The Saturday Read – Four blogs/newsletters you should be reading

Before I started writing ‘Workthoughts’, I was reading other blogs. Maria Popova, author of my favorite, ‘Brainpickings’, was the 2016 commencement speaker at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. She challenged the graduates to act as cultural change agents by continually broadening their horizons beyond a specific discipline.

“Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

Whatever your specific vocation, your role as a creator of culture will be to help people discern what matters in the world and why by steering them away from the meaningless and toward the meaningful.”


How do you maintain the discipline of the undergraduate learning experience and diversify your thinking?

In the past, traditional routes to post-graduate learning involved graduate and professional school. In rare cases, employers took on the role of educators, supplementing work with professional development options. Today, educational entrepreneurs are disrupting traditional education, offering countless ways to access knowledge online.

One of the most engaging options is to join folks who are exploring life’s mysteries and sharing their discoveries through blogs and newsletters.

For this week’s Saturday Read, I recommend four blogs/newsletters from contemporary ‘curators of culture’ that you should be reading to improve you critical thinking and supplement your journey of lifelong learning.


Bruce Feiler, writing in The New York Times, described this blog as “the exploding online emporium of ideas”.

“She’s a celebrator,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former State Department official. “You feel the tremendous amount of pleasure she takes in finding these things and sharing them. It’s like walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour.”

Since 2006, Maria Popova has been sharing her cross disciplinary expeditions with a growing audience of readers.

“Brain Pickings — which remains ad-free and supported by readers — is a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich our mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Above all, it’s about how these different disciplines illuminate one another to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.”

The next selection comes from the mind of writer and ‘philosopher of everyday life’, Alain de Botton. If you read Brainpickings or Workthoughts, the name should be familiar. The founder of London’s School of Life, publishes a weekly newsletter, ‘The Book of Life’.


The Book of Life 

“It’s called The Book of Life because it’s about the most substantial things in your life: your relationships, your income, your career, your anxieties. There’s always been a longing to gather the important things in one place. Some of the appeal of a Bible or the collected works of a big name author is the sense that amidst all the chaos and disparate sources of knowledge, someone has taken the trouble to distill, to compress, to say what is essential. In a world overflowing with information, what we most need is curation. The Book of Life aims to be the curation of the best and most helpful ideas in the area of emotional life.”

For those of you technology and engineering gurus who feel a bit insecure when a client conversation turns literary, subscribe to the ‘Lit Hub Daily’.


Lit Hub

“Started last year, Lit Hub’s goal is to provide a “go-to daily source for all the news, ideas, and richness of contemporary literary life,” with curated and original content such as interviews, profiles and essays.”

“Literary Hub is an organizing principle in the service of literary culture, a single, trusted, daily source for all the news, ideas and richness of contemporary literary life. There is more great literary content online than ever before, but it is scattered, easily lost—with the help of its editorial partners, Lit Hub is a site readers can rely on for smart, engaged, entertaining writing about all things books.”

The latest newsletter I have added to my daily/weekly routine comes from writer Austin Kleon. His Friday newsletter is an eclectic collection of music, art, design and life. To give you a sample, this week’s edition included George Carlin’s Playboy interview, an HBO documentary on Studs Terkel and the Everything is a Remix series.

What makes Austin’s blog unique is the doodles; his visual interpretation of information.


Austin Kleon 

“I’m a writer who draws. I make art with words and books with pictures. Every week I send out a list of 10 things I think are worth sharing — new art, writing, and interesting links straight to your inbox.”

These four blogs/newsletters provide a customized curriculum of research and shared wisdom, delivered by a faculty of four non-traditional experts. Take a look, you may find one or more will fit with your individualized lifelong learning plan.


“Discover who you are – not who you are supposed to be” Larry Ellison@USC

In all the meetings I have had with folks about career choice, the number one topic, by a landslide, is how to manage the expectations of others: family members, mentors, friends and colleagues.

“My parents want me to major in ‘x’, and apply to ‘y’, but my passion is in ‘z’. How do I get them to understand my decision?”

On Friday, at the University of Southern California, Larry Ellison drew on his personal experience to address the topic. I hope the parents were listening. I guarantee members of the Class of 2016 were texting quotes.

He began where most career conversations start. Recalling his early aspirations to attend USC Medical School, he began to realize that his family’s conviction that he become a doctor was not his own. “Their dreams became my dreams.”

And it wasn’t long before he “became painfully aware that he couldn’t make himself study something that didn’t interest me.”

The power of parental/family influence on career choice can provide either a scaffolding of support or a detour of unending disappointments.

Here’s the thing, the next great innovation is yet to be discovered. The next emerging market is yet to be identified. Categories of new job titles are yet to be defined.

So we fall back on what we know, and what society values as acceptable professions.

In Ellison’s narrative, he dropped out of college and took on a “a couple of jobs I loved and one that was fun”: river guide, rock climbing instructor and computer programmer. It was in the world of technology that he found the link to the same kind of satisfaction he had found solving math problems and playing chess.

But as he incrementally travelled toward his dream job, he found he was unable to live up to the expectations of others.

At the urging of his wife, he returned to college, to pursue his degree. The only course he remembered was a sailing class at Berkeley. The beginning of his love affair with the Pacific Ocean marked the end of the one with his wife, who viewed him as irresponsible, and lacking in ambition. “She kicked me out, and then she divorced me.”

“This was a pivotal moment in my life… Once again, I was unable to live up to the expectations of others.

But this time I was not disappointed in myself for failing to be the person they thought I should be. Their dreams and my dreams were different. I would never confuse the two of them again.

I had discovered things that I loved: the Sierras, Yosemite, the Pacific Ocean. These natural wonders brought me great joy and happiness, and would for the rest of my life. I had an interesting job programming computers and more money than I needed.

For the first time I was certain I was going to survive in this world.

A huge burden of fear had been lifted. I’ll never forget that moment. It was a time for rejoicing.”

Ellison’s career path accelerated along the trajectory of Silicon Valley’s early days, as he tried to find a job he loved as much as sailing. He founded Oracle Corporation, built on his ‘crazy idea’ of constructing a commercialized relational database, and the rest is history.

I spent thirteen years on the USC campus, working with students and alumni as they wrestled with career decisions and connected the mosaic of past experience into a plan for the future. There is no better advice for folks@work or those just starting out than the shared wisdom of Mr. Ellison.

“Each of you has a chance to discover who you are and not who you are supposed to be.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, and try lots of different things. And don’t let the experts discourage you when you challenge the status quo.”

“Failures of kindness” George Saunders @Syracuse

In this week of blooming jacarandas, empty white folding chairs await the procession of the graduates, and an elevated podium echoes with the voice of a valedictorian at sound check, rehearsing for the big day.

On the majority of campuses an eminent personage will join the assembly, offering wit and wisdom. This week we will revisit some of the best advice delivered @commencement, beginning with George Saunders at Syracuse University in 2013.

In January of 2013,  Joel Lovell profiled the writer/professor for the New York Times Magazine, ‘George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year’.

“Tobias Wolff, who taught Saunders when he was in the graduate writing program at Syracuse in the mid-’80s, said, “He’s been one of the luminous spots of our literature for the past 20 years,” and then added what may be the most elegant compliment I’ve ever heard paid to another person: “He’s such a generous spirit, you’d be embarrassed to behave in a small way around him.”

I think the best speeches create an aspirational bridge between the experience of our undergraduate years and executing our life plan.

The memorable ones communicate with the soul and the easiest way to connect is with a common experience… like the time in grammar school when we missed an opportunity to notice, to include…

This is where Saunders’ speech begins, the ‘generous spirit’ sharing his regret.

“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

Could a narrative be more welcome amidst the lack of civility in our national conversation?

“How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

…kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

When young, we’re anxious — understandably — to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you — in particular you, of this generation — may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes… but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.”




The week@work – Nail salon workers, Sally Mann, sacrifices of the successful and Dan Abromowitz shares his potential job list

The dominant story of work this week was told in a two part series for The New York Times, ‘Unvarnished‘, by reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, “examining the working conditions and potential health risks endured by nail salon workers”.

“Once an indulgence reserved for special occasions, manicures have become a grooming staple for women across the economic spectrum. There are now more than 17,000 nail salons in the United States, according to census data. The number of salons in New York City alone has more than tripled over a decade and a half to nearly 2,000 in 2012.

But largely overlooked is the rampant exploitation of those who toil in the industry. The New York Times interviewed more than 150 nail salon workers and owners, in four languages, and found that a vast majority of workers are paid below minimum wage; sometimes they are not even paid. Workers endure all manner of humiliation, including having their tips docked as punishment for minor transgressions, constant video monitoring by owners, even physical abuse. Employers are rarely punished for labor and other violations.”

The series received an immediate response from the New York governor.

“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered emergency measures on Sunday to combat the wage theft and health hazards faced by the thousands of people who work in New York State’s nail salon industry.

Effective immediately, he said in a statement, a new, multiagency task force will conduct salon-by-salon investigations, institute new rules that salons must follow to protect manicurists from the potentially dangerous chemicals found in nail products, and begin a six-language education campaign to inform them of their rights.”

In a follow-up report for The New Yorker, James Surowiecki examined ‘The Economics of New York’s Low Nail-Salon Prices’.

“…one of the most surprising, and economically telling, facts in the piece is also among the most mundane: namely, that the price of a manicure hasn’t budged much, if at all, in the past two decades.”

“What the nail-salon owners have done…is to pay their workers much less than a market wage. Maslin Nir’s nuanced account of who nail-salon workers are and how they live helps explain just how the nail salons are doing this: they hire workers who have fewer choices for employment because of language barriers, immigration status, and so on. These workers also have less bargaining power, and many are presumably leery of using the legal system to gain redress, which gives nail-salon owners the freedom to violate minimum-pay and overtime laws with little fear of being punished. The result is that these salons can stay profitable and still keep offering their customers the same low prices for decades. From this perspective, the cheap manicures New Yorkers have been getting have come, quite literally, at the expense of nail-salon workers.”

These articles, letters to the editor, media follow-up combined with good old fashioned customer guilt, will hopefully continue a conversation to improve the working conditions of these folks whose day is spent making others feel beautiful.

In other news this week@work:

Charlie Rose interviewed photographer Sally Mann. In an exchange taped for the CBS Morning News they shared their mutual concept of work: “In the end it’s love and work. Work to find your place so you can stand and leave your mark.”

Lifehack, a productivity and lifestyle blog reported on the ‘8 Things Successful People Sacrifice for Their Success’: “time, stability, personal life, sleep, health, quiet times, sanity and immediate desires.” 

Writer and comedian Dan Abromowitz shared a list of ‘Jobs I’d Be Well Suited For’ in The New Yorker, “As part of my current job hunt, I conducted a thorough inventory of my unique skills. From that, I’ve generated a list of professions at which I believe I’d excel. Please contact me if you are recruiting for any of these positions.” 

A sampling: “History Channel alien expert, Lobbyist, if that meant what it sounds like it means, Night watchman at Sleepy’s & Night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, provided that “Night at the Museum” is true, but lower-key than that.”

We are now in the ‘high season’ of university commencements. NPR has collected ‘The Best Commencement Speeches Ever’ from their archive. “We’ve hand-picked over 300 addresses going back to 1774. Search by name, school, date or theme, and see our blog for more.”

The week@work May 4 – May 10 The US economy improves, the best resume fonts, networking tips & stay@home dads

This week@work brought good news with the US Labor Department reporting the addition of 223,000 Jobs in April, lowering the  unemployment Rate to 5.4%. Wage gains have not kept pace, registering only a 0.1 percent gain last month. The New York Times reported on the “mystery of missing wage growth”:

“As the unemployment rate has dropped, many economists have kept predicting that substantive pay increases would come soon. But as long as wage gains remain just around the corner, their absence is expected to fuel increased public frustration and become a central issue in the presidential campaign.”

“The difference between where we are now and where we were in the 1990s is that the prosperity then lifted more boats,” said Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez. “The unfinished business of the recovery is wage growth. Too many people are working a 50-hour workweek and getting their food at a food pantry.”

If you are currently on the job market, your resume is your calling card, and Bloomberg Business suggests the best and worst fonts to use.

“A résumé, that piece of paper designed to reflect your best self, is one of the places where people still tend to use typeface to express themselves. It does not always go well, according to people who spend a lot of time looking at fonts.”

“We went digging for a complete set of professionally fly fonts and returned with just one consensus winner: Helvetica.”

“If you are very experienced, use Garamond to get your long rap sheet to fit into a single page.”

You have your resume, the job market is improving and you’re off to an industry networking event. Fast Company published founder and CEO of Circle Bank, Manoj Ramnani’s strategies to prepare for the event, ‘work’ the event and follow-up after the event.

“To get the most from these events, there’s quite a bit of front-loaded strategizing and after-the-fact upkeep. Think long-term goals, a slow burn, and you’ll approach these events with a much more productive attitude.”

“Identify your goals. Know who’s coming and reach out. Define your value.”

The last item this week@work tells the first-person account of ‘stay at home dad’, Liam Robb O’Hagan.

“Two years ago, I flew through Heathrow airport in London. On my arrivals card, I listed my occupation as stay-at-home dad.

The Customs and Immigration Officer, who was trained in the finer art of welcoming visitors to the country — or friendly chit-chat as normal people call it — made the comment that he had never seen that occupation listed before. I had to admit that it was the first time I could remember offering it as my profession.

I still find calling myself a stay-at-home dad awkward. My discomfort doesn’t make it any easier when I have to answer the question, “What do you do?” I’ll often couch my answer in the phrase, “Right now, I am a stay-at-home dad.” Perhaps I’m doing this in the hope that will give the inquirer license to delve into my distant past or just talk about the weather.”

As much as we resist, in social settings our work defines us. ‘What do you do?’ is a question that creates a first impression.

The occupation of ‘stay at home dad’ is a critical to the future of our society as ‘stay at home mom’. Many entrepreneurs and  professionals ‘work from home’. Maybe it’s time to include parents in this category. They don’t ‘stay at home’, they ‘work from home’.