What Does Work Look Like?

Rush hour (New York, NY)
Rush hour (New York, NY)

What does work look like for you?

For me, it looks like a 30 minute commute by train and by foot in a major U.S. city followed by eight or more hours at a desk. I often assume that this is how others experience being at work (and it is pretty standard among my friends), but in fact work takes many, many different forms – from a goatherd, to an farmer and craftsman, to a subway performer, to an international rock star and more. Today’s post is a photo essay by my dad, Eddie, about what work looks like across cultures and countries.

Scrolling through these pictures reminds me of how fluid the concept of work really is. Imagine if your morning led to the scenes and experiences depicted here. What would that mean for you and for your family? What would it smell like and sound like? Would you be physically comfortable? What would the act of work mean, and how would your body feel at the end of the day? What, fundamentally, does it mean to work?

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Confidence is Doing.
Lessons from a Cheater

infinate recognition

In high school, my friend Seth figured out how to work the system to his advantage. We attended a large public school where we, as students, had little control over our own fates. We were given a schedule of classes each semester that was more or less written in stone. The programming office would refuse any changes other than clear and blatant errors. Seth, however, took matters into his own hands. Each semester, he would volunteer for the programming office for a few days. In exchange, he’d gain the power to alter his own schedule. He’d pick classes with the best teachers and with friends, and give himself first period off. Sometimes he’d do favors for friends (and especially for the girl he was interested in).

Despite sometimes benefiting from Seth’s maneuvering, it infuriated me. It felt like cheating. I was angry that he was above the rules that governed the rest of us. At the time, I only thought of it as an irritating, and perhaps arrogant, side of his personality. It is only with quite a bit more perspective and life experience that I recognize Seth’s maneuvering as instructive on how to find the ways through and around obstacles– a lesson in confidence. [Read more...]

How to Change Everything at the Same Time (and only cry a little bit)

melancholy of departure

In New York City, there is a company called Seriatim that negotiates life transitions. For a fee, someone will come to your home after a divorce, the death of a partner or parent, or as you prepare to move to a smaller home. That person will talk through your transition, arrange logistics, and help you dispose of the things you no longer need. They will help you pare down art collections, and talk you into letting go of your ex-husband’s college sweatshirt or your late mother’s silver letter knife. When I heard about this service from a friend who works there part time, I began fantasizing about what it would be like to be rich and bereaved, and to give over some of life’s difficult decisions to a paid professional.

Seven years ago, I went through a transitional period that rocked me deeply and surprisingly. While working in political organizing in San Francisco, I decided to get an MFA in creative writing. I’d wanted to get one since graduating college, and had been accepted the year before, but I deferred for a year because I hadn’t felt ready to leave my work in San Francisco. But then I felt ready. Shortly after making that decision, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had to tell my colleagues that I would be taking leave for surgery and follow-up treatment—and then would be leaving for good soon after. [Read more...]

Tough Cookie
Wrestling with Likability

Lee Miller by Man Ray

Three things I was called at work recently in the span of a week: “Tough cookie,” “taskmaster,” “slave driver.”

I have warm and respectful relationships with the colleagues who said these things, actually, and know they weren’t trying to hurt or offend me, but the names chafed. They seemed so negative, and not at all consistent with how I think of myself in my personal or professional life. I told my friend and co-worker Rebecca – someone who also might be called something like “tough cookie” – who tried to cheer me by saying that they all reflected positive attributes and was sure they were meant as compliments, even if they felt backhanded. “You’re organized, and you have high standards, and you keep people on task,” she told me, “and that’s great!” [Read more...]

So I didn’t go to Princeton, OK?

portrait-of-thomas-cromwell

The summer before I went to college, my friend Kristi and I managed our own lawn mowing business in our home town of Billings, Montana. Basically our “job” entailed mowing lawns in the morning, and then drinking pops and sun tanning down by the river in the afternoon. I loved mowing lawns– that is, I loved it until our customers asked the dreaded question. I would wait for it, eager to get it out of the way.

“So, what college are you going to?”
“Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota,” I would blurt out as fast as I could, trying to get it in before Kristi could say… “Princeton.” [Read more...]