By Lisa Taylor
It’s been a weird year. According to our newsfeeds, everything is terrible.
We’re ending 2022 with a lot of uncertainty and brokenness. As you connect with colleagues, friends, and family for holiday celebrations and social gatherings, have you noticed a tendency to bond over everything that is going wrong?
Labour shortages, rising inflation and interest rates, a threatened recession, an affordable housing crisis, food insecurity, political polarization and violence, the war in Ukraine—there’s no shortage of bleak conversation topics.
While this type of sharing can feel good (or at least cathartic) in the moment, it is self-defeating in the long term. It will prevent us from shaping the future we are fully capable of achieving.
We can dwell on everything that is going wrong. Or we can reaffirm our capacity to affect change—as individuals, organizations, and communities.
Calling out versus calling in
We all know what it means to call something or someone out. It can feel like a righteous and even productive way to bring attention to what’s wrong in the world around us—whether that’s a failure of political or business leadership, a systemic socioeconomic issue, or a celebrity perpetuating antisemitism or other forms of hate.
But this type of ‘calling out’ is a passive, disengaged activity. It highlights concerns and anxieties without creating opportunity to take positive action, including encouraging curiosity about why things are the way they are and what might be done about them.
There is an alternative. Instead of calling out, we can call in.
‘Calling in’ requires taking a step beyond drawing attention to something that is unjust or amiss. It’s an active step to engaging in real discussion about the feelings, emotions, and meaning behind the problem. Instead of valuing camaraderie over common discontent (often through the alienation of others), it elevates curiosity and inclusion.
As American civil rights activist Loretta J. Ross explains in her TED Talk, “It’s not a matter of what we do, but how we do it…A ‘call in’ is a ‘call out’ done with love.” Not everything needs to be better for you to feel better. You have personal agency to choose.
Calling out issues related to the economy, housing, immigration, and poverty is easy. But calling in leads to deeper understandings of these complex issues. As noted in the New York Times, “Calling out assumes the worst. Calling in involves conversation, compassion, and context.”
Let’s explore the difference between calling out and calling in during times of scarcity and shortages.
Focusing on fear
It’s easy to assume the worst is going to happen when we’re constantly being reminded that we don’t have enough time, money, resources, workers, houses, or kindness. It’s even easier to slip into reinforcing and amplifying those messages. We build on the discontent of friends, family, and coworkers, moving from complaint to complaint and feeling supported through the shared experience of expressed fear.
Surrounded by the fear of scarcity, we focus on blaming others or presenting stopgap solutions that are more likely to continue to leave others behind.
Here’s an important flip: It feels better to call in rather than call out. It’s more interesting, too.
Focusing on curiosity
Times of scarcity don’t have to be met with fear. We can unite around a common sense of purpose and invite new voices into the fray. We can take a moonshot together, and use ‘calling in’ to fuel greater curiosity and innovation.
Here’s a concrete example. In recent months, we’ve noticed an increase in social and mainstream media lamenting that we lack leaders who can create a moonshot moment. That we could do remarkable things, but first we need someone to set the stage and present us with a unifying opportunity.
By normalizing an ‘us versus our leaders’ mentality, we slip into the habit of calling out leadership weaknesses in ways that only alienate them (and ourselves on the ‘opposite side’). Very few leaders—policymakers, politicians, CEOs—wake up in the morning excited to make life harder for others. Calling out misattributes this intention to them. What if we instead asked, “What could they have intended, and how has this gone so wrong?”
Calling in allows us to stop placing unproductive blame, inviting ourselves and others into spaces where we can make a difference, and reaffirming that we can be the leaders we were waiting for.
It starts with intention
When Challenge Factory launched in 2012, we used the tagline: “It’s your career. What are you waiting for?”
Today, we do more than individual career and trusted advisory work. But that simple tagline continues to drive us and, in fact, has become more relevant than ever. It reminds us that, as a company and as individual team members, it’s in our job descriptions to work with intention to flip from calling out to calling in.
As we head into the final weeks of 2022, Challenge Factory welcomes the opportunity for 2023 to be the year we call in as many of you as we can to continue to shape the Future of Work.
This means building on our B Corp commitments. It means finding sure footing through career ownership. It means looking to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to place work and career in a broader context that also addresses health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, and partnerships for these goals.
Consider this blog your invitation. We are calling you in. Together, we can find ways to affect change when everything seems terrible. Remember, not everything needs to be better for you to feel better.
3 ways you can get started
- Recognize how often you are in ‘call out’ conversations versus ‘call in’ conversations. Notice what you read and consume and how you feel when you focus on the difference between ‘calling in’ and ‘calling out’. Start with your honest reaction to this blog.
- Select one of the 17 SDGs as part of your personal career goals or strategic planning initiatives for 2023. Notice what happens when you put the SDGs at the centre of your work instead of as a charitable activity on the periphery. Challenge Factory’s B Corp story might help inspire you to imagine how you can approach this type of strategic shift in measuring both profit and impact.
- Join us at Coffee and Careers on December 14 to experience what it feels like when we gather to ‘call in’ rather than ‘call out’.