049 | Michael Rain | What not fitting in can teach you

A conversation with Michael Rain on multiculturalism as a superpower, growing up a Black immigrant in America and why humility is outdated

Isabelle Roughol
Isabelle Roughol

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I started calling it cultural literacy. Michael Rain calls it cultural competency. But we both recognise the same thing in our immigrant experience: Adapting to the mores of a new country is a cognitive exercise like no other. Do it and your brain will never be the same.

"People who are raised in that context approach the world, approach people with a different eye," Michael tells me. "I think you come out with a generally more objective view of a lot of different cultures and people. You just know that there are other perspectives. I think it sharpens our perception."

I suggest that sounds like a superpower in life and especially in the workplace. But his experience at the confluence of being American, being Black and being an immigrant hasn't always felt like an advantage, Michael admits.

"It slows down me doing anything with 'majority' (culture), whether it be a major news publication or any institution," he says. "Regardless of all the rhetoric that they put out there, they're not very open to new ideas, especially when it comes from a multicultural person to be honest. I feel like if I was not and I was saying the same things, it would be received much differently."

His observations are just anecdotes, they say, when others' are insights. He has experience, perhaps; but others have expertise.

“They say it indirectly, but they basically say you cannot be an expert on your own experience.”

As if the dominant group's experience was neutral and everyone else's was a bias...

But Michael Rain is charting his own path as an entrepreneur and storyteller. His experience of discrimination is one he seldom discusses, he says, and not one he's keen to make the sole focus of our conversation. And why should it be? There's so much more to the multicultural life. We talked about the weirdness of the American school lunches, his compassion for immigrant parents who struggle to keep up with second-gen kids and why humility is an outdated value when you're trying to make it in America.

I loved chatting to Michael Rain for the first 2022 episode of Borderline and I hope you'll have a listen.

Show notes

[00:00:20] Intro
[00:03:22] "A large number of first-generation people"
[00:04:54] "Fufu is a far superior lunch"
[00:09:09] "It's three identities I'm juggling"
[00:11:43] “The tension between the collectivist culture of most of the world and this very individualistic American culture”
[00:13:54] "People raised in that context approach the world with a different eye"
[00:16:23] "If I was not (multicultural) and I was saying the same things, it would be received much differently"
[00:18:27] "You can't be an expert of your own experience"
[00:22:05] "The people in charge are worried about everyone else's biases when the core problem is their own"
[00:26:04] "The Great Resignation? I was way ahead of that curve"
[00:31:08] "This value of humility that I was raised with is outdated"
[00:39:42] Outro

Follow Michael Rain on Instagram and on Twitter

Explore further

✊ Coincidentally, last week was the Black Immigrant Advocacy Day of Action and I learned a thing or two.

💪 "The work should speak for itself, but just in case, speak for the work," Michael's friend advised him. Building a personal "brand" and talking up one's work is an import of American capitalism I know makes many people uncomfortable. But it is required to find professional opportunity in 2022. I wrote up that part of our conversation for my LinkedIn community and asked: How do you get over your hesitations and embrace the spotlight? I shared my own techniques from managing a global team who had various comfort levels with attention. Do follow me over there and add your own recommendations to the conversation.  

📺 Watch Michael Rain's TED talk.


Transcripts are published for your convenience, but they are automated and not always cleaned up. Please excuses typos and occasional nonsense, and always check the audio before quoting.

[00:00:00] Michael Rain: They say it indirectly, but they basically say you cannot be an expert on your own experience. It's like being on a parody show, right? The people in charge are worried about everyone else's biases when the core problem is their own.

[00:00:20] Intro

[00:00:20] Isabelle Roughol: Hi, I'm Isabelle Roughol and this is Borderline.

[00:00:24] Welcome to a brand new season. I'm so excited to be back in my little home studio, talking to you and to all the fascinating people who agree to come on the podcast.

[00:00:35] I know it's been a little while, but I'm back for good for the next few weeks and months.

[00:00:39] This year, I'm going to try to have a slightly more sustainable schedule so we don't have long breaks like we just had. My goal is to have a new piece of content every week. But we're going to alternate between podcast episodes and essays. I've been doing a bit more writing lately, and I just remember how much I've missed it.

[00:00:55] It's all at isabelleroughol.com. I've had a couple of essays that people seem to have liked over the last few weeks, one on global media and whether we need a global media brand or actually a more globally literate national media and another slightly less related to Borderline, but very much important to me, around burnout and the incredible workload that a lot of professionals have to handle. And a lot of my writing is around the topics that are related to Borderline and living across borders and straddling cultures, as well as around media and management and our modern worklife, which are things that matter to me a lot.

[00:01:34] So to read all of that, make sure to sign up for the newsletter if you haven't already at isabelleroughol.com.

[00:01:40] And this new schedule should also allow me a little bit more time for work, real work that pays the bill because this podcast does not. However, if you want to support it and help me afford a few more episodes, it's easy. Just become a member and chip in a few pounds a month. I'll be so grateful. It's all at isabelleroughol.com. Or if that's something you can't spell, totally fair, try borderlinepod.com as well.

[00:02:05] This week, I was thrilled to speak with Michael Rain, who agreed to be the inaugural guest on this new season. Michael is an entrepreneur and a storyteller, the founder of Enodi, a storytelling and media research company that highlights the lives of first-generation and immigrant people of African, Caribbean, and Latin descent who identify as Black. Those are three identities that are very much a part of Michael's own story. And he and I share a goal in wanting to complexify and humanize the stories we tell about immigrants. We discussed his own background as a Ghanaian American, growing up in Brooklyn, and we really honed in on the professional world, the strides that we still need to make towards true diversity, how multiculturalism can be a superpower in your workplace and in life, and why humility is well and truly dead, whether we like it or not.

[00:02:56] So here is a conversation that covers multiculturalism and work culture, my two favorite things, and I'm so glad to start this new year of Borderline with Michael Rain. I started by asking him to tell me a little bit about his family and growing up in Brooklyn.


[00:03:22] "A large number of first-generation people"

[00:03:22] Michael Rain: My dad came to the US from Ghana in 1968, a long time ago, as a student for school. And my mother came the year after in 69, they were married in Ghana before they came here. And, uh, several years after, after my dad finished his degree and my mom started her business, my sister was born here and then I was born here.

[00:03:48] So Fort Greene at the time was a Black community, uh, mostly Black American community in Brooklyn. But then after that, we moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn, which is still very much a Caribbean community. And even when I went to school there, there were immigrants everywhere. So to explain this demographic wise, so Brooklyn, which is in New York for people who are not super familiar with New York, is its own borough. And Brooklyn has the largest number of immigrants of any county in the United States. And it neighbors Queens, which has the most diverse set of immigrants in the United States.

[00:04:31] So there were always a large number of first-generation people that I lived near. Not necessarily always a Ghanaian community people though. Um, there was a lot of that through family and my parents' friends and various Ghanaian community events uh, we attended when I was young.

[00:04:54] "Fufu is a far superior lunch"

[00:04:54] Isabelle Roughol: So you have this famous Ted talk, and I love the anecdote that you start it on, which is your mom making that delicious Ghanaian dish for you. Fufu yeah. Describe that.

[00:05:09] Michael Rain: So fufu is, is basically a ball of starch that is, uh, kind of like sticky. It's not quite like mashed potato ish, but, and it's accompanied by soup and meat. It's a very delicious meal, but, um, not one familiar with, uh, those who I went to school with. Um, and, uh, they thought it was a quite strange thing for me to bring out of my thermos.

[00:05:43] Um, and it changed like the history of me, of my lunch, to be honest. So I, so, I mean, I was, I was, I mean, I was still too young to like, understand that, Hey, you know, my parents are immigrants. My friends don't understand the food and they're finding it weird. You just feel like your parents are sending you to school with something that people are teasing you for, right? And you just don't want to be teased and. So I started asking my mom to make me what I now understand and to be more American- like dishes, right? Like, like a chicken sandwich or, or something like that. And I don't know, I frustrated my mom so much that she just gave up and she would give me money to just buy my own lunch um, sometime in the fourth or fifth grade. Um, But yeah, it was, it was one of the first kind of experiences that you have when you're young, that you realize that part of what makes you different and why it makes you different and that sort of thing. And I dunno, it made a huge impression on me as a kid.

[00:06:59] And, uh, thanks for mentioning my quote unquote, famous Ted talk, but, uh, people, people mostly comment and send me a lot of messages about, uh, them going to school with some food from their culture and that reaction they totally related. Uh, but the best were, uh, notes that I got from parents who are immigrants, who their kids are children of immigrants and how mindful they became of what food they're sending their kid to school.

[00:07:28] I'm not sure how I feel about it because I don't know, the Michael now is like, fufu is like a far superior lunch than a chicken sandwich. But you know, when you, when you're like eight, you don't, you don't see it that way.

[00:07:44] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, you, you just, you don't want to stand out right when you're a kid you want to, you know, blend in and be one of the cool kids or at least one that doesn't get teased.

[00:07:53] Food is such a visceral expression of culture and of who we are. I laugh about you trying to adopt American lunch foods because I remember when I first landed in America in high school and I saw like PB~&~J for lunch. What do you mean? Toast with jam for lunch? Like where is the meat? Where are the vegetables? Where where's the three-course sit down lunch that I, as a French person was served in school, you know? It really is, um, a pretty universal experience, I think, of immigration, the institutional lunch.

[00:08:35] Michael Rain: Definitely. And, and you being a French person I'm sure has a far superior lunch experience than most Americans. There was, um, this series, I don't know who did it, um, but a photography series that took photos of different American lunches and like lunches around the world.

[00:08:56] And the French ones, I was just like, wow, like that could be my adult lunch. You know what I mean? Um, I, we, we, we definitely get the short end in the U S and I don't know what that's about.

[00:09:09] "It's three identities I'm juggling"

[00:09:09] Isabelle Roughol: You're doing some work focused on the Black immigrant experience in the United States. Can you talk to me a bit about that and how those two identities, you know, Black and immigrant kind of interplay for you and for the community that you're writing and researching about?

[00:09:29] Michael Rain: Yeah. So it's, it's actually three identities that, um, I'm juggling and. Um, a black immigrant if they immigrated at a young age so it's that group and the groups like me who were born in a country different than their parents. So like using myself as an example, I was born in the U S, my parents are from Ghana, so I grew up in the United States but my home was a Ghanaian home, you know, from my, my family's heritage. And then also juggling this idea of blackness, right, and, and being a Black person. And for me, at least in media, in being a media person, you realize that like you're not represented in any of those demographics, right?

[00:10:17] Like I'm not represented in people's general conversation about Ghanaians cause they think of people in Ghana now. Um, Americans, uh, I'm not, I mean, uh, to use a word I'm not fond of, I'm a minority in America, so I'm not the first idea of someone's American example. And then, growing up in the US as a Black person, most of the references refer to Black Americans who have been here for generations, right?

[00:10:47] And so you are a piece of all of these things, and it's like, where do you fit in, right? You have all of these references and you're in this unique space. And I wanted to create that, that space for people to talk about their experiences and their insights, being this multicultural person with authentic ties, to these very significant markers and who you become and how you, how that's impacted your life, how that might've impacted your work, that sort of thing.

[00:11:23] So that's like the core thing of Enodi, but also just capturing the experience of being a person who is raised in a country different than their parents and how that, that cultural tension, um, comes to define a lot of your life.

[00:11:43] “The tension between the collectivist culture of most of the world and this very individualistic American culture”

[00:11:43] Isabelle Roughol: How so? Tell me more about that, that cultural tension?

[00:11:48] Michael Rain: Yeah. So, I mean, so the lunch thing is a example of something I wasn't aware of when you're a kid, but you know, your, your parents were raised a certain way, right? And they're trying to raise you with the same values and all of that, but they're doing it in a very different country, of which they're still learning all of the little nuances right?

[00:12:13] And the country you grew up in is all, you know, and since you're in school, you're more familiar with that right than they are. So there's like a constant battle. Like I would say , the general one is the tension between the collectivist culture of like most of the world and this very individualistic American culture and balancing those different values in that one home and in yourself.

[00:12:44] It's it's hard, you know what I mean? So, yeah, it's, it's, it's that tension and the more conversations, the more thinking I do on it, the more research I do on it, I become a lot more sympathetic to the, the immigrant parents with the raising the kids. It's like, I still don't know how my parents did it. It's really hard.

[00:13:08] Isabelle Roughol: I wonder how much of, how much of that is also just, you know, getting older and kind of getting to the age that your parents were at the time and just having a little bit more compassion perhaps for how tough that is.

[00:13:22] Michael Rain: Definitely true. Definitely true. There's no school for raising kids, right? So everyone raises their child like they were raised or, or, I mean how they were raised is their reference point. And then to go to a completely different country where your kids are going to school with other kids who it's it's, it's hard. It's, it's, it's really difficult. So yes, I've become much more compassionate as I've gotten older and done these conversations.

[00:13:54] "People raised in that context approach the world with a different eye"

[00:13:54] Michael Rain: But I think the people like me, who, who are raised in that context, approach the world, approach people with a different eye, right? Like, because I'll say for Americans: most Americans who were born here in the US can generally only see from that perspective. It's hard for them to see the world, to see the Us through other people's eyes, because they've never had to do that.

[00:14:21] But when you've had to always do these things, I think you come out with a generally more objective view of a lot of different cultures and people because you're very used to, you just know that there's some other perspective, right? Not just like another, but there's other perspectives and it, I don't know, I think it, uh, it sharpens our perceptions.

[00:14:46] Isabelle Roughol: That sounds like a super power.

[00:14:48] Michael Rain: Yeah, I should describe it that way.

[00:14:51] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. Yeah. I've thought about this a bit. And I, the, the way that I've defined or attempted to define it is a sense of cultural literacy and this ability to jump between cultures. I I'd love to hear how that's, if you've experienced that and how that's turned out for you, but in a way, once you're able to jump between two or three cultures, it's much easier to jump to a fourth or fifth or, or even just to kind of see the perspective of someone, even if it's a culture that is never going to be yours.

[00:15:24] Michael Rain: Yeah. Uh, cultural literacy ... I've been using the term cultural competency, I guess it's the same thing. Um, yes. And not only does it make it easier for you to see or, or understand other cultural perspectives, it just makes it easier for you to see other perspectives regardless of what the topic of conversation is, right?

[00:15:49] Like, um, I guess I'm going to keep ragging on American culture. Things are very like cut and dry about things. It's like good and evil, right? Black and white. Right or wrong. Yes or no. And there's much more nuance to that, right? And so, regardless of what the conversation or argument is, you know, that there's a lot of gray area and you become comfortable knowing that and being open at least I think to those other things.

[00:16:23] "If I was not (multicultural) and I was saying the same things, it would be received much differently."

[00:16:23] Isabelle Roughol: How do you think that translates to kind of how you operate in the world? Or in, in what context do you kind of use that superpower or do you feel that you kind of have an edge?

[00:16:34] Michael Rain: Well, I hope it's an edge.

[00:16:36] Isabelle Roughol: I think so.

[00:16:38] Michael Rain: mean, I think it helps me discover new things. So I like just a idea of Enodi comes from being able to see all of those different parts of my identity and see those communities in a broader way. And in a broader way than it's constantly been served to me or, or framed. And I'm, I'm constantly reframing things or seeing things in a different way.

[00:17:09] It doesn't often feel like a advantage because sometimes it's too forward, right? Even the concept of Enodi is like too new for people. A lot of people who don't have multicultural immigrant backgrounds, like. It's fascinating to me actually, um, that it is, but it slows, it slows down me doing anything with, uh, I don't know, majority stuff. Whether it be a major news publication or any institution, um, regardless of all the rhetoric that they put out there, they're not very open to new ideas, especially when it comes from a multicultural person to be honest. I feel like if I was not, and I was saying the same things, it would be received much differently.

[00:18:09] Isabelle Roughol: Is it that the combination of different identities is too confusing? Would it be better received if it came from someone that they perceive as just an immigrant or just a Black American, but like the connection of all the different identities is it's too confusing? Is that, is that what you mean? Or.

[00:18:27] "You can't be an expert of your own experience"

[00:18:27] Michael Rain: So I I'll just describe it as how I experience it and how I label it. I just find that a lot of mainstream things or things in power or whatever these institutions, it's very difficult for them to accept, nonwhite people, being the experts on their own people. Very different, difficult. Like every insight that you share to them is just things that you feel or things you make up or things you like, right? Whereas if it came from a white person making these same observations, they see it as expertise. They see it as cutting edge. And you see this a lot. You actually see this a lot in, um, in the US with a lot of Black American issues, right? There's, there are, uh, Black scholars, activists who have been saying things, uh, for decades, been studying and researching it. But when a white person delivers it, it becomes more adopted and accepted and that person just experiences more success.

[00:19:36] There was a lot of conversation about this in 2020 during the, uh, George Floyd moment, I guess we'll call it, um, with people who were. Um, at least I saw it on Twitter saying, Hey, I've been doing this consulting and speaking work forever. And I'm watching people who are not Black get, get these opportunities when they're basically, um, pushing forward ideas that I have been researching and putting forward for, for forever. And it's a constant, it's really, it's, it's a really difficult block, you know? Um, but yeah, I get it a lot.

[00:20:20] People, they say it indirectly, but they basically say you can't, you cannot be an expert on your own experience.

[00:20:29] And it's, and it, I don't know, it's in a lot of things I remember, at a company I used to work at, years and years ago someone... So my, my, background is in, um, uh, strategic communication, which deals with a lot of crisis stuff. And a senior person once told me that someone who outranked them said that we can never have any of the Black people work on the, the crisis issues that deal with Black people, because they're going to be too emotional. They're not, they're going to be too biased. They're not going to be able to work on it. Which is crazy, because if you follow that logic, that means all the Black people should be working on all of the white issues. right? But, uh, they didn't see it that way.

[00:21:22] Isabelle Roughol: It's conversation that we're having in the, in the media and the journalism industry. It's been really frustrating in that. When people who are, I know you dislike the word, but in so-called minority groups, write about their own experiences, there's the danger they're going to be biased. But being of the majority group is like neutral somehow. Like they don't, they don't get to be biased? There was this whole conversation about working class journalists couldn't essentially write about poverty, I was like, well, because they've experienced poverty. Um, yeah, as if being wealthy and covering business, wasn't its own bias.

[00:22:05] "The people in charge are worried about everyone else's biases when the core problem is their own"

[00:22:05] Michael Rain: Yes. Yeah, no, it's, it's definitely true of journalism in all of those areas that you mentioned. There's this constant conversation about having the newsroom reflect the audience and the community, and it never does because of the... it's isn't it so... It's like being on a parody show, right? Like the people in charge are worried about everyone else's biases when the core problem is their own, right?

[00:22:36] It's maddening. It's absolutely maddening. And I'm glad you brought up the working class and poor part, because that is like a huge part of a lot of these institutions that refuse to change is the quote unquote class of people that they welcome into their doors. Because while I, you know, greatly champion, um, racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, a lot of times folks are like coming from very similar, like educational backgrounds or, or social backgrounds. And you, you get sometimes a very superficial change. And I say that as someone who has had the benefit of quote unquote elite education.

[00:23:27] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah. I mean, me too. I, you know, certainly fit the mold quite accurately of who gets the chance to work in journalism. Um, it's definitely a conversation that happens a lot in the UK, uh, partly because, well, I don't know if you're familiar with the UK, but it's a very class -obsessed country and a lot of things

[00:23:46] Michael Rain: I've heard.

[00:23:47] Isabelle Roughol: are determined by class. It's fascinating. You know, I've been here five years and I'm just like... It's just, it's on every day. It's like people cannot get over it. And there are, there are very strong class biases, in terms of what accent that you have, you know, when you speak the Queen's English and, and certainly British media is extremely, extremely kind of upper, upper-middle-class, upper-class um, in a everyone has done the same degree at Oxford kind of way, unfortunately.

[00:24:17] Michael Rain: I haven't experienced it personally, but I thought the Royal family was the first clue that class might be an issue.

[00:24:25] Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, well, from there on down, it, all it all is, is very much like that.

[00:24:29] I'm glad we're having this conversation, it's just it's something that seems to come up lately, again and again, in a lot of conversations that I've been having, I'm seeing it crop up everywhere, uh, and worryingly, I'm seeing it crop up with a lot of people that I'm seeing kind of quit the media industry in general or quit their jobs. And it's happening in droves. It's happening to, to women I know a lot. It's definitely happening to Black people and people of color in the industry is there's this whole conversation about diversity. People get hired and these organizations say they want to change the face of the organization, but they don't want to be changed by the people that they hire.

[00:25:13] So they want to hire different people to do the same things they've always done.

[00:25:17] Michael Rain: Yes. Yes. That's exactly what they want to do in many cases, uh, consciously or subconsciously. Because, you know, they hire, they hire for, quote unquote fit, right? And fit translates like "how comfortable am I with this person?" And, you know, circling back to the multicultural part, if you haven't grown up exposed to many cultures and many people, your level of comfort is going to be low with a lot of different kinds of people because you have not been exposed right? Whereas someone more exposed to other people will see fit in, in a lot broader terms right?

[00:26:04] "The Great Resignation? I was way ahead of that curve"

[00:26:04] Michael Rain: But, um, in, in what you're talking about, yeah, this quote unquote Great Resignation that's happening in the U S is so fascinating to me, um, and makes me feel like I was ahead of the curve because I did it like almost nine years ago.

[00:26:21] Isabelle Roughol: Very ahead of the curve. I did it just before the pandemic, but, but you were, you were way ahead of me.

[00:26:28] Michael Rain: Hey, I was even working remotely back then too. Before, like even wifi was really common in coffee shops, I was working remotely. So I feel like I'm living nine years in the future maybe.

[00:26:44] Isabelle Roughol: Is it because you felt that like the dominant culture within corporate America was not going to make room for you? That you would just going to make your own room on your own or kind of what was the thinking behind that?

[00:27:00] Michael Rain: Yeah. I mean, that's a, that's a conclusion that I came to years after I left it. It wasn't something I was very conscious of when I was there. And a lot of it has to do with how I was raised, right? Because my parents weren't raised here. So they were still learning about what it was to be Black in America and for my parents, most of the discrimination that they experienced, they contextualize as being immigrants, not necessarily being Black.

[00:27:35] So I didn't grow up in a household talking about being Black as a hurdle, right? Or, or how people perceive Black people. We just didn't really talk about that in those, in that context. So, you know, things that I experienced in corporate, I didn't contextualize that way. I just thought people didn't like me or this person is like, um, overtly aggressive or harsh or whatever.

[00:28:04] So I didn't think about it in those terms. Um, I was just in a work situation that was not feeding my spirit, that I felt undervalued, way overworked. I didn't understand why I was working 65, 75 hours every week and being unfulfilled and unappreciated, right? It just seemed like, what am I doing? And on a spiritual level, I just knew I should, I should be doing something else.

[00:28:41] And I, and I didn't have the mental space to even figure out what that was at the job. So I just had to pick an end date and leave. So that's what I did. I picked like my, I picked the anniversary of the day I started that job as what would be my last day. And I just worked towards that and never really looked back to corporate after. Yeah.

[00:29:08] Isabelle Roughol: That's a brave, that's a brave thing to do because it's proven that immigrants are much more entrepreneurial, much more likely to be self-employed, starting their own businesses. Um, sometimes simply because that's the only opportunity open to them because of discrimination. Um, and also because you know, the kind of people who are willing to pick up their lives and move across the world are not going to just be told what to do.

[00:29:38] Michael Rain: Facts.

[00:29:39] Isabelle Roughol: But, but at the same time, there is something about the hardships of immigrant lives, and especially when you're talking about kind of working class immigrant lives, that make you kind of crave a certain kind of security and the idea that especially that your children get a, you know, safe professional job in a corporation, you know, with a pension, that's, that's kind of the dream, isn't it?

[00:30:02] Michael Rain: Yeah. I mean, my mom was definitely not, uh, excited about the idea of me leaving my corporate job, right? It's it's funny that, so I mean, what you're saying, so both of my parents were entrepreneurs, so the idea of me being one did not seem scary because I grew up, I grew up like, I mean, working for them, right? And any, any immigrant child with a immigrant parent with a business, you know that you are a free labor, right? So you, you work with your parents, you work with your parents. It seems like the most normal thing. So it wasn't scary for me to say, all right, let me figure out how I can work for myself and do my own business because I grew up with that.

[00:30:43] But yes, my, my mother was not. Yeah, she would rather me be in a, what she thought of as a comfortable corporate job, right? Which was not comfortable for me at all. And I think still, even with, um, everything I've quote unquote accomplished, she would probably prefer if I still went, went back and worked for somebody. Yeah.

[00:31:08] "This value of humility that I was raised with is outdated"

[00:31:08] Isabelle Roughol: One part of being self-employed in your own business, that has become extremely important, and that we've talked about before privately that I kind of want to put out to the listeners, is this idea that you just have to keep putting yourself forward and building a brand around yourself and just being out there a lot. I don't know about you, but part of me is extremely uncomfortable with that, which people listening are going to laugh because I'm a total oversharer on social media and they know it, but the idea of like, look how great I am, why you sleeping on this, give me money, and all of that stuff you kind of have to do on social media is quite uncomfortable. I used to manage a team with people all over the world, it was kind of a running theme around for everyone, which is that we don't want to do that.

[00:31:58] And so I'm curious, what is, what is it like for you? I mean, part of me is like, you're an American, so you must be okay with that. Uh because that's what American business culture looks like, you know, from, from the outside.

[00:32:12] Michael Rain: Uh, so no, I've never been really comfortable with attention, right? Um, and I was going to mention that earlier, when we were talking about the lunch thing. I just haven't ever really been really comfortable with attention, even good attention. Like I like to be acknowledged and then we can move on to the next point, right? I don't want this like whole spotlight on me for a long period of time, but I've, I've learned that as a function of the work that I do and being independent, people being aware of you and being seen is very, very important and in fact, the only way you can do your work, right? So the only way you can get clients, the only way you can build partnerships, it's, it's, it's you, you have to be seen. And I've over time come to accept this idea that, uh, this value of humility that I was raised with is outdated. It does not serve. And that's not to say people should be boastful, not to say that people should be loud or braggadocious. But you should not be silent about your skills and your accomplishments and what you do, especially when you are in venues or situations where you're being evaluated or people are seeing you, because all you're doing is shooting yourself in the foot.

[00:33:43] And, and because of the world we live in, this digital media place where everyone is inundated with so much, people who are comfortable doing that get seen. And they get more of the opportunities, even if they come off aggravating, right? Since more people know who they are, more opportunities flow. And what happens is over time, those are the people who end up getting the most success, therefore in more positions of power. And then you just have this group of humble people still waiting around to be recognized for their work. right?

[00:34:22] So like, uh, a good friend of mine always says: the work should speak for itself, but just in case speak for the work, right? So,

[00:34:30] Isabelle Roughol: That's a good way to put it.

[00:34:32] But it's interesting what you say, because I'm sure everyone listening can kind of, you know, someone popped up in their mind immediately, someone in their industry who's really loud and everywhere and publishes all the op-eds and has the blog and has the Twitter and deep down you're like, they're not that good, you know, but, but they're known and they're in your face.

[00:34:56] Michael Rain: And not only do they do that, they are people who just are, for some reason, more comfortable having quote unquote controversial conversations or conversations that upset people or, or, strike a nerve. And those, those folks get to excell because they get attention. They know how to stir the pot. That is like the business model of Twitter, I feel like, is people doing those things. But that emotional stuff works on social media.

[00:35:27] I'll share a, I guess, a behind the scenes thing for people. A quick story. Last year, a very popular anthology series sent me an email basically like, "Hey, just fill out this form and review our edits. And we will pay you like, as soon as, uh, this book is released" or something like that. And I was like, what is this? And basically it was my TED talk, edited into like a, a little shorter piece. And I don't know, according to them, they thought that Michael rain was not my real name and someone else with a different name who submitted my Ted talk was really me and they were going to run my, run it in their book, in their series, without really verifying it was me. It was so bizarre.

[00:36:19] So anyway, that got me to Googling my talk and myself, which I unfortunately don't do often. And I found all of these things that people had. There's like ESL things that people have built off my talk, all these things that they're using my name without my permission. But I also found a ton of people who are recommending the talk for good things and stuff like that.

[00:36:42] Anyway so I collected that for myself, right? Like who's recommended my talk. This is interesting to me, uh, all these things. So when I decided to share it on LinkedIn, I was like, oh, it was kind of boring if I just say, I'm going to sh I'm going to share all these places that recommended my Ted talk. It just comes out like those hump not so humble, humble brags, right? Like, what is that? So I decided to share the story about being almost plagiarized and, and that post got so much engagement, right? Because people had this emotional reaction from someone's taking something from you or, or stealing your work or whatever.

[00:37:24] And a lot of people are good at that. They're good at figuring out what is, what is going to get an emotional reaction out of somebody, I'm going to lead with that. right? And I don't know that worked because it gave me an opportunity to share all those good places that recommended my talk. And that got me new traffic for speaking engagements. And I was like, oh wow. Is this, is this what people do? This is how they, this is how they build their

[00:37:50] Isabelle Roughol: Lesson learned. Lesson learned. At least you did it, you did it, you know, in a, in a positive way, because like, A, you shared a true story. Um, and B, yes, it was emotion, but it wasn't kind of pointlessly controversial, you know? And you, you mentioned that some people are much more comfortable ruffling feathers and getting controversials in what they share. And honestly the first thing that came to mind is, sure, because the price is much lower for them. Uh, because you know, if you or I get on Twitter and start getting controversial, um, the comments aren't going to be about what we said, they're going to be about who we are. right?

[00:38:28] Michael Rain: Yeah, but you know what it is? I think people like me and you should do more. We should just be honest. I think we edit ourselves because we might think, I don't want to say, I'll speak for me. I don't know, sometimes you don't want to ruffle certain feathers. There's certain things that you would rather not talk about in public, but I've realized and my Ted talk has taught me this is that if you're just honest, people are going to respond to that emotional thing, right? Because we're human. We all, we all have that. And I guess with being less humble, we should, we should find ways to be more... I'm not sure what the right word is here, cause it's not exactly vulnerable. Um, but uh, we should do that because people respond to the truth.

[00:39:16] Isabelle Roughol: It is a bit, I think. Vulnerable sounds good to me.

[00:39:20] Thank you so much for this conversation, Michael. I really appreciate it. We started out without a plan and I think we went in a really interesting direction.

[00:39:29] Michael Rain: Yeah, we, we definitely, uh, drove around the park and went through the woods. I think we got on bikes at some point, and this was a good conversation.

[00:39:39] Isabelle Roughol: Well, hopefully, listeners tagged along for the ride.

[00:39:42] Outro

[00:39:42] Isabelle Roughol: That was Michael Rain. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at michaeljrain, check out his Ted talk, links as always are in the show notes.

[00:39:55] Make sure to get the newsletter so you don't miss the next episodes as well as the essays now coming from Borderline and from isabelleroughol.com. And please support Borderline by becoming a member at the website. Again, Isabelleroughol.com. That impossible last name is R O U G H O L. Or you can try borderlinepod.com.

[00:40:17] Special thanks to Jeremy Caplan for introducing me to Michael, and to a new member of Borderline, Lisa Wyler.

[00:40:26] I'm your host, Isabelle Roughol. The new music is by Audionautix. Borderline is a One Lane Bridge production.

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Journalist, podcaster, media consultant. Telling stories & building better newsrooms. Writes The Lede. Ex- LinkedIn News, Le Figaro, The Cambodia Daily. 🎓 Mizzou '08, Birkbeck '25.