‘The Last Hours’ a poem by Stephen Dunn

The ‘Friday poem’ this week is ‘Last Hours’ from the Pulitzer Prize winning collection, ‘Different Hours’ by Stephen Dunn. The poem is set in an office in 1964 at nineteen minutes to five.

NPR editor Barrie Hardymon selected her interview with the poet as a favorite in 2014. “This was one of these moments where, you know, he writes this very accessible poetry – and I mean that not to damn it with faint praise. You are still in the chapel of language that poetry is, but it is so – it still feels like a friend is whispering in your year very wise things. And he had that quality about him.”

The interview began with “how he has used poetry in his own life”.

“What good literature has always done is give me the language with the occasion – a lot of times not, of course. But I think the poems that matter to me are the ones that speak to that which cannot easily be said.”

“I was not a particularly good student, and I was a pretty good basketball player. I’ve written an essay called “Basketball And Poetry,” in which I try not to push the metaphor too far. But one of the points that I make in the essay is the similarity between poetry and basketball is the chance to be better than yourself, to transcend yourself, if you’re hot that day. And that happens in writing in our best moments, where we find ourselves saying what we didn’t know we knew or couldn’t have said in any other circumstance. Those are the moments in poetry I live for now.”

Does our ‘work place’ also gives us a chance to be better than ourselves? Enter ‘the chapel of language’ in the Friday poem, The Last Hours.

The Last Hours

There’s some innocence left,
and these are the last hours of an empty afternoon
at the office, and there’s the clock
on the wall, and my friend Frank
in the adjacent cubicle selling himself
on the phone.
I’m twenty-five, on the shaky
ladder up, my father’s son, corporate,
clean-shaven, and I know only what I don’t want,
which is almost everything I have.
A meeting ends.
Men in serious suits, intelligent men
who’ve been thinking hard about marketing snacks,
move back now to their window offices, worried
or proud. The big boss, Horace,
had called them in to approve this, reject that–
the big boss, a first-name, how’s-your-family
kind of assassin, who likes me.
It’s 1964.
The sixties haven’t begun yet. Cuba is a larger name
than Vietnam. The Soviets are behind
everything that could be wrong. Where I sit
it’s exactly nineteen minutes to five. My phone rings.
Horace would like me to stop in
before I leave. Stop in. Code words,
leisurely words, that mean now.
Would I be willing
to take on this? Would X’s office, who by the way
is no longer with us, be satisfactory?
About money, will this be enough?
I smile, I say yes and yes and yes,
but–I don’t know from what calm place
this comes–I’m translating
his beneficence into a lifetime, a life
of selling snacks, talking snack strategy,
thinking snack thoughts.
On the elevator down
it’s a small knot, I’d like to say, of joy.
That’s how I tell it now, here in the future,
the fear long gone.
By the time I reach the subway it’s grown,
it’s outsized, an attitude finally come round,
and I say it quietly to myself, I quit,
and keep saying it, knowing I will say it, sure
of nothing else but.

Stephen Dunn, from Different Hours (W.W. Norton)

“Beyond this point lies the rest of the world”

I went for a walk this morning along the beach. It was cloudy, unusual for a summer day in California. I stopped in a parking lot to take a photo of the town’s iconic pier. I looked down for a minute and that’s when I spotted it. Embedded in the cement, facing the ocean are three directional arrows. In a semi-circle surrounding the arrows are the words “Beyond this point lies the rest of the world’.

There they were, nine simple words, welcoming visitors to imagine life beyond this point.


In writing this blog I have often emphasized the importance of curiosity and creativity, urging readers to step away from what is familiar and risk failure to experience success. Here it is, a perfect invitation to imagination and exploration.


You don’t have to travel to California and gaze at the Pacific. Just stop what you are doing, look up and remind yourself that that there is something bigger beyond where you sit.


The mysteries of networking – part three

Everyone tells you to ‘network’ to find a job. And yet the majority of us freeze at the thought of connecting with strangers to obtain information about careers. And it’s not just being shy. Most professionals who have made connections to establish business relationships find it difficult to translate those same skills to find a job.

Summer gives us an opportunity to ease into the process. We tend to think of networking as a formal meeting that involves lots of preparation in advance. There’s another approach that involves the chance encounter and spontaneous conversation away from the workplace. Vacation travel can offer unique alternatives to test your informal networking skills.

Last week while I was waiting for my delayed flight at Newark Liberty I observed a conversation between a pilot and a passenger in the boarding area. At first there was the normal exchange, sharing travel disruptions past, but that was followed with introductions, exchange of business cards and a more in depth conversation about work and life. Amid the chaos of summer travel two professional were networking.

It starts with curiosity and a desire to be continually learning.

While you are traveling, relaxing on a beach or hiking in the mountains be receptive to an opportunity for unexpected connection. Take a few minutes and disconnect from your electronics and observe your surroundings and fellow travelers. Test your ‘talking with strangers’ skills by noting something about an individual and initiate a conversation. It could be as simple as a comment to someone wearing clothing with a logo of your alma mater or favorite sports team.

These random conversations may not result in information directly related to your career advancement. But if you believe we learn from the wisdom of others, the conversations will yield valuable clues to experience, failure and success.

Nurture these informal connections along with those directly affiliated with your career field. Keep in touch via social networking. Never underestimate the value of your informal network to inform and influence your career choices.

The week@work – The odds of being poor@some point, how walking in nature changes the brain, young women envision pauses in their career and advice to working mothers

One story stood out from the rest this week@work. Washington Post journalists Emily Badger and Christopher Ingraham reported on the findings of sociologist Mark Rand at Washington University. The title alone was attention grabbing: ‘The remarkably high odds you’ll be poor at some point in your life’.

“The poor in America are not a permanent class of people. Who’s poor in any given year is different from who’s poor a few years later.

By the time they’re 60 years old, Rank has found, nearly four in five people experience some kind of economic hardship: They’ve gone through a spell of unemployment, or spent time relying on a government program for the poor like food stamps, or lived at least one year in poverty or very close to it.

By age 60, nearly 80 percent of us will have gone through a rough stretch.

“Rather than an uncommon event,” Rank says, “poverty was much more common than many people had assumed once you looked over a long period of time.”

The age of job stability is over, if anyone was still hanging on to an ideal of job security. Financial planning is a critical component of long term career planning. The reality of the research is that there will be periods of economic challenge alternating with periods of affluence. The ‘poor’ are not some abstract population. They are your neighbors, family and friends.

A story in The New York Times offered an example of how attitudes toward work and career might alter a family’s income. Journalist Claire Cain Miller writing for the Upshot found that the most recent entrants to the workplace envision planned pauses in their careers.

“The youngest generation of women in the work force — the millennials, age 18 to early 30s — is defining career success differently and less linearly than previous generations of women. A variety of survey data shows that educated, working young women are more likely than those before them to expect their career and family priorities to shift over time.

The surveys highlighted that two generations after women entered the business world in large numbers, it can still be hard for women to work. Even those with the highest career ambitions are more likely than their predecessors to plan to scale back at work at certain times or to seek out flexible jobs.

You might call them the planning generation: Their approach is less all or nothing — climb the career ladder or stay home with children — and more give and take.”

Recalling the career of journalist Marlene Sanders who died last week, Katherine Rosman shared the story of a member of the generation who achieved professional distinction while being among the first to ‘work outside the home’.

“In 2000, Cynthia McFadden, the senior legal and investigative correspondent for NBC News, attended a party given by her friend Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for The New Yorker and legal analyst for CNN. There, Ms. McFadden was catching up with Mr. Toobin’s mother, Marlene Sanders, the pioneering television reporter. She asked for her advice on managing motherhood and a career.

Ms. Sanders put both hands on Ms. McFadden’s shoulders and peered into her eyes. “Never apologize for working,” the older woman said. “You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

Over the years, Ms. McFadden said, Mr. Toobin told her he loved having a mother who worked outside the home, even in an era when it was not that common. It was a sentiment he reiterated in an interview on Wednesday. “I found her career exciting,” he said. “I loved to watch her on TV. Guilt was never part of the equation. And given her temperament, if she had been home all the time, it would have been a close contest to determine whether she or I went insane first.”

The last story of the week shares research that should encourage you to take a walk in the park. Reporting on a study at Stanford University, Gretchen Reynolds found:

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?

That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.”

In summary this week@work – take a walk in the park and consider your career path. Lose the guilt if you are a working mother, and plan for both the expected as well as the unexpected shifts in work/life balance.

The Saturday Read – Summer Reading Suggestions from TED speakers and attendees

Last week BuzzFeed Books posted a short quiz that professed to know how old you are based on your reading habits. Go ahead, take the quiz. You may find you have shaved 10 – 20 years from your chronological age. I’m once again enjoying my 23rd year.

The good news, we have more time to read, and this year the folks at TED have provided us with over 70 summer book suggestions from speakers and attendees.

After reviewing the list, I’ve picked a quartet of speakers and stories they recommend.

David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. “A series of very short stories that are all about the same thing: a single city in Kublai Khan’s empire. It’s mother’s milk for my own fiction writing.”

Dave Isay of StoryCorps:

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese. “An ode to the men who built the Verrazano-Narrows, it centers around the question, ‘Who are the high-wire walkers wearing boots and hard hats, earning their living by risking their lives in places where falls are often fatal and where the bridges and skyscrapers are looked upon as sepulchers by the families and coworkers of the deceased?’”

David Rothkopf, foreign policy thinker and senior editor of the FP Group:

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner. “My dad worked at Bell Labs, and my first summer jobs were there as well. It epitomized the power of pure research, and showed how big science and big government could collaborate. It is gone now, and its disappearance raises many questions about our future.”

Tony Fadell, Founder and CEO of Nest:

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. “By offering evidence that traits like empathy, determination and self-control tend to be better predictors of success than IQ, Tough will make you think differently about raising kids in a highly competitive world.”

‘A Step Away From Them’ a poem by Frank O’Hara

The ‘Friday Poem’ this week invites us back to a summer lunch hour in the early 1960s. ‘A Step Away From Them’ was written by poet Frank O’Hara.

O’Hara’s work was first brought to the attention of the wider public, like that of so many others of his generation, by Allen’s timely and historic anthology, The New American Poetry (1960). It was not until O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was published in 1965 that his reputation gained ground and not until after his sudden death that his recognition increased. Now his reputation is secure as an important and even popular poet in the great upsurge of American poetry following World War II.”

The Times Square of 2015 differs, yet in some ways echoes the observations of O’Hara in 1964. Today electronic billboards create daylight 24×7, parts of the street is a promenade and Uber drivers vie for passengers with yellow cabs. But office workers still pour into the streets at lunchtime as the heat rises from subway grates and bursts of cool air are released by revolving doors.

Take a walk at lunch and enjoy the ‘Friday Poem.’

A Step Away from Them

It’s my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.
to Times Square, where the sign
blows smoke over my head, and higher
the waterfall pours lightly. A
Negro stands in a doorway with a
toothpick, languorously agitating.
A blonde chorus girl clicks: he
smiles and rubs his chin. Everything
suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of
a Thursday.
Neon in daylight is a
great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would
write, as are light bulbs in daylight.
I stop for a cheeseburger at JULIET’S
CORNER. Giulietta Masina, wife of
Federico Fellini, è bell’ attrice.
And chocolate malted. A lady in
foxes on such a day puts her poodle
in a cab.
There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock. But is the
earth as full as life was full, of them?
And one has eaten and one walks,
past the magazines with nudes
and the posters for BULLFIGHT and
the Manhattan Storage Warehouse,
which they’ll soon tear down. I
used to think they had the Armory
Show there.
A glass of papaya juice
and back to work. My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.

Frank O’Hara ‘Lunch Poems’ 1964

Has social media rendered ‘Tell me about yourself’ redundant?

Remember when an employer’s first impression of a candidate was formed in a face to face interview? Today a recruiter will probably make an initial judgement on applicant potential from an online social media presence. Does this mean that some of the traditional interview questions are redundant?

In the past, many recruiters would initiate an interview with the traditional ‘tell me about yourself’. This was either a cover for the fact they didn’t have time to review your resume or a sincere effort to encourage an applicant to tell their story in their own words.

Today, even a cursory effort at data mining will provide a significant amount of information about a candidate. The good news, if you have made it to the interview you have passed the initial screening. Your challenge, is to recapture ownership of your story and make the connections between the job requirements and your experience.

How do you do that?

Manage your social platforms to convey a consistent, professional image.

Create a professional narrative that links the information on your social platforms to your answers.

There is no shortcut to managing your online presence. Establishing your credibility as a candidate begins with a quick inventory of how you are presenting yourself to the world beyond friends and family. Consider your postings from the perspective of a future employer. Does the content add competitive value to your application?

Next, visualize yourself as a productive member of the team you hope to join. What does that look like? Craft your narrative to tell the ‘short story of you’ with your first year in the new position as your next chapter. Connect the dots from your online content to your ambition to be hired.

‘Tell me about yourself’ is not redundant.

It’s an icebreaker. In a formal interview it gives a potential employer the opportunity to listen to you. You are being asked to provide a general framework for discussion. You set the stage for follow-up questions addressing various aspects of your academic and work life. It’s your opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Throughout the interview an employer is seeking an answer to the question ‘Why should I hire you?’ Even when the question is not asked directly, your responses should create a successful argument in your favor.

Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your story:

What are the top five things you want an interviewer to know about you? (Focus on academics and experience.)

What are your strengths?

How will these strengths contribute to the success of the organization?

How does your current situation lay the groundwork for the next step in your career?

The week@work – Holacracy@Zappos, Exploring Pluto, Earthquakes in Seattle and Every Job in America on a Map

This week@work Harvard Ph.D. student Robert Manduca shared his visual representation of every job on a map of the United States. Three of the locations plotted were sites of interesting stories about work this week: Las Vegas and Zappos‘ experiment with ‘holacracy’, Laurel, Maryland home to the Pluto exploring ‘New Horizons’ team and Seattle…well more about that later.

Thanks to the research of Robert Manduca, we can now see concentrations of economic sectors across the U.S. Writing in the Washington Post, ‘Wonkblog’ author Emily Badger cited the significance of his work:

“Among all the things that distinguish American cities from one another — their architecture, their demographics, their history and their terrain — their economies vary widely, too. Washington is, of course, a city of government work. Charlotte is a banking hub, Manhattan a financial center, Boston an education mecca. Metropolitan Cleveland remains relatively industrial, while Las Vegas runs on tourism.

These differences form economic identities that shape each city as much as their culture and geography do.”

Where we choose to work, geographically, can have a significant impact on our success. Cultures of organizations fit within the larger communities where they are located. When considering career advancement it’s important to examine the size of a particular sector within the local economy. Will the geography lend itself to a variety of opportunities when you decide to move on?

Maybe even more important is your social life outside of work. The folks that make up your community will in some ways reflect the values of the places they go to work each day. If you really didn’t like your classmates in that ‘Intro to Finance’ class, you may want to think twice about living and working where these same folks are now grown-ups working in investment banking.

Las Vegas is one place you might consider if you were interested in the hospitality industry. It’s also the home to online retailer Zappos.com.

In his article, ‘At Zappos, Pushing Shoes and a Vision’ NY Times reporter David Gelles chronicles the experiment in ‘holacracy’ or self management which began in 2013. Tony Hsieh has run Zappos for 16 years. He has been viewed as a visionary by many and realized change was needed to sustain the corporate culture he built.

“The goal of Holacracy is to create a dynamic workplace where everyone has a voice and bureaucracy doesn’t stifle innovation.

At Zappos, this means traditional corporate hierarchy is gone. Managers no longer exist. The company’s 1,500 employees define their own jobs. Anyone can set the agenda for a meeting. To prevent anarchy, processes are strictly enforced.

At Zappos, Mr. Hsieh seems to regard Holacracy as a way to revive the close-knit community feeling that made the company so special 10 years ago, when it was just a few hundred people taking on the giants of e-commerce. “Once you have that level of friendship, there’s higher levels of trust,” he said. “Communication is better; you can send emails without fear of being misinterpreted; people do favors for one another.”

If only it were so simple. Holacracy has been met with everything from cautious embrace to outright revulsion at Zappos, but little unequivocal enthusiasm.”

Another point on the map is Laurel, Maryland home to the ‘New Horizons’ team that piloted a piano sized spacecraft to Pluto and beyond. The workplace story here is the dedication of a team to a long term goal, the implementation of a ‘longevity plan’ to ensure program success over nine years and the joy of scientific discovery way outside the box.

It’s that shear joy that was expressed by New Horizons scientist Carey Lysse in an NBC interview:

“I love to explore. It’s one of the reasons I’m a scientist. This is one of those red letter days that doesn’t happen every day and so I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. It’s incredible.”

And now about Seattle. If you are thinking of relocating you may want to read Kathryn Shultz’s  New Yorker Magazine article, ‘The Really Big One’.

“Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.”

The Saturday Read – Ta-Nehisi Coates ‘Between the World and Me’

Early in his career, The Atlantic writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates was mentored by journalist, David Carr. In February he wrote ‘King David’, acknowledging his friend and brother. “David Carr convinced me that, through the constant and forceful application of principle, a young hopper, a fuck-up, a knucklehead, could bring the heavens, the vast heavens, to their knees.”

“I miss you terribly. I do not want to say goodbye. Tony says you were our champion. How can we go on, David? How can all of it just go on? Who will be our champion, now?”

In ‘Between the World and Me’ the author has brought ‘the vast heavens, to their knees’ and takes on the role of the champion he lost with the passing of Mr. Carr.

The ‘Saturday Read’ is not a ‘summer beach read’. It’s an important addition to the canon of the social sciences and business.

This book should be required reading for every member of the workforce, educators and in particular, those who pride themselves as leaders of diversity.

An excerpt of the book is available on The Atlantic website. Written as a letter to his son, the book needs to be read in its’ entirety.

“…Perhaps struggle is all we have. So you must wake up every morning knowing that no natural promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all. This is not despair. These are the preferences of the universe itself: verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.

The birth of a better world is not ultimately up to you, though I know, each day, there are grown men and women who tell you otherwise. I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy, and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know. Indeed, you must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you. And you must be responsible for the bodies of the powerful—the policeman who cracks you with a nightstick will quickly find his excuse in your furtive movements. You have to make your peace with the chaos, but you cannot lie. You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.”

Among the positive reviews, Syreeta McFadden for The Guardian:

“I am in near-total agreement with Coates’s view of this world we share. Yet I did wonder where the stories of black women feature in all this death and plunder. Their names are not included in this work, and I am not the only one who has noticed it. Coates seems aware of the omission, but he still only manages to surface the experiences of black women through their (very real) pain at the death of black men. That lens isn’t Coates’s alone, but it’s one worth interrogating.

In fact, Between the World and Me doesn’t aspire to anything so large – or vague – as “overcoming” or “transcending” race to defeat racism. It is simply about surviving, and remembering. Coates’s preoccupation is not with saving the soul of America. It’s urging it, to borrow a phrase you see around a lot lately, to “stay woke”.

At the end of his tribute to David Carr, Mr. Coates reflects on Mr. Carr as a “tireless advocate of writers of color, of writers who were women, and of young writers of all tribes.”

“And I know that even I, who am no longer a young writer, do not always wear my best face for young writers. And among the many things I am taking from David’s death is to be better with young writers, and young people in general. Because every single time some editor shoved me down, David picked me back up.”

‘Between the World and Me’ is a gift to young writers. It’s a testament to the power of the written word amid the distractions of technology’s sound bites.

‘Working Together’ a poem, by David Whyte

I first encountered David Whyte when a mentor recommended his 1994 book, ‘The Heart Aroused:Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America’.  For the ‘Friday Poem’ this week, I was looking for one that reflected a bit of the ‘magic’ of teamwork. My search brought me back to the poet and author. ‘Working Together’ was composed by David Whyte for Boeing to mark the introduction of the 777 jetliner.

Writing in the preface to the revised edition of ‘The Heart Aroused’ the poet cited his challenge:

“The impossible task was to bring together the supposedly strategic world of business with the great inheritance of the human literary imagination, particularly through the difficult art, poetry, and particularly through the fierce, unremitting wish for the dangerous truth that is poetry’s special gift.”

On the occasion of the ‘fly by’ of the dwarf planet Pluto and in celebration of creativity, engagement and courage in the workplace, enjoy ‘Working Together’.

Working Together

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

The visible
and the invisible

working together
in common cause,

to produce
the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air

passed at speed
round a shaped wing

holds our weight.

So may we, in this life

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine,
and look for the true

shape of our own self,
by forming it well

to the great
intangibles about us.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press