May 11, 2022

Ceci N’est Pas Un Humble Brag

As I’m reading a short document a client sent me, to frame some work I’ll be doing, a familiar but also kind of new feeling just came to me. There are some great insights in that document, things I’m highlighting not just as notes for the research, but in the same way I chose quotes in an article or book, thinking to myself, “this is good! Agreed! Nice!” The feeling I mention is a surprise/pride/vertigo at having inspired something in someone smart about something. There’s probably a less (more?) than optimal level of impostor syndrome here, but still, “that’s some smart thinking, and they came to me for help?”

It’s the same kind of feeling I had with The Alpine Review a decade ago and every week with Sentiers. My default ‘posture’ is that I’m just reading things I’m interested in and sharing what I think is smart/good/intriguing/promising. If I think of the audience, I’ll usually think of a sharp friend and how to share or explain that thing to them. In the days of the magazine, and still somewhat today, I envisioned a circle containing every topic we were interested in. The expected audience was outside of the circle, we could inform them while hoping that everyone within the circle would say “that’s fine, they go it,” and not, “well they completely missed the point of my work.”

With both publications, many of the readers ended up being within the circle. The breadth of topics was/has been so vast that people deeply into one (design perhaps) found value in the other topics found alongside it (technology, urbanism, some insight found in the past, etc.). People interviewed for the magazine ended up reading it and appreciating it, not just getting their copy to show their mom. Contributors were happy to read the other articles next to theirs.

As I’ve “tightened the beam” over recent months, considering Sentiers more and more as a publication for generalists with a futures perspective, I’ve gotten more invites to discussions, collaborations, and workshops. Often from people I view as ones to write about or interview, more than as people to collaborate with or answer questions from. Spoiler: they’re both!

I’m not writing this as a #humblebrag or to say “I’m humbled” but because that’s brought on a change in perspective which might be useful for others, perhaps as a reminder. The people you observe might be observing back! It’s conversations all the way down, cross-influences, feeding each other’s thinking. When I’m featuring a bunch of articles about futures, I’m not just introducing new people to these topics, I’m also finding things some futurists might have missed and adding some of my own thinking and connections to their own.

I’ve seen the opposite reaction from members joining the Sentiers Discord server, “I’m intimidated by some of the names I see joining!” We tend to put people up on various sizes of pedestals, even small ones like “her blog is so great,” “he’s such a great designer,” but everyone inspires others, any conversation can make something click in one’s brain and bring new insight.

In the end, this post is both an invitation to stop using pedestals and to consider what you share as part of a conversation with everyone. You are not just showing a thing to people or writing/podcasting/talking for yourself, but also taking part as a valuable participant in a conversation.