Apply Some Pressure*

I’ve always been a fan of pushing. When my son was born I received a bill from the pediatrician who’d come to inspect him the morning after he was born. I was confused when the pediatrician came into the room that day as she wasn’t our pediatrician, but after having gone through the most life changing few days of my life it didn’t occur to me to stop that pediatrician at the door to find out if she accepted my insurance. In fact, I’ve never stopped any doctor who was offering me or a loved one important treatment and asked them if they accepted my insurance, so that certainly would not have been the day to start. I promptly asked other mommy friends about this and was pleased to find that another had dealt with the same problem. She advised that I contact the insurance company and the hospital and find out what could be done. Well you didn’t have to tell me twice. After numerous calls and letters, I came home from work one day to find an apologetic letter and a check from the insurance company intended to cover the cost of this pediatrician. This scenario has played out for me many times over, with cell phone companies and airlines and even food truck vendors. I push and they yield and cut me a check or give me extra bonus miles or send me a voucher for another jar. I’m naturally inclined to push and my success in pushing has only spurned me to push more and harder.

So it was that last week I made a call where the person I was pushing cut me off and basically said “Camille, we’ve heard what you said and we may be able to help you, but we need you to wait.” It was at this moment that I realized that one of the central challenges in my life is figuring out when NOT to push. When should I sit a fight out? Or rather, when should I simply say or do my peace and then let things take their course? When should I/can I trust the process? When and how should I conserve my energy to fight another day?

This issue has come up quite a few times in my work and on projects I am working on both for myself and those I work alongside. This is only further complicated by the conflicting messages we get as modern women. On one hand, we have co-workers who might take us to take for being too aggressive or pushy or bossy on the othe hand you have people like Sheryl Sandberg with her message and book Lean In (full disclosure: I’m currently listening to the audiobook) Add to that the fact of being black (and thus hyper-visible) in the mostly non-black world of free and open stuff and it’s enough to make you want to lean out…of a window.

In thinking about my inclination to push, I’m drawn to the idea of a Git push, which is more about synchronization of your change rather than muscling in. Git push is about making a contribution rather than looking to take something away.  Of course there are definitely times when more radical moves are necessary when advocating for certain changes and those times might require you to fork and go in a different direction, but these days I’m beginning to think that when you can work within the existing project, there is so much to be gained by pulling in data, taking a good look at what’s going on, making a considered move, and THEN pushing.

*This post takes its title from this great song by Maximo Park

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