Rethinking Work

My favorite 21 year old is graduating college this May and “launching” shortly thereafter. A college friend, a 56 year old retired SoCal fire fighter, was just accepted to a Physician’s Assistant program. This is for them. And everyone in between.

Our work tends to be the result of our personal interests; compensation considerations; and though we may not want to admit it, the relative prestige or social status associated with our chosen occupations.

More specifically, we choose among possible jobs not just because they pay the bills, but also because of the particular activities associated with them-we become teachers instead of accountants because we enjoy interacting with young people in classrooms more than we like crunching numbers in cubicles. A person attends seminary rather than law school because they want to make a tangible difference in their community without any pressure to maximize their billable hours. A person becomes a landscape architect rather than a golf club professional because they like plants and the outdoors more than they do beginning golfers.

Additionally, my fire fighter friend, if he’s typical of other fire fighters, probably partly chose his first career because of the unique work-life balance it afforded with a positive mix of twenty-four hour shifts and more than normal days off each month. I’m sure the excellent salary and benefits, service-orientation, and built in station-based community probably factored in too. A pretty great job altogether, apart from the extreme occasional danger.

Here is what even my daughter’s very good, vocation-oriented career placement center probably won’t tell her when she inquires about different possible jobs. Think about more than pay and primary activities. Talk to people doing the work about the less visible and less obvious activities, and the culture of their workplace, meaning the nature of their relationships with all of the people they regularly interact with. For me, as a university professor/administrator, my relationships are with faculty colleagues in my department and across campus, students, and numerous staff and administrators. Don’t fixate on the relative appeal of any job’s primary activities, instead, carefully reflect on the personal qualities each particular work culture is likely to cultivate.

For example, people think of teaching almost exclusively as what goes on between a teacher and her students during the middle of the day within the four walls of an individual classroom. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. Ignored are the hours spent planning daily lessons; the hours spent alone reading and responding to student work; the hours spent teaming with colleagues to plan, problem solve, and respond to student work; the time spent continuing one’s teacher education; the time spent being a part of the school’s extracurricular activities. Conventional wisdom about teaching might account for about a third of a teacher’s weekly activities.

Every job comes with a distinct work culture, some work cultures cultivate more socially redeeming personal qualities than others. Working at Chicago’s Newberry Library is probably similar, but not the same as working at Northwestern University’s Main Library. So it’s a two-fold learning process, learning about library culture generally, and a particular library’s variation on “what’s typical” more specifically. How to do that? Talk to people at the library about the culture, what’s rewarding, what’s most exasperating, why. When, at the end of your interview, you’re asked if you have any questions, ask about the work culture, what do employees say when asked what’s the best part of working at x, what are some commonalities that prove most challenging.

Most people think about work in terms of how they’ll benefit/change the people they work with, giving little to no thought about how their work will change them. Every job you do for very long will change you, for better or worse, probably more than you’ll change anyone at work. Ask people doing the work you’re considering, “How has being a landscape architect, nanny, teacher, engineer, nurse, journalist, changed you as a person?” What personal qualities does the work cultivate? In what ways, if at all, are you a better human being as a result of doing this work?”

If they can’t answer that question positively, cross it off your list. Be bold. Don’t obsess about the obvious activities, the pay, the benefits, the perceived prestige; instead think about work as a context for self understanding and self improvement. Don’t think about work as an end in itself, meaning don’t fret about how your job or career compares to your peers; instead think about work as a means to becoming a better human being.

I’m fortunate that my work culture values good, open-ended questions, but my comfort with ambiguity can exasperate more concrete sequential, literal-minded people. And I’m fortunate to work with people, teachers-to-be, who are more altruistic and socially conscious than average. Their idealism and service orientation is a nice counterbalance to my cynicism and selfishness. I’m a better person because of their optimism and vitality. When it comes to the other two-thirds of my work, it’s mostly about conflict management, which provides daily opportunities to become a better human being. More specifically, I’m convinced my success resolving workplace conflicts depends almost entirely upon my ability to carefully, actively, and sensitively listen to others.

It’s cool that being a decent husband, father, friend, and citizen depends almost entirely upon the same thing. And for that reason, I’m fortunate to get to do the work I do.

Why are Parents Surveilling Their Young Adult Children?

How much Mario Batali, famous chef, and father of two college age sons, do you have in you? Batali in a national newspaper recently:

I still pay for my son’s phones, so they use the “Find My Friends” app, which allows me to track them no matter where they are. If they turn it off, I give them 15 minutes to turn it back on or I turn off their phones. ’Cause if you’re somewhere you don’t want me to know about, maybe you should pay for your own phone.

It’s amazing to me that Batali is not the least bit self conscious about surveilling his sons, meaning maybe you find my reaction more surprising. But before this phenomenon becomes the new normal, let’s “press pause” and think about it a bit.

Some questions for the Batali’s of the world. Why so little trust in your adult children? Was your parenting that bad? How would you have liked it if your parents had used global positioning satellites to keep track of your every move when a young adult? When a young adult, did you have ample freedom to make some important decisions by yourself, including where to go and when? And did you learn anything important from poor decisions? In the end, were you better off as a result of the pre-gps autonomy you enjoyed?

“But the world is a more dangerous place today,” the Batali’s will say, “then when we grew up.” But social science data strongly suggests otherwise. So rampant parental anxiety about their young adult children’s well-being isn’t rational, it’s emotional, which begs a few more questions for the Batali’s. What is your greatest fear? Is it, as I suspect, that your adult children are going to be physically harmed, maybe even die?

How will your technological tethers prevent random bad things from happening? My guess is, and tell me if I’m wrong, the Batali’s can’t quite accept the fragility of life, theirs, and especially their children’s. If we want to truly safeguard our young adult children, we have to ban them from getting driver’s licenses, not allow them to go away to college, and preclude them from being outdoors in public. In addition, we need to strengthen our technological tethers so that we can detect blood alcohol, THC, and nakedness from long distance.*

Last but not least, a suggestion for the Batali broheims and their watched over peers. Scrape together enough money for your own phones. Tell your parents to take their “Find My Friends” apps and shove them. Lovingly of course. Because life is fragile.

* I hope no one in Silicon Valley reads this.

Election 2016—A Father-Daughter Dialogue 1

If you subscribe to the humble blog you received a link to a post a few weeks ago about my eldest daughter and her friends who were still struggling to come to grips with the U.S. Presidential election. Compared to them, I wrote in the post, I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved. My elaborating on why I didn’t feel sufficiently aggrieved upset my daughter so much she asked me to take the post down, which I of course did.

A few days later, an important mentor of mine wrote me a tactful but poignant note asking me to consider how my privilege might be preventing me from empathizing with my daughter and people like her who were still bitterly disappointed with the election results.

When I started this blog I wrote that “I’d get some things wrong.” Turns out, I got that right. I deserved Alison’s and Richie’s criticism. Normally, I’m very cognizant of my privilege, but this is a case where I have not been. In hindsight, I should have gone full-Socrates with questions about things I need to understand better.

When I asked if she’d engage in a blog-based dialogue with me, Alison responded enthusiastically. So here’s “Take Two”.

Ron: What are you most angry about? More specifically, who are you most angry with? Why?

Alison: I am angry that, as a country, selfishness and greed were valued more than empathy and compassion. I am angry that the health and safety and dignity of the same people who have always had their health and safety and dignity denied was devalued. People of color and women and gay people and immigrants were told explicitly that their right to life and safety was less important than the distress of Trump voters. I am angry because so many people have fought so hard, have sacrificed and died to make the progress that is now being washed away. Because a group of people are now in power (Trump and his advisors and appointees) who are going to work to restrict women’s right to make choices about her body, to destroy the environment, to cut social services, to delegitimize LBGTQ relationships and identities, to deny safe haven to refugees, to enable the proliferation of guns, and to divide immigrant families.

I am angry because injustice makes me angry. I am angry because seeing my friends suffer and grieve makes me angry. I am angry because the results of this election go against what I believe to be most fundamentally true and essential and against who I was raised to be. I am angry because the elections results weren’t a fluke. I didn’t think it would all add up to a Trump presidency, but I was angry about the way the election was being conducted and reported – the motherfucking false equivalences – as it was happening. I am gutted because Trump was not held to the same standard that Hillary was. Because he was not criticized, was not condemned, was not interrogated. I am angry because Donald Trump is a perpetrator of sexual assault and was not disqualified for that. That his criminal, violent offenses were treated with less interest and gravity than Hillary Clinton using an email server set-up that was exhaustively investigated and found to have no malicious intent or harmful consequences.

I am angry because misogyny was at the core of why Hillary lost and it’s being written out of the story – either by not being addressed or by being denied as a valid argument. I’m angry because racism was at the core of why Trump won and it’s being masked under a veil of economic populism. After being confronted with the most horrifying and overt display of racism and sexism and generalized hatred for anyone not white, male, and straight, this country still does not have the guts to look at our illnesses for what they are. We can’t handle looking our own weakness in the eye. It would be too scary to admit the extent of our sickness, too daunting to face, so those of us with the resources to have strong houses are turning a shoulder against a wind that’s tearing everything else out of the ground and pretending it’s not as strong. This self-serving cowardice makes me furious.

I am fucking furious that poisonous hatred and violent misogyny and racism and xenophobia and homophobia found a stage and a microphone and were applauded. I cry because people who hold these beliefs had them validated on election night. Because they woke up on Wednesday morning strengthened and affirmed in ways that will result in the suffering of vulnerable populations. I laid in my bed on Wednesday morning, unable to get the images I’d seen and stories I’d heard of Trump rallies out of my mind, frozen and scared and horrified in a way that I had never been before. And now I spend my days ricocheting between trying to keep myself afloat, and fearing, above anything else, no longer feeling devastated, no longer being angry. It’s left me stumbling.

The Sunday after the election I went to church. I needed to sit next to other people who were grasping, inside a structure that was built to house prayer, and for someone to tell me that this was all awful, all truly, truly awful, but that we would fight it. The churches in Boystown are great for this. I had spent the night at a friend’s apartment and accidentally thrown away my contacts the night before, so I sat in a pew, unable to see, and therefore feeling less able to be seen, listening to the pastor’s impassioned, furious sermon, weeping. She said a thousand things that I needed to hear, but this is the one that has stayed with me: don’t break ranks with the vulnerable. The advantages of my privileged birth afford me the possibility to turn into my own life, into the comforts I can provide myself, but that is unacceptable. There are people suffering, without such an option for relief, who are shouting as loud as they can that they are afraid. Therefore, the only possible course of action is to stand with them, because we share the same sacred humanity, and because I can not accept that anyone deserves less than another. Do not break ranks with the vulnerableI’m aware I strayed away from the main question, sorry!

Ron: Thank you for not giving up on me! I better understand and appreciate the depth of your anger. In Arizona sometime in early October I think, Trump gave a truly hateful, anti-immigrant speech at a large rally. I challenge anyone to find a more hateful, unAmerican, anti-immigrant speech in the U.S. presidential campaign archives. Truly historic in the worst way imaginable. And yet, it got little play the next morning. Where we may differ is that despite that, I don’t think media coverage explains the election result. I think of the media’s coverage of the candidates like I do bad sports officiating, incompetent coverage of both sides tends to balance out. So that begs the question, what does explain it? Is it too soon to ask that question? If so, when can I ask my next, more analytical question? It’s Saturday, so church is out. Therefore, I’m going to watch the Bruin basketball team take it to the Ohio State Buckeyes while I anxiously await your reply. Despite the swearing, love you as always.

 

How To Find a Boyfriend

In case you’re looking for one. In one word, PowerPoint*. So says Jessica Guzik.

And if you’re looking for one, and are not a serious gamer, you should probably limit your search to college grads. Economist Erik Hurst via economist Tyler Cowen on what young men are doing.

In related news, I’m slowly working my way through The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing The Patterns Of Intimate Relationships. I think HLerner knew if she pitched it as a “Woman’s Guide” I couldn’t help myself. Savvy. A pgraph to ponder from the early going:

Making a long-term relationship work is a difficult business because it requires the capacity to strike a balance between individualism (the “I”) and togetherness (the “we”). The tugs in both directions are very strong. On the one hand, we want to be separate, independent individuals—self-contained persons in our own right: on the other, we seek a sense of connectedness and intimacy with another person, as well as a sense of belongingness to a family or group. When a couple gets out of balance in either direction, there is a problem.

The Good Wife and I successfully balance that seesaw about a third of the time. Which if we played professional baseball, would make us All Stars.

*nice to know PowerPoint isn’t a complete catastrophe

On Sports Promiscuity

Like Cassius Clay, I grew up in Louisville, KY. At five, six, seven years old, I fell asleep listening to Louie Dampier and Dan Issel of the ABA Kentucky Colonels kicking ass.

Then a move to Talmadge, OH, close to LeBron’s hometown of Akron. My game was similar to his so NE Ohioans took to calling me LeRon. In fourth, fifth grade I fell asleep listening to the tail end of Lenny Wilkens’ NBA career with the Cavs.

Then SoCal where I patterned my game after Magic Johnson* and in 1986 bought a scalped ticket to the sixth game of the NBA finals in which my Los Angeles Lakers finally beat the dreaded Celtics.

Conventional wisdom is stick with your home team, but conventional wisdom is wrong. Like gender and race, “home” is a fluid concept. We move, life changes, the only reason to stick with your childhood teams is nostalgia.

If you think the Cav’s amazing come from behind, not NBA orchestrated, championship unleashed millions of lifelong long-suffering fans, wait until the Cubbies playoff run this fall. Nearly everyone you know will claim to be a long-suffering Cubs fan and we’ll be subjected to endless profiles of truly ancient people who’ve been waiting since pre-history for the Cubs to win it all.

Apart from LeBron, none of the Cavs are from NE Ohio. Odds are few or none of the players on your favorite, hometown team that you’ve always been loyal to are from the hometown.

Felony arrest records are another reason why fan promiscuity makes way more sense than unconditional love and loyalty. After Kobe’s infamous visit to Colorado, I began losing that loving feeling for the Lakers.

Then my Sonics were sold by that Starbucks son of a bitch, the ultimate wake up call. If teams can disappear based upon the vagaries of capitalism, you’d be pretty stupid to pledge blind fidelity to any one of them.

Despite my NE Ohio street cred, I dug the Warrior vibe the last few years. I was finding the bandwagon pretty damn comfortable. Love the long ball, the team chemistry, the high tech ownership, Curry’s daughter. So when the college senior watched the game with me for Father’s Day, and asked who I wanted to win, I told her, “Really, I don’t know, I’ll be happy for either team.”

Forty plus years later, after watching the upset and emotional outpouring, I’m definitely a Cavs fan tonight. By October, that may very well change.

 

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* One LA evening, the Gal Pal and I were standing in line at a Century City movie theatre when Magic got in line behind us. “Oh man, Magic Johnson sighting!” I said. Looking around hopelessly, “Where?!” “Ah, the only 6’9″ brother.”