• Business and Life in a Shopping Cart

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    Courtesy of The New York Times

    Whenever I think about work and our different work options, I remember this extraordinary story “The Death of a Fulton Fish Market Fixture,” by Dan Berry, published in the NY Times in 2010.

    The “fixture,” a woman named Shopping Cart Annie worked the slippery halls of the Fulton Street Fish Market for decades.

    Courtesy PhotoBucket.com

    Established in 1822 and named after steamship inventor, Robert Fulton, the market was located near the Brooklyn Bridge along the East River waterfront Lower Manhattan until 2005, when it moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx. In its 170 year run in Lower Manhattan it was the most important fish market in the United States.

    Berry writes,  “Annie would doing anything for a buck: hustling newspapers, untaxed cigarettes, favors, those pairs of irregular socks she’d buy cheap on Canal. She’s submitting to the elements, calling out “Yoo-hoo” to the snow and the rain and her boys…. Making her rounds, running errands, holding her own in the blue banter, she was as much a part of this gruff place as the waxed fish boxes, the forklift-rocking cobblestones, and the cocktail aroma of gasoline, cigarettes and the sea.”

    “She cleaned the market’s offices and locker rooms and bathrooms. She collected the men’s ‘fish clothes’ on Friday and had them washed and ready for Monday. She ran errands for Mr. DeLuca, known as Stevie Coffee Truck…. She accepted the early morning delivery of bagels. She tried to anticipate the men’s needs — towels, bandannas, candy — and had these items available for sale. She clutched the handle of the shopping cart she used to hold wares and provide balance, wearing a baseball cap, layers of sweaters, and men’s pants, navy blue, into which she had sewn deep, leg-long pockets to keep safe her hard-earned rolls of bills.”

    No one knew Annie had another life. In the 1940′s she was a beautiful model who wanted to be an actress.  But she left those aspirations behind when she left the east coast and bicycled across the country to Alaska with a boyfriend who would later become her first husband. That marriage did not work out and she married a second time. She had four children, but domestic life was clearly not her forte. Nor was the bar or record store she managed. At some point she returned to New York City and took up her post at the fish market.

    Annie was not homeless. She had an apartment in Manhattan’s East Village. She loved her children and grandchildren and saw them frequently. She sent them money orders and used clothing whenever she could – which according to Berry was often – boxes of clothes from different charity stores and money orders frequently totaling $4000 a month. She was also  “mother” to many homeless women on the streets of Lower Manhattan. Her family kept trying to persuade her to give up her life at the market, but she never did.

    Her daughter said, “Work was her life.”

    But I think Annie might have said, “she missed the point.” It was not just any work for Annie; it was her work at the Fulton Street Fish Market. She had been beautiful, had always been loved. Her life could have been easier, but she chose another option. She had fun, made money and gave most all of it away.

    Annie died in her sleep, surrounded by friends and family. When she reached the pearly gates, she probably called out a hearty, “Yoo-Hoo!” to let all the fishmongers in the sky know she had arrived. I know, when I listen carefully, I can hear that echoing “Hoo.”  I look up and see Shopping Cart Annie looking down, as she says, “Yes, I mean Yoo! You don’t have to follow my path, but you do need to find a path of your own and follow it.”

  • Happy Independence Day!

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    Photo, courtesy of TravelDK.com

    Greetings loyal followers!  I return – after a 9 month gestation period filled with moving from Maine’s seacoast to the rolling hills of Virginia to full-time+ work in the nation’s capitol.  After 4 children, 9 months seemed a fitting gestation and, as with each child-birthing, there were aches and pains, brilliant insights and – always -  joy in the moment of deliverance.

    Work is a vital aspect of my life’s journey. Being proactive is my standard modus operandi.

    I listened when Herminia Ibarra said in her gem of a book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, “Act your way into a new way of thinking and being. You cannot discover yourself by introspection. Start by changing what you do. Step out. Try different paths. Be attentive to what each step teaches you, and make sure that each step helps you take the next. Only through interaction and engagement with the real world do we discover ourselves.”

    Equally prescient is this comment from one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, whom I quoted in my very previous posting,  “Lucky people create their own luck!”

    Savvy Senior that I am,  stepping boldly along new paths comes naturally but, I must say, navigating the DC Metro’s escalators and color-coded trains was not nearly as complicated as the corridors and culture of a new office place.

    Map, courtesy of transitplanner.com

    I will share the tales with you in the weeks and months to come, but for today, as we celebrate the birth of our nation, the most important lesson for you to remember is – the workplace is not a Democracy!

  • Why Hunting for a “Great” Job Will Hurt Your Career

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    Courtesy, iStockPhoto.com

    Notice the emphasis on “Great” as you read this interesting twist on searching for meaningful work at Bnet.com, CBS’s interactive business network.

    The article was written by one of our favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk. She advocates taking a job – any job – if you are unemployed because, “lucky people create their own luck… For the unemployed, that means taking almost any job. People get lucky at work – someone mentors them, a big project lands in your lap, you catch a huge error and save a lot of money. But no one gets lucky in a job without actually being in a job.”

    Her five reasons why you should immediately stop searching for that “great” job and take almost anything that comes along sound reasonable, but can you really count on any old job? And that “almost any” trips me up. I’d like to hear what would qualify as an absolutely no way job. Would you want to begin bagging at the supermarket, for example, if you were not interested in working your way up that food chain? But then, I suppose we should not discount the possibility of hearing about a great opportunity more akin to your aspirations while bagging the broccoli. And the chances of that are??? Food for thought!

  • When “You Are Special” Is Not Enough

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    The advice about the “Intersection of Life and Work” is often rich on Penelope Trunk’s “Brazen Careerist” blog, but this week’s posting, “Time Management Is Not About Tasks,” is particularly insightful and practical.

    It’s all about the art of time well spent and constructive criticism vs vapid compliments.

    And don’t miss her reference to Get Rid of the Performance Review!: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters, a fascinating book by Samuel Culbert, professor at the UCLA school of business.

    Trunk does not blog on a fixed schedule. She says, “I post when I have something to say that may be of value to my readers.” I feel much the same about my blog and appreciate your patience through my sometimes lengthy gaps in publication and the fact that you do come back to read what I have to say.

  • The Minimalist’s Guide to Cultivating Passion

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    Today, one of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, hosted a guest blogger, Cal Newport, who posted a fun and informative “Guide to Cultivating Passion.”

    No airy-fairy passion potion, this is a nitty-gritty, how-to find and nurture passionate pursuits in our own lives.

    Newport’s piece begins with a nod to comedian Steve Martin. He quotes from Martin’s 2007 memoir, Born Standing Up, where Martin says: “I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.”

    “If you do the math,” notes Newport, “this sums to fourteen years of hard work before Martin saw returns on his investment. That’s a long time to remain focused on a goal without reward, especially when the path is ambiguous (‘The course was more plodding than heroic,’ Martin recalls).  But as he makes clear in his book, Martin found a Zen peace in the simplicity of his pursuit. He describes with relish, for example, the importance of ‘diligence’ in becoming a star — a term he redefines to mean the ability to not work on unrelated projects — and he labels ‘loss of focus’ as an ‘indulgence’ that success cannot afford.”

    But Martin’s example is just the beginning of this great post. Newport goes on to say, “Even if we agree on their value, how do we find these passionate pursuits in our own lives? This is the thorny question I address in this post.”

    Whether you are lost in the wildernesss searching for your passion or, having identified it, are frozen in passion paralysis over the life-changing implications of this discovery, you need to read Newport’s analysis of the “thorny issues.”

    One tip, I particularly love is that, “You need to be exposed to many things…. You should expose yourself even though you might not know if you’ll be interested.”

    “Put another way,” says Newport: “take a step back; relax; then open your eyes to patiently take in all that’s out there.”

  • Skill: How to Rethink, Redefine and Reimagine It

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    Reading Penelope Trunk’s “Brazen Careerist,” a fascinating blog offering “Advice at the Intersection of Work and Life, I discovered her posting on, “How to Be Lost with Panache.”

    Trunk offers 3 valuable tips to overcome feeling lost – be it in work or one’s life: One is to “Focus on transition points. Do a little each day;” a second is to “Risk standing out and being weird;” but, to me, her greatest and most original tip is to “Find beauty in the process of being lost.”

    Trunk found beauty in an article by Jerry Saltz, art columnist for New York magazine. Grand Tour is Saltz’s roundup about 19 of his favorite paintings in New York. Trunk notes that the captions Saltz creates for these, his favorites, are “phenomenal.” For this Malevich painting, for example, he writes, “Like an explosion in an airplane factory, the Cubo-Futurist masterpiece depicts gleaming robot peasants in curved metallic shards. The composition of snowdrifts, houses, and people spirals energetically toward a distant sled-puller, and recalls the artist’s childhood—a way of life that predated the Industrial Revolution and outlasted the Russian one.”

    Kazimir Malevich, "Morning in the Village After Snowstorm" (1912)

    Trunk exclaims, “Who has been more poetic about Malevich? Ever? When you are lost is when you need art most.”

    Of Caravaggio’s painting, The Denial of Saint Peter (circa 1610), Saltz writes, “Notice the dramatically gesturing figures, stark lighting, compact cropping, and complex moments of internal and external emotions. That is how Caravaggio essentially foreshadowed [in the early 17th Century] modern filmmaking.”

    Perhaps Salz’s most poignant comment on skill (or more accurately lack thereof) is related to Jackson Pollock. Referring to Pollack’s “Room of Eight Paintings” at MoMA, Saltz says, “Looking at these canvases (including One: Number 31, 1950), installed chronologically, reminds me that few artists were less naturally talented than Pollock. That he virtually willed himself to newness, deploying something that had been there since the caves—the drip…”

    Saltz defends his critical perspective: “I don’t look for skill in art… Skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency… I’m interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or reimagine it: an engineer, say, who builds rockets from rocks.”

    While it takes skill to live with joy and meaning, it takes even more skill to rethink, redefine and reimagine our lives when we veer off path or become totally lost.  Trunk is brave enough to admit when she is lost and perspicacious enough to help us get our bearings by observing the inventiveness of artists such as Jackson Pollack, who “willed himself to newness” by building masterpieces drip by drip.

  • What Do Long Distance, Red Eye Flights Have in Common with Your Job Search?

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    Courtesy: www.izismile.com

    Check this brilliant, blow-by-blow, visual “Red Eye” diary from Christoph Niemann.

    From the fight for armrest supremacy, stacking peanuts to make the time pass more quickly, the flight progress monitor, seeking alternate positions, coveting your neighbor’s seat, discreet dental hygiene, swollen ankles and visions of grandeur in the clouds – it’s all here.

    Best of all, as painful as the process can be, we do finally land and with any luck it’s not our bag that ruptured during the flight, spreading our “wee personals” over the luggage claim belt.

    Bon Voyage!

  • Beware When Your Resumé Looks Like Your Passport: the Date Stamps Cover Where You’ve Been But Not Where You Want to Go or Why?

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    Courtesy of Mark Ashley at www.upgradetravelbetter.com

    Resumés do a great job telling people where you worked and what you have accomplished.  Like passports, they play a role as you venture forward. In some jobs where the HR department rules, they are required. But – and this is a big BUT – they are all about your past. One career consultant, Joshua Waldman, even calls them “obituaries!”

    As we’ve discussed before, traditional resumés need to be replaced by “working resumés.” You need to create a document that captures the value you bring to the future. How will you solve the organization’s problems in ways that are unique, innovative, practical and sustainable?

    Employers – just look at BP, for example – are not looking for a temporary fix. Equally important to how is the why you wish to solve the problem.  Perfection without passion is not going to get you very far. Again, using BP as an example, Tony Hayward, CEO at the time of rig explosion and subsequent horrific oil leak had stellar credentials. His past accomplishments looked great on paper but a critical component was missing: compassion.  Without a sense of empathy for the victims or the environment, all his skills came to naught. His replacement, Bob Dudley, is equally talented and has that extra dose of compassion that allows him to express not only how he is going to solve the problem but why and that makes him far more valuable to BP today than the former CEO.

    But passion is also a critical factor in non-Fortune 500 boardrooms. Last month, Alastair Macaulay published a dance review in the NY Times in which he  critiqued Canadian choreographer-dancer Paul-André Fortier ‘s 30-minute solo, “30 x 30,” performed at noon each day for 30 consecutive days in the open air at 1 New York Plaza.

    Macaulay writes,

    “His dancing is site-specific and multidirectional. He faces, by turns, up past the surrounding buildings to the sky, across to New York Harbor on the horizon, down to the ground, and out to the more immediate vicinity, which now and then includes members of the audience, with whom he makes brief eye contact.

    “There’s a constant contrast between the sleek lines of the shapes and lines he demonstrates and the gaunt, severe tension of his face and hands. His energy is always contained; he performs with the distanced air of a mime artist or a teacher; and there’s no particular pleasure to be had from his physical tone.

    “Coolly he shows us one movement idea after another. Most of them are fairly interesting or agreeable. …Frequently he implies some kind of mime content, so that I found myself labeling one section ‘Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses,’ which made the next passage, in which he seemed to hurl a few curses at the financial district, slightly more interesting. But the carefully measured tone of Mr. Fortier’s movements stopped any of this from having any force or from being absorbing. His quality of teacherly reserve places a curious distance between his solo and himself. It’s as if he were presenting something in which he didn’t quite believe but feels ought to impress us anyway.”

    That last line, “presenting something in which he didn’t quite believe but feels ought to impress us anyway,” is devastating!  According to this trusted dance critic, Fortier has the skill required but not the passion necessary to transport audiences to other realms – real and imaginary. Does this sound like your resumé? We hope not.

    Meshing our work and our passions is key to making our lives works of art.

    Courtesy of z_zozole

  • Song of Marconi: “You Live in Your Voice”

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    We have blogged many times about the importance of your voice – the sound, cadence, pauses and inflections – for all your non-visual communications, including the often dreaded telephone interview.

    Your voice not only conveys confidence, or lack thereof, but also character.  As Rob Rosenthal points out in his terrific PRX podcast, Song of Marconi, for the Salt Institute in Portland, Maine, you really do “live in your voice.”

    Rosenthal’s Saltcast features radio broadcaster Dennis Downey reading his essay on Guglielmo Marconi, inventor and early radio technology pioneer.

    Listen and learn about the inventor and, just as importantly, about the art of talking on the radio. At essence, it is the art of communicating who you are through the spoken word.

  • Frolicking Whales, A 76+ Year-Old Surfer (Body not Web) and Digital Storytelling: Soup to Nuts

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    I encountered a terrific – and comprehensive – Digital Storytelling resource when I was searching for help on how to best capture an extraordinary a day at the beach. This is not just any compilation of video snippets. What began as a peaceful interlude on a beautiful Maine surfers’ beach turned into a virtual bombardment of amazing images.

    Scanning the horizon for ships, sailboats or a rogue wave or two as we are wont to do when we know our wave pounding kins’ heads are all above water, the beach chair bunch (including me) spotted a whale a few hundred yards off shore. Cruising north, he or she and kept vaulting out of the water in beautiful arcs, daring us to try and capture the image. This behemoth had an uncanny way of taunting us.

    Second stunning sighting was of a different kind of leviathan – an ancient body surfer. I say ancient because she was an 76+ year-old woman, not too sylphlike, in a day-glo green, Pucci print swim suit. She had some difficulty walking through the surf, but when she spotted a big enough wave, she turned and threw herself into the curl with a grace that made the whale look like an out-of-control beach ball.

    Unlike the aforesaid whale, who cruised out of sight as soon as it had struck its tantalizing chord, the surfer rode the waves for hours. Her cap of white hair caught in the roiling foam rendered her invisible until her day-glo self glided up on the shore.

    All of this is my long-winded way of saying how valuable I found this Digital Storytelling resource. The lengthy tutorial consists of four parts:

    1. Finding your story
    2. Telling your story
    3. Creating the piece
    4. Sharing the work

    I am fortunate because my story found me but the “telling,” visual “creating,” and “sharing” were in drastic need of help.

    This is a resource you’ll want to turn to time and time again as you strive to capture your stories, your work and, indeed, your life.

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