Covid Consciousness and “the plastic hours”: rethinking work culture with Mary Portas

Some podcasts have so many good, quotable moments, you just need to hit pause and rewind and then sit down to transcribe. The podcast episode of Past Imperfect with Mary Portas, is that.

I really wouldn’t have imagined someone who worked in retail– of all things– would be so pro-community, so for small stores, so against what she calls “alpha male leadership”* (<–clicky for my note), and against overworking as a badge of honour. But it turns out it’s precisely because she lived so much of her career in the other direction that she’s come to this conclusion.

“The “covid cleans” and “covid consciousness” that’s come out this is that we realised its about “we” and not about “me”. That this is about us on a world level of “we”. This has affected everybody and therefore has made us rethink how we’re connecting with people, how we are living our lives. What we are doing to this planet, and what we’re doing for our own wellbeing and what’s important to us.”

Mary Portas

This is is a manifesto for change. Change the culture in business from this linear, individualistic, alpha-male way of working. And most men don’t really want to work like that. We have to shift the way business is done”

Mary Portas

“Gershom Scholem said there are ‘plastic hours’. He said this after the holocaust. Times when you can say “we’re never going back to how things were”.

Mary portas

And the cute part is her change came about when her partner (she’s gay) gave birth to her second child. And she reflected on how different this child’s life would be from her oldest child. The times she spent working and HOW she spent working.

I tell you something as someone who works for herself, ran a company in two counties (streamlined when I got pregnant, cos the accounting alone was more than I could handle) works in tech, works in startups and has worked with creative agencies and a multinational corporation:

You realise that hustle culture wasn’t worth it. Not after a point.

Yeah, as an immigrant from a non eu country, I had to hustle hustle, hustle, to be hireable – I was competing with literally every person in the EU. So, that made sense. As a dyslexic with ADHD I had to hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle to get my degree and masters. I didn’t come as easily as to others. There was no “ah, the nights I spent drinking and partying” stories.

Short term hustle is fine.

But we’re being sold hustle as a lifestyle. As a virtue. As a never ending game of Mario where we expect to constantly level up or feel cheated or hard done by. That isn’t worth it. And it’s not even how it works in real life.

In real life, hustle isn’t always rewarded. Some of the hardest working and smartest people are struggling. While some of the most incompetent, decietful people are floated to the top (our beloved PM for example).

So let’s stop repeating this lie and adding an extra burden to those who get doors shut in their face repeatedly. Cos yeah, cream floats to the top, but so does scum. And we’re neither ponds nor dairy.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Mary portas interview on her traumatic childhood build resilience, covid consciousness, and rethinking the world we live in.

* (disclaimer: I would prefer she called it “toxic leadership” rather than assign it a gender, especially as we know women do perpetuate this culture as as well – but she is a boomer, so we have to expect some issues. Just know that each time that phrase comes up I mentally substitute “toxic leadership” in it’s place)

Really looking forward to hearing her own podcast on the kindness economy.


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