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Posts Tagged ‘work’

It used to be a kind of game: I’d sit in meetings, especially ones marked “strategy” or “content,” and mentally (or sometimes physically) take note of every empty word or phrase my colleagues, or especially outside consultants, used to talk about our work. Words like stakeholders, platforms, multi-channel, workflow and especially content. The words ask and creative used as nouns; the word language used as a verb; acronyms like KPIs and ROI and SEO. I’ve even heard a few like operationalize (what?).

All of it makes me itch – it seems like a false, too-easy way to get away from talking about what we’re really doing (writing stories, interviewing people for podcasts, creating websites and brochures) and why we’re doing it (to get students to enroll, to advertise events or programs, to inform and entertain our alumni or other audiences). Jargon is also a way to exclude people: it’s so easy for students or new colleagues or even experienced folks not to know what you’re talking about. It’s gatekeeping language, often used to self-aggrandize or hide problems, and it is bland and impenetrable as tofu.

This is a problem as I continue the job hunt, because most of the job descriptions I’ve seen contain a fair amount of jargon. I can translate it, and I don’t fault them for it, necessarily, but the jobs I’m drawn to tend to be the ones whose posters write clearly and concisely about what the job actually entails. If a job description is stuffed full of hyphenated phrases with no real meaning, I’m wary of both the job and workplace it’s trying to describe.

While communications work in general is a bit more abstract than, say, serving coffee or teaching a yoga class, it does include measurable, concrete tasks along with the broader work of “strategy” and “ideation.” I don’t want to work at a place where people are so wrapped up in high-flown phrases that they’re unable to define what they actually do. We are all human beings who live in a tangible world, and I believe it’s important to talk about our work in human (vivid, interesting) terms. I also believe we should be able to laugh or roll our eyes at ourselves when we do get tangled up in jargon.

Have you run into long-winded, abstract job descriptions in your own searches? (Please tell me I’m not alone.) And other than a well-practiced eye roll, what is there to do about it?

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Hello, friends. It’s Monday again and I’m back at the computer with a mug of Earl Grey at my elbow, watching the fog drift over Boston Harbor and pegging away at the job hunt. There are a few postings today that look appealing, so I’m making a list and diving in, while pausing to acknowledge the Groundhog Day quality of this whole enterprise – namely, search-draft-apply-rinse-repeat.

I keep thinking of that old saw about the definition of insanity. I don’t know if Einstein actually said it or not, but it seems clear to me that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a recipe for at least feeling crazy.

Why should I apply to this job or that job, if the same set of actions last week garnered a rejection or (more) radio silence? What makes me think this college or nonprofit will answer my email, or call me for an interview, when most of the others have not? How do I know which job description, full of industry jargon and careful HR-approved wording, might possibly lead me to a real place with real people where I can be useful, be welcomed, make a contribution (and earn a living)?

I don’t, of course. And while it’s true that getting creative with the job hunt – going to webinars, letting friends and former colleagues know I’m looking, even writing a whole blog series about job hunting – might help, it’s also true that, for many jobs, a resume and cover letter are required. You have to go through the process: find the posting (or look at the one someone sends you), decide whether it sounds interesting, write and proofread a cover letter, go through the electronic steps to apply. You have to sit through the auto-response emails and the waiting (more on that in a later post). You have to, in short, do a version of the same thing, and expect – or at least hope for – different results.

I don’t have a neat and tidy answer for this one, except that it’s got to be done. Grit and gumption (and lots of tea) are definitely required. And for now, I’ll try to vary the process (and my cover letters) enough so that it doesn’t feel exactly the same every day.

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Friends, I am job hunting. And it is the worst.

Some of you know that I was furloughed last spring, then had my furlough extended through the fall as the pandemic dragged on. I was officially laid off a few months ago, and have been slogging through the job hunt ever since. (Photo is of my makeshift standing desk at home.)

Some weeks, that means sending out applications and resumes; most weeks, it means combing through job boards and email alerts, and doing freelance work (like this recent story I wrote for Harvard’s Ed School, where I used to work). And every week, it means fighting the job-search demons in my head.

Everyone I know has been through the job-hunt wringer a few times, but it seems like nobody talks about this stuff, at least not publicly. We gripe to our partners and get networking tips from friends, but I’ve yet to find a real, honest exploration of the toll it can take on your soul. I need a way to wrestle with those challenges outside my own head (and my journal), so I’ll be sharing some of my job hunt woes here on the blog for the next while.

First up, the blindingly obvious: what nobody tells you.

Nobody tells you how disorienting it can be, the sudden feeling of being cut adrift from a paycheck, a workplace, an institution, a community. No one admits–or, in my experience, people rarely admit–how daunting it is to wake up in the morning and have no idea what you’re going to do next. How it feels to have a few tools at your disposal–a newly polished resume, job boards, cover letters to tailor and send–but to know that so much of the search is completely beyond your control.

It’s like chipping away at a mountain with a pickaxe, or like those diggers working to free that ship in the Suez Canal last month. No one, least of all you, has any idea when the daily patient effort–or some totally unrelated effect of an external force–will crack the granite wide open and let an opportunity through. And no one admits how demoralizing it can be.

I’m job hunting, we say, as if it were going to the dentist or walking the dog or cleaning the kitchen floor. Just another item on the to-do list. Something everyone does, sooner or later. While that last part is true, nobody tells you how painful and frustrating it can be, although most of us know. Nobody talks about how it can wear away at your sense of identity and self-worth, not to mention your bank account. And in the middle of a pandemic, few people seem to have any idea what work will look like in a few months. Remote? Hybrid? Fully back in the office? No one can tell me that, because no one else, at this moment, knows.

I’m writing these posts because I need this conversation, but I’m hoping that maybe it will open up a space for others, too. If you’d care to share your job-hunt woes (past or present) in the comments, I’m all ears. Let’s be honest about how tough it is, and maybe share what’s gotten us through, or what’s helping right now.

More job-hunt musings to come.

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Like millions of Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a lot of reading, listening and processing. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the ensuing protests, and the waves of activism and helpful resources popping up everywhere have all been rightfully demanding my attention.

I’m a few chapters into White Fragility (“like all the other white people,” my friend Ally joked last week). I’m listening to podcast interviews with Black leaders, finding Black-owned businesses to support and following new-to-me accounts on Instagram run by Black folks. (One of my favorites: Black Librarians, which highlights – what else? – Black librarians doing excellent work in their field.)

It’s tempting to think that is enough: that exposing myself to new ideas, information and voices will root out my own biases. It will help, of course, but it is not nearly enough. I keep thinking, too, about a poem I found back in early 2016: Veronica Patterson’s “A Charm Against the Language of Politics.”

Patterson’s poem begins:

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose.

Patterson’s poem talks about pleasant things, beautiful things: spiderwebs, apples, okra, calendula. Racism and violence are not nearly as appealing, but they are real, and we have to stop ignoring them.

If we are to face racism and work to end it, we must name it, and that means naming a host of other things: specific laws and policies that discriminate against Black people; instances of violence and murder (historical and present-day); our own sometimes-hidden biases against (various) people who do not look like us. It also means, for me, naming my own whiteness, and working to understand how it has shaped me.

In conversations with friends and family, I am trying to stop vaguely referring to “everything that’s going on.” If I mean my ongoing anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, I say that. If I mean the sadness, outrage and drinking-from-a-firehose overwhelm of trying to process all this new information about race and racism, I say that. Sometimes I think about Albus Dumbledore, gravely reminding Harry, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I was taught to ignore or sidestep race, especially the racial identities of brown and black people, and thus to ignore racism (or insist that it had been solved). But we cannot hope to solve a problem we don’t name. So, for me, it starts (in part) with naming.

Where are you finding yourselves these days, in the work of acknowledging and working to end racism in the U.S.? I’m still overwhelmed (and ashamed at how long it’s taking me to catch up), but I’m here for the work. Let’s learn together.

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In these strange days of mostly working and interacting from home, I’ve been getting used to lots of Zoom calls.

I expected that, of course: we’ve moved our weekly team meetings online, and we’ve had at least one bigger departmental meeting and tried a couple of virtual happy hours. I’ve interviewed a few students and faculty for stories via Zoom (though sometimes regular old phone calls are easier). I’m also taking Zoom exercise classes regularly, and I’ve used it and other, similar platforms (like FaceTime) to catch up with friends, family, my boss and even my therapist.

Like so much of life under quarantine, it is similar but not the same. I like seeing my colleagues’ and friends’ faces, and it’s been fun to get a peek into everyone’s living spaces (and sometimes wave hello to their children or cats). I’ve been doing most of my calls either from my kitchen table or the bar cart that is serving as my makeshift standing desk. And here’s one thing I didn’t expect: they are exhausting.

There’s a human energy that comes from face-to-face interactions, whether it’s your best friend, the bank teller, or a work acquaintance. It’s really hard to recreate that dynamic over video, not to mention the vagaries of unreliable signals and dropped calls. It’s also hard to feel like I must be extremely focused the whole time – rather than shifting my attention out the window or to my notepad/laptop for a few seconds, the way I would do in a “normal” meeting. After one Zoom call, I’m wiped out; after two, I am done.

I’m grateful for the technology that allows us to connect in different ways, especially now – I’ve loved FaceTiming my friends in England and California, and the family Zoom calls have been sweet and hilarious. But it’s an adjustment, like so many things right now. And I need to go stare out the window (or take a walk) afterwards.

How are you adjusting to this new videoconferencing life?

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It’s official, friends: after six weeks of working at my kitchen table and sitting on a hard wooden chair for six to eight hours a day, my body has had it. 

I started feeling twinges in my IT band earlier this week, quickly followed by serious soreness and tightness a few days later. It freaked me out – because, as y’all know, I love to run, and especially right now, it’s vital for my mental and physical health. I texted a couple of friends in a panic – one a dancer, one a longtime runner. Buy a foam roller, they both urged. Stretch it out. Rest. 

I’m taking their advice (thank goodness for Marathon Sports, my local running store). But I still need help. This wasn’t an issue until it really was, and I don’t want it to either continue or get worse.

This is the current setup: my work laptop, either set flat on the kitchen table or propped on a double stack of books as a makeshift standing desk. It helps to stand sometimes, and moving around when I can is important (plus online yoga). But I can’t type like this all day, and I need all your best work-from-home ergonomic advice. I live in a studio apartment, and I don’t have a “regular” desk or room for much new furniture, so this is going to be a case of working with what I’ve got and getting creative.

How do you avoid tight shoulders, sore tailbones, repetitive stress injuries, etc., when working from home? I’m really asking. And if you’ve got recs for products that work – laptop stands, etc. – let me know. I’m all ears.

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One thing I’m noticing in this strange “now normal” is the absence of the usual transitions in my day.

Like a lot of workers, I usually commute to my job, which means (in my case) leaving my house, walking to the train station, getting on the subway, switching lines, then walking to my office at the other end. That ritual, and the physical movement, helps signal to my brain and body that I’m at work, and that I’m leaving work when I do it all again at the end of the day.

I don’t miss crowded subway cars, but it can be easy for all the hours at home to start feeling just like one another. So, last week, when my friend Anne Bogel posted 10 of her favorite work-from-home tips, I was caught by the first one: Walk yourself to work.

Like Anne, my “home office” (in my case, my kitchen table) is almost no distance from the rest of my living space, especially since I live in a studio apartment. I only have to carry my laptop a few feet to start working, and that’s not always enough of a demarcation. So I’ve started adopting Anne’s trick. Some mornings, I’ve been going for a run first thing, if the weather and my schedule permit – which feels great and definitely gets me moving before the workday starts. But when it’s raining or I have early meetings or otherwise can’t squeeze in a run, I’ve been putting on a jacket and walking myself to work.

I go around the block and back up through the park, or down the hill and through the nearby shipyard. Sometimes I carry a travel mug of tea, or a clementine, and I try to pay attention: to blossoming trees and sidewalk chalk and my neighbors, out walking their dogs (or their kids). Once in a while, I wave at someone I know. And I usually arrive back home feeling better, and (slightly) more ready to start the workday.

Like a lot of things I’m trying right now, it’s not magic, but it’s helping. And most days, that’s good enough.

What work-from-home tricks are you trying, in these days?

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Here we are in October – the days and nights are starting to draw in, the maples are turning brilliantly red, the occasional cold rains have arrived, and fall events are in full swing.

I’m feeling more settled in my new place, and between commutes and running and cooking dinner, I finally had a bit of time to note what’s saving my life now:

  • Sunflowers, at home and at work. I love their cheerful faces, and they remind me of that Mary Oliver poem.
  • My new Rebel Alliance logo earrings. I am not a hardcore Star Wars geek, but I am a diehard Leia Organa fan. These earrings are sterling silver, subtle and badass, and I love them.
  • Birchbox, which I tried thanks to a recent Cup of Jo post. Getting a few colorful boxes of samples in the mail has felt indulgent and also nourishing, somehow.
  • My brand-new travel mug from my friends at Obvious State, who make the best literary swag.

  • Trader Joe’s essentials: crumbly English cheddar, bags of tiny mandarins, Greek yogurt by the tub, peanut-butter-filled pretzels, and smiles from the staff.
  • Texts from my girlfriends (always) and getting to hug a few of them (local and far-flung) in person.
  • A few recent visiting artist events at Berklee, where I work – I get to listen to fascinating, intelligent, talented, kind folks like rapper Dessa and film composer Pinar Toprak sharing their wisdom with our students.
  • A trip to my beloved florist the other day, for the first time in weeks. I caught up with my people and bought some scarlet tulips tipped with gold.

  • Jen Lee’s Morning, Sunshine videos – doses of kindness and wisdom twice a week. Go check out the series on YouTube.
  • The music of the Highwomen.
  • Sunshine on my shoulders, especially when I take my laptop to the plant-filled conference room at work.
  • Chai from the BPL cafe – best in Back Bay.
  • Poetry, including a whole slew of new-to-me gems via poet Maggie Smith.
  • The quilt my friend Carol made for me, so good for snuggling under on these chilly nights.
  • Ginger peach tea and Earl Grey in the mornings, spiced black tea in the afternoons, peppermint tea or pumpkin spice rooibos at night.
  • Rereading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, a longtime fave.

What’s saving your life these days?

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Last month, on the same weekend I moved, I spent two days at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Why, you ask? The answer I’ve been giving: because I am a crazy person. And I might be, honestly. But more than that: I love folk music, and I’d scored a press pass through my day job at Berklee. Several of our students were playing the festival on Friday and Sunday, so I volunteered to go down and write about them.

It was exhausting and crazy and so hot (I got a wicked sunburn on Friday). But was it worth it? Absolutely.

I drove down on Friday with some friends. At the top of my list that day was the all-female trio I’m With Her – both because our students were playing with them and because Sara Watkins is amazing. (I’m a Nickel Creek fan from way back.) My friend Jackie and I snagged seats up close to listen to them, and they were fantastic.

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I’m With Her also includes Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. They were smart and funny and energetic – I loved everything from their cover of Dolly Parton’s “Marry Me” to their original tunes like “Call My Name” and “Ain’t That Fine.”

Their second-to-last song, “Overland,” featured our students, and Watkins asked the audience to sing along on the chorus. “This is for anyone who’s facing some uncertainty in their lives,” she said, before singing us the lines we would join in on:

Goodbye brother, hello railroad
So long, Chicago
All these years, thought I was where I ought to be
But times are changin’ – this country’s growin’
And I’m bound for San Francisco
Where a new life waits for me 

I welled up at that third line, but I sang along on every repeat of the chorus, watching our students play their string instruments in the background. I got to interview them afterward (in the artists’ tent, which had free snacks and comfy, non-folding chairs!), and they were excited and thoughtful and so sweet.

I wandered over to the Fort stage to buy some frozen lemonade and catch the end of Sheryl Crow’s set, and as I walked up, I heard her say, “Let’s soak up the sun, shall we?” I broke into a grin, and joined the crowd dancing to – yep – “Soak Up the Sun.”

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Then – then! – Crow said casually, “I have a friend who was telling me about playing at Newport a long time ago.” (beat) “James Taylor, why don’t you come out here and tell this story?”

Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, Taylor walked out on stage and told us about the time he was playing Newport in 1969 and they interrupted his set to break the news of the Apollo 11 moon landing. (No big deal!) Then he grabbed a guitar, and he and Sheryl played “Every Day is a Winding Road.” I could barely believe my ears, or my eyes.

I wound up my Newport Friday at the standing-room-only Highwomen performance – Brandi Carlile and her bandmates brought down the house. I especially loved “Heaven is a Honky Tonk” – their tribute to some of the great outlaw musicians – and “Redesigning Women.”

I’m not usually much for crowds, but I loved the Newport atmosphere: relaxed and fun, with lots of families, and musicians who seemed genuinely glad to be there. I spent a while talking to a woman named Mary Lynn who was selling her gorgeous leather goods, and wandered around on my own, soaking it all in. And one of the best parts of Friday? I knew more adventures were in store for me on Sunday.

More Newport photos and stories to come.

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Katie post bike ride selfie

I never quite know what to say about a whole year. That’s been especially true of the last several: so full of challenge and change, transition and unexpected moments. A list seems inadequate, at best, but it’s one of the tools I have, so here’s a list of (some of) what I’ve done this year.

In 2018, I have:

  • run my second, third and fourth 5Ks – on a gorgeous April day, a sunny November Sunday and a freezing December morning, respectively.
  • dyed my hair for the first time – I put a few pink streaks in it this spring, and liked it so much I’ve kept refreshing the color.
  • flown to Idaho to visit my dear friends and meet their new baby girl.
  • hosted those same friends for a lovely weekend in Boston this fall.
  • drunk so many chai lattes, mostly (are we shocked?) from Darwin’s.
  • spent my third glorious stretch of days in San Diego.
  • mourned the loss of a dear family friend.
  • met and briefly interviewed Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • taken a 10-day vacación to Spain with my husband, to celebrate a decade of marriage.
  • toasted my beloved boss as he retired from HKS.
  • savored my sixth Commencement at Harvard.
  • heard the news that my job there was ending.
  • spent a summer freelancing and job hunting (again).
  • started a new job across the river at Berklee.
  • run my first 8K on a hot, humid, sunny Labor Day.
  • taken my first ride (and many more) on a Blue Bike, and become completely addicted.
  • read nearly 200 books.
  • reviewed several dozen of those books, and interviewed six authors, for Shelf Awareness.
  • tended a few geraniums and a basil plant (at home) and a couple of low-light desk plants (at work).
  • bought countless bouquets of flowers, many from my favorite florist.
  • run miles and miles and miles on my beloved trail.
  • seen a few great concerts: the Wailin’ Jennys, the Boston Conservatory orchestra, Five for Fighting, various Berklee students (who really know how to jam).
  • hosted my parents for their annual visit to Boston.
  • spent a couple of whirlwind weekends in NYC.
  • navigated a few losses I’m not ready to talk about yet.
  • celebrated Thanksgiving with friends old and new in East Boston.
  • turned 35, hosted my own birthday brunch and reflected on it.
  • embraced the weekly boot camps I started last year.
  • kept on doing yoga about once a week.
  • spent many mornings in a pew at Memorial Church.
  • learned how to podcast.
  • tried to figure out how to stitch together the old life and the new.

I’ve got a few plans and a lot of hopes for 2019 – though I’m increasingly aware that I don’t know what’s coming next. I’m trying to navigate that with greater ease as we head into a new year. But first I’d love to know: what has 2018 looked like for you?

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