Friday, January 17, 2020

20 Observations on 20 Years of Work

This month I'm marking the milestone of 20 years of full-time corporate work (and entering my 15th year with my current employer). I recognize that I've been very lucky to have continuous, white collar employment, and that this piece is written with a great deal of privilege. But it is my experience, and I hope it's worth sharing. Here are 20 things I've learned about the world of work after 20 years in it.

1. Technology can change A LOT in 20 years. I used to have to dial in to a network through a noisy modem at a certain time each day and then a many-hundred page report would automatically print, and I would need just one number from it to do my job. I then had to file away all of that paper. I bet there are still boxes of that paper in a storage facility somewhere. People who do that function today can probably look up that one number on their iPhones if they even need it at all.
2. Regardless of modern software's capabilities, I'm really lucky that I was taught to do some things "by hand" in Excel. We didn't know all the formulas to make our lives easier, or have programs that did the calculations automatically, but we did have a sense of what was throwing the numbers in one direction or another. It's very hard to have that sense without having plugged in the numbers yourself.
3. Commuting is the worst. The only people I've met who don't find it completely soul-crushing have apartments within walking distance to our office. No matter what strategy you try to figure out to make it better (stop telling me about your podcasts), I'd rather just be home already.
4. Flexible working arrangements are the best. I *cherish* my work from home days. It's still only one day a week, but that one day makes my life so much better.
5. Responsiveness counts for a lot. I don't need you to know the answer right away, but if you tell me you're working on it, I will be very grateful.
6. Kindness goes a long way too. Please and thank you are still the better route to take.
7. That said, if you reply all with only the words "thank you," well, watch your back.
8. Nobody knows what business casual means. Especially in the summer. Especially if you're a woman. We're all just trying to do our best - and it would be a lot better if it didn't matter so much.
9. The interns get younger every year (it can't possibly be that I'm getting older!).
10. Everyone is replaceable. Everyone, even you. It might hurt for a while, it might never be the same, but things keep going.
11. If you're fortunate enough to work in an office with a door that closes, know when to close it. And then keep it open as often as you can.
12. Meet in person when you can, but keep it brief.
13. Pay attention to the diversity in every room. Work on it explicitly. I'm often the only woman in many rooms I'm in, and it stinks.
14. My job now is a lot more about thinking than it is about doing. It's hard to not fall back into doing mode sometimes, because doing can be so satisfying. It's much more challenging to sit mired in the thinking.
15. Flat organizational titles are great, but it's unnerving to stop having to strive for that next level. I was always taught to be striving, thinking about what that next accomplishment should be, and that you'll just keep moving up. When that's not true, it's hard to find that same motivation.
16. Being involved in outside organizations that don't use the identical skills you bring to work can help you bring new skills back to work. I've seen that through blogging as well as the nonprofits that I've been involved with.
17. Business travel is generally not as glamorous as it sounds. There are occasionally nice meals and nice hotels, and sometimes you can connect with friends or family along the way. But most of the time it's really lonely.
18. I really thought I'd have a "regular" order somewhere as an adult, where I went to lunch and they'd know me and anticipate my needs. That has not happened, and it's because I'm too irregular for it to occur.
19. I still love inbox zero. I don't see it as often as I'd like, but it's such a good feeling.
20. Twenty years is a long time. Considering I was barely sentient for twenty years when I began my career at 22, it's astounding to think that 20 years have passed. I couldn't have anticipated where I'd be now back then, and I feel pretty lucky to have the experiences I've had.

What about you? What would you add to a list like this?

Sunday, January 5, 2020


Today, Hannah Ruth, you are turning sixteen.

I’m not sure how you keep doing it, but each year with you tops the last. I’m the luckiest Mom I know, because you share so much of your life with me. It is such a privilege to hear your thoughts on life as your world continues to expand.

You blew us all away singing with HaZamir at Lincoln Center. You had your first stage doors at Be More Chill and Dear Evan Hansen. You were a disco dancing flower vendor, a sentimental mother who believes in miracles, and a student director at your old middle school. You kept up with Prozdor and Rosh Hodesh, got a regular gig at Shabbat Alive, and added a position on the USY Chapter Board and manage the South Stage Instagram. And obviously, camp is life.

You comfort watch old episodes of “Victorious” when you need to feel just a bit younger than you are. You can most often be found on Instagram Explore, and you’re always up for an Instagram-able adventure, even if you’d prefer that I post it. You care so very deeply about so many people, I wish your friends really knew just how much. You started your first relationship, and it’s been such a joy to see how happy he makes you. Your kindness towards your brother knows no bounds, and you and Shira can side eye with the best of them.

My goodness, it’s going to be Kerem 2020! Your last official summer as a camper is going to be epic. And you are going to kill it (him?) in JCS (I couldn’t resist). And driving! - you’re already well on your way. Happy birthday, my Hanniebelle. I love you so. 

(You can also see letters for ages seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Today, Max Benjamin, you are turning twelve.

This is my tenth annual birthday letter to you, and as we discussed, you are *so* fucking old (you think it’s hilarious when I swear). How can this have happened to my baby? I don’t remember agreeing to this getting older thing. Of course, you’ve never been one to seek anyone’s approval for just being who you are.

This year saw elementary school left in the dust (“Congratulations!”) and the start of a much-needed step up to middle school and greater independence. You were a shtetl innkeeper, a king of the lions, and a crime boss in love. You’ve kept up with guitar and still enjoy being a Guy in a Tie and a Treble Singer. You had seven full weeks at camp, and your camp friends are becoming more important to you. You traveled to  NYC multiple times this year, and to Little Rock, and to Cleveland with just Hannah by your side.

You talk endlessly, and despite having straight A’s, two of your teachers actually noted your talking habit on your report card. You are still the best hugger I know, and always seem to know when I need one (you may think those hugs are mostly for you, but I know better). You binge watch “Glee” and far too much YouTube. You grew your hair long, and then too long, and ended the year with something in between. Your Chai necklace brings you luck. Middle school has given you a whole new crop of friends, but your sister is still your favorite person to harmonize with, and Shira is your favorite dog to impersonate.

Over the next year, we’ll prep for your bar mitzvah and continue to watch you on stage. I think you’ll soon have a social calendar that rivals Hannah’s (Lord help us). Whatever challenges the next year brings, I know you’re going to be served well by your easy-going personality and (often sarcastic) sense of humor about it all. Happy birthday, my buddy - I love you very much. 

(You can also see letters for ages three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven.)