‘This is What I Do’ Lynsey Addario’s Story

Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist who exemplifies the work ethic needed to succeed in any competitive career. As a photojournalist, she learned at an early stage that photography was a medium to tell a story.

In March 2011, while on assignment for The New York Times in Libya, she and her three fellow journalists were captured by soldiers in Muammar el-Qaddafi and held for six days before being released.

In her new book ‘It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War’ published earlier that month, Ms. Addario writes in the Prelude: “That day in Libya I asked myself the questions that still haunt me: Why do you do this work? Why do you risk your life for a photograph?… The truth is that few of us are born into this work. It is something we discover accidentally, something that happens gradually. We get a glimpse of this unusual life and this extraordinary profession, and we want to keep doing it, no matter how exhausting, stressful, or dangerous it becomes. It is the way we make a living, but it feels more like a responsibility, or a calling. It makes us happy, because it gives us a sense of purpose…”

Ms. Addario developed an interest in photography when her father gave her a camera at the age of 13, not realizing at the time that this gift would lead toward a career.

Her story is one of hard work, proving her talent in a profession still dominated by men. In an excerpt from book published in The New York Times Magazine, she describes the attitude among the four captured journalists: “Each one of us knew that this work was an intrinsic part of who we were: it was what we believed in; it governed our lives.”

Describing her life: “Leaving at the last minute, jumping on planes, feeling a responsibility to cover wars and famines and human rights crises was my job. To stop doing those things would be like firing myself.”

This is a personal story about adventure, family and tradeoffs. The art and humanity of her photography appears throughout. It’s a book about work and life and balance.

Most of us do not risk our lives each day covering international conflicts, getting in close to capture the truth in a photograph. Reading her story, we learn her answer to the question and we are left to ask ourselves: Why do you do this work?

A 19th century poem of work

When we think of work today, it’s often disconnected from manual labor and rarely would we describe it in song. Six years ago, author Matthew Crawford wrote of his experience leaving a white collar position to follow his dream, working with his hands.

“Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive.”

He concluded: “The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.”

With that in mind, the 19th century Whitman poem follows below in which workers express “the experience of individual agency” in song, “Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else..”

‘I Hear America Singing’

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892

When being the #1 trend on Twitter can cost you your job

Since the inception of the first social networking sites there has been concern about the ultimate consequences of sharing private thoughts in a public space. I doubt the majority initially sharing their comments and photos imagined the possibility of losing their job as a result.

In those early days, in the first forays into private space, employers used interns to gain access to the online presence of potential candidates. Hiring managers obtained access to information that previously would be illegal to have about a candidate prior to an interview: race, religion, political preferences and sexual orientation. Screening via the internet allowed employers to take a short cut around accepted hiring practices.

As individual’s online profiles expanded to include multiple online platforms, the public information data base grew exponentially. The pressure to be online, 24×7, posting photos of meals, videos of pets and stream of consciousness tweets opened the door to abuse.

Employers continued to monitor the online profiles of employees and candidates with an expanded supply of information.

Rather than have a conversation, we text. Emotion is replaced at a distance with free associative updates. There is no editor, just ears to fingers to the vast space of online commentary.

In disassociating with emotion, we connect unaware of the impact of our words.

Laura Hudson writing in a July 2013 article for Wired Magazine comments, “Increasingly, our failure to grasp our online power has become a liability — personally, professionally, and morally. We need to think twice before we unleash it.”

If you have online followers, you have the potential for a career ending accident.

Jon Ronson, the author of a new book, ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’, previewed the content in a New York Times Magazine article on February 12. Recounting the stories of a number of people whose tweets slipped out of their control, he describes the role of public shaming that has become a new form of online entertainment and in most cases results in those involved losing their jobs.

Conor Friedersdorf proposes in his article, ‘A Social-Media Mistake Is No Reason to Be Fired’, “…a new social norm…Here’s what corporations should say in the future: “Sorry, we have a general policy against firing people based on social media campaigns. We’re against digital mobs.”

Until that policy takes effect, manage your online communications the way you communicate face to face.


Best Work Day Ever

Is there one question we can ask that will help us figure out what we want to do with our lives at work?

It may not be the only question, but asking ‘What was your best day ever?’ serves a variety of situations:

You have an interview tomorrow and you need a question to ask the interviewer to get a deeper sense of their work.

You are an employer and you have a slate of candidates to interview and you need to find someone who will commit to your organization’s goals.

You are meeting with a networking contact and only have a few minutes to gain some understanding of what it takes be successful in their chosen profession.

You are just trying to figure out what you want to do with your life.

In an interview, asking a potential employer about their best work day will tell you quickly whether they enjoy their work and give an indication on how they fit into their organization’s culture.  You can then compare the answer to your own priorities. Is this a place where you could be successful?

Lew Cirne, the chief executive of New Relic, a software analytics company based in San Francisco described his process for interviewing candidates in an interview with Adam Bryant for the Corner Office column in The New York Times. “One question I ask more often than others is, “Describe a day where you’ve just had the greatest working day of your life. You’re driving home and you’re on cloud nine. What was it about that working day that made you so happy?” If you’re doing what you love to do and it gives you that tingle down your spine, you’re going to execute at a high level.”

If you are considering a new career or a new organization, talking to people engaged in those careers and organizations is an important source of information in your research. Asking each person about their best work day ever will give you a sense of what they love about their work and the tradeoffs they have made to achieve success. It provides a hint of who they really are and why they do what they do.

Ask yourself the question. Better yet, ask a friend to ask you the question. And after you have answered, ask them to tell you what you said. Where were the smiles in your narrative? What were you describing when the energy changed? What did they hear that told them about your values and priorities?









Thank you @PattyArquette

Actress Patricia Arquette took her moment in the spotlight last night to challenge her audience to address the major issue in the workplace today, equal pay and equal access for women.

It reminded me of another significant event, election night in November 2008 when Barak Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. I was in Portland, Oregon for a meeting and the celebrations in the street went on into the early hours of the morning. Network anchors characterized this as a defining moment in US history when all could now aspire to be president. Really? I could not relate.

I live in a country where it took ten years between 1972 and 1982 for 35 states to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, three short of the 38 necessary. Since that time, the amendment has been brought before Congress with no action. An amendment that simply states:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Which brings me to Patricia Arquette and her remarks accepting the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

If you were on Twitter, the early comments were both supportive and critical. For those of you who believe all is well in the workplace, take a look at an article in The New York Times on Saturday, ‘In China’s Modern Economy, A Retro Push Against Women’. Quoting Angela Li’s supervisor after she was passed over for a promotion, “‘It’s good that you girls take your work seriously. But you should be focusing on finding a boyfriend, getting married, having a kid.’ Ms. Li quit. ‘I could compete in terms of ability, but not in terms of gender,’ she said.”

Some of the critics felt Ms. Arquette unfairly limited her remarks to working women with children. Lydia DePillis writing on The Washington Post ‘Wonkblog’ this morning documents the widening wage gap for working mothers. “There’s not so much a gender pay gap as there is a motherhood pay gap. And there’s new research all the time explaining why it persists…while the overall gender wage gap has been shrinking in the United States, the discrepancy for mothers has been growing, and it gets wider with every additional child.”

Thank you Ms. Arquette for reminding us that the workplace is not yet a level playing field. The time is long past for leaders in all sectors of the economy and government to revisit our policies and ensure equal access and equal pay for women.


Week in Review – February 16 – 22

It’s Oscar Sunday, the culmination of awards season for the film industry. As the industry titans walk the red carpet it will appear that the Sony Pictures hacking scandal never happened. All will be wearing happy faces, closely monitored by a bevy of publicists. This is the world of make believe and scripted narrative.

Since the first stories broke of the Sony hack in the days before Thanksgiving, we’ve been spectators to a world of behind the scenes dysfunctional relationships in the entertainment industry. If you are an insider, there was no surprise. But for the millions who line up weekly at the box office, it was a rare glimpse of the ‘reality show’ we call Hollywood.

Is there a lesson in this for all of us who go to work in the ‘real world’? Yes. How we understand and manage our relationship with work and our workplace community is the critical foundation for success.

This past week we have had a conversation about our relationship with work in prose, poetry and even a few suggested novels to help clarify our values and definition of success.

This week we also learned that author and professor, Oliver Sacks  (whose memoir was the basis for Robin William’s character in the film ‘Awakenings’, a Best Picture nominee in 1991) had received a diagnosis he described it in The New York Times OP-ED column on Thursday: “But my luck has run out – a few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver…It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me.”

As he has many times before, he provides us with a prescription for a life well lived, clear on his priorities and relationships:

“Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).”

We do not live in the world of make believe, but we do live in a world where imagination and creativity allow us to make connections and develop relationships in life and at work. Perhaps it’s time for us to eliminate the inessential and focus on self, work and friends as Dr. Sacks suggests.





Three Novelists Create Narratives About Work

It’s the weekend, and if you’re looking for a good story to fill you day, here are three suggestions from three authors who in their respective novels capture our attitudes toward life, work and success. Often we find in the imagination of others, inspiration and understanding of our own lives. These three authors give voice to our expectations of work and success and the inevitable collision with reality.

Meg Wolitzer  ‘The Interestings’

In the summer of 1974 a group of adolescents meet at an arts camp. The narrative follows their progress toward realization of their dreams. Meg Wolitzer  “allows her characters to come to see happiness not as getting what they thought they wanted, but wanting what they’ve wound up having — a definition in which succeeding doesn’t require exceeding.” writes Liesl Schillinger reviewing ‘The Interestings’ for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

“Though I think about work all the time. For me, it’s not just to stay busy. I mean, partly it’s a distraction from what I can’t change. They need me at the studio. When I’m gone, like this week, they all…flail. But mostly it’s because work is just so great to think about. It’s sort of an endless replenishing…If you can’t have a good relationship with somebody then you should at least have a good relationship with your work. Your work should feel like…an incredible person lying next to you in bed.”

Dave Eggers ‘A Hologram for the King’

Dave Egger’s character, Alan Clay is a self-employed consultant who arrives in the Saudi Arabian desert to work on an ambiguous assignment. Alan is a middle management American, looking to regain his self confidence and find meaning in his work.

“…He was more than that. Some days he was more than that. Some days he could encompass the world. Some days he could see for miles. Some days he climbed over the foothills of indifference to see the landscape of his life and future for what it was: mappable, traversable, achievable. Everything he wanted to do had been done before, so why couldn’t he do it? He could. If only he could engage on a continual basis. If only he could draw up a plan and execute it. He could! He had to believe he could. Of course he did.”

Joshua Ferris ‘Then We Came To The End’

“We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise.” begins the narrative of Joshua Ferris’ 2007 novel, ‘Then We Came to the End’.

Set in a Chicago advertising agency, this is a story of work and co-workers. It’s a story of the inhumanity of downsizing and the humanity of people who show up every Monday morning for work. He vividly describes the culture of a shrinking organization.

“What little work remained was never any fun….We could enjoy nothing but our own rumoring. Conversation never extended beyond our walls, walls that were closing in on us, and we failed to take stock of anything happening around them…In the last week of August 2001, and in the first ten days of that September, there were more layoffs than in all the months preceding them. But by the grace of god, the rest of us hung on, hating each other more than we ever thought possible.”

What Work Is – A Poem by Philip Levine

On Fridays, at the end of the traditional work week, I want to share the poems that have given voice over time to workers and their work.

The poem this week is by former United States poet laureate Philip Levine who died on February 14. On Monday, Dwight Garner writing in The New York Times described his background and achievements: “Mr. Levine was born in Detroit, was educated in public schools and went to college at Wayne State in Detroit. He held, he liked to say, a lot of “stupid jobs.” Those stupid jobs informed his sense of the way so many Americans live.”

In 1991 Mr. Levine published a book of poetry, ‘What Work Is’.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Philip Levine reads “What Work Is” from What Work Is on NPR:


First I Want to Thank the Academy

Yesterday I was in the vortex of the entertainment industry: Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Only three days away from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards ceremony and the streets are clogged with catering trucks as party tents are being constructed in almost every available alley. The double decker tour buses were strained beyond capacity as visitors and probably a few long time residents take in the sights of Oscar week.

The entertainment industry and all that supports it are what work is for many in this Southern California region. And while the rest of the country is covered in ice and snow, on Sunday, a world-wide audience will tune in to the telecast and watch celebrities walk a red carpet in late February sunshine.

I’m not sure what percentage of aspiring actors will eventually carry a Screen Actors Guild card, but it’s probably a very small group that arrives at this pinnacle of their chosen career.

Judging from Oscar award acceptance speeches, it’s a rare achievement to be selected, in most cases after many years of hard work, failure and the support of teachers and family.

Last year, Lupita Nygong’o accepted her award for best supporting actress for her role in ’12 Years A Slave’.

“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child, that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Spencer Kornhaber, writing in The Atlantic noted why this speech stood out from the others.

“Really look at that wording: It doesn’t escape her for one second that her current joy directly stems from someone else’s pain. She does make the standard industry thank-yous to cast, crew, and family members, but she chooses to preface all of that with a lengthy dedication to the person whose story she told on screen. Later in the speech, she said she could feel the presence of the dead. Lots of Oscar winners try to project humility, but usually that professed humility is in relation to others in the film industry—not in relation to all of American history.”

Sunday, when you are watching the ceremony, listen closely to the words of the winners. It may remind you that our dreams are valid. Our dreams are built on history of others. And we are at our best when we are humble in acknowledging our success.

Job vs. Calling – Work to Live or Live to Work?

Do you work to live or live to work? That is the question. Or are you currently residing somewhere in the gray area in-between?

I have been thinking about this idea of differentiation between job and calling since the day I contacted a colleague at home and she asked me to hold while she covered the phone and yelled “It’s my job”. I was struck that this person who was so committed to her work, used the term ‘job’ vs. any other label in the English language. And I realized my bias, thinking ‘job’ was less than calling.

I think it has something to do with where our true passions lie. A job, to many, is a means to an end, while a calling is that nagging dream that disrupts any attempt to take a career detour.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love‘ and ‘The Signature of All Things‘ described better than most what a calling looks like in her TED Talk last year, referring to her work as her ‘home’.

“Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself…your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”

“The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it. And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next.”

Maybe we’re a bit reluctant to describe our aspirations as a ‘calling’. Maybe it’s more humble to have a ‘job’. I would not use caution in describing your life’s work.