The week@work: three questions, a tree, a word, a phrase (and a rabbit)

It’s almost over. A year of continual brain-numbing ‘breaking news’ and distraction. This week@work the focus is on communication and understanding. A teacher posed three important questions to her students, two journalists tracked the odyssey of a balsam fir tree, Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries selected the word of the year and we found the origin of  the phrase ‘glass ceiling’. (And there’s a rabbit.)

The New York Times investigative journalist and author Jodi Kantor‘s work breaking the Harvey Weinstein story demonstrated the value of solid reporting in a time of fake news. But it was her tweet last week that caught my attention.

These are “excellent questions” to ask when evaluating a news story. They can also be added or modified to our repertoire@work. Questions@work are essential, as Academy Award winning producer Brian Grazer noted in his 2015 book, ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’.

“If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or group. 

You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen. This isn’t about being “warm” or “friendly”. It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is, how indispensable diversity of perspective is, and how hard creative work is.”

And now, a holiday story: the modern tale of a tree, a farmer, a trucker, a lot owner and a customer.

The American Christmas Tree Association reported “More that 94 million American households, or 79 percent of all households, will display a Christmas tree in their home this holiday season…This represents a slight increase overall in the number of households displaying a Christmas tree this year compared to last year. Of those trees, 80 percent will be artificial trees and 20 percent will be real.”

nypl tree.jpg

In ‘1,000 miles. Five Days. Four Familes. One Tree.’, journalists Tiffany Hsu and Roger Kisby followed the supply chain of a single ‘real’ balsam fir from a Nova Scotia farm to a living room in Queens.

“In Lunenburg County, a chunk of Nova Scotia pockmarked by lakes and patches of balsam firs, Silver’s Farm hugs a hill with 45 acres of farmland splayed out in front and 150 acres of Christmas trees behind, all growing naturally and tightly “like the hairs on a dog’s back,” said Wayne Silver.

His operation is small, felling just 3,000 trees a season. Some Nova Scotia farms cut down tens of thousands of trees annually and even ship some overseas.

Mr. Silver took over the farm in 1991 from his father, who took it over from his father, who began cutting Christmas trees in the 1930s. Trees “are in my blood,” he said.

Help is scarce. In a tight labor market with low unemployment, many other tree farmers are hiring migrants from Mexico and Jamaica. Mr. Silver will likely follow suit next year.

“I just work too many long hours,” he said.”

This ‘must read’ multi-media gem captures the changing world of work in North America for farmers, truckers, small business owners and customers.


It’s that time of year when those @work in the cataloging of words announce their ‘word of the year’. The Oxford Dictionaries chose “the noun, youthquake, defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.”


“Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism. The word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events. The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why.”

And while we’re on the topic, did you ever wonder where the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ originated? This past week, the BBC interviewed management consultant Marilyn Loden who coined the phrase almost 40 years ago.

“I first used the phrase “glass ceiling” in 1978 during a panel discussion about women’s aspirations. As I listened, I noted how the (female) panellists focused on the deficiencies in women’s socialisation, the self-deprecating ways in which women behaved, and the poor self-image that many women allegedly carried.

It was a struggle to sit quietly and listen to the criticisms.

True, women did seem unable to climb the career ladder beyond the lowest rung of middle management, but I argued that the “invisible glass ceiling” – the barriers to advancement that were cultural not personal – was doing the bulk of the damage to women’s career aspirations and opportunities.


On 24 May 2018, the “glass ceiling” will be 40 years old.

What has changed for working women in that time? The sheer number of female managers has increased dramatically across most industries and yet the metaphor continues to symbolise an enduring barrier to gender equality – one that has been normalised in many organisations where there is now a sense of complacency about the lack of women at the top.”

One last story this week@work: ‘Harvey Is A Great Holiday Movie’ by Jennifer Finney Boylan
“…if the holiday season means anything at all, it’s about believing in things that we cannot actually see. That virtues as shopworn as faith, hope and love can abide, even if others think you’re a crazy person for believing in them. That those we have lost — parents, friends, even our own younger selves — can live on, in us. That there really are spirits that can make us more than ourselves, that can turn our perilous, fallen lives into something sacred.”





The week@work: the crisis of civic education, karoshi, unemployment & the future of office attire

This week@work stories examine the role of education in creating civil discourse, the consequences of karoshi, the impact of weather on unemployment and the future of office attire.

While walking through the U.S.Capitol Visitor Center last week I encountered a group of junior high school students who were shrieking at each other as they reported a sighting of House Speaker Paul Ryan as if he were a chart topping rock star. What if the majority of junior high and high school students had the opportunity to walk the halls of Congress and observe the process of governing?

Harvard president emeritus, Derek Bok examines ‘The Crisis of Civic Education’.

“Schools have long been the primary source of civic education in America. As an early champion of public education, Horace Mann, pointed out more than 150 years ago: “One of the highest and most valuable objects to which the influences of a school can be made conducive consists in training our children to self-government. Yet schools cannot accomplish this task by themselves. Many studies have pointed to the difficulties that hamper their efforts, including inadequate funding and pressures on teachers from school boards, parents, politicians, and textbook publishers. In view of those problems, it is not surprising that the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which periodically evaluates the knowledge of America’s schoolchildren, concluded in 2010 that more than two-thirds of high-school seniors scored below “proficient” in their knowledge of civics and government.”

Once the American high school senior transitions to college, there is no imperative to incorporate “essential courses to equip them to perform their civic functions more effectively” into their curriculum.


“While many colleges claim to be preparing citizens…and although they offer many classes and activities that can contribute to this end, few provide any required courses aimed at achieving that result. Instead, learning to become an active and informed citizen is simply treated as an option — much like preparing to be a doctor or a lawyer or a business executive — even though becoming a citizen is not a choice but a status acquired automatically by the vast majority of undergraduates.”

Bok suggests a number of approaches: linking community involvement experience with academic coursework; connecting the dots between the activity and public policy, engagement with student government and establishing multi-cultural residence halls.

Colleges have a responsibility to lead on this issue. Colleges own this one. If not here, where?

“In today’s diverse and highly partisan society, it is particularly important to teach undergraduates to take account of contrary opinions and arguments and to discuss such differences respectfully. Most campuses are well positioned to encourage these habits…The recent election underscores the importance of extending such efforts to encourage interaction among classmates with different political ideologies and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Walter Sim reported on ‘Death by overwork: Will Japan finally face up to ‘karoshi’?

“With her mobile phone in hand as if waiting for her next assignment, a 31-year-old political reporter with broadcaster NHK died of heart failure in her sleep in July 2013 after clocking nearly 160 hours of overtime the month before.

Two years later, on Christmas Day, a rookie at advertising giant Dentsu leapt to her death after being subjected to a gruelling schedule and harassment at her workplace.

Osaka Sphere Building

The statistics nationwide are quite startling. Japan’s second annual karoshi White Paper, released last Friday, said there were 191 work-related deaths and attempted suicides in the fiscal year ending March 2017. This was two more than the previous year. In the same fiscal year, 498 cases of mental illness, such as depression, were deemed work-related.

And from January 2010 to March 2015, 368 suicides – 352 men and 16 women – were deemed as karoshi.”

Patricia Cohen reported ‘U.S. Lost 33,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Rate Dips to 4.2%’.

“Staggering from the impact of hurricanes that walloped Texas, Florida and neighboring states, the economy lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first monthly decline in employment in seven years, the government reported on Friday.

But economists discounted the discouraging report, describing it as a blip in a job market that was fundamentally strong.”

Wondering what to wear this week@work? Jessica Holland asks ‘Are tracksuits and trainers the future of office attire?’

sykes london.jpeg

“They were all wearing trainers and layers of black,” says Evelyn Cotter, a career coach based in London. She’s describing a recent public speaking conference she attended, where the crowd of ambitious young professionals were dressed in a uniform way.

“Everyone had come straight from work, they were wearing black jeans and smart sneakers, but it definitely felt professional,” adds Cotter. “It’s a conscious style choice. It’s not just what you throw on to play with your dog in the garden.”

“The industry of ‘athleisure’ – sporty clothes and shoes that people don’t necessarily wear to play sport – grew by a staggering 42% between 2008 and 2015, according to Morgan Stanley research. More recently, its influence has begun to creep into offices, where workers’ clothing is becoming increasingly relaxed and designed for comfort. The Society for Human Resource Management, an international organisation, tracks how many employers allow workers to dress casually every day, and that figure rose from 32% in 2014 to 44% in 2016.”

Before you head out to your favorite ‘athleisure’ retailer, check the culture and style of your employer. On days when you are meeting with clients, it’s always a good idea to mirror the style of your customer. (or their expectations)

The last story this week@work, was the first story breaking on Monday morning. Folks taking a break from work at a music festival on a Sunday evening in Las Vegas became targets of a mass shooting. In twelve minutes 58 people between the ages of 20 and 67 were murdered; 489 were injured. On Wednesday, the citizens of Manhattan Beach, California gathered on a pier overlooking the Pacific to mourn two of the victims: Sandy Casey, 35, a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School and Rachael Parker, 33, a records technician with the Manhattan Beach Police Department.

1005_nws_tdb-l-mbvigil-carr01-1.jpgThis week@work consider how you might do more than send thoughts and prayers.


Photo credit: Manhattan Beach vigil, Steve Carr for the Daily Breeze/ Office Attire, Sykes London for British Vogue

The week@work – gender gap @ the BBC, on Broadway & the C-Suite, plus four work/life questions while staring @ the ocean

This week@work the BBC published the salaries of top earners, and the gender pay gap at the broadcaster became the latest global headline news on the topic. Turns out the folks who work in theater and aspire to the corporate C-suite are finding the same barriers. Maybe it’s time to review your work/life view ‘from the beach’.

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality party in the UK shared her opinion ‘It’s not just the BBC that must come clean about underpaying women’.

“When the BBC published the salaries of its top earners, the results were not surprising, but they were shocking. They even managed, momentarily, to silence the gender pay gap myth-busters: the trolls who daily patrol social media challenging any mention of a pay gap with supposedly hard facts about the “choices” women make.

Here is the real hard fact: women are paid less because we are considered to be worth less. The gender pay gap is a symptom of the structural barriers that women face, which can be seen at every level of working life and across every industry. It thrives on the unconscious bias that goes unchallenged by the surplus of white men in decision-making roles, and is magnified by occupational segregation, unequal caring responsibilities and pervasive stereotypes that intersect with class, race, age, sexuality and disability.”


In an open letter to BBC director general Tony Hall, over 40 high profile presenters made a case for immediate action to remedy the inequality.

“The pay details released in the annual report showed what many of us have suspected for many years … that women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work.

Compared to many women and men, we are very well compensated and fortunate. However, this is an age of equality and the BBC is an organisation that prides itself on its values.

You have said that you will “sort” the gender pay gap by 2020, but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now.

Beyond the list, there are so many other areas including production, engineering and support services and global, regional and local media where a pay gap has languished for too long.

This is an opportunity for those of us with strong and loud voices to use them on behalf of all, and for an organisation that had to be pushed into transparency to do the right thing.”

Mr. Hall responded “…that the move to close the gender pay gap at the public broadcaster will be “accelerated” and that there would be a “marked difference” when salaries were published next year.”

The BBC story was not unique last week as Laura Collins-Hughes reported ‘When Women Won’t Accept Theatrical Manspreading’.

times sq“In theater as in life, there is a lot of manspreading: Men get more jobs, more money, more prizes, more stories told about them onstage than women do. The numbers are grim nearly everywhere, but especially on Broadway, where an Actors’ Equity study released last month showed female and minority actors and stage managers at a gross disadvantage to white men.

A recent tally on HowlRound, a theater industry website, documented the staggering lead men have over women as designers, directors and artistic directors in American regional theaters. Men dominate every area but costume design, where women traditionally hold sway.”

The third story on women@work this week was Susan Chira’s exploration of ‘Why Women Aren’t C.E.O.s, According to Women Who Almost Were’.

IMG_9129.jpg“More than 40 years after women began pouring into the workplace, only a handful have made it all the way to the top of corporate America. The percentage of chief executives of Fortune 500 companies who are women just passed 6 percent, creeping up (and occasionally dropping back) at a glacial pace.

The impact of gender is hard to pin down decisively. But after years of biting their tongues, believing their ranks would swell if they simply worked hard, many senior women in business are concluding that the barriers are more deeply rooted and persistent than they wanted to believe, according to interviews with nearly two dozen chief executives, would-be chief executives, headhunters, business school deans and human resources professionals.

What they say: Women are often seen as dependable, less often as visionary. Women tend to be less comfortable with self-promotion — and more likely to be criticized when they do grab the spotlight. Men remain threatened by assertive women. Most women are not socialized to be unapologetically competitive. Some women get discouraged and drop out along the way. And many are disproportionately penalized for stumbles.”

Which brings me to a constructive response from Art Markman, ‘Four Work-Life Questions to Ponder on Vacation This Summer’.

mb fog.jpg“It’s true that vacationing can hold some unexpected career benefits, in addition to letting you recharge your batteries and do some self-reflection about your working life, your personal life, and your overall goals. But musing on these big-ticket themes isn’t something many of us have a lot of practice doing. When you finally get a chance to do it, you might find your thoughts a little unfocused. That’s fine—mind-wandering is sort of the point here. But in case you need a little more structure, these are four questions to let your mind wander over.”

“Am I happy at work?”, “Where am I headed?”, “Who don’t I know?”, and “What’s Missing?”

This week@work consider your answers and once you have a sense of your ‘work identity’, use your voice@work to advocate on behalf of all and equality@work.

Photo credit: Cartoon – The Telegraph, MattCartoon July 20, 2017

The week@work – ‘Walden, a game’, Uber’s culture, pollution & the stock market, and the ‘folly’ of abolishing the N.E.A.

This week@work the designers of a new video game would like us to take a walk in the woods, a former Uber engineer authored a blog post that opened a window on corporate culture, an economics professor demonstrated the link between air pollution and stock market fluctuations, and the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art warned against cutting funds to the National Endowment for the Arts.

When we talk about work/life balance we typically think about disconnecting from technology, not using it as a portal for relaxation. Robin Pogrebin‘s article ‘In Walden Video Game, the Object is Stillness’ offers an example of a seemingly contrarian application.

“…the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

While the game is all about simplicity, it has actually been in development for nearly a decade. The lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, came up with the idea as a way to reinforce our connection to the natural world and to challenge our hurried culture.

“Games are kinds of rehearsals,” Ms. Fullerton said in an interview. “It might give you pause in your real life: Maybe instead of sitting on my cellphone, rapidly switching between screens, I should just go for a walk.”

“Maybe we don’t all have the chance to go to the woods,” Ms. Fullerton added. “But perhaps we can go to this virtual woods and think about the pace of life when we come back to our own world. Maybe it will have an influence — to have considered the pace of Walden.”

Uber has a new logo and a new ranking as #3 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. “Uber’s most valuable asset is its data, which has been an important part of Uber’s business since it first launched.” Which is why we should not be surprised if the company is having a bit of a dysfunctional workplace moment.


Christina Cauterucci investigated ‘The Sexism Described In Uber Employee’s Report Is Why Women Leave Tech – Or Don’t Enter At All’.

“Uber is staging a major PR defense for the second time in recent weeks after a former employee published a detailed account of persistent sexual harassment and discrimination she allegedly faced while working as an engineer at the company. Susan Fowler, who left the company in December after about a year of employment, claims in her Feb. 19 blog post that her manager sent her sexual chat messages soon after she was hired. When she reported him to human resources, she writes, she was told that it was his “first offense” and that she should switch teams if she didn’t want a negative performance review from him. Fowler later found out that other women had reported witnessing inappropriate behavior from this same man, and each were told that it was his “first offense” and not a big enough deal to require action.

In her blog post, Fowler accuses a manager of changing her performance scores after a stellar review to keep her from getting a transfer to another team, because it reflected well on the manager to prove he could retain female engineers on his team. This is a particularly outrageous deed in an account full of outrageous deeds. Instead of enforcing a zero-tolerance sexual-harassment policy or asking female employees how management could better support them, Uber has allegedly moved to improve its substandard track record on gender by narrowing opportunities for women on staff and sweeping harassment allegations under the floor mat. Fowler writes that she made repeated, documented human resources complaints about the unfair treatment she endured, but she was gaslighted by an HR representative who told her the emails she sent never happened and that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. It took a statement on a public blog to get any action from company leadership.”

The folks who work in climate science have been under fire in recent weeks. The photo below is a reminder of what the New York City skyline looked like 44 years ago, before environmental protections were enacted.


For those not yet convinced of global warming, maybe a direct financial consequence would be more persuasive. Scott Berinato found ‘Air Pollution Brings Down the Stock Market’.

“When University of Ottawa economics professor Anthony Heyes and his colleagues compared daily data from the S&P 500 index with daily air-quality data from an EPA sensor close to Wall Street, they found a connection between higher pollution and lower stock performance. Their conclusion: Air pollution brings down the stock market.

The effect was strong. Every time air quality decreased by one standard deviation, we saw a 12% reduction in stock returns. Or to put it in other terms, if you ordered 100 trading days in New York from the cleanest-air day to the dirtiest-air day, the S&P 500 performance would be 15% worse on the 75th cleanest day than it was on the 25th cleanest day. We also replicated this analysis using data from the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and saw the same effect.”


Finally, this story is not only for those who work in the arts, but for all of us whose curiosity and creativity were sparked by a play, music or a visit to a museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s director, Thomas P. Campbell warns against ‘The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A.’

“All too often, art is seen as a “soft” subject, the first thing to be cut, whether by local school boards or the federal government, when money is tight. But looked at purely in dollars, it is a false saving. The N.E.A.’s budget is comparatively minuscule — $148 million last year, or 0.004 percent of the total federal budget — while the arts sector it supports employs millions of Americans and generates billions each year in revenue and tax dollars.

The United States has no ministry of culture. In this vacuum, the N.E.A., founded in 1965, serves three critical functions: It promotes the arts; it distributes and stimulates funding; and it administers a program that minimizes the costs of insuring arts exhibitions through indemnity agreements backed by the government. This last, perhaps least-known responsibility, is crucial. This fall, the Met will host a major exhibition on Michelangelo that will bring together masterpieces from across the world. The insurance valuation is a whopping $2.4 billion — not even our museum, the largest art museum in the nation, could come close to paying the premium for such coverage without the federal indemnity the N.E.A. makes possible.

I fear that this current call to abolish the N.E.A. is the beginning of a new assault on artistic activity. Arts and cultural programming challenges, provokes and entertains; it enhances our lives. Eliminating the N.E.A. would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens. As the planet becomes at once smaller and more complex, the public needs a vital arts scene, one that will inspire us to understand who we are and how we got here — and one that will help us to see other countries, like China, not as enemies in a mercenary trade war but as partners in a complicated world.”

This week@work take a break and visit your local museum. Then go home and send an email to your member of congress. Remind them of the importance of “investing in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens”.


Photo credit: Manhattan Skyline, May 1973 – Chester Higgins NARA

The week@work – The ‘Fallows question’, flexibility@work and the long term impact of student debt

On Saturday Night Live actor Cecily Strong delivered a line that summed up what many of us are feeling this week@work, “I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me.” 

It got me thinking about the question Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg posed to the Barnard Class of 2011, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This week@work The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks posed ‘the Fallows question’“If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?”

“James and Deborah Fallows have always moved to where history is being made…James and Deb have an excellent sense of where world-shaping events are taking place at any moment — and a fervent commitment to be there to see it happen.

If you want to “observe” history, the Fallows say, go to Washington. If you want to “participate,” go elsewhere.”

If you weren’t afraid, and could pick up and move to where the action is, where would you go? Brooks offered a few destinations to start, but just maybe, this week@work you might spend some time considering a temporary relocation “in search of history”.


Folks@work are moving forward, finding ways to succeed independent of national politics. Some voice concern about the potential impact of new policies on their workplace, while others seek ways to express a response in their work. For many, the challenges of the gender gap and student debt remain a constant, often extending into retirement.

Claire Cain Miller examined the tension in employer expectations between flexibility and presence@work in ‘How to Close a Gender Gap: Let Employees Control Their Schedules’.

“The main reason for the gender gaps at work — why women are paid less, why they’re less likely to reach the top levels of companies, and why they’re more likely to stop working after having children — is employers’ expectation that people spend long hours at their desks, research has shown.

Flexibility regarding the time and place that work gets done would go a long way toward closing the gaps, economists say.

A new job search company, Werk, is trying to address the problem by negotiating for flexibility with employers before posting jobs, so employees don’t have to.”

And then there are the financial pressures; spanning generations from twenty-somethings being subsidized by parents, as their grandparents face social security payment garnishment to repay outstanding student loan debt.


Quoctrung Bui reported on ‘A Secret of Many Urban 20-Somethings: Their Parents Help With the Rent’.

“According to surveys that track young people through their first decade of adulthood, about 40 percent of 22-, 23- and 24-year-olds receive some financial assistance from their parents for living expenses. Among those who get help, the average amount is about $3,000 a year.

It’s a stark reminder that social and economic mobility continues past grade school, high school and even college. Economic advantages continue well into the opening chapters of adulthood, a time when young people are making big personal investments that typically lead to higher incomes but can be hard to pay for.”

On the other side of the generation spectrum, The Editorial Board of The New York Times identified an emerging trend threatening older Americans, ‘Haunted by Student Debt Past Age 50’.

“The experience of being crushed by student debt is no longer limited to the young. New federal data shows millions of Americans who are retired or nearing retirement face this burden, as well as the possibility of having their Social Security benefits garnished to make payments.

Americans age 60 and older are the fastest-growing age group of student loan debtors. Older debtors, many of whom live hand-to-mouth on fixed incomes, are more likely to default. When that occurs with federal loans, as happens with nearly 40 percent of such borrowers who are 65 and over, the government can seize a portion of their Social Security payments — even if it pushes them into poverty. About 20,000 Americans over the age of 50 in 2015 had their Social Security checks cut below the poverty line because of student loans, with poverty-level benefits falling even further for 50,000 others, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.”


The last story this week@work, highlights the importance of art@work and in our lives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the next step in their digital evolution – open access to over 375,000 archive images. (Monet’s ‘Garden at Sainte-Adresse’, 1867 above)

What are you going to do with those energy reserves you stored this summer?

As the sun sets on summer 2016, use the upcoming Labor Day weekend as a catalyst to recalibrate you career trajectory.

Why Labor Day? Timing is everything. This weekend marks a transition between seasons and a sense of ‘starting over’ as a new school year begins.

When you arrive @work on Tuesday morning your plans will collide with the competing interests of colleagues returning to work, equally energized and motivated. If you have a plan, and a schedule of activities already on your calendar you will be in a position to maintain the momentum, moving you closer to your ‘dream’.

Start with two questions:

What do I still want to accomplish?

What is one thing I can do move forward?

Your answer to the first question asserts your priorities, and the second sets the first item on your agenda.

When thinking about priorities, consider feedback you have received from managers, colleagues, mentors and friends. What skills need fine tuning? Is there additional expertise you need to acquire to advance in your current position or transition to a new workplace? Who can help you achieve your goals? Is it time for additional training or an advanced degree?

The ‘still want to accomplish’ question hits at the fundamental essence of who you are, who you want to become, and the legacy you want to leave behind. It has a workplace component, but also addresses work/life balance, and your role as a contributing member of your community.

The next step is to schedule a meeting to set your priorities in motion: coffee with a mentor to review your career direction, an information interview to establish a new professional connection, a visit to a local non-profit, or a meeting with an academic advisor to explore educational options.

Your priorities dictate your agenda.

Before the weekend comes to an end, take a few minutes to review your calendar and block out time for ‘summer energy reserves expenditures’. Send at least one email requesting a meeting and try to find time each week to sit down with folks who can expand your career horizons.

Effectively managing your work/life is an ongoing energy expense. It will keep you moving forward, recalibrating as needed.




Your first day @work is not that different from your first day @college

Late last month, The New York Times shared advice for incoming college freshman from 25 upperclassmen and recent grads. As I read the article, I noted a parallel in the seven topics offered for new students, and folks in their first months @work – from the first internship through every career transition.

“Freshman year is a chance to redefine yourself, to challenge assumptions, to lay the foundation for the rest of your life.”

The first day of work is also a chance to redefine yourself, challenge assumptions and begin to lay the foundation of your career.

Let’s examine the list of seven, and test their application to the workplace.

“Extend yourself”  You are the ‘newbie’ @work. You’re not expected to have all the answers on day one. Ask questions.  Explore the world beyond your cubicle. Find ‘community spaces’ where folks gather, and mingle.

“Do the work”  In college, this is basically showing up for class, @work it’s consistently engaging in projects. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer to participate in assignments that will stretch your talents.

“Understand the system and work it”  Every workplace has its unique culture, values and traditions. If you did your research before you started your new job, you should have an inkling of what to expect. Once you are on payroll, take some time to observe how folks communicate, how priorities are set, where the budget dollars are allocated, and who is making the decisions. Align yourself with the energized vs. the disgruntled.

“Be yourself”  Hopefully you selected a workplace that is a ‘fit’ with your values and talents. If the recruitment process was straightforward, being the ‘authentic’ you will contribute to your success.

You will change as part of a new work community, just as you evolved throughout your college years in an environment that fostered success, creativity, and diversity.  Check in periodically with friends outside your workplace to ensure you’re growing vs. losing your essential essence.

“Tend to yourself”, “Your grade in one class does not define you”  These tidbits of advice applied to work fall into the categories of work/life balance and recovering from failure. It’s very easy to be consumed by the work in the beginning. You’re learning new concepts, meeting new people, struggling to make deadlines, and communicating in a new workplace language. If you’re not spending time outside of work socializing, contributing to your community or maintaining a fitness routine; your work will eventually suffer.

When you do make a mistake, your career isn’t over. The upper strata of success is populated with folks who have recovered from both minor and major workplace calamity.

“Develop people skills”  Without solid communication skills, every day at work will be a challenge. Our work culture has traditionally rewarded the extrovert, but new research has shown the introvert is an equal partner in the success of any organization.

In college you may have been able to get an ‘A’ as an individual, rarely leaving your room, thinking great thoughts and rarely interacting with the campus community. @work you have to deal with people. You may be the most brilliant innovator, but at some point you have to explain your product to a client.

All of us can improve our communication skills and it’s to an organization’s advantage to support you in this effort. Find out if there are skill development programs available through your employer or professional association. Be proactive on this one.

 “Don’t get stuck” Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Entering college you may have thought you would be the next Bill Gates, when a Freshman Seminar introduced you to the wonderful world of philosophy. Tangents open up @work as well. Entering an organization for the first time, you cannot imagine the variety of opportunities that are available. You may be in a meeting with a client and realize the work his/her organization is doing is a better fit for you skills. Be open when an alternative is presented. There is no perfect career path, just one that is unique to you.

One more – always share what you learn with colleagues. Knowledge is power. Shared information can be transformative.

What I did this summer…

What happened to summer? Is it me, or does time go by more quickly after July 4? Before your experiences of the past few months are lost in the excitement of fall work assignments, take some time to reflect on what you learned.

Did you travel, study, volunteer or all of the above? Did your curiosity lead you to interviews with folks outside your career field? What did you learn about yourself?

Catalog your experience including the skills you acquired or any challenges you overcame. Some of these will fall naturally into a resume, but others will provide the content for future professional conversations.

How did you grow as an individual or as a professional? Can you identify ways to link your summer experience to your current work?

Sanity and survival compel us to try to separate work from the rest of our lives. But when we return to work after vacation, maintaining the separation can be a barrier to creativity.

Refreshing the view allows us to be open to new opportunities.

Develop a narrative that tells your story of the summer – a story that incorporates all the elements of the ‘new and improved’ you. Keep it simple. Focus on experience that adds value to your ‘brand @work’.

A conversation poolside that sparked an idea for a new product. An article/book that offered an alternative approach to problem-solving. A civic engagement project that spurred ideas to motivate your team. A faculty member or classmate who provided a connection to a potential new client.

Or, did the chance to step away and just daydream provide new insight into your next career?





The week@work – Brexit, #Regrexit, Euro2016, Christo’s floating piers, Bill Cunningham’s photos, Goldman Sachs’ video recruiting strategy, and education for a jobless future

I was a history major, so the past week@work included an inordinate amount of time spent in the company of various traditional and social media portals, monitoring the results of the Brexit vote and its aftermath.

In between, there were intervals of soccer, viewing both Copa America and Euro 2016. There was also art in Christo’s installation in Lake Iseo, Italy and reflected brilliance in the photography of Bill Cunningham, who died this weekend. Goldman Sachs announced a new campus recruiting strategy (good news for history majors), and a journalist asked if education is preparing students adequately for a jobless future.


On Thursday evening I watched part of CNN International’s ‘Brexit’ election coverage, which included an animated discussion between anchor Christiane Amanpour and historian Simon Schama. As it became clear that ‘Leave’ was overtaking ‘Remain’ in the vote count, Schama cited the referendum results as one more example of “a world phenomenon of tribal nationalism”.

The historian has been actively engaged on Twitter and in an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel described the vote as “a turning point for Great Britain”.

Here’s a sample of the conversation:

SIEGEL:” Culturally, there is a generation of educated young Europeans – and I include Brits in that – who think of themselves at some level as being European. Maybe it’s not their only identity. Do you think that goes away in Britain and does a different identity take shape, or do those people grow up and change in this country?”

SCHAMA: “No, I think they’re in distress. I mean, I’m sure you’ve said, it’s very striking that the 18 to 24s voted something like 75 percent to stay in. And I suppose it depends where you are in London. We have more immigrants than anywhere else, and we’re least bothered by it. And I think when the shock subsides a bit, the young may well fight to be at least as European as they’ve been led to believe they are. That’s my hope, actually.”

SIEGEL: “If you can imagine a historian 50 years hence writing the sentence that will sum up what happened on this day, what do you think it’ll be?”

SCHAMA:” The greatest act of unforced national self-harm yet known in modern history.”

It’s always helpful to have a historian in the house. And it’s stunning to realize the generational split in voting: “Among 18-24-year-olds, the age category that’s going to have to live with the consequences of this vote for all of their working lives, 75 percent voted to stay.”

As to #Regrexit, writer and comedian, John Oliver reminded his countrymen, “there are no f______do-overs”.

In 2004 journalist Franklin Foer wrote ‘How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization’. Seemed like a good read to revisit after Brexit and an opportunity for a diversion while following Copa America and Euro 2016. The book treats soccer stories as globalization case studies. And I think we could use some ‘best practices’ right about now.

Full disclosure, I am rooting for the Welsh National Football Team as they face Belgium on Friday. My favorite work/life balance photo of the week – Wales’ Gareth Bale and daughter after the team advanced to the Euro 2016 quarter finals.


Art is another outlet for expression in chaos and ambiguity. A new Christo work debuted last week. The Guardian reported on the popularity of the ‘Floating Piers’ in Lake Iseo in northern Italy.


“A giant floating walkway made out of fabric on an Italian lake has had to be closed at night after tens of thousands of visitors began to wear it out.

The 1.9-mile (3km) walkway of 200,000 floating cubes covered in orange fabric was created by artist Christo and has proved a major attraction since it opened on Saturday on Lake Iseo.

However, 270,000 visitors have flocked to see the free installation – called “the Floating Piers” – in less than five days, far exceeding organisers’ expectations of about 500,000 over 16 days.”

On Saturday, The New York Times chronicled the career of one of their ‘house icons’, photographer Bill Cunningham.


“Mr. Cunningham was such a singular presence in the city that, in 2009, he was designated a living landmark. And he was an easy one to spot, riding his bicycle through Midtown, where he did most of his field work: his bony-thin frame draped in his utilitarian blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants and black sneakers (he himself was no one’s idea of a fashion plate), with his 35-millimeter camera slung around his neck, ever at the ready for the next fashion statement to come around the corner.

Nothing escaped his notice: not the fanny packs, not the Birkin bags, not the gingham shirts, not the fluorescent biker shorts.

In his nearly 40 years working for The Times, Mr. Cunningham snapped away at changing dress habits to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.”

Two stories about the transition from school to work round out this week@work.

On Friday, reported “Goldman Sachs is scrapping face-to-face interviews on university campuses in a bid to attract a wider range of talent.
The US investment bank will switch to video interviews with first-round undergraduate candidates from next month.

“Edith Cooper, Goldman’s global head of human capital management said: “We want to hire not just the economics or business undergraduate but there is that pure liberal arts or “history major that could be the next Lloyd Blankfein.”

Mr Blankfein, the bank’s chief executive, went to Harvard, one of America’s elite Ivy League universities, where he studied history.”

On Tuesday, Washington Post contributor, Jeffrey J. Selingo asked ‘Are colleges preparing students for the workforce?’

“While students are often encouraged to major in job-ready fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), graduates of those programs are unlikely to find employment without solid grounding in the liberal arts and experiences outside the classroom to build their soft skills.

In the future work world, it’s critical that new graduates stay one step ahead of technology and focus more on what computers can’t yet do well: show creativity, have judgment, play well with others, and navigate ambiguity.”

It was a good week to be a history major.





The Friday Poem ‘A sonnet’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda

At a moment of career recognition, ‘Hamilton’ creator, Lin Manuel-Miranda shared a sonnet for his wife and the world about family, tragedy and love. At it’s center was his response to the terrorist, hate crime in Orlando.

The New York Times Sunday Styles reporter, Katie Rosman, shared the ‘back story’ of the sonnet from creation to delivery on the Beacon Theater stage Sunday evening.

“…as the first grim reports out of Orlando, Fla., were circulating, Mr. Miranda took out his phone and began to tap out the sonnet he would read aloud that night while accepting the Tony for best score. In 14 lines he paid tribute to his wife, his son and the victims of the massacre.

Back at the Mandarin Oriental before curtain time, he realized he would need a printout of the verse he had written. He called the suite where his father was staying and asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking care of it. Luis, 61, said yes, and traveled down a flight, where his son handed him a thumb drive. Lin-Manuel had one stipulation: “He said, ‘Can you please not read it?’”

He went down the elevator, thumb drive in hand, toward the concierge desk. There, employees of the Mandarin Oriental sprang into action.

Back in the elevator, with the printout, the father did the very thing his son had asked him not to do: He read the sonnet.

“That’s like asking me not to drink water when it’s 90 degrees out,” Luis said. “I thought it was very moving and pretty and important for the moment.”

Back in the suite, Luis listened as Lin-Manuel read it aloud, practicing for the big moment.”

Yesterday Mr. Miranda announced a fundraising effort, for Equality Florida. Revenue will be generated by the sale of a T shirt with words from the sonnet. “Here’s a thing that speaks for itself. I’m very excited about it and it’s a way you can help.” 


The sonnet has been published in a variety of outlets since the awards ceremony. After the horror of this past week, there was no other choice for The Friday Poem.

My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise
We chase the melodies that seem to find us until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day
The show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
Cannot be killed or swept aside
I sing Vanessa’s symphony
Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love, and pride

Lin Manuel-Miranda   June 12, 2016