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Making Design Circular Podcast – Season 4 – In Conversation with Tamu Thomas, Part 1

Welcome to season four of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice in which you, your business and the planet ALL get to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and mindset shifts that we need to embrace to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.

In this episode, Katie talks to Tamu Thomas a renowned transformational life coach and the author of “Women Who Work Too Much: Break Free from Toxic Productivity and Find Your Joy.” She is dedicated to guiding women towards achieving work-life harmony by embracing holistic well-being practices that align with their nervous system.

Tamu’s groundbreaking book sheds light on the systemic pressures that force women into a cycle of over-functioning, often leading to significant workplace stress and an imbalanced share of emotional and domestic responsibilities. Drawing on her extensive background in social work, she has a profound understanding of the systemic roots of these issues, particularly the disproportionate impact they have on women.

Tamu’s unique coaching methodology is deeply influenced by somatic practices and Polyvagal theory, focusing on helping women rebuild a connection with their core selves, establish healthy boundaries, and forming a strong sense of self-trust. She is especially attuned to the nuanced challenges faced by Black women and women of the global majority, navigating what she terms ‘the trinity of oppression’: patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.

In her own words, Tamu asserts, “We don’t need more self-improvement; we need systemic change.” Her approach is not just about personal transformation but about sparking wider societal shifts. Her insights and guidance are invaluable for those seeking a life filled with fulfillment, deep connections, and genuine joy, amidst the demands of our fast-paced world.

During this Katie & Tamu explores:

  • The new book Women Who Work Too Much – Break Free from Toxic Productivity and Find Your Joy!
  • Toxic Productivity
  • Our connection with nature and why it’s so
  • Why it’s so important that we reconnect mind and body
  • Simple ways we should be honouring our basic needs
  • Why we shouldn’t be adopting a belief that we’re broken

You can connect with Tamu here:

Website: https://www.livethreesixty.com/ and https://www.womenwhoworktoomuch.co/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tamu.thomas/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/livethreesixty/

Learn more about Tamu’s membership here: https://live-three-sixty.mykajabi.com/membership

 

Here are some highlights:

Recognise we’re not designed to go it alone

“The beauty is as human beings we’re not designed to go it alone. So it can feel really daunting when we feel like oh my goodness, the system is rigged, for most of us to be at fault, for most of us to fail, when we recognise that we can start to embody the genius of our species, which is connection, and compassion, and all of that stuff. And we can start to work together to create systems and structures that care for us and our planet.”

The Idea of Toxic Productivity

“We don’t just breathe in, we need to breathe in, we need to exhale. And in fact, something I say all the time is, the rest is quite often more important than the race. The rest is what sets us up. And we often talk about being part of nature. Actually, no, we are nature. We are all children of this earth. Whilst we were born of our mother’s wombs, we are all children of this earth, there is nothing on this earth that is productive, that is producing all the time. Even our evergreen trees have times of rest and dormancy. We’re not supposed to be doing that all the time. It is unnatural. So as we stepped into the industrial revolution, we started making all of these machines to make our life easier. But once we identified that we could create mass, and people could consume more. And that mass would result into profit it was profit and growth above everything else. So it shifted how we experience ourselves. And generally speaking, we started to compare ourselves to the machines we created to make our lives easier. And that’s when we started talking more about consistency.”

Capitalist Conditioning

“let’s be real, there are many times in life where we do have to go beyond our bandwidth sometimes. But it’s about recognising the difference, so that we can make choices and we can do that for finite periods of time. We have a sympathetic nervous system for a reason, we go into states of fight or flight for a reason, they’re not all bad, but it’s a finite period of time. What happens in our culture is that the rules of capitalism say, actually, you should always be beyond your capacity, that’s a good work ethic, that’s being efficient, that is being somebody who is reliable. And it just conditions us, if you think of us like a piece of elastic, it conditions us to always be overstressed over stretched elastic. And so we have situations where people use anxiety as a motivational tool. None of this stuff will happen overnight, but over time, we can start being motivated by what feels good, what’s in service of our long term good, as opposed to constantly being motivated by anxiety, which is our body’s warning signal for terror.”

Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway worldKatie’s sixth book celebrates 25 artists, curators, menders and re-makers who have rejected the allure of the fast, disposable and easy in favour of the patina of use, the stories of age and the longevity of care and repair. Accompanying these profiles, six in-depth essays explore the societal, cultural and environmental roles of mending in a throwaway world.

Cultivating Hope, 3 part mini course: Are you ready to cultivate hope in the face of the climate crisis? Sign up to Katie’s three-part free mini course that will help you move through feelings of helplessness, reconnect with nature and take aligned action.

The Seed, Self-paced 4 part course: Sign up to Katie’s self-paced course to help you find your unique contribution to environmentalism – have fun, play to your strengths, work in alignment with your values and make a big impact in the process.

Spread the Word:

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And find me on the Interwebs:  @katietreggiden (Twitter, TikTok), & @katietreggiden3908 (YouTube) & @katietreggiden.1 (Instagram) – and if you’re a designer, maker, artist or craftsperson, join me on IG @making_design_circular_

About Katie:
Katie Treggiden is the founder and director of Making Design Circular – an international membership community and online learning platform for environmentally conscious designers, makers artists and craftspeople. She is also an author, journalist and podcaster championing a hopeful approach to environmentalism. With more than 20 years’ experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, Crafts Magazine and Dezeen. She is currently exploring the question ‘Can craft save the world?’ through her sixth book, Broken: Mending & Repair in a Throwaway World (Ludion, 2023), this very podcast.


Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

This transcript is generated in Otter.ai – please excuse any spelling and grammatical errors. 

INTRO

Welcome to season four of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice in which you, your business and the planet ALL get to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and mindset shifts that we need to embrace to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.

PODCAST SNIPPET

As human beings, we are not designed to go it alone. So it can feel really daunting when we feel like oh my goodness, the system is rigged, for most of us to be at fault, for most of us to fail. When we recognise that we can start to embody the genius of our species, which is connection, and compassion, and all of that stuff. And we can start to work together to create systems and structures that care for us and our planet.

EPISODE INTRO

Hello and welcome to the final episode of season 4 and if that makes you a bit sad, fear not because it’s a 2-parter. I had such a juicy conversation with Tamu Thomas, the author of upcoming book ‘Women who work too much’ that it was too much to just fit into one episode so we split it into two. Tamu is an absolute power-house. She is a woman I respect an enormous amount and somebody I’ve learnt vast amounts from and the nurture part of the Making Design Circular Framework is very much inspired by, among other people, Tamu’s work. So I was delighted to get the opportunity to talk to her about her new book and here it is.

Katie Treggiden 

So, Tamu Thomas, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about the work that you do, but also why you do it?

Tamu Thomas 

Yep. So, hi, my name is Tamu Thomas and I am a, I would describe myself as a transformational coach for women in business. And although I support people with their businesses it’s really life coaching, because so much of the life stuff gets in the way of the business. So, I am a coach for socially conscious, values driven women in business, who want to have a good impact on the world, who want to share good experiences and do stuff that’s going to make the world a better place for everyone. And they want to make good money at the same time as doing that so they can live a good life as well. And that poses lots of questions for the people I work with, because they’re very wholehearted, very empathetic, and compassionate, can get themselves in knots about what’s ethical and what’s not. And quite often, those knots are rooted in a history of people-pleasing or codependent behaviour. So, I really help people unravel their personal story. So, they can embrace it from a place of power. Because often people think, oh, but this thing happened. And I didn’t achieve this thing. And they have all of these things that prevent them from seeing them, their whole story, and how wonderful they are, how far they become. Because of those things. We proceed to be floors, so they can take care of those things. Own them with passion, so they don’t dominate their businesses. So that’s what I do. My people come from a broad range of backgrounds, creatives, so they may be artists, singer, songwriters, framers, psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, coaches, mentors, people from singer-songwriters, don’t know if I said that one just now, but people from all sorts of backgrounds, a few product based businesses, and I’m very clear with them, I don’t have expertise in product based businesses, but they come to me because they want to unravel the stuff that’s going on beneath the surface. And I help them create a strong foundation for their business and a strong foundation for themselves, so that they can build the business they want from a really sturdy place. And so, they can be who they want to be. So, one of the things people say is, they come to work with me thinking they’re going to be like this brand new person. And by the end of it, they’re just content with who they are. And they embrace their weirdness and recognise that their weirdness enabled them to live lives that feel good to them. So that’s what I do. And I’m, also, I’m joined your club. I’m an author, [Katie Treggiden Yes, you are!] I’ve just finished writing my book and reading my audiobook, women who work too much break free from toxic productivity and find your joy. And that book also speaks to the coaching I do. Because one of the things I observed very quickly is that when women have self-doubt, and the vast majority of us have self-doubt because we are brought up in a system that doesn’t support women being the magnificent beings they are, we end up trying to overcompensate by working far too much in every sphere of our lives. And the my observation is, we’re either working far too much, and underachieving, or working far too much and overachieving, but not recognising our worth our value, and the things we’re achieving. So, we’re constantly stuck in a situation where low self-worth that doesn’t come from the inside is dominating how we experience ourselves, and therefore how we be in this world. And I called time on that. I called time on that. And I wrote the book, because what I noticed is that women, because of our conditioning, we’re trying to use self-improvement to address systemic issues. And it doesn’t matter how much we improve ourselves. It doesn’t matter how much we work on our mindset the other day, so I’m talking about November, there were posts being shared, I think it was the 22nd of November, was equal pay day, that’s when women are basically working for free. And what I pointed out is that white women started working for free from the 22nd black women in the UK, it was from the 27th of September, I think, and black women in America, it was the 20 something of July. So, in a system like that, it doesn’t matter what you do. Invariably, you’re not going to be making money that speaks to the weight of what you’re doing, because the system is not set up for you to thrive. And I think that we need to understand that so we stop seeing it as a personal failing. And when we do that, rather than just thinking about it as self-improvement, we can start to work together to call time on the status quo. And sometimes it’s just too rotten. So, we might say, forget that they can have that. Let’s be in community together and create something that’s more holistic and supportive for all humans.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, I mean, it’s a really clever trick that’s been played on us by capitalism, right? If, if women are exhausted, it’s because they haven’t bought enough candles. You know, if the planet is burning, it’s because you haven’t bought a keep cup. And it’s like, this is not this is not individuals problems. These are structural and systemic problems. But yeah, I mean, congratulations on the book, I’m very lucky to have had, a had a preview copy. And as I said to you, just before I hit record, it’s so good.  [Tamu Thomas: Thank you!]  There’s just so much in there and having worked with you, I recognized myself in that description that people are drawn to you. But having worked with you, it’s so lovely to kind of really hear your voice on the on the page, you know, I’m sure that audiobook is incredible, because I could hear your voice just reading the texts [Tamu Thomas: I’m so delighted] and all the stuff you work with. It’s incredible. But I think it’s really interesting, because you know, in theory, your book shouldn’t be relevant to my listeners, you know that old adage, choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. My listeners are artists and craftspeople and designers and makers. So, in theory, they should not be worrying about toxic productivity. And yet, as you’ve just pointed out, many of them are women. Many of them are women of colour, women with neuro divergences members of the queer community, disabled women. I think I think craft offers a different way of working that often isn’t available within corporate settings that appeals to a lot of women and all the intersections that come within that. However, we’re still working within the systems and structures, right. So, I know that toxic productivity is real for a lot of them, but they might not necessarily be familiar with that term. And I think there is real power in, in naming things. So, could you explain what you mean by toxic productivity?

Tamu Thomas

Yeah, toxic productivity is obsessive, compulsive need to be productive, and it shows up all over the place. So, it shows up as the entrepreneur who will proudly say, I’m obsessed with my business. So, they’re constantly thinking about their business. They are on holiday, they’re with their family, they’re having a wonderful time. And they’re creating content because this is content that’s going to help them with their business, or they’ve got this wonderful idea that they must do something about there and then because poof the idea is going to disappear. It can show up as in motherhood, it can show up as perfection or what is often referred to as mum guilt, which is usually mum, shame, believing that you need to do absolutely everything for everyone and motherhood is conflated with martyrdom with makers. I’ve worked with makers, and it turns, it shows up as them toxically producing their makes, because they’re not pricing. One of my ex-clients referred to it as honest pricing. They’re not pricing honestly, it’s a creative job. It’s a little job. It’s a feminine job. It’s all about emotion, emotional intelligence. It’s not this hard, logical, masculine skill. So, they end up having to overwork because they’re not pricing their stuff accordingly. It’s that person whose house you go to. And before you finish drinking your drink, they’re taking your drink away and they’re stacking the dishwasher and they’re wiping the surfaces they just can’t stop doing it is the person who is like a Duracell bunny, they just can’t rest. As soon as they start to rest. It’s almost like something within them, the alarm bell rings and like, No, you can’t stop and they’re up and they’re doing something productive. It’s people who talk about I can’t wait for the day. I’ve got to utilise my time. And I’m like, if you knew that time is the conduit for your life, you wouldn’t want to be using your time, you would want to be working in partnership with your time so that you’re able to enjoy your time and do things work that will facilitate you enjoying your time, but instead, our whole life is organised around work and productivity. So, in the book I talk about when we’re small children, our parents and caregivers work diligently To help us recognise what our needs are. And as soon as we’re able to master our needs, we then suppress them. Because we want to be productive, we’ve got to be focused, we’ve got to have a good work ethic. So, if you think about it, most people start school when they’re four. So, at four years old, you’re going into school, you just finished paying all day long, every day almost. And you go into school, and you’ve got, you’ve got to sit on the carpet, you’ve got to sit still, you’ve got to be good. And you’ve got to have most of your waking day, being good, getting the answers, right, being productive, being nice, all day long. And when you can’t stick to that you’re naughty, or you’re troubled, or whatever the case may be. And that’s what we’re supposed to do until what we’re whatever the retirement age is, then we get the opportunity to enjoy ourselves. But we don’t know how, because we’ve never been taught or role-modeled, how to live a life that enables us to thrive.

Katie Treggiden 

And it’s even I remember, very clearly working with you, and you talked about this idea of basic needs. If you’re hungry, eat if you’re thirsty drink, if you’re tired sleep, if you need a pee, go for a pee. And when you’re in school, you have to wait to a break time to go for a pee. And it’s like my sister works in a school. And as an adult, she also has to wait for break time to go. It’s just the most mind-blowing thing, when you think about it. Like we have these extremely basic needs to function as animal humans. And they’re kind of you know, we’re asked to suppress them from the age of four. And it is so interesting you talk about makers having to make because my audience are mostly makers and artists, and we have a lot of conversations about this idea of I’ve got to be making all the time. Am I an artist if I’m not making art, and I often talk about this idea of kind of, we don’t breathe out all the time, right? We have to breathe in and breathe out. So, we have to spend time in art galleries, talking to friends, reading books, resting [Tamu Thomas: Yeah] Which is the breathing in, in order to then breath out and which is the work. But our communities are both made up of people who want to make the world a better place. Right. And I think sometimes, you know, I’ll call it activism. I think a lot of my audience wouldn’t claim that title. But I think it is. I think a lot of that activism work comes with a sense of I can’t rest, because you know, people are suffering. And I have to, I have to save the world, I have to save the planet. And so, there’s kind of a sort of a linear logic and a sort of capitalist logic that the more work I put in, the more good I can do. So, you can see how that feeds into this idea of toxic productivity. Why? Why is it important that we don’t just push through and follow that kind of very linear logic?

Tamu Thomas 

Well, delving into, you’re talking about, we don’t just breathe in, we need to breathe in, we need to exhale. And in fact, something I say all the time is, the rest is quite often more important than the race. The rest is what sets us up. And we often talk about being part of nature. Actually, no, we are nature. We are all children of this earth. Whilst we were born of our mother’s wombs, we are all children of this earth, there is nothing on this earth that is productive, that is producing all the time. Even our evergreen trees have times of rest and dormancy. We’re not supposed to be doing that all the time. It is unnatural. So, as we stepped into the industrial revolution, we started making all of these machines to make our life easier. But once we identified that we could create mass, and people could consume more. And that mass would result in to profit. It was profit and growth above everything else. So, it shifted how we experience ourselves. And generally speaking, we started to compare ourselves to the machines we created to make our lives easier. And that’s when we started talking more about consistency. Discipline has always been hanging around like from from various religions. But then we wanted to be disciplined, like the machines. I wrote down, they got quickly fixed and they got back into action. Without considering that when we as humans have a breakdown in whatever shape or form that takes, we actually need time to heal and repair. You can’t just tinker around with a few wrenches, and we’re back to normal again.

Katie Treggiden 

It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I have a friend who’s recovering from a fairly serious operation at the moment. And she’s on bedrest for six to eight weeks. And day two, she has absolutely climbing walls because she wants to be productive. And it’s this sense of actually your body is doing the work right now.

Tamu Thomas 

You’re being productive.

Katie Treggiden 

Right, right. It’s healing it’s rearranging organs. It’s doing what it needs to do to make you better. But I’d love to share the couple of sentences that you open the introduction with, because they struck me as so beautiful. And they speak really nicely to what you were just saying. You open with, we have forgotten that we are miracles made of stardust. We’ve forgotten that we share DNA with flora, fauna and much of the animal kingdom, an embodied reminder that we are all inextricably linked from the towering baobab tree to the majestic elephant, the delicate Daisy to the newborns, first breath, we are all wondrous creatures shaped by evolution and experience. I mean, just beautiful sentences, if nothing else, but that kind of speaking.

Tamu Thomas

This is the first time, I’ve heard somebody, I’ve got all the feels. This is the first time I’ve had somebody read my words back to me

Katie Treggiden 

Oh, they’re good words are good words.

Tamu Thomas

Thanks Katie, they are good words! I like those words!

Katie Treggiden 

They’re beautiful. And they really struck me because they really speak to that idea that we are part of nature. And I think that that kind of separation of human and non-human is one of the biggest problems that has brought about the environmental crisis, because it enables us to treat nature like a resource, you know, like a, like a thing that we have control over rather than as part of ourselves. But I kind of feel like, at least the folks in my kind of orbit are starting to understand that we can’t keep treating nature like that we can’t keep taking and taking and taking. But we’re still treating ourselves like that. So how do we kind of bring about that shift and sort of understand that we can’t keep taking and taking and taking from ourselves and we have to kind of knit ourselves back together with nature.

Tamu Thomas 

I think first and foremost, we have to recognise that this was conditioning that was placed on us. It’s not in our nature. And because it’s conditioning that is like intergenerational, it almost, not it almost, it forms an invisible psychological slash emotional contract. So, when you’re stepping away from it, we would say deviating from it. It feels like you’re breaking rules. It feels like you’re breaking the rules that the society, that has been set up for society. And many of us, particularly those of us that were socialised as girls, being good. Being a good girl was like one of the prized parts of girlhood. So, when you decide to buck the status quo, and do things differently, not only might you feel like you’re breaking rules, you feel like you’re a bit of an alien. Quite often the people around you don’t understand what you’re doing and think you’re weird. And those things come together. And you know, they create an embodiment of danger. Because our nervous system, the emotional centre of our brain hasn’t evolved since we were hunter-gatherers, living in our tribes, wherever we were. And that part of our system, that limbic system, that very reptilian, part of us, still thinks, if I’m not toeing the line and fitting in with my tribe, I’m going to get kicked out. And I’m going to be at risk of serious harm, enslavement or death. So, we have that kicking up inside us. We dismiss it and we use words very frivolously. I felt sense of scarcity. I felt fear, I felt anxious. All of those things in terms of our system, tells us we’re at risk of serious harm. So, when we’re choosing to do things differently, be different, believe different, invest differently, we have all of this stuff kicking up in our system. So, we need to give up for a nervous system to be regulated in a manner where you feel safe enough to take the risk of truly living, because safety isn’t about oh, I’m so protected in a bubble. It’s I feel grounded and safe enough to take this risk. Our nervous system needs connection, context and choice. So, when we know ah, I’m saying I feel anxious and anxiety is my body’s way of communicating that I’m perceiving trip terror. You can start to say, Well, I’m not about to be attacked by a sabre toothed Tiger. I’m just deciding I’m not buying anything on, on Black Friday. So, when my friends send me all of these WhatsApp messages about which places got a discount, and I’m saying I’m actually not doing Black Friday this year, I, I can give myself context. So, first of all, I’ll give myself connection or connect with myself and my why, why I’m not I’m not telling anybody else they shouldn’t why I’m Not, that also then provides you with a context. Oh, there’s no Sabre toothed tiger on the horizon, there’s no opposing tribe with an arrow coming after me. And then that enables you to make a powerful choice. My choice being, I’m not going to spiral and start to feel like they think I think I’m better than them and all of this kind of stuff. I’m just going to say, thanks for that. I’m not doing Black Friday this year, because that’s my contribution to not overconsuming. That’s my contribution to this planet. So, understanding these things, helps you begin to make powerful choices and recognise that the contract, it’s almost like, you know, when phones do an update, and all of a sudden, they’ve got these secret things in but you weren’t aware of you start to clock the secret things you weren’t aware of. And you start to decide what am I going to take away? What am I going to keep? And we also have the, to recognise, we do live in a system of capitalism. My health costs money. My shelter costs money. So, it’s about being able to hold the yes and, yes and, I want it. So, one of my things I consider all the time is ethical pricing. So yes, I want to create an income that allows me to live well. And I want to be able to save and all of that kind of stuff. And I want to price things so that the people this particular thing is for as many people as possible without you know, mugging myself up, are able to invest. So, it’s about recognising the tension between this is how in an ideal world I would live. But because I am living in a system where I need money to exchange for the goods I require. Where do I stand? What choices am I going to make? And it’s about recognising things like if I price this thing, honestly, using my ex-client’s words, I then have the capacity to be able to do the things I need to do to look after myself. Let’s face it, you talked about a number of the people, whether they describe themselves that way or not in your community, as activists, I say the same thing for mine. Being an activist, you might think this is woo or whatever, fine. Being an activist is a soul calling. Being an activist really comes from like the depths of you. You could choose to be avoidant and say, well, it’s not impacting me right now, so I’m going to continue with what I’m doing. But it doesn’t, there’s something that really drives you, when you’re an activist, you put yourself at risk, because you’re often going against the grain. Read lots, you learn lots, you try to understand lots. And even when there are things that you believe are just terrible, because you’re generally speaking, a compassionate, empathetic person, you’re going to try and understand that thing. Okay, I’m just in my mind, I said, you’re going to try to understand that thing. So, you can dismantle that thing. But you are from a place of kindness and not shaming people. And that means that as wherever we are practitioners, makers, creators, we need a really high level of care, because we’re giving so much of ourselves, and there was so much care, so much thought. Our spidey senses are off the chart, we are feeding into so much stuff, we need a lot of care. And if we don’t have that care, we end up operating like a poorly funded charity. And we go out of business case in point, the I would describe them as a media organisation, Galdem. Galdem magazine, my observation, this is a fact but this is my observation. They were so focused on being altruistic and serving as many people as possible. They overlooked what they needed to be financially viable, so that they can be sustainable. And there are so many people in Your world and mine, who are constantly putting themselves in a position where they’re not making the money they need to, to be able to do their beautiful work and have the impact they want to and a lot of that is because they’re judging themselves by capitalistic standards. There is a difference between trade and capitalism. If you’re a maker of I work, I worked with someone who made crochet goods. She’s there by hand. She’s worried about what she’s charging, because she’s comparing herself to some factory in the back of goodness knows where, with child labour people working 16-hour days with loads and loads of machinery, I was like, That is exploitation, what you’re talking about is trade and pricing in a way that honours, the time, energy and craftsmanship that went into that piece of work.

Katie Treggiden 

And also, all those other things you were just talking about, which I don’t think we traditionally see as work. So that the care and the compassion and the energy that it takes to be countercultural, you know, we don’t, when somebody’s thinking about how to price a piece of craft, at most, they’re thinking about the hours it took them to make it, not the kind of time and energy and love that goes into thinking about how to price it and sourcing things ethically, and, you know, reading books and educating themselves and all the things you were just talking about, which I think often we don’t see as quote on-quote, work. But if you’re going to try to make the world a better place, that’s all part of your work, right. And so we’re not pricing for that. And we’re also not allowing ourselves the rest and care that, that that facilitates which I’m repeating all this back to you, because this is kind of clicking into my brain as I speak. And I think it’s a really interesting, you know, one of the pillars of making design, circular is nurture. And I talked about the importance of looking after ourselves a lot, but I hadn’t quite kind of put that bit of the puzzle together. So, thank you for that.

Tamu Thomas 

And that’s how the system is designed. And why do we not perceive that as work, because we live in a patriarchal society that has decided that care is what women do. And we should do that for free. It’s not something that has an immediately tangible, quantifiable, you can’t immediately put a figure on it, therefore it doesn’t count. That’s what we’re designed to do, we should just do it. However, what you will see in the corporate space, things that used to be described as soft skills, they’re not this, there are many corporates that aren’t describing it as, as soft skills anymore. And there are many more big corporations that are looking at how they can bring more care into the workplace, to support staff retention, that creativity, and all of that kind of stuff. So it’s really important for us. We don’t need more billionaires, we need more care. Yes, I said buy the book, but it is care that makes the world go round. In the book I quoted. Margaret Mead, who was an anthropologist, somebody asked her how they recognised when civilization started. And she talked about in an archaeological site, a broken femur bone that had healed and been found, which indicated that in prehistoric times, some human beings went out of their way put themselves at risk to support that person to heal. That requires a level of courage, no amount of money can buy, because people put themselves at risk to be able to support that person, because they wouldn’t have been able to move and maybe being gobbled up by goodness knows what predator or starve to death. Care is what makes the world go round care is what keeps us going. And because it is something that has been assigned to women and non-binary people, capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy decide it’s not valuable.

Katie Treggiden 

And interesting you mentioned that that corporate shift, I saw a silly meme on Instagram the other day, but it made me laugh. And it was a company saying to its employees, we really want to invest in your mental health. And the employees say great, so we need more pay. We need you know, compassionate leave, we need days off and the company goes, No, we were thinking yoga on table, [Tamu Thomas: Or a ping pong table] right? That kind of that kind of sticky plaster approach rather than actually looking at the systemic stuff that that needs to change.

AD BREAK

I want to use this opportunity of a little sort of mini ad break of sorts to tell you about three things that I think you might be interested in. The first is my latest book Broken: Mending and repair in a throwaway world, which came out in May 2023, with Ludion the publisher of my last four books, and I’m so excited about it. Jay blades was kind enough to write the foreword, and it explores the role of mending and repair in a world where we don’t really need to mend anymore. So I’m looking at the social and cultural roles that mending is playing. And those include mending as restoration of function, which you might sort of immediately think of when you think of repair, but also repair a storytelling repair as activism, repair as healing, and even the regeneration of natural systems as a form of repair. It profiles 28, amazing menders, fixers, hackers, remakers, curators and artists. And it is the book I’m the most proud of so far. And I know I always say that, but I really am, it came out of my research at Oxford and I think it makes an important and new contribution to the field of writing on repair. So if you want to get your hands on a copy, the link is in the show notes.

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MAIN PODCAST

Katie Treggiden 

So, you open the first chapter with the words, it’s not your fault. Why?

Tamu Thomas 

Because we believe it’s not our fault. Now, I don’t like that word fault. And I try not to use that word. I remember listening to a podcast, it was Brene Brown and Dr. Sarah Lewis and Dr. Sarah Lewis was talking about faults was actually a word that came from agriculture. Like faulty crops and failed crops, and there may be something about failed. Anyway, the moral of the story is the system of capital, like all of them, so I refer to capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy as the trinity of oppression, the trinity of oppression, makes it so that you believe everything is your fault. So, if you are a woman, you need to toughen up, or you need to be kinder, you need to be good. If you are a worker, you need to commodify yourself more, you need to produce more, you need to be more efficient, more productive, it’s your fault, you’re not doing enough. And you’ll find that when people are having difficulty with quote-on-quote on quote, time management at work, they’re given all of these improvement plans that add more work without recognising, they haven’t been assigned enough time to do that piece of work in the first place. White supremacy, if you’re a person of colour, you’re at fault, because you’re not white, you’re not male, you’re not heterosexual, you’re not able bodied, and all of that kind of stuff. So, the realm of normal has been squashed and squeezed into this really finite, narrow notion of what normal is, when normal is absolutely huge. And it varies depending on your background and environment. So, we don’t we don’t get taught all of that. We get taught. If you are, if you’re a woman, you’re supposed to be kind. That’s the rules, without thinking about anything else. So, we grow up believing that things are our fault. So, if I look at things like, if we think about the motherhood penalty, where women, and people who have children decide to take some time off work, well, that’s your fault, you decided to have a child, no one forced you, you don’t have to. So no, you can’t come back and pick up where you left off, you’ve actually got to go back a few steps. And we’re not going to trust you. Because you’re going to have football practices to go to, you’re going to have someone falling over at school that you’re going to have to go and pick up, you’re going to have all of these things to do. That means we can’t trust that you’re going to be spending hours and hours at work, working overtime and doing all the things that need to get done. So, you’re going to be penalised for that it’s your fault. Or if you are somebody who is neurodiverse, well, you’re not going to be able to fit into our very linear way of doing things. And this is the way we do things. Why should we expand for you, you’re abnormal is your fault. So, it’s just repeated, repeated, repeated, repeated. And for me, my ADHD is a blessing. There are so many things, my deviant brain, people may like to call it, facilitates and enables me to do so much stuff, my experiences as a black woman opens me up to and gives me a line of sight that non-black people, white people may not have. So, this idea of these things being a fault if we flipped it. And we don’t just accept we embrace ourselves for who we are. One of my clients described herself as like really stubborn. She felt like she was a stick in the mud when she really believed in something. And I said, but for me that sounds like devotion. That sounds like passion. That sounds like commitment. That sounds like real belief. Like give me that over a fair-weather type of person all the time. Somebody who – I’m highly sensitive. We need more highly sensitive people in this world. I believe that, because our sensitivity has been frowned upon, it’s part of the reason why we have lost our connection with the earth and why treat her so badly. And the way we treat Earth mimics the way we treat women. I said the other day on Instagram, I wonder if we would treat the earth this way if we perceived earth to be masculine, I don’t think we would. So, there is all of this programming that leads us to believe it’s our fault. And that’s good. Because if it’s our fault, we’re going to spend 1000s of pounds loads of time improving ourselves busting through self-limiting beliefs, or with self-sabotage, rather than recognising and it can feel a bit existential ah man, it’s not me it’s the system. And the beauty is as human beings we You’re not designed to go it alone. So, it can feel really daunting when we feel like oh my goodness, the system is rigged, for most of us to be at fault for most of us to fail, when we recognise that we can start to embody the genius of our species, which is connection, and compassion, and all of that stuff. And we can start to work together to create systems and structures that care for us and our planet.

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like you need a mic drop. [Both: Laugh] At that moment. Now, you mentioned the word embody there. And I thought it was really interesting in the book, and I shouldn’t have been surprised because I’ve worked with you. But we tend to think of books as quite heady things, right? We read, we think about what we read, we maybe talk about what we’ve read, all that stuff is happening in your head. But every so often, the book you ask the reader to stop and do something other than reading and reflecting. So, there’s breathwork exercises in there. There’s mindful body scans, there’s joy practices, there’s grounding practices. Why are these sorts of embodied experiences important? In the work of decoupling from toxic productivity? Why is it important we kind of reconnect, mind and body?

Tamu Thomas

When we just leave our brain to its own device devices, we are using a fraction of our brain power. When we allow ourselves to be in touch with our body and our felt sense and our experience, we can then start to recognise that our embodied experience how we feel in our body shapes the activity in our brain. So, when you worked with me, I’m sure you heard me say polyvagal theory teaches us that our story follows our state Cymatics teaches us that our mind permeates every cell in our body. If we can slow down and feel into our bodies, we are then this is what I refer to as alignment, we are then allowing our brain to work in tandem with our hearts and our guts. So rather than making a decision that is based purely on logic, that often doesn’t make sense, with our lived experience, we can then start to make holistic choices and decisions. And one way I like to articulate this is that when we are embodied, we are able to differentiate between our capacity and our capability. So, a lot of us judge ourselves by what we’re capable of. And what we’re capable of is very cognitive. It’s a very mind-based practice. So, in my mind, I might say to myself, that I am capable of creating six social media posts a week, having three zoom calls a day, because in my mind, I can conceptualise that, I can see that and our brains are so powerful, if I can see that I can believe it. But then when I tune into my felt sense, and I can feel that as I’m doing all this, and I’m gonna and I’m gonna, and I’m gonna, my breath is becoming more shallow, my heart rate is speeding up. My, my, my gut is like churning and grinding. Because that’s far outside my capacity. My, my, my body is telling me, actually, that’s not the truth. That is not how you operate. So, when you’re able to be in right relationship with your body and slow down and listen in, you can then start making honest and powerful choices that will enable you to do more over a longer arc of time, rather than what we do when we’re only thinking about our minds, which is going through these really intense bursts that can’t be sustained. And then we crash down, we forget that we can race ahead, we can overtake that car that’s going slowly and still get stuck at the traffic lights. Or we can go at a steady pace. By the time we get to that traffic light that, that person has raced to get to the traffic light is now green. And we’re cruising along. We’re covering great distances without the jerky, jerky, stop, start, stop start. And what we will find then is that we can be honest about how we work best and what suits us and about our natural rhythms. We as, a women, or as a woman that menstruates are a menstruating person. We have our hormonal cycles, our hormonal rhythms, we have our own rhythms as human beings. And what I have found is that if I’m honest with myself about the way I work, I get far more done, when I’m dishonest with myself about how I work when I’m not being embodied. I am doing all the things all the time. But I’m not really achieving anything because I’m dragging, I’m going so slowly, because I haven’t given myself the opportunity to nourish myself to be replenished to be revitalised. All I’m doing is having just about enough recovery, for me to continue. And I would much rather understand, it’s not just that you’re tired, you absolutely hate this type of work, is this something you can delegate, because there is somebody out there who’s going to love that but frees you up to do more of what you enjoy doing. But capitalism tells us, you have got to be consistent, which means doing the same thing in the same way, it’s not really making progress, it’s doing the same thing in the same way every day. That’s not how anything in nature is designed.

Katie Treggiden 

Is there, we’ve kind of talked about this academically. But is there an exercise in the book that you could take me through now that perhaps our listeners could do along with us just to kind of get an understanding of this in our bodies?

Tamu Thomas

Yeah, so, I shared this in the book. But this, I just feel like it’s a really tangible way to demonstrate, so you can join in, join in at home, as long as you’re not operating heavy machinery or doing something or doing something that needs your focus. So, the invitation is to sit as you or stand as you normally would, with your head facing directly, or before I go into that. So, this exercise is going to be demonstrating the difference between your capacity and your capability. And it also is a demonstration of your boundaries, like your natural innate boundaries. So, with your head facing directly in front of you, I’m going to ask you to very gently turn your head left and right, backwards and forwards. But we’re going to be turning in those directions, as much as you can before your body begins to strain. So, you’re not going to turn left and right to your full capacity, you’re going to turn capability, you’re going to turn within your natural capacity. So, if you very gently allow your head to turn towards the right, and stop as soon as you start to feel any pulling or tension that tells you you’re about to stretch beyond your natural remit. And then bring your head back to centre. And then we’re going to do it to the left. So, you’re gently turning your head to the left, until you begin to feel pulling in your neck indicating that you’re going past your natural what your natural ability is, and then bring yourself back to centre. Let your head tilt forward. So, your chin moving down towards your chest, just as far as you go before you start to feel any pulling at the back of your neck. And then bring your head to centre. And then we’re going to do the same but going backwards. So, you’re tilting your head backwards, and you’re stopping as soon as you feel any pulling or strain in the front of your neck. And then bring your head back to centre. So just take a moment and register what the span of your natural movement was. Now I’m going to ask you to do the same but you’re going to turn as far as you can without hurting yourself. Okay, I don’t want anybody writing in and complaining or trying to sue me. So, we’re going to gently turn to the right, but as far as you can turn your neck without hurting yourself. So, let’s move round. And then stop as soon as it feels too much. Bring your head back to centre. Do the same going to the left. So, we’re going to gently turn as far as we can without hurting ourselves. Bring your head back to centre and then we’re going to tilt forward again, bringing our chin chin down to our chest as far as you can before without hurting yourself. And then bring your head back to centre and we’ll do the same again going backwards. So, tilting your head back as far as you can, and stopping when it begins to feel like it’s too much. And then bringing your head back to centre. So, Katie, how does that difference feel?

Katie Treggiden 

It’s incredible, isn’t it? I do quite a lot of those sorts of stretches and yoga, and they’re all there always as far as you can without hurting yourself. And it’s amazing how quickly, in the first time around, I got to the edge of what was comfortable. And that idea of stopping when it’s enough rather than stopping when it’s too much. I think is really interesting. I again, I clearly spent too much time on Instagram. I saw a meme on Instagram the other day when someone had declined some work because she said not because she had too much on her plate but because she said she had just the right amount on her plate at the moment. And it’s that isn’t it, it’s that idea of just stopping [Tamu Thomas: Delicious] when it’s comfortable rather than when it becomes unbearable.

Tamu Thomas

Yeah. And you know, with that in mind, and that embodied register, we can start to then look at other places in our lives. So that like this woman, we can recognise when we’ve got enough on our plate. And let’s be real, there are many times in life where we do have to go beyond our bandwidth sometimes. But it’s about recognising the difference, so that we can make choices. And we can do that for finite periods of time, we have a sympathetic nervous system for a reason, we go into states of fight or flight for a reason. They’re not all bad, but it’s a finite period of time. What happens in our culture is that the rules of capitalism say, actually, you should always be beyond your capacity. That’s a good work ethic that’s being efficient. That is being somebody who is reliable. And it just conditions us, if you think of us like a piece of elastic, it conditions us to always be overstressed over stretched elastic. Or if we think about, like our sympathetic nervous system, in a healthy state in normal conditions, the sympathetic nervous system is like when you turn the engine on your car, and it gets started, how we’re conditioned to behave. I don’t know if your audience are old enough to remember. But I remember when my dad used to have this red Citroen and you would on cold mornings, he would have to pull the choke and he would be revving the engine. So, the way our society is constructed, is constructed for us to be pulling the choke and revving the engine all the time. Like it’s normal. And so, we have situations where people use anxiety as a motivational tool. I worked with a group of women. And I said, well, what would you do if you stopped using anxiety as a motivational tool? Katie, their faces were shock, horror, horror, [Katie Treggiden: bit like this one] yeah, you can’t take my anxiety away from me. And I was like, but over time, none of this stuff will happen overnight. But over time, we can start being motivated by what feels good. What’s in service of our long-term good, as opposed to constantly being motivated by anxiety, which is our body’s warning signal for terror.

Katie Treggiden 

I think it’s so interesting, isn’t that one of the points that I love that you made in the book was, as we begin to understand this stuff, not only is it not our fault, but also it doesn’t mean we’re broken. [Tamu Thomas: Exactly]. And that word really resonated with me. Like, you know, I’ve got chronic illness. So, I spent a lot of my life feeling like I’m broken. And a lot of my life, you know, when you were just talking about how all those things are not your fault, I realised that I do feel like that’s my fault. But why that particular word broken, and kind of what what’s the difference between understanding the fact that some of this stuff is problematic, and owning our agency and allowing ourselves to feel broken in it?

Tamu Thomas

If you think like, just think about a vase that’s broken, it’s scattered. It’s all over the place, it’s no longer a vase. It can’t hold the water, it can’t hold the plants. So, when we think we’re broken, we think we’re not whole. And what I say is, how you are in your human form, that’s your version of wholeness. Capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, benefits when you believe that you are broken, because you are going to be a woman who works too much. Proving that despite my brokenness, I can still work round the clock and grind despite, and I’m like, Well, what about the fact that these things make you, you? What about like, what is it? What is that? Is it the Japanese craft of using gold, [Katie Treggiden: Kintsugi] Yeah. What about how that gives you a unique that that makes your vase unique [Katie Treggiden and whole] Exactly, and whole and gives it a different vantage point? What about the fact that your chronic illness Katie, makes you a much more empathetic and compassionate practitioner is probably why you do what you do, how you do it, which means then that your nervous system becomes a regulatory source for other people, and you’re able to facilitate co regulation. You work in the mentoring coaching space with your work. How many times have you been in or heard of a space such as that? That has been hugely dysregulated, you’ve got to be up at 5am in the morning, you’ve got to be closing, you’ve got to be having x amount of sales for salespeople, don’t let them get off the phone without closing them and all of that none of that is healthy. None of that makes any human be any human being feel whole. And a lot of the people I work with, they have been chewed out by those sorts of experiences. And when I say, well, this is the system I provide. How can we play with this, so it works for you? And they’re like, What? Because they’re broken. They think that they’ve got a bit because they think they’re broken. They think they’ve got to squeeze all of their broken parts in into this system. And I’m like, No, let’s create a system that works with who you are. Yeah. Katie. I’m Peri-menopausal. And in the days leading up to my period, I am so, so, drained, like I’m drained to my core. Like I feel like there was an episode of EastEnders When Ian Bill was crying in Phil’s lab, so I ain’t got nothing left. I have days where I literally feel like I ain’t got nothing left. And on those days, I give myself grace. I tried to do the easiest things, the lowest-hanging fruit. And if I’ve got stuff that I really need to do, trust and believe I’m doing it in bed with a hot water bottle, and I still have the chat. You should be at your desk. This is lazy. You’re not ill do you know how many people have periods? Do you know how many people are perimenopausal? What’s so special about you? All of that stuff goes on. And I say out loud Tamu. That’s not you that’s conditioning. And even though I’ll be in that battle, saying out loud, so I can hear it gives me just that little bit of breathing space for me to inhale a little bit deeper, exhale a little bit wider, get back into my body and remember that I am doing this to be in support of me, rather than being in support of capitalism. [Katie Treggiden: Yeah] Who benefits?

Katie Treggiden 

Yeah. And it’s so interesting how many of us have built businesses and creative practices that replicate the systems and structures that we’ve tried to escape from right I mean, I have been working for myself for 13 years, and last year I realised I don’t have to start at 9 o’clock in the morning I can start at 10. And it was just like – like this moment, I heard the expression I can’t remember where I read it so forgive me for not crediting it properly, but the idea of creating a business you can belong to, and rather than that despite the fact I am broken I will adhere to this system, actually this is who I am, I whole and floored and whatever, how I can build my business, or in the case of many of our listeners your creative practice in a way that supports the wholeness of who you are, and it was such a radical reframe, there’s nothing wrong with me, that I don’t do my best work before 10am, I just shift my day back by an hour, who cares nobody’s checking what time I turn up for work.

Tamu Thomas

One of the things that I say is, be really clear about how you want to live your life and create work that supports that. When you are working for yourself, unlike people who work for employers, and they have to, fit in to, you know the working practices and whatever else, we have the unique opportunity to be able to create work that supports how we live. Doesn’t mean, you know some people who go so far off the scale they are prioritising ease, and they are not doing the things they need to do. But for the most of if you think about creating work that supports how you want to live, so I talk about creating a business that has your back [Katie Treggiden: love that], so like you, when I, when I came up with that, I was like oh my goodness, exactly because before [Katie Treggiden: that’s given me goosebumps Tamu, I love that], and many of us feel like our business stabs us in the back. And I’m like, no, I want a business. So, if my business, has my back. How does this? How does it have my back? So, for me, I love strength training. It’s really, really important for me. It helps me feel really good. And when I tried to do the very early morning stuff, it takes me too long to recover. If I leave it too late in the day, I’m just not going. So, I just thought, well, I’m just going to shift my day to start at 10:30. So I’ve got time to take my daughter to college, get to the gym, come home and be ready so that I’m fully present for the people I’m working with at 10:30. I haven’t. I haven’t failed anyone by starting my day at 10:30, and in fact, my capacity is bigger because we talk about basic needs. I actually refer to them as fundamental needs or foundational needs, I have met that foundational need of moving my body the way my body needs to be moved? For me, weight training is like a spiritual practise, which means I’m then ready for the people in front of me. It also means that I’m utilising my energy in a way that I’m then craving wholesome foods. I’m much less likely to binge on fizzy strawberry laces. Fizzy strawberry laces. They’re the ones and are much more likely to eat wholesome food, and it all has a knock-on effect and also. When I create a business that has my back, I’m able to make powerful decisions a lot faster. I have got huge people pleasing vibes inside me and when I am not operating my business in a way it has my back, people pleasing shows up in my business. That means I make choices to work with people because, Ohh gosh they really need my help as opposed to this product. This service is right for them. When I create a business that has my back, there are lots of coaches and mentors etc. That will say, well, they provide the service is up to the person whether or not they show up. That’s not how I operate. If it’s not working out for somebody, I’m going to meet with them to look at how we can do things to make it better for them. And if it still doesn’t work, I am brave enough to have the conversation and say I don’t think this is working. This is no longer an investment for you, I think we should call time on this. If I’m not, if my business doesn’t have my back and I haven’t structured it to have my back, I’ll then put myself in a position where I’m working with people that I know the work isn’t working for anymore, simply because I haven’t set up the systems and structure for the business to have my back. And for me one of my core values is integrity. Well, two of my core values, integrity and social justice, it’s not socially just for me or the people I’m working with to continue working with them when I can see it’s just not working, regardless of what we’ve tried. And I’m not in integrity if I’m saying, well, they pay their money, it’s their lookout because I think that actually when we do this work, we both come together to create this living, breathing body of work. And if the body of work is dead, it’s not just down to one person. It’s something we’re Co-creating together. So, and also, another thing when we’re thinking about business is having our back. And being clear about how we want to live. We’re then like ohh gosh, right, so if I want to be able to pay all of my bills and if I want to be able to pay my VA the rate she charges because that’s what she charges, and I want to honour that. And if I want to buy things that are better for the environment or whatever and they cost a bit more money. I actually do need to price this thing this way. Yes, because of the value and also because I have needs as well, we can start being honest about what we need and what we desire. Instead of shaming ourselves. Because again, when we’re not clear about what we need and what we desire, we judge ourselves according to capitalism and consumerism. And we start to behave as if us wanting to make, I don’t know, £10,000 a month is because we’re greedy capitalists as opposed to for me to have a sustainable business and a sustainable life, I need to generate that revenue.

Katie Treggiden

Absolutely. It’s so interesting, isn’t it? How, how much? We kind of shame ourselves just for wanting to meet our needs and our wants and our desires, all of which enable us to show up whole and do the work that that we want to do and the make the contribution we want to make.

OUTRO

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Making Design Circular with Katie Treggiden. It is so lovely to know that there are people out there tuning into these conversations. If you found that interesting, I would love to connect with you on Instagram, I am on @katietreggiden.1. And if you’re a designer, maker, artist or crafts person who’s interested in sustainability and environmentalism, then please also follow @making_design_circular_ and both of those are in the shownotes. You can also follow my email newsletter there. I would be super grateful if you’re listening to this on an iPhone or iPad or other Apple device if you could leave us a review on Apple podcasts. I think that’s the only podcast platform that takes reviews, but it’s incredibly helpful to help people find us and make sure that more and more people are finding this message. So if you could take a couple of moments just to leave a review there that would be amazing. And I would also like to say a quick thank you to the incredible Kirsty Spain, who produces and edits this podcast and keeps me on track so that these episodes actually make it into your ears. So thank you very much, Kirsty.

 

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