Planning for the Thanksgiving Career Conversation

It’s the annual celebration of Thanksgiving, that time of year when families get together and complain about dissatisfaction with work. What if we approached the holiday season as an opportunity for taking action on shelved career plans?

We tend to think of the holidays as a time to get away from our workplace. And yet, it can be a time to reconsider career choices and solicit input from family and friends.

Let’s reimagine the pre or post-dinner conversation that has previously been a competition to demonstrate who has the worst boss, longest hours, deadest of dead end jobs. Consider a conversation where you identify your spot on your career timeline, articulate your goals and ask for guidance on next steps.

Your friends and family are your most trusted advisors. They’re the folks who know all your faults and are still there. Don’t waste their time with a whining session. Respect their abilities to listen and share feedback.

Start with the past year and what you have accomplished. Even in the worst job situation we can salvage a few learning experiences, from both failure and success. Come up with a way to communicate your skills, leaving out acronyms, to enable folks to envision how your strengths apply across fields.

Next, recall that dream job that has been tantalizing you, but disappears in the fog of the everyday demands of the workplace. Got it? Now you have your baseline and end goal. Don’t be shy about sharing it.

What’s missing? The interim steps to get you from point A to point B.

And this is where those negative conversations turn into positive and productive discussions. Now that you have shared your goals, folks are empowered to help: adding to your list of skills based on a long term view of your career, providing input on strategy and offering connections to keep the conversation going after the holidays.

It’s not just the folks who are contemplating career transition that can benefit from these holiday interactions. If you think all is well in your career, a close confidant can often detect warning signs you may be missing in your optimism.

The real value of your family/friends ‘board of advisors’ is their ability to hold you accountable to your dream. You will see them, same time next year, and they will ask you how far you’ve travelled on the road to your destination.

 

 

‘The Managers’ a poem by W.H. Auden

The ‘Friday Poem’ this week is ‘The Managers’ by British poet W.H. Auden. The poem was written almost 70 years ago, in the post World War II period when a new class of worker was emerging, the professional corporate manager. The new corporate bureaucracies mirrored the military structures that had effectively managed the war effort.

In the military you were assigned a number, and as these new organization structures emerged, employees lost their identities and became numbers as well. Auden used his poetry to remind those in charge that workers have faces..

‘The mere making of a work of art is itself a political act’ because it reminds ‘the Management … that the managed are people with faces, not anonymous numbers.’

‘The hero of modern poetry is ‘the man or woman in any walk of life who … manages to acquire and preserve a face of his own’.”

The poem is a snapshot in time of one artist’s reaction to the “Men, working too hard in rooms that are too big”.

The Managers

In the bad old days it was not so bad:

The top of the ladder

Was an amusing place to sit; success

Meant quite a lot – leisure

And huge meals, more palaces filled with more

Objects, books, girls, horses

Than one would ever get round to, and to be

Carried uphill while seeing

Others walk. To rule was a pleasure when

One wrote a death sentence

On the back of the Ace of Spades and played on

With a new deck. Honours

Are not so physical or jolly now,

For the species of Powers

We are used to are not like that. Could one of them

Be said to resemble

The Tragic Hero, The Platonic Saint,

Or would any painter

Portray one rising triumph from a lake

On a dolphin, naked,

Protected by an umbrella of cherubs? Can

They so much as manage

To behave like genuine Caesars when alone

Or drinking with cronies,

To let their hair down and be frank about

The world? It is doubtful.

The last word on how we may live or die

Rests today with such quiet

Men, working too hard in rooms that are too big,

Reducing to figures

What is the matter, what is to be done.

A neat little luncheon

Of sandwiches is brought to each on a tray,

Nourishment they are able

To take with one hand without looking up

From papers a couple

Of secretaries are needed to file,

From problems no smiling

Can dismiss. The typewriters never stop

But whirr like grasshoppers

In the silent siesta heat as, frivolous

Across their discussions

From woods unaltered by our wars and our vows

There drift the scents of flowers

And the songs of birds who will never vote

Or bother to notice

Those distinguishing marks a lover sees

By instinct and policemen

Can be trained to observe. Far into the night

Their windows burn brightly

And, behind their backs bent over some report,

On every quarter,

For ever like a god or a disease

There on earth the reason

In all its aspects why they are tired, and weak,

The inattentive, seeing

Someone to blame. If, to recuperate

They go a-playing, their greatness

Encounters the bow of the chef or the glance

Of the ballet-dancer

Who cannot be ruined by any master’s fall.

To rule must be a calling,

It seems, like surgery or sculpture; the fun

Neither love nor money

But taking necessary risks, the test

Of one’s skill, the question,

If difficult, their own reward. But then

Perhaps one should mention

Also what must be a comfort as they guess

In times like the present

When guesses can prove so fatally wrong,

The fact of belonging

To the very select indeed, to those

For whom, just supposing

They do, there will be places on the last

Plane out of disaster.

No; no one is really sorry for their

Heavy gait and careworn

Look, nor would they thank you if you said you were.

W.H. Auden 1948, ‘The Oxford Book of Work’ 1999

‘Vocation’ a poem by Sandra Beasley

How many times have you asked someone, What would you like to do next @work? And how often have your received the response, “I’m not sure, but I would like to work with people”. It can be the beginning of an extremely frustrating conversation because there are many ways you can work with people and not all of them pleasant.

The Friday Poem this week is from poet Sandra Beasley’s Barnard Women Poets Prize winning poetry collection, ‘I Was the Jukebox’. In reading the poem, what caught my eye was the twist on the ‘working with people’ ambition in the last lines of the poem.

Her words give voice to all of us who struggle to find our perfect place @work.

“If it calls you, its your calling, right?”

Maybe there’s more to career choice than hearing voices.

Vocation

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I’ll file your 1099s.
I’ll make love to strangers of your choice.
I’ll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it’s your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.

Sandra Beasley  ‘I Was the Jukebox: Poems’  2010

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‘Poet’s work’ a poem by Lorine Niedecker

Do you remember the first bit of career advice you received from a grown-up? Poet Lorine Niedecker captured the advice given to her and her subsequent career choice in ‘Poet’s Work’ this week’s Friday Poem. “She is admired for the subtlety of her tightly crafted, nuanced and deliciously ironic poems, as well as for her total devotion to her calling.”

The biographical summary on the Poetry Foundation site describes the work of this twentieth century rural Wisconsin poet.

“Niedecker’s verse is praised for its stark, vivid imagery, subtle rhythms, and spare language…Concerned with the distillation of images and thoughts into concise expression, Niedecker described her work as a “condensery,” and several critics have compared her poetry to the delicate yet concrete verse of Chinese and Japanese writers. Although Niedecker’s long correspondence with Louis Zukofsky, who frequently submitted her poems to the journal, Origin, and contact with such respected writers as Cid Corman and Basil Bunting, brought her some critical notice, her work was generally overlooked until late in her life. Since her death in 1970, several critics have identified Niedecker as a significant and original voice in contemporary American poetry.”

Poet’s work

Grandfather
advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoff
from this
condensery

A complete collection of her work was published by The University of California Press in 2004.

‘A Man May Change’ a poem by Marvin Bell

Every four years we discover Iowa through the lens of the presidential primary. This week’s Friday Poem comes from Iowa’s first poet laureate, Marvin Bell. He was on the faculty of the University of Iowa until 2005 and toured with the garage band of authors, ‘The Rock Bottom Remainders’.

In a world of work where change is a constant, we may miss the slow erosion of self@work. “…it sometimes happens that a man has changed so slowly that he slips away before anyone notices and lives and dies before anyone can find out.”

A Man May Change

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

Marvin Bell  Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000

‘Something Left Undone’ a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As the Labor Day weekend begins, we are all probably leaving some work undone. Our Monday intentions were the best, to run through a list and finish them all by week’s end. But interruptions, distractions, and previously unscheduled meetings diverted us from the task.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captures the feeling of the accumulating burden in this weeks’ Friday poem, Something Left Undone.

Something Left Undone

Labor with what zeal we will,
Something still remains undone,
Something uncompleted still
Waits the rising of the sun.
By the bedside, on the stair,
At the threshold, near the gates,
With its menace or its prayer,
Like a mendicant it waits;
Waits, and will not go away;
Waits, and will not be gainsaid;
By the cares of yesterday
Each to-day is heavier made;
Till at length the burden seems
Greater than our strength can bear,
Heavy as the weight of dreams,
Pressing on us everywhere.
And we stand from day to day,
Like the dwarfs of times gone by,
Who, as Northern legends say,
On their shoulders held the sky.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Birds of Passage 1863

The week@work – The pressure to succeed @school, @work and @amazon

This week@work includes articles that echo a growing concern that we are not adequately preparing our children for the future @work, millennials expectations @work, and Amazon’s culture that just may be more in line with those expectations.

Are we teaching our children to fear failure? Contributing Atlantic writer Jessica Lahey answers the question by narrating a parent – teacher conversation. The parent is expressing a concern about a child who is achieving academically but losing the desire to learn.

“The truth—for this parent and so many others—is this: Her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault. Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to come home proudly bearing As, championship trophies, and college acceptances, and we inadvertently taught her that we don’t really care how she obtains them. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfect record. Above all else, we taught her to fear failure. That fear is what has destroyed her love of learning.”

Innovation is the product of failure. At a time when global competition is intense, there is a shortage of the curious, the questioning.

It’s time to reevaluate our priorities and help “kids rediscover their intellectual bravery, their enthusiasm for learning, and the resilience they need in order to grow into independent, competent adults.”

What happens when these adults move into the workplace? What are their expectations?

In 2007 the Gallup Management Journal published the results of a poll of job seekers asking what was important to them in their job search.

“Nearly half of job seekers say the opportunity to learn and grow, the opportunity for advancement, and earning promotions based on merit are extremely important when looking for a job”

It follows that the quality of management and the relationship with ‘the boss’ are critical factors in recruitment and retention.

“Companies know they must offer competitive compensation packages when fighting for talented employees, and they must offer the right types of work for those seeking jobs. If they don’t revise their recruiting pitch to include concrete examples of great management, and if they don’t have great managers in the first place, then job seekers will listen to companies that do.”

Hopefully great managers will allow employees to fail. But apparently not, according to the next story about the generation we continue to label as millennials.

In a post for Inc. Chis Matyszczyk gives us four reasons these folks are leaving their jobs.

“They’ve seen what corporate life did to their parents, so they’ll take it just in small doses, thanks. They see through their bosses (and their bosses hate them for it). Millennials look at the corporate world and understand how uncertain the future is. Most of their role models got rich quick.”

If the expectation is to take corporate life in small doses, perhaps a resume should include some time at the world’s biggest retailer.

Welcome to orientation at Amazon. The ‘above the fold’ story in The New York Times today describes the corporate culture at Amazon. As all things Amazon the culture reflects the values. leadership principles and vision of Jeff Bezos.

“Amazon may be singular but perhaps not quite as peculiar as it claims. It has just been quicker in responding to changes that the rest of the work world is now experiencing: data that allows individual performance to be measured continuously, come-and-go relationships between employers and employees, and global competition in which empires rise and fall overnight. Amazon is in the vanguard of where technology wants to take the modern office: more nimble and more productive, but harsher and less forgiving.”

Key to Amazon’s success is Jeff Bezos’ realistic view of the new employer-employee contract – one based on mutual utility.

“…he was able to envision a new kind of workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.”

A few additional articles from the week@work:

‘Design As Strategy’ Adi Ignatius for The Harvard Business Review, September 2015 issue: “…illustrates some of the ways design thinking is starting to power corporate strategy.”

The Perils of Ever-Changing Work Schedules Extend to Children’s Well-Being‘ Noam Scheiber for The New York Times, 8/12: “A growing body of research suggests that children’s language and problem-solving skills may suffer as a result of their parents’ problematic schedules, and that they may be more likely than other children to smoke and drink when they are older.”

‘The Makeup Tax’ Olga Khazan  The Atlantic 8/5  “Years of research has shown that attractive people earn more. Thus, the makeup tax: Good-looking men and good-looking women both get ahead, but men aren’t expected to wear makeup in order to look good.”

‘The Last Hours’ a poem by Stephen Dunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the positive reviews, Syreeta McFadden for The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

The week@work – Essays about work & class, what to learn in college, & paying tribute on Memorial Day

This week@work invites us to pause and remember those whose unselfish commitment to our way of life motivates them to sacrifice immediate career aspirations, family and in some cases, their lives. On my ‘honors list ‘this year, in addition to the active members in the military and veterans, are the doctors and nurses who travelled to Africa to fight Ebola and the medical personnel who treated the Ebola patients who returned to the US.

These folks allow the rest of us to go about pursuing our own ‘American dream’ while they ensure our right to do so. We apply to college, launch careers, struggle with work/life balance and do our best to contribute to our communities. And on one day, Memorial Day, in towns across the country there will remember with parades, 5k races and wreaths set on memorials to the war dead.

Work & Class (‘Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye’, Ron Lieber, The New York Times, May 21)

Very few college admissions essays address issues of work and class, but each year, a selection of those that do are published in The New York Times.

“The single most memorable line we read this year came from an essay by Carolina Sosa, who lives in Centreville, Va., and will attend Georgetown University. In writing about her father’s search for a job, she described the man named Dave who turned him away.

“Job searching is difficult for everyone, but in a world full of Daves, it’s almost impossible,” she wrote. “Daves are people who look at my family and immediately think less of us. They think illegal, poor and uneducated. Daves never allow my dad to pass the first round of job applications. Daves watch like hawks as my brother and I enter stores. Daves inconsiderately correct my mother’s grammar. Because there are Daves in the world, I have become a protector for my family.”

What to Learn in College (‘What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers’, Robert J. Shiller, The New York Times, May 22)

Professor Shiller addresses the central question in higher education today. How do we ensure that those who attend college are transformed by the experience, not just with a utilitarian skill set, but with a broader understanding of the human condition and a commitment to improving their local and global community?

“What can young people learn now that won’t be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.

Two strains of thought seem to dominate the effort to deal with this problem. The first is that we teachers should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that, we hope, cannot be replaced by computers. The second is that we need to make education more business-oriented, teaching about the real world and enabling a creative entrepreneurial process that, presumably, computers cannot duplicate. These two ideas are not necessarily in conflict.”

His conclusion reflects a recognition of the value of integrated, adaptive learning.

“The developing redefinition of higher education should provide benefits that will continue for decades into the future. We will have to adapt as information technology advances. At the same time, we must continually re-evaluate what is inherently different between human and computer learning, and what is practical and useful to students for the long haul. And we will have to face the reality that the “art of living in the world” requires at least some elements of a business education.”

Paying Tribute

This week The 9/11 Memorial marked it’s first anniversary since opening. News organizations were given a preview of the observation deck atop the new One World Trade Center. A good time to revisit the intention of the original architect of the twin towers, and his quote preserved on the wall of the memorial museum.

“Beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its’ importance, become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation his ability to find greatness.” 

Minoru Yamasaki, World Trade Center Architect, 1964

This week@work we make connections. The architect’s desire for his building to represent man’s belief in humanity, Carolina Sosa’s hope to recover her father’s human dignity from ‘the Daves’ and Professor Shiller’s intention to preserve the values of higher education to ensure each graduate’s opportunity to find greatness.