Tag Archives: work

Good night, sweetheart, well it’s time to go

I hate goodbyes. It’s better to say “see you next time,” because that leaves all kinds of hope shimmering in the sunlight.

It’s hard to leave something, somewhere – wherever you’ve found yourself for the last while, working and building and arguing and creating. But to everything there is a season, says the Preacher. And this is one of those times.

So I packed up my things today, looked around one more time, gave some hugs. Walked out of my (former) office, bit back some tears, already missing the tall ceiling, not missing the steamy 80 degrees on the thermostat in the summer because our AC can’t keep up, missing the witty conversation I won’t be a part of tomorrow morning, not missing the mundane tasks of office life.

It’s hard to leave people. Really, that’s what always gets me. Places can be beautiful or fun or memorable or breathtaking or functional or inspiring and all that … but People. People are what make this world tick, yannow?  And the four of us had some amazing moments.

Seriously. We were a comedy machine. Just turn the spigot a quarter turn — give us a funny word, an odd last name, an obscure movie reference, a quote from Monty Python, a raised eyebrow, a ridiculous request from some office across campus — and we were off to the Comedy Races.

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There’s that time the guys quoted like whole sections of The Holy Grail, so much that we could theme our Student Appreciation Day around the crazy Brits. (See photo, above.)

There were the snatches of ideas for improv sketches that we knew we’d never actually do, but it was fun to imagine doing them…..
– “What if email spam filters became sentient, and actually explained why you were getting that email about penis enhancement but the expense reports from downstairs were always MIA?”
– “What is the waiting room like outside Hell? Are there snacks? A coffee machine? Decent chairs?”
– And does Heaven have an Orientation session where God or some angel answers all the questions they’ve collected for the past 10,000 years, so they don’t have to answer them individually?  “For a presentation on the Noaic Flood, head to Room A at 3pm. For evil and war, a panel discussion will take place in Room B at 5pm. To locate the socks missing from your dryer, see the Steward on Aisle 10.”
– “What if we created a newsletter for campus but called it “Ill-Health Times?” (This was after the sudden rush of “good health” updates from HR on “Wellness Wednesdays.”)
– “Why isn’t there Yelp for drug dealers?”  “Maybe there is but we don’t know anything about it.”
– “What about the Rituals Help Desk, where upset pagans call to complain that they’ve sacrificed the chicken and smeared the blood in a precise 8 foot circle, but no demon ever showed up?”

We kicked around endless ideas for mind games, cackling with glee when we were able to end a sentence perfectly as soon as the boss crossed the threshold and paused, wondering if we’d stopped talking on his account. (Honestly, Cliff, almost never. I promise.)  And I had other great partners in crime: Tobe & I ran experiments to see how many “dapper” comments we could toss toward Cliff before he’d react visibly.  She and her team had whole books of codewords they’d use in text or snapchat to refer to particular coworkers.

And sometimes I’d laugh so hard the whole hallway would hear me, because I do that occasionally, and it’s stupidly loud and probably annoying to half the planet. …But to the other half of the planet, since they all heard me too, I hope you smiled. Laughter is good for your spirit. You should have laugh-cries at least once a month week. Does wonders for your outlook.

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I totally screwed up my chance to look badass in this photo. Still kinda chagrined about that. Everybody else is so…Whovian…and I’m standing here grinning like a damn puppy. *rolls eyes*

It’s hard to leave a job you’ve worked at for, say, 4 years. I finally know what I’m doing. Heaven knows it took a solid year for me to even begin to feel like I had a handle on things. Impostor Syndrome – it’s a thing.  Leaving the classroom for a new field made me very insecure.  I didn’t know business culture, didn’t know the marketing lingo, didn’t know the work I was supposed to be doing. I watched, observed, studied every word and gesture so I could claw my way out of the feeling that I didn’t belong there. ….Those were unsettling times.

That, and fighting off waves of fear that I’d made a mistake by leaving teaching, the one job I felt called to do, even if it seemed like I had good reasons. And regret – because it’s a visceral gut-punch not to be with your students who have come to campus for a tour. I know that leaving my classroom in 2012 was the right move because I was bored. But I had to come to know that in my bones, in my head, in my gut, in my hands, in my heart.

This was good. Change was good. I needed to grow. I needed to realize that I should have been actually planning for a career this whole time, but who knew? Nearly every married woman in my address book has dropped out of work or left their original ambitions to be a mother. Few have gone back after their kids grew up. How was I to know in my 20s that I would not also trade work for parenting?  (And in the world where I grew up, there is no higher sacrifice than that a woman lay down her life’s work for her children.) (Leaves the rest of us in a pickle, doesn’t it?)

So I’ve learned some things.

One, I’m a good designer and creative director, but I still talk too much in every meeting. (Working on it!)  I leap too quickly to solutions and skip some of the discovery steps to good design thinking and problem solving… but I’m working on that too. It was great to have such creative thinkers working alongside me. Creativity cannot exist in a vacuum. It thrives within collaboration.

It’s at Erskine that I learned how much I love creative directing, even more than designing. It’s like getting to hold the wheel of a powerful machine, one that can produce amazing wonders like museum exhibits:

Two, teamwork is hard to achieve but still vitally important. Working in a silo is bad. Also, team “culture” is everything. As the dude said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He’s right.

Three, if I can ever spend my days as the literary bartender/barista in the 21st century version of a Parisian intellectual salon, I will know that I’ve hit the career lottery.  I want to talk to people about what they want to do, and then help them make their ideas better. That’s it, really.

Fourth, you need to go do the work that will bring you joy and deep satisfaction. But sometimes employment doesn’t fill that deep hole. Yet you can still find joy in the moment, in the people around you, in a sense of accomplishment. And when you cannot do that any longer, when you’ve explored to the very edges of the day’s work and there are no worlds left to conquer, it’s probably time to find a new challenge.

Fifth, seize every opportunity to get to know people, to find those kindred souls tucked in other parts of the organization, the people who understand that laughter is medicine and kindness is golden and friends are really hard to find once you’re an adult, and hold on to those people. Because they’re priceless. Go “do life” with them.

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We “did some life” at the beach with these people a few weeks ago. No, the ocean isn’t running downhill. It’s a cool hipster angle. Hand-crafted, even. Artisanal.

I’m going to miss many things about my work at this little college in Due West. It’s a special place that’s impossible to understand until you’ve walked a mile in its shoes. Wouldn’t trade the last four years for anything….

And that’s why I cried most of my drive home. S’Ok, though. Something new is coming.

 

Good read: “Blurred Lines: Professor, Engineer, Mother” – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Worth your time to read today. The question of “work/life balance” ought to occupy the thinking of all of us, but it seems especially thorny for mothers in professional careers. Some good thoughts here, though I’d like to read her suggestions for her specific context:

Sure, the game of life is easier to win when we segregate its facets and write rules for each in isolation. And it’s not that women refuse to segregate their personal and professional lives — though I would argue that no one should have to — it’s that many women simply can’t.

That was a personal realization that I believe is critically lacking in the way we mentor female students, particularly those in STEM fields. Those fields — prized for their logic and analytical approach to problem solving — often attempt to “solve” struggling students in the same way: The immediate mentor, statistically likely to be male, simply isn’t wired to experience the “all” in the same way as a woman. Moreover, the mentor, regardless of gender, has been incubated in an environment that rewards days spent hyper-focused on the technical dimensions of scholarship and student formation. The “all” that values the intersection between work and emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being is rarely confronted.

Frankly, we in higher education must do more to mentor the “all” in all of our students, regardless of gender — though I argue that this is especially critical for women. It is not just a matter of saying we are committed to mentoring the whole person.

Source: Blurred Lines: Professor, Engineer, Mother – The Chronicle of Higher Education

What my bosses have taught me

Reviewing my working life, I realize that I’ve worked for some pretty awesome people. Competent, professional, relational — I can genuinely say that each of the bosses in my life taught me (or allowed me to learn) pivotal lessons that make me a better person (not just a better employee).

It’s been a useful exercise to take the time to write these out. Here’s what I’ve learned from the folks I’ve worked for in my three careers.

Side note: Yes, all of the people on this list are men. I’ve known incredible female colleagues and departmental managers, but none of them served as my “boss” in the way I detail here. I look forward to working for an amazing woman someday — or being a good boss for people under my care — thanks to the insights I’ve gained from my own career experiences.

The Early Days: Mr. Allen, library leader

Mr. Allen was my first boss, really. I’d done odd jobs for my mom and others but I got my first “real” job during college at the library. I started in periodicals and moved into circulation and student manager as an undergrad, seamlessly transitioning into a grad assistantship position in circulation during my master’s degree, and finally becoming the reference librarian for a few years after college.

Working reference was a heady rush of anxiety and adrenalin: all the excitement of a mystery or scavenger hunt plus a dose of my introverted fear of strangers and a 20-something’s lack of confidence. (What if I don’t know how to find the answer and look like an idiot?) 

In other words, a perfect first job for a young professional.

Mr Allen’s superpower was the ability to “read” people almost instantly. When he interviewed students for one of the many jobs in his building, he usually knew within a few seconds whether the student would be a good fit for the work and the culture there. He was never wrong. Never.

It was a large staff — at least 20 “adults” plus nearly 50 student workers — yet Mr. Allen managed us all with good humor, a love for playing pranks on unsuspecting graduate assistants, and an even temperament. I learned much working under him, but here’s what stuck with me:

Reason and Passion can both be powerful tools for persuasion. Learn which one will be more effective in any given situation, in getting your ideas heard.

Any time I brought a plan for improving some area of the library or reorganizing my job, Mr. Allen listened patiently, asking questions and giving me a full hearing before pointing out any weaknesses or obstacles. It was an important first lesson for me: there are good ways to present an idea to your boss, ways that earn you respect and a hearing. Usually those involve dispassionate argumentation rather than emotional pleas, tantrums, or manipulation.

It’s not that you can’t be passionate about your goals or opinions, but you’ve got to understand whether that form of appeal is going to work. I’ve seen a lot of people try and fail to get their boss to listen to them. I’ve rarely had that problem, because I learned early on how to present ideas to my boss.

Teaching: Two headmasters who created an atmosphere for success

I went from the reference desk into the classroom, launching a decade-long career in teaching English (and Latin and theater and some other things) to a lot of fantastic teenagers whom I still keep up with. But getting launched as a teacher wasn’t easy. Not at all. Probably the hardest job I’ve ever done, day by day.

But the work of a headmaster or principal is no cakewalk either, considering how many problems hinge on figuring out people — notoriously a diffiult material to work with.

I was privileged to work under two great administrators during my classroom years, Dennis and Joey.

Dennis had already been through the wringer at The School Which Shall Not Be Named, a bad experience for his first job as principal. By the time I came to work for him, he was mindful of what he’d learned the hard way, hoping to avoid building a school that was broken from the very outset.

A calm head during any confrontation will defuse the situation and allow progress. (Usually.)

Dennis was a rock-solid partner in a crisis, and if you’re a teacher, crises occur with terrifying consistency. Inexperienced newbies (like I was) mess up blatantly and regularly, generating unhappy students and upset parents. Even the most experienced educators (and we had several colleagues with 15 or 30+ years under their belts) will find themselves in difficult disagreements over how to handle a particular child’s needs.

Dennis never seemed to fear anyone. The angriest parent would find him calm, reasonable, and settled. The most petulant student couldn’t sway him out of his steady approach to discipline and daily life at school.

It’s not that Dennis didn’t care — he cared deeply for the school, his teachers, the students, and their families. But he was able to separate his emotions and opinions from the situation at hand, searching for a solution that genuinely benefited everyone involved. I’m sure much of it made him angry or frustrated, but he didn’t let that become his approach.

After Dennis left to take a position elsewhere, Joey became our new head administrator. Younger than I was by about 5 years, he forced me to get over my own predisposition to devalue someone with less experience than I had. But I learned a lot from his leadership, and we came to count him as one of our closest friends.

Joey followed two important maxims during his first year behind the desk, a strategy which quickly won us over to his side:

Don’t change anything until you understand why things are the way they are in the first place.

Joey walked into a small school with an existing structure and some obvious weaknesses. But it’s easy for new leaders to assume they understand why problems exist and leap toward solutions that won’t work because they don’t yet grasp the full situation, limitations, key players, and opportunities. 

Joey wisely set himself to follow all established policies and cultural norms without changing anything that wasn’t obviously broken. His goal during Year One was simply to learn everything he could about NCS, how it worked, and why.

Along the way, we gained a vital ally for accomplishing our mission, and he rapidly alleviated our fears that he was going to superimpose an alien agenda on the work we felt deep ownership over.

Relationships matter. Take time to be present, build bridges, and trust the people working for you.

Joey’s methods for building trust among his staff, many of whom with decades more experience than he had, involved listening, observing, and asking questions. His presence in the halls, classrooms, and events was positive and intentional; his interest in our methods and explanations was genuine. Upon this foundation he built up trust among teachers, students, and parents — “trust capital” that he soon had to spend when the unavoidable problems of a first-year administrator arose.

Many leaders assume their authority stems from some personal, unquantifiable aura they bring to the job. That’s not how it works. Do you want your employees to follow you and buy into your vision? Then take the time to listen and build relationships first. Apart from “trust capital,” leaders can only threaten or plead.

Communications: It’s the meta, stupid.

After a decade in secondary education, I stepped sideways into higher education, leaving behind teaching (at least for the moment). I took a job in the communications office of a small liberal arts college under Cliff’s leadership. A small team, we handle everything from PR to marketing to creative services for campus departments (to name a few of our responsibilities).

When I was interviewing for jobs, I received a similar interview offer from a much larger institution at the same moment I was interviewing with Cliff. In many ways, that other job is the one I should have pursued — the salary was larger, the benefits better, and the institutional resources much more available. But during my interviews with Cliff, I’d realized that his vision for office culture, work/life balance, and vocational mission was the one I wanted to be part of. So here I am.

We work with words. Every day, we take words (and often images) and craft them into messaging on behalf of the college. We seek to inform, persuade, diffuse, explain, encourage, disarm, and excite … for starters.

Sometimes, in the course of work, the communication tasks get really tough, perhaps because the answers are fuzzy, or the message is unwelcome, or the situation is too unclear to forecast much about the needs/attitudes of the audience.

Words are dangerous. They’re also powerful. Cliff is a master of nuance. He reads the “meta” like the rest of us read printed text. And if I’m the blunt Yankee in our office, Cliff is the careful diplomat, the one who weighs the effect of what is said and what is left unsaid.

Careful consdieration of the context and content for a message (or conversation) makes the difference between getting heard or being ignored. The higher the stakes, the more vital the preparation.

That sounds stupidly simple, but consider how rarely we practice mindfulness when preparing to speak or write or email. I tend to rush into a converstaion with ideas half-formed (it’s the peril of being an “external processor,” right?). Cliff may still be forming ideas, but he measures his words even then, considering effect as well as meaning.

While my motto is “reckless abandon” (not always, but sometimes) and “it’ll all sort itself out eventually,” Cliff’s is “listen first, talk later.”

I think I’ve been trying to work on that for as long as I’ve been able to talk. #lifegoals #stillworkingonit


I could list many more virtues from the people I’ve worked with over the years, but forcing myself to identify one or two big lessons has brought my these into a sharper focus. I am thankful that so many good people have been a part of my working life, shaping so much of how I see that part of my life.

So. What have you learned from your boss?

Cross-posted to my Medium channel.

A good read re: work/life balance

After reading this lengthy introduction (with some summary) of David Whyte’s recent book about finding a new way to handle the elusive unicorn of “work/life balance,” I’m sold on the idea that I need to get my hands on this book – and most of the others referenced in this article.

A tasty bit:

The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.

The full discussion at BrainPickings

Good reads (and a listen) from late August

I’ve been scrambling to survive a magazine deadline and the first week of class, but I always save at least a few minutes to skim social media or rest with a book.

A few I recommend for your attention:

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (Amazon link)
Visit your favorite local bookstore, grab a cuppa from the cafe, and read the first chapter.  Coates (who is famous for his long narrative and personal pieces about Black life in America for major media) penned letters to his teenaged son, explaining his experience of growing up black in Baltimore. The account is gritty and angry, reminiscent of Richard Wright. Though nearly a century has passed since Wright and others raised their voices against the discrimination and racism of American life, Coates seethes with the same resentment.

Polls show that white Americans downplay the idea that racism affects justice or social mobility in our country. Coates’s account is one voice among millions so perhaps some may dismiss him as an outlier. But you need to encounter his biography and his anger and his hope and his despair honestly and for yourself.

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“I’m from New Orleans, but I didn’t understand why we needed to save it” (Washington Post)

intelligence is not wisdom. My belated New Orleans education forced me to swallow an impossible, and yet an inevitable, fact: the spiritual, the musical, the mystical side of human relations. Sometimes what is important cannot be seen, only felt.

Why is it so hard to value joy over economics? We struggle yet. But New Orleans seems to “get it.” Perhaps flirting with destruction is the only way to enjoy life.

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A tough read about what no white Republican really wants to talk about. So I’m going to post it here in hopes that you’ll have the courage to read it:

“What is the Southern Strategy? It is this. It says to the South: Let the poor stay poor, let your economy trail the nation, forget about decent homes and medical care for all your people, choose officials who will oppose every effort to benefit the many at the expense of the few—and in return, we will try to overlook the rights of the black man, appoint a few southerners to high office, and lift your spirits by attacking the ‘eastern establishment’ whose bank accounts we are filling with your labor and your industry.”

Source: How the GOP became the “White Man’s Party” – Salon.com

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I’m not sure I’d agree with Kennedy on every point here, but his eulogy for Robert Frost provokes great questions about art and its power to affect society through a radical telling of truth.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

Source: JFK on Poetry, Power, and the Artist’s Role in Society: His Eulogy for Robert Frost, One of the Greatest Speeches of All Time | Brain Pickings

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One of the best new songs I’ve run into. I absolutely love this track from The Fire Tonight’s new album.

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Enjoy. I’m already collecting more. 🙂

One man’s rant through career, calling, and creative work

A great little read through one creative’s useful ramble about making a career in creative work, even if your passion isn’t your day job. It starts out sounding like a business manifesto but really this is a piece about working out your calling when it’s hard to make that fit the job market.

Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that itʼs primal. Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling; itʼs a primal calling.

6.HowToBeCreative (opens PDF) which was hosted at ChangeThis

(I couldn’t get the link to the PDF to work, so I’ve attached the PDF to make your life easier….but I want to make sure you see the ChangeThis attribution since this PDF isn’t mine.)