s not fake news, it’s just old news.
But here’s the thing: it works the other way, too.
You can normalize anything. Gwyneth Paltrow just spend a year normalizing jade eggs for your vagina. It doesn’t matter if everyone buys into your vision. Lots of people haven’t bought into the whole jade egg thing, either. (Which is good.) But they know what it is, when it comes up in conversation. You can have a conversation about whether jade eggs have scientific merit. And that leads to a conversation about women’s health, and how women are under-represented in clinical trials, and how access to healthcare for people who identify as women has been limited in various ways both today and throughout history. And all because you innocently asked if jade was dishwasher-safe!
So don’t tell me you can’t spend a year normalizing car-free streets, or free-gan food banks, or Cap and Bucky kissing, or whatever your personal jam happens to be. You want to get your ass to Mars? Start talking about Mars. You want better healthcare? Start talking about how it looks in practise. The people I know who are the most successful in achieving their goals have one thing in common: they never fucking shut up about them. You know that joke about vegans? (“How will I know if my guest is vegan?” “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”) It’s the same with any particular vision of a future. As I often tell people, I asked my husband what kind of future he wanted with me before we committed to being together. He described it in detail, and it’s how we live now, in large part because we agreed to each others’ vision of a future.
Now, this doesn’t always work. I know people who prattle on endlessly about books they will never, ever finish, simply because they’re prattling on and not writing those books. Eventually, you have to do the work. You have to commit. But in the meantime, you can refine a lot of ideas if you bounce them off your friends and peers and neighbours.
And here’s where I sneakily work in my second piece of advice: get to know your neighbours. No matter what happens, no matter where you are, the likelihood that you will survive a major crisis (whether it’s an earthquake, a brushfire, a cancer diagnosis, a job loss, or something else) increases greatly when you have an accessible support network. I’ve seen this in action, with friends who had cancer. The ones who could rely on their neighbours enjoyed greater quality of life and lived longer. It’s also something I observed growing up in the Pacific Northwest: during major windstorms that knocked out power for days at a time, communities with strong relationships shared resources and literally weathered the storm. As the climate continues to change and the weather gets heavier, this story will only play out more frequently. It’s playing out that way in Puerto Rico, right now.
So maybe that’s really my advice for 2018, and the years following it: talk to your neighbours about the future you want. Maybe you want a stop sign, so more kids can play outside. Maybe you want to open up more shelter beds in a -30C cold snap. Maybe you think a safe injection site is the best way to prevent overdosing. Maybe you want a more resilient thorium power grid. Maybe you want local mesh internet for your building. Whatever it is, your chances of success increase exponentially if you share that vision with people and listen to what they want, too.