EP 341: Taking Better Care Of Each Other with Wanderwell Founder Kate Strathmann

Jun 15, 2021 | Money & Life, Operations, Podcast, Top Episodes

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who explores what it takes to navigate the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact. Click here to support this work.

In This Episode:

  • Wanderwell founder Kate Strathmann and I unpack how our personal values often don’t line up with economic forces—and how that impacts our business
  • Why rethinking the purpose of your business might help you rethink your goals to be more aligned with your personal values
  • How expanding your vision to include taking care of others as well as yourself can create a paradigm shift in your business

Marketers love to tell you: do this and you’ll make more money.

Or, do this and you’ll have more freedom.

Or, do this and you’ll get to be more you.

If you do what I tell you to do, your life will significantly improve.

The reason for this is simple: capitalism turns life improvement into a task of consumption.

We’re convinced we can buy our way to an easier, more satisfying life. And that means many of us are convinced we can work our way to the money we need to do that.

Further, the more we improve ourselves and enhance our lives, the more we can use our selves as a form of capital to reinvest in the market. As Jia Tolentino writes, selfhood is capitalism’s last natural resource.

Now, I’m not meaning to pick on marketers here.

Because the way we (and yes, I’ll include myself here) market our products and services is only one very small part of a systemic problem.

The larger, systemic issue is how most of us are conditioned to focus our effort on the individual pursuit of success. We focus on our individual challenges, our individual needs, and our individual opportunities.

And that’s great because businesses can sell us answers to the questions of individual success and the solutions to individual challenges.

When their solutions don’t bring about the results we’re looking for? Well, it’s likely because we’re just not as capable as we need to be, right? Ugh.

Individualism is insidious.

Of course, just because individualism is insidious doesn’t mean we don’t have individual needs, goals, and desires that are absolutely worth pursuing.

It’s just that individualism as a system, along with the personal responsibility doctrine and the false promise of meritocracy create a series of assumptions that ultimately pit my success against your success, my needs against your needs, my desires against your desires.

We can talk about wanting business to be a win-win all we want but, as long as we’re working in these systems, it’s incredibly difficult to make it happen.

So what that does is put our personal values in conflict with economic forces. It puts the way we want to see the world in conflict with the way the world works.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve been trying to imagine and build ways of doing business that meet & exceed my individual needs while also broadening my focus beyond only my individual success. I still have many more questions that I have answers—and I’ve peeled back many layers of privilege and conditioning to see things in new ways.

Last spring, a new layer to peel back started to emerge. My friend and our resident business radical, Kate Strathmann, made it clear that many of the ways we were responding to the pandemic and resulting economic shock were an attempt at “individual solutions to a collective crisis.”

That phrase has become a new lens through which I see the world, the market, and my life.

After all, collective crises are all around us. Whether we’re talking about the climate crisis or the wealth gap or the broken healthcare system or the childcare crisis, there are no end to the challenges that we’re in together as a society.

And yet, these problems are still recast as individual problems that we have personal responsibility over.

I’m going to stop there—because I will admit that my mind starts going to the dark place when I linger on these issues for very long.

I want to get back to our businesses—which helps me get back to the happy place!

Building a business to meet and exceed individual needs and improve your individual quality of life is awesome.

And, what else can you do with this business if you look beyond your individual needs and your individual success?

That’s a really exciting question to me.

What kind of impact on the collective could this business have? How I can I use this business to meet others’ needs, too?

These questions don’t have many easy answers. But they’re fertile ground for imagining different ways of doing business.

It’s with this in mind that I want to share my conversation with Kate Strathmann. Kate and I share many similar concerns about the state of online business and the even the broader small business, freelance, and gig economies.

As always with my conversations with Kate, this might be confronting at times. You might be nodding along, digging on what we’re saying, and then all of a sudden feel a twinge of recognition that isn’t as nice.

But none of this is aimed at your personal responsibility for where we’ve gotten as a market or even the things you’ve done in your business.

Our goal is to explore some big, hard questions about how we do business and how we can better take care of each other.

Stay tuned to hear us talk about the messages we consume that make it hard to imagine things a different way, why focusing on individual success causes us to devalue the care work that goes into making our businesses work, and why small business owners feel trapped between the worker class and the owner class.

Plus, Kate offers some powerful questions for reframing the potential of your business and gets super pragmatic about the choices we can make without becoming a martyr for the sake of positive change.

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