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Posts Tagged ‘work’

Can you describe your job in five words?

In behavior, business, culture, journalism, life, work on July 6, 2014 at 12:12 am

By Caitlin Kelly

This is what we do!

This is what we do!

One of my favorite radio shows is Marketplace, a 30-minute program on American Public Media, focused on business, in the broadest sense. (Sidenote: I’ve been interviewed several times on the show, an experience both terrifying and thrilling! Both of my non-fiction books were about business, in some measure: my last one was about working a low-wage retail job and my first about women and gun use in the U.S.)

The show’s host, the dishy Kai Ryssdal, recently interviewed President Barack Obama — known to the in-crowd as POTUS (President of the United States) — and asked him to describe his job in five words.

He took nineteen:

“My job is to keep the American people safe and to create a platform for hardworking people to succeed.”

I decided to play along and, maybe not surprising, was easily able to do it in five words without hesitation:

Finding and telling powerful stories

 

PERSONAL ESSAY

 

I keep trying to leave journalism behind — an industry writhing in “disruption”, with appalling pay rates and rapacious behavior — but I am, it appears, addicted to my vocation.

I was very fortunate and deeply grateful, in March this year, to be hired by WaterAid, a global aid group, to travel to rural Nicaragua to report on their work there and produce three stories for them. It felt wonderful to have the chance to tell their stories, not just the usual journalistic fodder, transferring my skills into another realm for a welcome change.

How about you?

Can you describe your job or work in five words?

 

Do you hate your work?

In behavior, business, life, Money, US, world on June 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

This was a workday for us in rural Nicaragua. Sweet!

This was a workday for us in rural Nicaragua. Sweet!

Here’s a truly depressing look at the American workplace:

 Curious to understand what most influences people’s engagement and productivity at work, we partnered with the Harvard Business Review last fall to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. We also gave the survey to employees at two of The Energy Project’s clients — one a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees, the other a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were remarkably similar across all three populations.

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

My recent trip with WaterAid America to the poorest part of Nicaragua– all these photos– was an amazing re-set for me. Our multi-national, five-person team, only two of whom had met previously, worked 12-hour days in 95-degree heat, and even had to push the van every time to get it started.

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We also faced extraordinary poverty, interviewing people living on $1/day in the second-poorest nation in the Americas after Haiti. It could, I suppose, have felt depressing and enervating, but we were meeting amazing people doing valuable work.

It was by far my happiest paid week in a very, very long time.

What I saw and felt there also radically altered the way I now think about my career and how I hope, at least some of the time, to earn my living.

Because our work during that week — driving four hours a day into the bush to interview local women in Miskitu — hit all four of the core needs at once.

We were treated with kindness and respect, laughed loudly and often, and knew the work we were focused on was life-changing. How much better could it get?

A typical working lunch in Nicaragua

A typical working lunch in Nicaragua

People fantasize wildly about the life of a writer, how creative it must be, how satisfying.

I discussed this recently with a female friend, recently retired after a 30-year career as a writer at the Toronto Star.

“Do you think our work is creative?” I asked her.

“Not so much,” she said.

We’re expected to be highly productive. We get to meet and interview a wide variety of people, but creative? That’s not what journalists (sad to say) are paid for.

I stay freelance for many reasons, and the key one is autonomy and the chance to re-make my work into something that, whenever possible, hits all four core needs.

Jennifer and I at the beach; our translator, Dixie, takes a break

Jennifer and I at the beach; our translator, Dixie, takes a break

My field, journalism and publishing, has changed a great deal in recent years — pay rates have been reduced to 1970s-era levels,  which requires that I and many others now work much, much faster on many more projects at once to make a decent living.

I dislike having to race through most of my assignments to earn a profit — but quality costs time and money to produce and very few people are willing, now, to pay for that.

I never used to hate my work, and I find it very stressful when I do. But journalism is a field in which workers are rarely thanked or praised, in which sources can be elusive or demanding and in which we rarely seem to find time or money to focus on serious issues.

As they are for too many frustrated workers, the four core needs are often damn difficult to attain.

(Or is it “just work”? It’s not meant to be enjoyable)?

How about you?

Do you hate your work?

12 things you should never say to a writer

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, work on May 29, 2014 at 12:51 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

I know that many Broadside readers work in education — have you seen The 12 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers?

Here are 12 things you should never say to a writer:

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How much money do you make?

I get it — you want to be a published writer, too — and are naturally curious about the rewards. But  most book advances are now paid out over as long as four years — minus 15 percent to our agent — and the average book advance is pitifully small to start with, far less than $50,000. Do the math, and weep.

And because journalism pays so badly you just can’t believe anyone would actually work for those wages. But we do.

There is also so little direct correlation between work we may value intellectually — and what the market rewards most handsomely. (See: the best-seller list.)

Wow, that’s not very much, is it?

See above. While a few fortunates are pulling in mega-bucks, the highest-paid print journalists usually earn less than a fresh graduate working for a major corporate law firm. Sad but true.

malled cover HIGH

Are your books best-sellers?

Long bitter laugh. Only a minute percentage of books, on any subject, will ever hit the best-seller list.

Can you introduce me to your agent?

No. Maybe. Probably not. The agent-author relationship is intimate and fraught with multiple perils. It’s also a question of chemistry — the person who’s a great fit for me may be a lousy choice for you.

I’ve never heard of you

Here’s a sad little essay by Roger Rosenblatt on how un-famous he feels, even after publishing a few books. (You’re thinking: Who’s that guy?) The only way to survive the publishing world is to assume that your book(s), even after all your years of hard work and promotion, will largely be ignored by the public and bookstore buyers. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Will you read my manuscript?

What’s your budget? Assuming we want to read your work, unpaid, is naive.

This is what we do.

This is what we do.

Can I see the article you’re writing before it’s published?

Nope. Journalists get asked this all the time and the only correct answer is “No.” If you’re in doubt about the accuracy of a quote or some data, call your source(s) back. But allowing someone to review your copy opens the door to their desire to rewrite it to their tastes.

If I don’t like what you’ve written, I can ask you to remove my quotes, right?

See: on the record.

When I stop (doing whatever you do professionally), I’m going to take up writing

Awesome. Now go away! No, further.

Nothing is more irritating (OK, deadbeat publishers are more irritating) than having people treat our profession as an amusing hobby, something you can pick up and put down at leisure, like macrame or scrapbooking. It looks soooooooooo easy, right?

Wrong.

Writing well is bloody hard work. It’s not something you just “pick up.”

Journalism is a dying industry.

Indeed. Imagine how I feel after 30 years in it…

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I hate journalists! They never get anything right

Same with doctors, lawyers, teachers…fill in the blank.  It’s a big industry with some bad apples and some good ones. Don’t assume I’m unethical or inaccurate just because you’ve been burned by someone else.

You can’t make a living as a writer!

Define “living.” Your assumptions or prejudices may be inaccurate. Or your idea of “a living” means $300,000 a year before bonus. In which case, you’re right!

10 ways to rock your first job/internship

In behavior, business, education, journalism, life, US, women, work on May 21, 2014 at 1:25 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s graduation season, and time — for the fortunate — to step into their first full-time staff jobs, whether a permanent position or a summer internship.

If you’ve snagged a paid spot (or, likely, an unpaid one), congrats! Time to rock it!

As someone who has hired and managed less-experienced researchers and assistants, and has watched some newsroom interns succeed — or fail — a few hints:

 

INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES

Listen carefully

No, really.

Put down your phone, look people in the eye and give them your undivided attention. Old folks — anyone over 30 — expect you to look at them while they’re speaking to you, not IM or text. Especially if you’re working in any sort of customer-facing work like PR, retail, hospitality or food service — where high quality customer service is expected — this is crucial.

Your ability to soak up information quickly and accurately will make or break you. You may also have to convey key information to other people and need to be sure you’ve got everything right. You may well need to remind your boss of meetings, travel appointments or other tasks. They’re offloading onto you and counting on you to be helpful.

Take notes

Use whatever method is easiest and most reliable, whether a pen and paper, Ipad or verbal dictation. Double-check the spelling of even the simplest names and figures: Jon Smythe, for example. Never assume you automatically know the right answer; even if you do, check to be sure.

Ask lots of questions

Don’t be annoying and sleeve-tugging, but learn what is expected of you, whether hourly, daily, or weekly. If you’ve been asked to prepare a conference room for a meeting, go there ahead of time and make sure everything your boss(es) and co-workers will need is in there, and if not, get it!

Get to know all support and administrative staff and be kind and respectful to them. They hold a lot of power.

Also, find out how your boss and coworkers prefer to communicate — whether face to face, texts, email, phone or Skype. Just because you and your friends prefer texting does not mean those paying you do as well.

Memorize the phrase: “No problem!”

And mean it. After you’ve gotten your responsibilities clear, and you know who to ask or call for help in an emergency, it’s up to you to figure stuff out for yourself. It’s called being resourceful. Your value to your organization is not simply doing the job they hired you into, but to notice and anticipate other issues you might be able to help solve.

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Take care of yourself: eat right, sleep 8 hours a night, limit alcohol intake

Don’t underestimate the stress — (and excitement!) — of a full-time job pleasing many new and demanding strangers. They’re not your Mom or coach or professors and (sorry!) many just don’t really care if you’re happy or having fun or even if you succeed. So it’s up to you to take the best care of your body and soul as possible, especially in an economy with few great jobs and little to no room for error, sloppiness, oversights or slip-ups.

Being well-rested and properly nourished will help you stay on top of your game; (i.e. do not arrive at work, ever, hungover. Nor share those details if you do.)

And no draaaaaaaama. Ever. No public tears or tantrums. (That includes stairwells, elevators and bathrooms. The walls have ears and you never know who’s listening.)

Check in with your boss(es)

If something they have asked you to do is heading south, let them know as soon as possible so there are no ugly last-minute surprises they can’t fix.

Don’t constantly ask co-workers or bosses for “feedback” or praise

Seriously! No matter how badly you crave approval or are used to being told — “Thanks! Great job!” — don’t hold your breath waiting for this at work. And don’t freak out if you never hear it there, no matter how much extra effort you put in. We’re all running 100,000 miles per hour these days and anyone who even has a job, let alone a senior position of any authority, is already plenty stressed and tired.

They are in no mood to coddle you as well.

Don’t take shit personally — unless it’s aimed at you specifically

If someone rips your head off, don’t take it personally. They might be a bitch to everyone all the time, or their dog just died or their husband is having an affair or they just got a lousy diagnosis. Get a feel for office politics and culture so you know when someone is really just like that, or when you really are screwing up and deserved to get your head sliced off, GOT-style.

It's not personal! Armor up, kids!

It’s not personal! Armor up, kids!

Do everything to 187 percent of your ability. Everything!

That means getting coffee, running to Staples, booking your boss’s flight, whatever your boss needs. People who run their own business, especially, rely on helpful, cheerful team players — no one is “too important” to do the smallest of tasks, no matter how silly or tedious or un-sexy they appear to be. People really value workers who consistently offer them good cheer, high energy and empathy.

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Your primary job is to make everyone else’s job easier

Don’t focus on your job title or description, if you even have one. Never say out loud, or post anywhere on social media: “That’s not my job!” If your boss says it’s your job, guess what…

Your most valuable skill, certainly as someone new to the workforce building your skills and your networks for the future, is being sensitive to others’ needs and making their lives easier, while accomplishing your own tasks on or ahead of schedule. No one, even at the opera, wants to work with a diva.

Good luck!

 

It may be creative, but, hell yes, it’s still work!

In art, beauty, behavior, books, business, culture, design, film, journalism, Money, music, photography, US, work on May 13, 2014 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Time to let go, at last

Did any of you catch this recent interesting piece in The New York Times?

The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gestures toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.

On the other hand, money is now an important measure — maybe the supreme measure — of artistic accomplishment. Box office grosses have long since become part of the everyday language of cinephilia, as moviegoers absorb the conventional wisdom, once confined mainly to accountants and trade papers, about which movies are breaking out, breaking even or falling short. Multimillion-dollar sales of paintings by hot new or revered old artists are front-page news. To be a mainstream rapper is to have sold a lot of recordings on which you boast about how much money you have made selling your recordings…

This is something I think about a lot.

My father, still alive at 85, was a respected maker of films and network television, as was my stepmother. My mother worked as a journalist.

It never occurred to me that “artist” and “starving” belonged in the same sentence. Nor should they!

This notion that being creative means penury or 1%-land is absurd. We don’t expect or require this of others — the middling executive, the stalled lawyer, the so-so administrator. The world is filled with people doing their best and never hitting the heights, nor surviving on ramen in a group squat.

More, from the Times’ piece:

Inexpensive goods carry hidden costs, and those costs are frequently borne by exploited, underpaid workers. This is true of our clothes and our food, and it is no less true of those products we turn to for meaning, pleasure and diversion. We will no doubt continue to indulge all kinds of romantic conceits about artists: myths about the singularity of genius or the equal distribution of talent; clichés about flaky, privileged weirdos; inspiring tales of dreamers who persevered. But we also need to remember, with all the political consequences that this understanding entails, that they are just doing their jobs.

I’ve been writing for a living — sometimes for a nice wage, sometimes for a much-less-amusing one — since I left university. But I’ve never cracked that sexy glass ceiling of the six-figure income.

malled cover LOW

Talent and hard work, prizes and fellowships — got ‘em. There are few direct correlations between the standard metrics and creative success, let alone buckets ‘o cash. Your ability to schmooze, to accept and perform work you find creatively grotesque, to suck up abusive client behaviors — these, too, factor considerably into who will (quickest) ascend the greasy pole of fame and fortune.

The creative life is one that many mythologize or fantasize about: waking up at noon to daub a canvas or noodle about with your screenplay. How lovely, how freeing to flee the grim confines of cube-world and the predations of The Man.

Snort!

Every time I put on a pair of shoes, or eat a meal, I touch the direct reflection of talent and hard work — it produced the income that keeps me housed, fed, clothed and will fund my retirement.

Making art — of any kind — in no way excuses the artist from the costly necessities of life, no matter how cool or offbeat our lives and work may appear to others choosing a different vocational path.

One of my favorite books is The Creative Habit, by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has made her career by — as she eloquently puts it — walking into an empty studio and making a dance.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Creative work absolutely is work, even if/when it doesn’t earn enough to buy you a house or a shiny new car — or any car, ever — or the plaudits of The Right People.

And holding fast to principle — creating something you imagine to be of lasting cultural worth, not merely sating contemporary appetites or shoveling cash at your expenses — remains a difficult challenge for many artists faced with the same costs of heat, fuel, clothing, food and housing as the rest of the workforce.

Jose and I recently saw this terrific 1987 play, The Substance of Fire, about a New York City family-run publishing house and its internal battle over this issue.

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Here’s a post I wrote about this in 2011, which was chosen for Freshly Pressed.

I ask whether we should focus on being productive (look what I made!) or creative (which might be publicly inaudible and invisible for months or years, producing no income):

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Do you work full-time in a creative field?

How’s it going?

How do you measure your success?

LAST CHANCE FOR WEBINARS!

SATURDAY MAY 17:

Conducting a Kick-Ass Interview (what’s the one question you must ask?)

Crafting the Personal Essay

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

Please sign up here.

Why self-care matters

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, Health, life, urban life, women, work on May 11, 2014 at 12:36 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Maybe you know this classic 1928 song?

Button up your overcoat
When the wind is free
Take good care of yourself
You belong to me

Eat an apple every day
Get to bed by three
Oh, take good care of yourself
You belong to me

You get the idea…If you love someone, you want them to stay safe and healthy!
Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

But what if that weary, worn-out, frazzled person is you?
It’s an interesting challenge in an era of economic fear and anxiety, a time when people who actually have paid work are terrified to be seen as slow, lazy — worst of all, disposable.
Here’s a recent post by Small Dog Syndrome, a 27-year-old who recently moved from the U.S. to London, about her struggle to find time for self-care:
I’m starting to feel a bit depleted and stress is taking a very real toll on my health. Even if it’s for a job or in a field you love, doing work without pay is grueling, on the soul as well as the body. And spending time working on those projects has the very real potential to impact my freelancing work negatively – no one’s at the top of their game when chronically sleep deprived.
Many American workers, those who even get paid vacations, are too scared to actually take the time off, or too broke to go anywhere.
So they keep driving their exhausted minds, spirits and bodies like machines at a vicious, speeded-up industrial pace. We’re all becoming Charlie Chaplin movie out-takes.
But it’s no comedy.
I recently did something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. I had three deadlines to meet and editors driving me insane with endless demands. Instead of staying glued to the computer, fed up and resentful at their insatiability, I snagged a cheap ticket to a show I’d been wanting to see for years, the musical “Once.”
I went to a Wednesday matinee.
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It was heaven. I came home refreshed by pleasure.

Good thing too, since the next two days proved to be completely hellish and the week ended with an editor killing my story — after weeks of work, costing me $750 in lost income.

Tea helps!

Tea helps!

In response? I made a pot of tea, put some chocolates on a tray and ended my crappy Friday with a pile of glossy fashion magazines.

It takes effort to make time to care for yourself.

Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:

– a pedicure

– a pot of hot tea every day at 4 or 5:00 p.m.: hydrating, comforting and fragrant

– a massage

– having fresh flowers and/or plants in every room

– going for a walk

– calling a friend

– taking dance class two to four times a week

– listening to music

If we don’t make time for pleasure, what on earth are we doing?

Are you taking good care of yourself these days?
If not, why not?
If so, what are some of the things you do to stay healthy and happy?

Anxiety is toxic and contagious — chill out!

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on May 5, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

You have no excuse to bully others. None.

You have no excuse to bully others. None.

 

Last week brought two unprecedented experiences in my 30 years as a freelance journalist.

Two editors each apologized to me by email. One had driven me nuts with micro-managing while the other snapped my head off verbally and hung up on me for daring to (politely) argue my point.

Yes,  I could have shrugged it off. But I didn’t.

Being repeatedly subjected to others’ anxiety and unmoderated rage leaves me shaking head to toe.

When I told a third editor — also a veteran of our industry — her reaction shocked me a little, because such incivility is something we’re all just supposed to ignore and shrug off.

“You’re lucky,” she said. “Many people would not have apologized.”

Why is it our job to absorb, ignore or deflect your toxic anxiety?

People in my industry, and in many others, are running so scared that many are behaving like terrified toddlers lost in a sea of unfamiliar knees at Disneyworld.

The sexy new word for this latest debacle of American employment-at-will — (i.e. they can fire you anytime, anywhere for any reason at all. No reason, even! And the law makes it impossible for you to sue or claim redress. Yay capitalism!)precariat.

From The New York Times:

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.

These pessimistic views bring to mind a concept that’s been floating around Europe: the Precariat. According to the British academic Guy Standing, the Precariat is the growing class of people living with short-term and part-time work with precarious living standards and “without a narrative of occupational development.” They live with multiple forms of insecurity and are liable to join protest movements across the political spectrum.

The American Precariat seems more hunkered down, insecure, risk averse, relying on friends and family but without faith in American possibilities.

Here’s a link to Standing’s 2011 book, which I want to read.

In my industry one-third have lost our jobs since 2008, most of which are not coming back. So those left employed are clutching their staff positions like a drowning man with a life-vest. They’re freaked out by anything or anyone that threatens their hold — literally — on the upper middle class.

I get it! A midlife, mid-career drop in income is deeply unpleasant.

But this widespread free-floating work-related anxiety feels toxic, whether coming from other freelancers — some of whom seem to tremble in the corner most of the time, persuaded they have zero bargaining power, too terrified to negotiate better rates or contracts — or bad-tempered staff editors.

My recent eight-day working trip to Nicaragua, even working long days in 95 degree heat, was totally different. We were treated with kindness, respect and welcome.

It made me viscerally understand that many journalists (many workers!) are becoming accustomed to being treated rudely and roughly.

That’s crazy. And I came home with a much clearer sense of this.

So people, it’s time to get a grip on your anxiety:

Meditate. Move to a cheaper place. Do whatever it takes to lower your living expenses. Work three jobs if necessary, and bulk up your savings so if you get canned or face a dry spell, you’re able to manage.

It’s time to stop flinging your anxiety (aka shit) at those around you, in some desperate attempt to offload it onto those in even more precarious situations — like unpaid interns and your army of freelancers, none of whom can even collect sick pay or unemployment benefits.

We’re already stressed, too!

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We are not monkeys in the monkey house.

Decision, indecision (and consequences)

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, journalism, life, work on May 3, 2014 at 12:25 am

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By Caitlin Kelly

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
 — Robert Frost

Two young friends of ours — both in their early 20s, both talented, ambitious photojournalists — have faced major life and career decisions this week.

The safer path or the one that, literally, is more dangerous physically and emotionally? (Of course that’s the one that will propel him further professionally.)

The more fun, adventurous one — or the one that is more difficult and annoying in some ways, but offers a chance for her to polish needed skills and solidify useful connections?

Jose and I are fortunate to be among the older people they have turned to for advice, fielding their urgent texts, calls and emails as our younger colleagues grapple with which path to choose.

We have given them both our ears, and whatever wisdom we’ve accumulated in our combined 60 years working in news journalism. We don’t have children of our own, so it’s a real honor to be asked for our advice and input. I’m really fond of both these people and wish them only the very best, in their work and in their private lives.

One of the many issues that ambitious young journo’s grapple with is that the best stories, and opportunities, may exist in a city or country that places you at serious risk of injury, even death. Or one that’s a five or 10 or 15-hour flight away from your parents and best friend, let alone your boyfriend.

Jobs are hard to get, hard to keep and even harder to figure out what happens after that…

It’s also difficult for bright, ambitious women to juggle their admirable and ferocious desire to achieve professional success — which likely demands long hours and the ability to deny other emotional needs (see: a boyfriend or girlfriend) — with the very human wish for someone to hug you and hand you a stiff drink at the end of a harrowing day or week.

So, we gave them our best advice, and are crossing our fingers that it will work out well for both of them, whichever path they choose.

But, we all know…

There are no guarantees.

There is no job security.

No one has the right answer.

I’ve made a few momentous choices along the way — leaving behind a live-in boyfriend/dog/career/apartment for an eight-month Paris fellowship; leaving my native Canada to follow a man I loved to rural New Hampshire; arriving in New York City with no job, contacts or American education or work experience, just in time for a recession.

But things worked out — eventually. The fellowship was the best year of my life; I married the man and he walked out after two years of marriage but I now have a much nicer second husband; I’ve since survived two more recessions, but have achieved most of my career goals anyway. It just took longer than I’d hoped or expected.

I think the single most essential tool in your toolkit today is flexibility. If you must only live in one city or work at one company or use one set of skills, you’re toast. If you’re willing and able to pivot, decisions aren’t quite so dire.

Also, low overhead! When you’re crushed by mountains of debt — whether student loans, credit card bills or a huge mortgage — you’ve lost your flexibility.

Here’s one of my favorite songs ever, Father and Son, by Cat Stevens, about making life choices.

And this one, another oldie, by Harry Chapin, Cat’s in the Cradle, about a man now deeply regretting his.

What’s the biggest decision you’ve made?

(Or avoided?)

How did it turn out?

Speaking of decisions — please decide to sign up for one of my blogging, interviewing, essay-writing, freelancing, idea-developing or thinking like a reporter webinars.

Details and testimonials are here: We work via Skype, May 10 and May 17.

Lean this! Many women already feel like pretzels — (maybe bonsai)

In behavior, books, business, culture, domestic life, life, US, women, work on April 18, 2014 at 2:22 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Are we there yet?

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Every day someone new, usually another highly-educated white HNW woman, is exhorting us to lean in, or lean out, or duck and cover or…something.

Mostly, I just want a martini and a nap.

I hate this barrage of “self-help” books telling other women to lean in, (i.e. work your ass off for a corporate employer and climb that ladder stat!) — or to lean out (bake brownies and say Om!).

Or, even better — from a millionaire who gets writers to fill her website free – on how to thrive.

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Maybe because I grew up in the 1970s, in the era of second-wave feminism, in Toronto. We thought — really, we did! — it would be a hell of of lot better than this by now.

Ms. magazine had just launched and my late step-mother used to dance around the living room singing along to Helen Reddy’s 1972 anthem of female empowerment: I Am Woman:

“I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore…”

From Wikipedia:

In the year that Gloria Steinem‘s Ms. magazine was launched in the US and Cleo in Australia, the song quickly captured the imagination of the burgeoning women’s movement. National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan was later to write that in 1973, a gala entertainment night in Washington DC at the NOW annual convention closed with the playing of “I Am Woman”. “Suddenly,” she said, “women got out of their seats and started dancing around the hotel ballroom and joining hands in a circle that got larger and larger until maybe a thousand of us were dancing and singing, ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.’ It was a spontaneous, beautiful expression of the exhilaration we all felt in those years, women really moving as women.”[4]

So we all rocketed out into the world, excited and determined it would all be different now.

 

(Insert bitter, knowing laugh.)

 

Then we grew up.

So I’m weary of this latest panoply of corporate-suck-up advice and endless set of prescriptions — all of it coming from wealthy, educated, powerful and connected women — on how we should live.

I did like this story in Pacific Standard:

I intentionally lean out of my career. A lot. I do this because there are only 24 hours in a day, and when I ask myself, “If I died tomorrow, what would I want people to remember me for?” it isn’t anything I’ve published, any TV appearance I’ve made, or anything like that.

I’d like my son to remember that, almost every morning, I snuggled with him for 15 minutes before we finally got up together. I’d like him to remember that I had the door open and a hug ready for him when he ran home from the school bus, almost every day. I’d like him to remember that I took up the clarinet, and started lessons with him with his teacher, so we could play duets together and so that he could be my secondary teacher. I’d like him to remember all the after-school walks we took to the river. I’d like him to remember how happy I was when he had a snow day and could stay home with me.

I’d like my mate to remember all that, and to remember that I became a gardener, reluctantly at first, and that I did so because he loves planting but hates to weed. I’d like him to remember all the dinner parties with friends I arranged for us. I’d like him to remember the house concerts, like the one last night.

And I fully agree that we need to carefully consider the real economic costs of when to chase (more) income instead of enjoying a less-frenzied private life, non-stop careerism versus time lavished on family, friends or just…sitting still.

The real problem?

This is such a privileged conversation.

You can only “lean out” if you have:

savings; if you and your partner and/or your dependents remain in good health and if your housing costs are free or fixed, (i.e. rent controlled or stabilized or you have a fixed-rate mortgage, all of which rely on luck or a steady income from somewhere. Which is…?)

If you lean out, away from well-paid work, you also need someone else with a reliable, decent income to subsidize or wholly support your reduced paid workload — because fuel, food, medicine, insurance, education, clothing, and specialized skills like dentists, all cost real money.

Not everyone can live in a hut or barter for everything.

And too many women are just worn thin, millions of them working in crappy, dangerous, depressing and exhausting low-wage jobs with no hope of raises or promotions or benefits.

They aren’t wearing Prada and angling for a corner office — but something as simple and unachievable as a steady schedule that actually allows them to plan doctor visits or meet their kids’ teacher(s) or take a class that might propel them out of that enervating low-wage ghetto.

I see little communal concern (Hello, Occupy Wall Street?!), and no shared outrage at massive corporate profits/stagnant hiring/excessive C-suite compensation, and the lowest union membership — 7 percent private, 11 percent public — since the Great Depression.

I don’t think unions are the only solution.

But focusing relentlessly only on our individual needs isn’t going to do much either. Too many workers, too many women, are still getting screwed economically and politically.

How about you?

Which way are you leaning these days?

If one more privileged white woman tells me to be confident…

In behavior, books, business, culture, life, women, work on April 16, 2014 at 4:10 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you noticed the recent spate of wealthy, white, powerful women — Arianna Huffington (who refuses to pay writers at HuffPost), Sheryl Sandberg and now Katty Kay (BBC anchor) and Claire Shipman — selling books telling the rest of us to, you know, man up already?

Katty Kay, BBC presenter and author

Katty Kay, BBC presenter and author

Great post from Amanda Hess at Slate:

The Confidence Code is a kind of Lean In: Redux, and like Sandberg’s book, its mission is to vault America’s most ambitious women into even higher echelons of power. Also catering to this set: The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Women, a new collection of testimonies from powerful gals, and the just-released Thrive, in which Arianna Huffington advises readers to focus on the “third metric” of success, well-being. (This one’s for women who have already read about securing the first two metrics—money and power, obviously). The Atlantic also took time this month to ask why female CEOS are holding themselves back in comparison to their male peers. (Can you believe Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles made only $403,857 in 2012? Sounds like somebody needs to “lean in.”)

Why is this genre enjoying such a moment right now? A few years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, the think piece du jour centered on how overconfident men were a danger to themselves and their country. Now, women are being told to ape these poisonous personality quirks for feminist life lessons. Buy these books and you, too, can become a successful blowhard.

Now it’s a cover story in The Atlantic:

We know the feeling firsthand. Comparing notes about confidence over dinner one night last year, despite how well we knew each other, was a revelation. Katty got a degree from a top university, speaks several languages, and yet had spent her life convinced that she just wasn’t intelligent enough to compete for the most-prestigious jobs in journalism. She still entertained the notion that her public profile in America was thanks to her English accent, which surely, she suspected, gave her a few extra IQ points every time she opened her mouth.

Claire found that implausible, laughable really, and yet she had a habit of telling people she was “just lucky”—in the right place at the right time—when asked how she became a CNN correspondent in Moscow while still in her 20s. And she, too, for years, routinely deferred to the alpha-male journalists around her, assuming that because they were so much louder, so much more certain, they just knew more. She subconsciously believed that they had a right to talk more on television. But were they really more competent? Or just more self-assured?

This is simply too rich.

The majority of women living in poverty, working and in old age, never made a decent wage and/or took time off to raise children. Many of the millions of low-wage workers in retail and food-service earn crap money for exhausting work. I worked low-wage retail for 2.5 years and wrote a book about it.

I confidently asked my bosses for a promotion — from $11/hour to $45,000 a year as assistant manager — but never even got the courtesy of an interview, despite a track record of consistently high sales and praise from my customers.

They hired a 25-year-old man from another company instead.

 Many women don’t lack confidence.

They lack income. They lack opportunity. They lack internal support. They lack the fuck-you savings fund that allows us to walk away quickly from a toxic boss or environment to find a place that will reward and value us.

Here’s a breakdown of what American women are earning, from Catalyst, a source I trust — the average American woman working full-time makes $37,791 — compared to a man’s $49, 398.

I don’t buy the argument that discrimination alone makes the difference, nor self-confidence. Skills, education, access to networks of people who are ready to hire, manage, promote? Yes.

I’ve met plenty of women — like the 75-year-old designer I interviewed this week — who don’t lack a scintilla of self-confidence.

It’s a difficult path for women to navigate, that between annoying asshole and demure doormat. Yet we all know who walks away with the best assignments, income, awards and promotions.

I judged some journalism awards last year, with two men 20 years my junior. One, driving a shiny new SUV, made sure to tell us he had two $8,000 assignments in hand.

Excuse me?

I’ve yet to win an $8,000 assignment. Not for lack of confidence, that’s for sure. But maybe because (?) I don’t yelp out my income to a stranger.

I reality-checked this guy with a few former female colleagues who rolled their eyes. Good to know.

My favorite book on this subject is not a new one, but a useful and practical one — Women Don’t Ask – because it addresses not some faux foot-shuffling but the very real nasty pushback women often get, often from other pissed-off women, when we do assert ourselves with very real confidence.

How dare you?

Do you struggle with feeling confident?

How do you address it?

 

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