The other day I was in the mall, going and burning my cashflow at a big box store like it was 2011 all over again, when I walked—and for this story it’s important for you to know that I was walking and not wheeling—past a family. The little kid asked her mom why I walked the way I did and she answered as best she could, that I was probably born that way. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. A few more steps, and this kid whispered something that was just in earshot of my wife.
“I wish I walked like a duck.”
Kids say funny things, and this was objectively hilarious, but it reminded me of a reality of being visibly disabled that you tend to learn early: kids blurt out their assumptions without any malice. That kid saw my goofy gait and decided I moved like the duck she wished she could be. No judgement, just a good laugh. She displaced my previous first-place winner, a kiddo who ran away from her parents shouting “l'll find out” and then came up with, “My parents want to know what’s wrong with you!”
Why bring this up? Because at the second stage of cripping any productivity advice, once I’ve looked in a few tender places, I have to be willing to address and/or ignore my own initial assumptions. To do that, I tend to play a little trick on my brain. Whenever I’m consuming productivity advice that I’m finding hard to apply to my own life, or at least see through a useful lens, I tell myself that the other person is disabled. I do the same thing, by the way, in my journalistic work when someone doesn’t show up for an interview or an editor drops the ball, or an accounting department can’t get their shit together. And it’s not even that risky of a bet. Statistically, I have a 20-25% chance of being right. It becomes a lot easier to empathize when I force this (often imagined) version of a person to have more similar lived experience to me.
When you assume that the person or people giving you some entirely detrimental productivity advice are disabled what can look, at first, like a violent attack on your personhood begins to look a lot more like lateral ableism—that’s where one disabled person is ableist to another. It still hurts, but hopefully not as badly. All you’re trying to do as you roll through this method of sorting through productivity advice is sift good from bad. At this stage, we’re not in the epiphany business, we’re in the finding nuggets business. Did I just use two gold mining metaphors in as many sentences? You bet.
Point being, if you’re a disabled person trying to decide how to make productivity advice useful to you then you’re probably already digging through a pile of internal and external ableism. Each chapter is, more likely than not, going to be drowning in rhetoric that at least slightly contradicts how you’ve been able to survive this long. Anything we can do to lessen that barrier is a move forward.
Oh, and by the way, I always thought I walked more like a penguin.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.