The Friday Poem – ‘How Would You Live Then?’ by Mary Oliver

Thinking about work is thinking about choice. What decisions have you made? What remains? What if? There are always possibilities. The only limit is your imagination.

This week, the Friday Poem from Mary Oliver.

How Would You Live Then?

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
     flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
     became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
     you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
     past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
     the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
     you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
     from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver 
     of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
     and every day – who knows how, but they do it – were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?

Mary Oliver ‘Blue Iris: Poems and Essays’ Penguin Random House, 2006

Summer 2019@work: Cathedral Thinking, Blue Oceans and Redefining the Purpose of a Corporation

While you were away, the U.S. commemorated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the effort to rebuild Notre Dame began in Paris. In New York, members of the Business Roundtable considered a new definition of the purpose of a corporation and Ava Duvernay continued to challenge conventional wisdom. It was a summer of cathedral thinking, blue oceans and questioning expertise.

These are the stories of folks who went to work every day, extending the definition of work and workplace beyond traditional boundaries to solve problems and create a vision of the future.

Here’s a sampling of articles from the Summer of 2019:

‘Why the Moon Landing Matters’ David Lidsky, Fast Company – June 1, 2019

In this moment when government is viewed by so many Americans as being unable to dream as big as it did in the 1960s, whether the dream is traveling the solar system or forestalling the calamitous effects of climate change, understanding how NASA got us to the Moon the first time is both important and inspirational. The Apollo Moon landings were an extraordinary undertaking, but they were the work of ordinary people back on Earth. We need exactly that kind of effort to tackle some of the problems we face today, from economic inequality to climate change. The Moon can show us the way.

‘Two Magical Places That Sent Apollo 11 to the Moon and Back’ Kenneth Chang, The New York Times – July 13, 2019

The two key pieces that were the astronauts’ home during their lunar trips were built on opposite sides of the country.

The Apollo capsules rolled off the assembly line in Downey, Calif., a small city 15 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Fifty years ago, NASA owned a 160-acre swath of Downey — the size of two Disneylands — that was home to factories, offices and test facilities.

The story was almost the same in Bethpage, N.Y., on Long Island. That was the headquarters of Grumman Aircraft, which won the contract to build the spindly spacecraft that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon.

In April, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris came close to being destroyed by fire. This summer The New York Times created an interactive site to document the event and the story of those who saved the cathedral.

‘Notre Dame came far closer to collapsing than people knew. This is how it was saved.’ Elian Peltier, James Glanz, Mika Grondahl, Weiyi Cai, Adam Nossiter, and Liz Alderman. July 18, 2019

That Notre-Dame still stands is due solely to the enormous risks taken by firefighters in those third and fourth hours. 

Disadvantaged by their late start, firefighters would rush up the 300 steps to the burning attic and then be forced to retreat. Finally, a small group of firefighters was sent directly into the flames, as a last, desperate effort to save the cathedral.


“There was a feeling that there was something bigger than life at stake,” said Ariel Weil, the mayor of the city’s Fourth Arrondissement, home to the cathedral, “and that Notre-Dame could be lost.”

On August 19, the Business Roundtable issued a new statement on the purpose of the corporation.

‘Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’

While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders. We commit to:
–  Delivering value to our customers. We will further the tradition of American companies leading the way in meeting or exceeding customer expectations.
–  Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits. It also includes supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world. We foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect.
–  Dealing fairly and ethically with our suppliers. We are dedicated to serving as good partners to the other companies, large and small, that help us meet our missions.
–  Supporting the communities in which we work. We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.
–  Generating long-term value for shareholders, who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate. We are committed to transparency and effective engagement with shareholders.

We learn from the wisdom of others and this summer, writer, producer and director Ava DuVernay leads on innovation.

‘How Ava DuVernay Is Finding Blue Oceans in Hollywood’ Nilofer Merchant, Harvard Business Review – August 7, 2019

“Conventional thinking in red oceans is why blue oceans go undiscovered.

New markets are found when someone stands in a spot that gives them a point of view distinctly their own.


DuVernay has shown us what the work of discovering blue oceans looks like: It is claiming that spot in the world where only you stand, even if that means leaving rooms where you’re being dismissed and marginalized. It is gathering your crew, those who share your commitment and purpose and will work to create new truths. It is finding the communities that can share your vision and scale it. These are unconventional ways to lead. Leaving. Social. Sharing. They seem counterintuitive and even wrong to those who lead red oceans. But they are how growth and progress and innovation happen. It’s what explorers do to chart new territory.”

The last article from the summer continues the conversation on expertise and how we are all being asked to ‘do more with less.”

‘At Work, Expertise is Falling Out of Favor’ Jerry Useem, The Atlantic – July, 2019

“By 2020, a 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted, “more than one-third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations” will not have been seen as crucial to the job when the report was published. If that’s the case, I asked John Sullivan, a prominent Silicon Valley talent adviser, why should anyone take the time to master anything at all? “You shouldn’t!” he replied.

As a rule of thumb, statements out of Silicon Valley should be deflated by half to control for hyperbole. Still, the ramifications of Sullivan’s comment unfurl quickly. Minimal manning—and the evolution of the economy more generally—requires a different kind of worker, with not only different acquired skills but different inherent abilities. It has implications for the nature and utility of a college education, for the path of careers, for inequality and employability—even for the generational divide. And that’s to say nothing of its potential impact on product quality and worker safety, or on the nature of the satisfactions one might derive from work. Or, for that matter, on the relevance of the question What do you want to be when you grow up?

Summing up the summer recap: ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. You just need to find your unique scenic view of the world, an employer who values your contribution, and an ability to adapt.

Photo credits: Moon Landing – NASA, Notre Dame worker – Patrick Zachmann for Magnum Arts

‘Mind the Gap’- Managing Your Career in 2019

It’s the first week of the new year and you’re back @work, about to be consumed with the demands and challenges of your career. In a matter of months another year will have passed. What will a successful 2019 look like?

We each have a different concept of what that New Year’s Eve IG might portray. How you get there depends on how well you maintain ownership of your career and stay on track to meet your individual goals. Follow these three steps and repeat every three months.

Identify your skills – Take a look at your resume and your job description. What skills did you bring to your current position? What new competencies have you acquired in the past year? (If you find you’re no longer learning, it’s time to change.)

Identify gaps – Take your list and compare it to someone you see as successful within your organization or field. If you’re considering changing careers, what’s the skill profile of a professional in the new area?

This assessment will give you a sense of the gap between your proficiency and aspiration. Check-in with a mentor for feedback on your self-evaluation. What are the best ways to fill the gaps: education, experience, professional development?

Monitor the market – Understanding your strengths as well as potential growth opportunities occurs in the broader context of the market.

Maintain currency with your field utilizing social media, professional associations and networking. If a career transition is on the horizon, begin to create connections through the same channels: social media, professional associations and networking.

Happy New Year! (And mind the gap.)




The week@work: Broken Models

 

This week@work the majority of the stories fell into one category: broken models and attempts to create band aid solutions.

As we’re living longer, the traditional cycle of study, work, retire has been rendered obsolete. We may blame technology for disrupting our work lives, but it’s the human decisions that are realigning the workplace.

In the talent wars, employers entice employees with the opportunity to work ‘out of the office’, yet tether them with ‘workations’. Teachers lacking sufficient wages and benefits participate in the ‘sharing’ economy and solicit donations of vacation days to cope with serious illness. And a university will offer their current and future students a full tuition scholarship to address the burgeoning cost of medical school.

IMG_8767.jpgWe spend our days trying to figure out new ways to extend our lives, maintain our looks and yet we seem to have ignored the reality that our work life might also extend beyond traditional retirement age.

Pavel Krapivin explores ‘The Study, Work, Retire Model Is Broken As We Live Until 100’.

“Much of life over the past century conformed to the three-stage model of study, work, retire. It’s a model that was predicated on reasonably high levels of stability, both in the skills required in the workplace and also the labor market itself.  Training in one field and then having one or two employers for the majority of your working life was commonplace, but it’s a model that is increasingly being challenged.

Rapidly changing technologies have rendered the shelf-life of skills shorter than ever before, while medical advances mean that the majority of children born today will live to 100 years of age.  This longevity will cause ruptures in the three-stage model that dominates the Western world and predicate a transition towards a more multi-stage life that will see working, learning and resting blend into one.”

He identifies six core challenges that set the agenda for future organizational planning: “managing mature workers, flexible working, a multi-generational workforce, a world of options, learning how to learn and a less rigid path.”

grand central.jpgUnfortunately, we’re not doing a very good job of coping with current organization dynamics. Human resource professionals rarely have a seat at the strategic planning table. Each of these challenges involve people.

Louis Hyman identifies human choice as the primary factor in workplace disruption.  ‘It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs’

“…when we talk about today’s economy, we focus on smartphones, artificial intelligence, apps. Here, too, the inexorable march of technology is thought to be responsible for disrupting traditional work, phasing out the employee with a regular wage or salary and phasing in independent contractors, consultants, temps and freelancers — the so-called gig economy.

But this narrative is wrong. The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.

…it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.”

Again, the human factor. We have a choice.

Our attempts to adjust to change are ‘band aids’, attempts to cover the wounds of a painful workplace structure. Three stories that just made my blood boil this week@work described the concept of ‘workation’ and the continuing plight of underpaid teachers in the U.S.

IMG_2532.jpgTake a minute to view the video segment from Sunday Today, describing the new trend of ‘workations’. Basically you can work anywhere on the planet as long as you meet your goals. The segment, sub-titled ‘Flexible ‘workcations’ let employees stay connected far away from the office’, profiled one professional who has opted to participate in a Friday remote working option offered by her employer.

“The turning point was when I realized my client doesn’t know the difference. As long as I’m answering my emails on time, I’m answering their calls, I’m accessible, they don’t know if I’m in California or if I’m down the street in New York.”

Billed as a way to meet the challenge of providing workplace flexibility, I wondered, as I watched her walk along the beach in California, how many of her colleagues had the financial resources to access this option.

And then there were the two stories of folks who go to work educating our children.

la school.jpgAlia Wong reported ‘Low Pay Has Teachers Flocking to the Sharing Economy’.

“Airbnb, the popular platform that lets people rent out their homes and apartments, released the results of a volunteer survey this week containing the striking statistic that nearly one in 10 of its hosts in the United States is an educator. In some states the trend appears to be even more pronounced—more than a quarter of all Airbnb hosts in Utah and Wisconsin, for example, work as teachers or in education (the company includes in that category administrators and college professors). This is especially noteworthy given that an analysis of census and National Center for Education Statistics figures suggests that just less than 2 percent of adults in the country work as full-time K–12 teachers.

Many of these 45,000-plus educators in the U.S. are presumably using Airbnb to supplement their regular income, as teachers struggle with stagnant, if not declining, pay. The average annual salary for K–12 public-school teachers is roughly $58,000, and they typically spend a sizable chunk of that on classroom supplies integral to their jobs.

The typical teacher host earned $6,500 through Airbnb last year—hardly a negligible boost for financially strapped educators. And for many teachers, that boost is far more appealing than other means of supplementing their incomes.”

Pair that with the story this week of the Florida history teacher diagnosed with cancer who had exhausted his supply of sick leave before his treatment ended. Did his employer step in to help? No, he used social media to request donations of sick leave from colleagues, and was overwhelmed when the response far exceeded the 20 days he had requested.

Understand why my blood is boiling? Not only are teachers using their creativity to supplement their income in order to live, they are now forced to beg for supplemental benefits from other teachers. And that folks tells you a lot about our priorities.

The last story is good news for the medical students at NYU. In a pioneering effort, the school will offer full tuition scholarships to current and future students.

participants-at-nyu-school-of-medicine-2.jpg“The announcement from the medical school’s trustees, leaders, and faculty was delivered this morning to first-year medical students and family members as a surprise ending to the annual White Coat Ceremony, where each new student is presented with a white lab coat to mark the start of their medical education and training.

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our trustees, alumni, and friends, our hope—and expectation—is that by making medical school accessible to a broader range of applicants, we will be a catalyst for transforming medical education nationwide,” says Kenneth G. Langone, chair of the Board of Trustees of NYU Langone Health. The yearly tuition costs covered by the scholarship are $55,018.”

The hope is to diversify the composition of the student body as well as the choice of specialty after graduation.

If we’re now reflecting on our work/life cycle in terms of a century, we’ll need the expertise of these educators and medical professionals to provide the support to achieve success. Perhaps it’s time to reorder our priorities.

This week@work consider the complexity of a 100 year lifetime and imagine what innovations you could apply to replace the broken models.

 

Photo credit: LA Unified courtesy KPCC, White Coat Ceremony courtesy NYU School of Medicine

 

 

 

 

‘Not in the job description’

How many times have you heard that those who succeed ascribe their advancement to going beyond the parameters of their job description? What does that mean?

In some cases it might be asking for additional responsibility or supplementary assignments. But if we step back from a particular job, maybe it’s about being prepared for the bigger picture of your career. It’s the curiosity/lifelong learning thing that connects the dots as you progress as a professional. It’s recognizing a painting in a new client’s office and beginning a conversation, not based on a sale, but a shared interest.

It’s about being multidimensional.

To help on this aspect of professional development, we add a new category this week to ‘workthoughts’ – ‘Not in the Job Description’.

To begin, we follow the advice of The New York Times’ chief classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini. ‘Curious About Classical Music? Here’s Where To Start.’

“Over my many years of reviewing, I’ve often been asked for advice from newcomers to classical music, people excited by what they’ve heard, and eager to hear — and to learn — more.

Naturally, I urge those exploring classical music to find out whatever they can. Yet I’ve found that many people assume that knowledge of the art form is a prerequisite to appreciation. Newcomers to other performing arts, like theater or dance, don’t seem to feel this level of intimidation. I’d encourage those who are curious to just go to a performance and see what they think. A symphony orchestra program — or an opera, or a piano recital — is not an exam. It’s an escape, an adventure, an enrichment.”

Just to emphasize his point. When adding a new dimension to your portfolio think of it as “an escape, an adventure, an enrichment”.

Mr. Tommasini goes on to answer questions in his article, including his definition of ‘classical music’.

“Labels can be problematic in any field; “classical music” especially so. One complication is that music history refers to the years from roughly 1750 to 1825 as the “classical” period, when Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven achieved their glory. But in a broader sense the term classical music has been adopted as a way to describe the continuing heritage of music mostly written to be performed in concert halls and opera houses by orchestras, singers, choruses, chamber ensembles and solo instrumentalists. Another characteristic is that composers in this tradition have been drawn to larger, structured forms. Still, the term is far from ideal, but no one has come up with a good alternative — yet.”

The article includes links to sample recordings to get you started, including clips of Maria Callas’ 1953 performance as Tosca at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

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In addition to following the dots presented by Mr. Tommasini, add a visit to an opera house or concert hall the next time you are planning a trip out of town or out of the country. Identify reviewers and critics that seem to match your tastes and follow them on social media. You will be amazed and delighted as you trace the links connecting the variety of performance.

Where will you begin your new adventure – ‘not in the job description’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work: “The Education of Silicon Valley”, Gen Z@work, mid-career sabbatical, & a new era of human spaceflight

This week@work a NY Times Op-Ed contributor wonders if Mark Zuckerberg should have taken more humanities courses, Gen Z begins to enter the workplace, while millennials take sabbaticals, and NASA introduces the next crew for commercial human spaceflight.

In her first Op-Ed for The New York Times, tech journalist Kara Swisher applied her expertise to explore ‘The Education of Silicon Valley’.

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“All these companies began with a gauzy credo to change the world. But they have done that in ways they did not imagine — by weaponizing pretty much everything that could be weaponized. They have mutated human communication, so that connecting people has too often become about pitting them against one another, and turbocharged that discord to an unprecedented and damaging volume.

They have weaponized social media. They have weaponized the First Amendment. They have weaponized civic discourse. And they have weaponized, most of all, politics.”

What’s it like to be a member of the Facebook corporate family today? You signed up to follow the Pied Piper of Menlo Park into the new world of global connectivity and you find yourself in the midst of global propaganda wars.

“At a recent employee Q. and A. I did at YouTube, for example, one staffer told me that their jobs used to be about wrangling cat videos and now they had degenerated into a daily hell of ethics debates about the fate of humanity.”

All companies evolve over time. Founders adapt or abdicate. Mr. Zuckerberg has done neither.

“Mr. Zuckerberg stuck with this mix of extreme earnestness and willful naïveté for far too long.

Because what he never managed to grok then was that the company he created was destined to become a template for all of humanity, the digital reflection of masses of people across the globe. Including — and especially — the bad ones.

Was it because he was a computer major who left college early and did not attend enough humanities courses that might have alerted him to the uglier aspects of human nature? Maybe. Or was it because he has since been steeped in the relentless positivity of Silicon Valley, where it is verboten to imagine a bad outcome? Likely. Could it be that while the goal was to “connect people,” he never anticipated that the platform also had to be responsible for those people when they misbehaved? Oh, yes. And, finally, was it that the all-numbers-go-up-and-to-the-right mentality of Facebook blinded him to the shortcuts that get taken in the service of growth? Most definitely.”

Corporate impact on society is not benign. Leadership is about understanding impact and nimbly responding to lights blinking red. There’s a Harvard Business School case here with implications far beyond the impact on share owner revenue. And for those who work@Facebook, it may be time to evaluate the ‘values fit’.

On the subject of ‘values fit’, journalist Ryan Jenkins identified the ‘Top 25 Employers Preferred by Generation Z’.

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“More than 60 percent of Generation Z’s top employers are global entities which is consistent with the 74 percent of Generation Z stating international experience (e.g., travel and working with global clients/colleagues) is an important aspect of potential employers. 

The presence of technology companies on the list isn’t a surprise especially since three-quarters of recent college graduates report having majored in a STEM-related field. Generation Z is the first generation to shift the tide toward STEM-related fields of study and seem poised to close the STEM gap.”

The top five in the survey: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Google, Local Hospital, Amazon and Walt Disney Company.

While Generation Z plans their workplace entry, millennials are contemplating mid-career sabbaticals. Ben Steverman shares ‘Why It’s Time to Quit Your Job, Travel the World’.

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“Millions of Americans obsess over their careers and fret about saving, terrified they won’t have enough to ever retire. The advice not being offered by some experts may surprise these worried souls: Take months or years off from work, travel the world, and enjoy yourself.

There’s prudent logic behind a relaxing mid career break. With longer lives come longer careers and longer retirements – the first so that you can afford the second. But a 40-year career, ending at age 60 or 65, is a very different prospect from a 50-year career ending at 70 or 75.

Taking a break to travel isn’t a crazy move, especially for millennials, because it can help give workers the stamina for longer, more sustainable careers, says Jamie Hopkins, a professor and director of the retirement income program at the American College of Financial Services. The prospect of a future trip also give young workers an extra reason to save, live within their means, and pay down debt – an incentive that’s far stronger than the dream of retiring in several decades’ time.”

Where to travel on your mid-career sabbatical? Perhaps the galaxy and beyond…

Space_Station_over_Earth.jpg

This past week NASA introduced the next generation of astronauts, ‘NASA Assigns Crews to First Test Flights, Missions on Commercial Spacecraft’. (Which has got to be good news for those who go to work in space, where the commute today begins and ends in Kazakhstan.)

“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements. 

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.” 

With this ‘week@work’, the workthoughts blog returns after a two month hiatus. Stay tuned for new categories and join the conversation on work & workplace.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: NASA Commercial Flight Crew courtesy NASA, St. Jude Marathon Weekend courtesy of Biomedical Communications

#TBT – Revisiting Neil Armstrong’s Commencement Address to the USC Class of 2005

Society’s future will depend on a continuous improvement program on the human character.”

It’s Commencement Season. The famous and wise will helicopter onto college campuses to share soundbites of wisdom and humor with the Class of 2018. Some speeches will be memorable, others immediately forgotten. It’s rare when an address can transcend the emotion of the day; when the speaker has been to the moon and back.

Thirteen years ago, Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut and first person to walk on the moon, addressed the graduating Class of 2005 at the University of Southern California. The man who announced to the world, on a July afternoon in 1969, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” never mentioned his achievement.

The day was about the graduates. Not about the man who walked on the moon.

But even the youngest family member in attendance knew who was speaking. A little boy climbed up a grassy hill behind a giant screen projecting the event. He hadn’t come to watch TV, but to see the astronaut for himself, in person. This was his connection to dreams beyond. “Mommy, that’s the man who walked on the moon.”

Can you imagine your life defined by one historical, ‘out of this world’ event?

There are few things today that take our breath away. We’ve forgotten the mysteries of space travel as we contemplate only the familiar. We go about our work day as a space station circles above, with no thought of the explorers at work outside our atmosphere.

On May 13, 2005, the parents, graduates, faculty and staff shared an historic moment with a legend. And the legend expressed his doubts about his ability to give advice.

“I feel a sense of discomfort in that responsibility as it requires more confidence than I possess to assume that my personal convictions deserve your attention.”

He encouraged the graduates to “appreciate the elegance of simplicity” and continued his address following his own advice.

“The single observation I would offer for your consideration is that some things are beyond your control. You can lose your health to illness or accident, you can lose your wealth to all manner of unpredictable sources.

What is not easily stolen from you without your cooperation is your principles and your values. They are your most precious possessions and, if carefully selected and nurtured, will well serve you and your fellow man.

Society’s future will depend on a continuous improvement program on the human character. What will the future bring? I don’t know, but it will be exciting.”

His challenge to us all is to lead a life of continuous learning and continuous improvement, even after you have achieved your ‘signature’ career experience.

 

 

The Saturday Read – ‘Sweetbitter’ by Stephanie Danler

Who will you become? That’s the question we should ask when we consider a new job, but often the promise of a new opportunity obscures the answer until we find ourselves caught in the rip tide of the unconsidered.

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Sweetbitter’, a novel by Stephanie Danler perfectly captures what it’s like to be 22, taking your first job in New York City.

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open.”

There it is. That moment when we shed one identity and begin to sculpt the new. This is the magic of the author’s prose; transforming the familiar.

Set to debut as a six-part STARZ series on May 6, I encourage you to snag a copy and read this book while imagination is still your own and small screen images can’t get in the way of literary transport.

“…nobody remembers what it feels like to be so recklessly absorbent.
When you can’t see in front of you life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there were truly so few of them.”

I’m not sure why we rely on non-fiction to inform our knowledge of life@work. Best seller lists are full of management philosophy exuding from ivy covered walls and concrete corporate towers. But it’s the fiction writers who add a touch of imagination and humanity to the workplace, who are the true management gurus.

“I don’t know what it is exactly, being a server. It’s a job, certainly, but not exclusively. There’s a transparency to it, an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn’t move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter.”

‘Sweetbitter’ is a book about work and the communities we build around us to manage the connection between self and the enormity of place, in this case, New York City. It’s about expectations colliding with reality in a spot where following your dream invites on-going comparison to an alternate career path.

“We called them the Nine-to-Fivers. They lived in accordance with nature, waking and sleeping with the cycle of the sun. Mealtimes, business hours, the world conformed to their schedule. They were dining, shopping, consuming, unwinding, expanding while we were working, diminishing, being absorbed into their scenery.”

On the last night of her paperback book tour last June, the author read from the novel and shared her own career narrative with a group of readers at independent bookstore, Pages in Manhattan Beach, California.

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She alluded to similarities with her main character, Tess, and her early career working as a waitress in Seal Beach and later in NY at the Union Square Cafe. “At age 22 you are in the stream of experience, nothing is premeditated; autonomy without consequences. After six months at the Union Square Cafe I was no longer a writer.”

She pursued a successful path in the restaurant industry until she was confronted with “a hinge moment – the crushing feeling in your chest” when you realize your current commitment @work is delaying your dream job.

She applied to graduate school, went back to serving tables, took notes and spent 12 hours on Tuesdays creating a manuscript – ‘Sweetbitter’.

“That is the story of how I stopped waiting tables.”

One more thing, Stephanie Danler is obsessive about poetry. And that’s the strongest argument to read the novel before viewing the series. The book is beautifully written, in one instance transforming the cacophony of random dinner conversation into a poem.

If you’ve ever been a server, this book may stir a memory or two. A restaurant is where many of us started out, absorbing and ignoring life lessons on the fly. It was our workplace and Ms. Danler was one of us.

 

 

 

 

Can we apply the architecture of March Madness to job search?

Let’s say you’re totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current options. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

Add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.

A new definition of success for the ‘gig economy’

How do we find meaning@work, when work is a 24/7 hustle? An article in the March/April issue of the Harvard Business Review offers some answers. ‘Thriving in a Gig Economy’ builds on research published by McKinsey in October, adding results of interviews with 65 gig workers.

As more folks opt for independence@work, new models emerge beyond the stereotype of ride-hailing service employee. The McKinsey survey of 8,000 respondents across Europe and the US found “up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work.” This is no longer a trend, but a significant employment sector, attracting new members daily out of choice or necessity.

Authors of the HBR article: Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski discovered commonalities among those who chose the ‘gig life’.

“We found remarkably similar sentiments across generations and occupations: All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer—but they also claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it. Although they worried about unpredictable schedules and finances, they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts.”

Ownership is the shared value of gig workers, productivity the measurement, uncertainty the trade-off, and work identity – it’s continually evolving.

“…the price of such freedom is a precariousness that seems not to subside over time. Even the most successful, well-established people we interviewed still worry about money and reputation and sometimes feel that their identity is at stake.”

What does success look like in this new workplace?

“Our conclusion is that people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success—one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic, and alive in one’s work). Those we interviewed do so by building holding environments around place, routines, purpose, and people, which help them sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth. “There’s a sense of confidence that comes from a career as a self-employed person,” one consultant told us. “You can feel that no matter how bad it gets, I can overcome this. I can change it. I can operate more from a place of choice as opposed to a place of need.”