Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

You’re Gonna Make It After All…

In Essays on January 25, 2017 at 3:51 pm

By Ty Mattson.jpgHave you ever have had a Mary-Tyler-Moore-hat-tossing-“you’re gonna make it after all” moment?

If so, please describe it to me in a short email ( and I’ll include it in a compilation I’m pulling together. To kick us off, see the first few contributions below.

Meanwhile, listen to the song, and weep happy tears.

Illustration by Ty Mattson.

It was 1992. I was 23 years old. I had moved from San Diego to New York City a few months before. The day was bright and cold, particularly to this California girl. I had just secured a job after months of searching and had made a few friends. I was crossing a busy street—all these years later I don’t remember which street. Maybe Park Avenue and something in the 60s. I lived on 67th Street on the East Side. I felt particularly buoyant and hopeful about the future. I was giggling with my new co-worker and friend about who knows what. I stopped in the middle of the street, cabs flying by, people giving me dirty looks, tossed my knit cap into the air and cried out, “I’m gonna make it after all!” That part I remember like it was yesterday.

Trish Bittman

My hat-tossing moment came when I was 24. It was May, I was finishing grad school, living on $500 a month, almost out of savings, no job in sight.  I had been trying for three years to land my dream job as a foreign service officer—a goal I had set when I was 16. The phone rang and the voice on the other end of the line told me I had been selected for the next FSO class, starting in June, and where should they send my hiring paperwork?  I managed to stay professional until I hung up the phone, and then I just screamed for about a minute straight. For the next hour I sat in front of a sunny window and basked in the feeling that I had made it, and everything was going to be all right after all.

Suzanne Veta

Just an Event Planner

In Essays on January 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

By Simone Grace Seol

grace-simoneThe most infuriating insult of my life came when a college friend told me, while my friends were anxiously discussing our futures, “I could see you becoming an event planner. You’re so good with parties.”

Event planner? Are you freaking kidding me? Do you even know me? This “friend” always patronized me a bit, perceiving that I was a spoiled ditz from a wealthy family. Looking back, I believe she thought most people without avowed communist sympathies were silver-spoon-fed space cadets. For most of my life, my father had been an assistant professor of education at a middling university in South Korea. I never wanted for anything, but trust me: that does not translate to a Paris Hilton childhood.

Telling this story makes me angry even now — an event planner? 

I’m sure I’ve been called worse. But this ‘insult’ cuts the deepest because it pokes at a really essential fear that I’ve always had about myself — that I must always mask large parts of myself to be understood. I always felt that I was too internally contradictory, almost schizophrenic, to be truly appreciated as a whole by most people.

You see, I have always been loud and gregarious. Warm, open and a bit exhibitionistic, I am in fact the life of every party, the one most likely to do something fun and embarrassing while drunk. In a way, this friend could have been excused for her suggestion. At the same time, for most of my young life, I was an excessively serious kid. In my teenage years, I was thoroughly convinced that I was being called to a religious vocation. I fought with my parents who said they didn’t bring me “all the way to America” to become “just a nun.” Plato’s Republic and the Catechism of the Catholic Church were my best companions in high school.

During the same years, I had also prepared an art portfolio in case I wanted to go to art school. Once, I asked my art teacher pensively: “what do you think is the definition of beauty?” She laughed at me and told me to keep shading. After my parents vetoed Catholic universities and art schools, I went to Wellesley College and majored in Religion, as a compromise. Once I was there, I tried hard to hide the earnestly seeking aspect of me. I wanted the aloof, cool kids who knew about hipster bands to like me.

Graduating from college and moving to New York, I had zero clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that it wasn’t an event planner. I was going to save the world, you see. Incidentally, being a religion major turned me into an atheist and I discovered I quite liked having a sex life, so being a nun was now out of the question. But I never stopped probing at the Deepest Questions. I wanted to stop everyone on the street, shake them and ask, “Who created us and what happens after death? What does it mean to have a moral life? What is meaning, and where do you find yours?”

Let me see if I can track all the jobs such a person can fall into. I was determined to live a secular humanist version of sainthood, of course, so I started as a lowly associate at what turned out to be a fantastically dysfunctional battered women’s shelter. The last straw was when a board member drunkenly accused the Executive Director of having a lesbian affair with an intern (she was). I quietly emailed out my resume and moved onto doing research at a healthcare start-up. There, I realized working in public health — figuring out how to help more sick people get un-sick — was a way to engage with the damning physicality of our earthly existence while also striving toward a kind of moral transcendence. I wrote my application statement to Columbia University about how I thought public health and liberation theology were essentially the same thing (la lucha continua!), and earned my master’s in health policy there. I ended up an epidemiology researcher. Subject of my research? Substance abuse, because what better to study than my own condition? (Jesus turned water into wine, you know.)

Population-level health research started to slip from my gaze; movement from the excavation of scientific truth to shaping good health policy was excruciatingly slow, and patience has never been one of my virtues. My spiritual orientation had me asking what else was out there, and I turned toward more holistic and personal forms of health promotion. I found a hypnosis teacher on the Lower East Side. She used to be a punk rock singer, she cursed like a sailor, and her book came with a glowing recommendation from a Columbia psychiatry professor. I became a believer in the power of tapping into the unconscious mind, trained with her, and got certified in clinical hypnosis. It was the most fun I’ve ever had doing something for money; people quit smoking, snapped out of months of depression, and re-discovered a sense of purpose in my Midtown office. But, as a private practice hypnotist, I got flustered trying to run my own business. It all became overwhelming fast. When my quarter-life crisis coincided with a painful divorce, I ran away to Korea.

Once in Seoul, I sat crying on my parents’ couch for about three whole months. Once I picked myself back up, I somehow landed a job as a news writer in English radio. They were desperate after one writer left unexpectedly; I showed up and didn’t disappoint with my test writing. In addition to Korean politicians and intellectuals, I interviewed an Olympic medalist, Michael Bolton, the Finnish president, the PEN International President, and most memorably, the daughter of Che Guevara, who praised North Korea as a “good friend of the Cuban people.” That was awkward.

I thrived in the fast-moving pace of the broadcast media world. I was energized by the challenge of having to attain at least a basic level of fluency across many different fields. I loved coming up with smart interview questions that elicited thoughtful, interested responses from interviewees. Let me be honest, it was also such a high to be able to say, “Oh, I work in radio.” I was having such a good time that I felt, if I didn’t force myself to go back to New York, I would stay in Korea forever and I would never have another boyfriend because it seemed like divorced, tattooed women were total damaged goods there. So I packed up and moved back to New York without a plan.

It turned out that all of my time working in academic public health had made me an excellent grant writer, and that skill was in demand. I worked on behalf of a great health advocacy non-profit in Brooklyn, where I blew their ROI out of the water by winning brand new federal and private funding in the six figures. But if you’re detecting a theme, you might begin to guess that that didn’t last long. I fell in love again, you see! I moved to Europe with a new boyfriend who I thought would make me a modern day Gertrude Stein. Instead, his constant criticism and the total, disorienting newness of my surroundings made me only an anxious Hausfrau. You win some, you lose some; the relationship didn’t work out, but while I was there, in the vacuum of a real job I became semi-conversant in German, met new soul sisters, and started an intensive course of self-study in computer programming. I styled myself a freelance web designer, and helped a number of friends and NGOs look spiffy online.

Am I done yet? Almost. Now I am back in Seoul, where I took over operations and marketing for my parents’ business, teach hypnosis classes, write and make feminist art. I hired a coach who specializes in adult ADHD, and she helps me achieve emotional balance and functional constancy. I recently started writing a column with a literary journal, and I’ve been asked to contribute my illustrations to a children’s book as well as an indie clothing label.

About to turn 31, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve lived through many of my greatest fears (a failed marriage! losing your entire support system! moving across the Atlantic for your love, only to have him call you fat!), found that I am not only fine but emerged from the other side with a whole treasure chest of stories and hard-won wisdom. All of my life’s ups and downs have given me oceanic reservoirs of empathy for my fellow humans; there’s probably no mistake of yours that I haven’t personally made or could very well envision myself making. I also earned a measure of insight about the precariousness of our loves, triumphs, losses, and tragedies. I have to believe that they make me a better writer, artist, and citizen of the world.

I used to fixate on the question of what to be “when I grow up.” You might be wondering how a girl like this could ever work toward becoming one thing and stay with it. Interestingly, more than ever, I believe in the importance of pursuing a long-term vision, and realize that I’ve been doing it backwards. Yes, long-term visions are important, but they don’t consist of specific job descriptions or external signifiers of success — all fleeting things — but of emotional qualities and spiritual significance. I meditate, and my vision comes to me in little flashes and whispers; sometimes, in a dream, it comes in panoramic full color. Through story and art, I want to create the connections between people, ideas and institutions that can dissolve oppression, both in society and in the privacy of our own hearts, where the greatest storms rage.

It’s a mouthful, but I might actually start saying that at cocktail parties: “I make stories and art that dissolve oppression.” Everything I’ve ever done — writing news stories and grants, inducing hypnosis, and drawing — is an expression of that same desire to narrate and connect. When we tell other people true stories of what we see and how we see it, we can go a long way towards healing and thriving.

My communist friend may have been right; I have, in fact, become a kind of an event planner, striving toward this vision, event after event, until I reach my final event — death. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning, they say. There is a finite number of unglamorous things to do on a given day to move ourselves forward: clean house, sit through meetings, submit portfolio, pay bill, take out garbage, talk to people. Occasionally, if you’re me, pick yourself up from the bathroom floor and splash cold water on a tear-soaked and snot-smeared face. I try to do each of them reverently, like a Buddhist monk whose devotional practice consists of sweeping the fallen leaves off of the temple grounds. That is the work of our lives.

Simone Grace is a Seoul-based writer. She will, one day, move back to the States to live on a Texan ranch, hunting and dressing her own meat. Her art can be found on

Image credit: drawing by Simone Grace.

After a long hiatus, the essays are back! With any luck, I will publish twelve new pieces this year—one a month. To submit a draft, please email me at  

—Kate Gace Walton, Editor of Work Stew

New Essays Coming Soon

In Essays on January 12, 2017 at 8:13 am

oh3292p69-frozen-stew-xThe Stew has been in the freezer for quite some time: it’s been about a year since I published a new essay on this site.

But that’s about to change! Recently, someone approached me with an essay in mind. My life is still as complicated as ever, but I think I can edit and publish a new piece every 4-5 weeks, so that’s my plan for this year: 12 new essays, one a month.

The January slot is already taken, but if you’d like to write for February or March, please let me know:

For additional info on submitting a draft essay to Work Stew, check out the FAQ.

A Platform-In-Progress

In Essays on December 10, 2016 at 3:30 pm

By Kate Gace Walton

As I think through how exactly to plug into the Rebel Alliance (yep, quiet as I’ve been since the election, I’m still preoccupied with that question), I want to firm up my “platform.” I think doing so will help steer me in the right direction. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

1. I want to fight hate and injustice. More specifically: I believe that Love is Love, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights are human rights, and immigrants are a big part of what makes America great.

2. I want to fight science-free, fact-free policy decisions. Climate change is real, and we should feel enormous urgency about addressing environmental concerns.

3. Socially/economically, I believe in a hybrid model:

  • The world of business should be like the (idealized) world of sports. There should be clear rules, a spirit of sportsmanship (i.e. strong ethics), intense competition–and winners and losers. In the private sector, I see (and embrace) the strengths of capitalism, where only the fittest survive.
  • Society more broadly should not be so Darwinian. Life is fundamentally unfair…society remains unfair in many, many ways…and we are a wealthy country working to build a more perfect union. Therefore, we should strive: 1) to create as level a playing field as possible and 2) to take good care of each other, at least at some basic level. In this spirit, I believe the following services should be nationalized/public:
    a. Healthcare
    b. Daycare (children and elderly)
    c. Education
    d. Infrastructure/transportation (i.e. more people should be able to get to work without needing a car)
    e. Defense/policing/detention (i.e. prisons should not be private)

More to come over time but if I run for office one day (vaguely thinking about it…), feel free to hold me to it.

What are your ideas? Whether you are thinking of becoming more personally involved in politics/policy or not, what’s your platform?

To weigh in, look for this same post on Facebook and comment thereor scroll to the bottom of this post, click on the red “Comment” button, and share your thoughts there.

“So…how WAS it?”

In Essays on January 3, 2016 at 2:44 pm

By Kate Gace Walton

Kate Chilling OutI left Facebook for a few weeks in December. I was tired from a hard year, and I wanted a stretch of relative emptiness in which to regroup. Since returning yesterday, I’ve been asked a few times: “So…how WAS it?” As if I had ventured into the wilderness and tried to survive on insects.

I get it, though. For many of us, Facebook has become, for better or for worse, something of an anchoring force: we check it religiously, we post often, and, if one of our regulars is MIA, we start to wonder what’s wrong.

So, on the off chance my field notes prove helpful to others considering a similar hiatus, here are my observations from the experience:

Things that are hard to dolike writing a bookremain hard, even in the absence of social media distractions. It’s tempting to think you might produce something really good if you just got off Facebook, and you mightbut nothing about it will be easy.

What will be easy? Flossing! And personal grooming more generally. My dentist was dead wrong when he chided, “Everyone has time to floss.” But he was kind of right if he meant “Everyone who’s not on Facebook.” In that case, there’s heaps of time! Not only did I floss: I brushed my tongue. I massaged my gums. I gargled. (Basically, my mouth was like, “Who ARE you???”)

And, yes, my mind was quieter. With fewer lives to glimpse, and fewer perspectives to consider, it was definitely easier to be more present in my own life. I listened, spellbound with my husband and children, to three Harry Potter books. I walked in snowy woods and heard the silence. I talked with friends and family about the things I don’t discuss on Facebook, largely because they aren’t mine alone to share.

But my mind was also emptier. I was reading books and watching movies, but, news-and-ideas junkie that I am, I really missed my Facebook “newspaper”: the ten or so articles I read from my feed every morning and would otherwise fail to find. I live on an island. Not a metaphorical islandan actual island. Without far-flung friends of all sorts pushing the pieces that matter to them, it would be easy to lose sight of the sheer diversity, both heartening and horrible, of human experience.

In short, I’m glad to be back. This year, I plan to walk in silence for a while every day. I’ve also resolved to multitask less, giving people, books, and movies more of my undivided attention. And of course I hope to keep flossing. But Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn will remain a part of my day. For me, they work.

Gratitude for Being Fired and the Five Practices that Helped Me Get There

In Essays on November 1, 2015 at 2:38 pm

By Jen Wewers
JWewers professional smallAt the beginning of this year, I was invited to raise money and awareness for communities I’m passionate about—those who are homeless, folks with mental illness, good people struggling to make ends meet who need quality health care, and students, lots of students. Perfect fit.

I’ve worked at incredible organizations both in Kansas City and NYC, but this one—well, it was and is special. I met staff members doing life saving work on small budgets, chaplains who reminded me why tending to the spiritual life is so essential for health, and when I would walk around this nonprofit, the beautiful diversity of Kansas City was all in one place.

I’m writing all this to make a point. I entered this job with an incredible commitment to the mission and an excitement to help this organization thrive.

And then? At the end of my three-month probation period, I was fired. Now, I can’t share details for obvious reasons. But I can share how I felt. Misunderstood. Betrayed. Angry. Confused. Shocked. Sad. Incredibly sad.

For those who know me personally or have read my personal blog, you know I have experienced a lot of loss over the past few years. Grief has been riding shotgun with me since 2011.

Being fired was just another experience of the ground underneath me giving way. Yet another loss. In a sense it was another life of possibility that left me too soon. And I didn’t know what to do. What could I do? Well, as with most transformational experiences, the answer is not in the doing but rather in the being.

Here are five things that helped me. They continue to be essential in maintaining where I am today – loving my life even if it is less financially stable than the one I had before.

I hope they help you too.

  1. Take some time off. No, I didn’t have the money to do this. I’m a single mom without much of a net, but I needed some time to process the experience. I needed to own what was mine in the firing and let go of the vast majority of it that wasn’t. Doing that takes time.

2. Call in your troops.The troops of support and honesty. The colleagues who worked with you for years. Talk to previous supervisors you respect—those who know you and know the quality of your work. Let them be a mirror and reflect back to you who you really are when it’s hard for you to see it. Their vision and experience of you can be an anchor during this time.

3. After giving yourself some breathing room, either pull yourself up by your bootstraps and/or put on your big girl or boy panties and do some honest reflection. Abrupt experiences like this are a gift in that they have the potential to wake us up (not to say I didn’t take a lot of naps during those first weeks…I did). But in that liminal space of being betwixt and between, it’s a good time to ask questions and be open to unexpected answers.

4. As a culture, we support a process of being fired or laid off that is dehumanizing. One week you are being heralded for all the great skills you bring to bear, and then suddenly you can feel a target on your back. It may not have shifted that quickly for you, but sometimes it does. So during the process, try to remember: you are more than a job. Go look at photos of you at a time when you felt the most alive—those times when you were open to life and life seemed open to you. Remember what that felt like. Feel it. Is there one small thing you could do to bring that feeling into the present moment? Write a poem, run a 5K, visit a museum, play in a toy store, take a long walk, finger paint, watch a movie that makes you cry from laughing, go sky diving, etc. If so, do it. Now.

5. Separate who you are and what you are called to do from making money. As a Catholic school kid for 12 years, I was encouraged to discern my vocation. I was told I had a calling, special gifts I had been given to share with the world. I just turned 47 and am finally letting go of the idea that who I am called to be may not be how I make the money that pays for me to live on this earth. My values need to be in alignment but they are not necessarily one and the same. I’m not going to lie: I am a bit embarrassed to admit this fact, but here I was living in middle age with the vocational construct of an eight-year-old girl. This has been the most liberating part of both being fired and then allowing that experience to inform my next steps.

I know it’s hard. Trust me. I know. You aren’t alone. Hang in there. I hold all of you who are on this path with me in my heart. One final suggestion: get a mantra you can repeat to yourself whenever you need to remember to slow down, breathe and remember who you are. Here is mine…feel free to use it.

“All shall be well.
All shall be well.
All manner of things shall be well.”
— Julian of Norwich, 14th century Christian mystic

Jen Wewers, M.Div., is a writer and nonprofit fundraising consultant. Based in Kansas City, she can be contacted via LinkedIn and her website,

Why Have You Stayed? Part 2…

In Essays on November 16, 2014 at 9:16 am

Note from Work Stew Editor Kate Gace Walton: Over on Facebook, I recently posted this message: “I’ve talked to many job changers. Now I’m on the lookout for people who have stayed with one employer for a long, long time. Anyone?” 

I heard from quite a few people, and over the coming weeks, I plan to share parts of what they had to say. First up was Priscilla Emerling who has worked at a Vermont resort for more than two decades. Next up is Bill Watts, an engineer based where I’m based: on Bainbridge Island, a thirty-five minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle.

Engineer Bill Watts on why he picked one employerand then stayed: 

Ferry_Wenatchee_enroute_to_Bainbridge_Island_WAMy wife and I pre-emptively moved to Bainbridge Island in May 1984 (I at age 30 and my wife at age 37) for lifestyle reasons, without a job yet in hand. We had two daughters, a toddler and newborn, as well as a horse. As a ship design engineer, I needed to live with convenient access to multiple marine engineering firms. After one year at a great naval architect firm in Seattle, they ran too low on work and I was laid off.  A month later, in September 1985 I got a job with a small firm (DLI Engineering, 16 employees) in Winslow, two miles from home. Although the type of engineering was generally different than my expertise to date, the situation and location of the job were enticing. I began at that time and am still there 29 years later. At that time, there was no long-term professional plan. Consider three important factors:

  1. I am a man of convenience and place a very high priority on a minimal commute.
  2. I enjoy small companies with a casual, independent atmosphere.
  3. I recognize the importance of having an integrated work/home lifestyle.

It became increasingly apparent that Bainbridge Island is a wonderful place to live and that the company was an interesting and somewhat enjoyable place to work. I never entertained thoughts of leaving. In the past several years, we have developed a family compound on the Island which presently includes one daughter with her husband and our three grandkids. The other daughter lives nearby in Seattle and may move back to the Island with her husband. Thus there is no reason to move elsewhere. The job has developed to the point where I basically do what I want, when I want, how I want, and where I want. In other words, there is great job security and flexibility. Being successful in a small company for many years tends to provide such flexibility. Although I could retire now, this job will continue as long as it is somewhat interesting and enjoyable. Some people tend to purse jobs with maximum income, or they maneuver themselves into different professional positions. They will move to less desirable geographical locations in order to “move up” or get a modest increase in salary. I advise people to live where they want to live, and let the job take care of itself.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Should I Write for Free?

In Essays on November 2, 2014 at 11:23 am

By Kate Gace Walton

KateGaceWaltonIn part because I just published my third piece on The Huffington Post (a media outlet that does not pay contributing bloggers), I’ve been asked several times in the last few days, “Should I write for free?”

It’s a difficult question to answer. The proliferation of people writing for free in recent decades (by self publishing fee-free content or contributing work to non-paying sites) has definitely made it harder for those who write for a living to get by. For a glimpse into that reality, read this piece by Deboarah Copaken, a bestselling, Emmy-award winning author and Harvard grad: “How I Got Rejected From a Job at The Container Store.

The fact that it’s becoming harder for professional writers and editors to sustain themselves is truly troubling. Investigative reporters, documentarians, commentators, essayists, storytellers, and the editors who help shape and polish their work perform vital functions—as watchdogs, teachers, and entertainers. I know there’s a long list of great artists with “day jobs,” but as someone who writes and edits after hard days in an office, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say: on average, the work will suffer if more and more of our creative class have to burn the midnight oil.

For this reason, essays like Tim Kreider’s “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” (essentially, an injunction to writers to stop working for free) land a powerful punch. So powerful in fact that I’ve pretty much stopped asking people who write for a living if they will write for Work Stew, since I, too, don’t pay contributing essayists. (So far, this hasn’t been especially controversial, because I don’t make any money from Work Stew—and long ago I promised that, if the site happens to yield any sort of monetary payoff down the line, I would share this hypothetical bounty with participating writers.)

Arianna Huffington, on the other hand, does make money—lots of it. So why am I, and many others, willing to work for her without getting paid? I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s where I personally come out on this: I don’t write for a living. By day, I work in an office, managing a growing business. It’s fulfilling work: we connect talented people to interesting jobs, I earn a good salary, and I love my colleagues. What it isn’t, however—and what few business jobs ever are—is a channel for philosophizing and self-expression. For that, like most people, I wait until I’m off the clock. That’s where Work Stew comes in: it’s a chance for me to muse, openly and honestly, about the big picture: what are we doing with our lives? What, as individuals and as a society, should we consider doing differently? Or, on a lighter note: what happened today that was funny?

Having some part of every day go to these sorts of exchanges helps me immeasurably: it reminds me, even as I toil in the crucible that is corporate America, that work is not everything, and that I am not my role. In short, it keeps me sane. Most of what I’ve written, I’ve published on Work Stew; the small but engaged community here is more than enough to satisfy my late-night need for kindred spirits. But on the rare occasion when I’ve written about something other than work (being a mom, for example), Work Stew hasn’t seemed like the right place for the piece.

When I started Work Stew, I made it clear (I hope) that it wasn’t a site exclusively for working moms, or even for parents more generally. I’m both highly irritated and bored stiff by the “Mommy Wars.” One reason I’m so interested in the topic of work in the first place is because it’s universal: as I’ve said before, almost everyone has to make a living, and even those few who don’t, still need to make a life. I’ve always wanted Work Stew to have every sort of voice. As I wrote in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions): ideally, in time the “stew” will include pieces by “men and women of all ages, doing all kinds of jobs, in all parts of the world. Some will be parents; some will not. Some will be in relationships; some will not. The broader the collection, the more likely that someone looking for a piece that resonates will find what they’re seeking.”

In my view, this mission means taking my personal parenting musings elsewhere. So, why The Huffington Post?  That’s simple: a) with their user-friendly interface for submissions, they make it easy and b) they have a ton of traffic. As someone who writes and submits in the wee hours of the night, I don’t have a lot of time to try multiple media outlets. And what I chiefly want, since my paycheck comes from elsewhere, is to connect with readers. The Huffington Post has done that for me; it’s enriched my writing life, and it’s been fun. And, yes: I’ll probably keep doing it.

But what about you…should you write for free? It depends, I think, on your answers to two questions: 1) Can you, meaning can you afford to? and 2) what do you want, meaning what do you hope to achieve from it? If, like me, all you hope to achieve is the mental clarity that comes from writing, and the connection that comes from sharing your work, then go for it. If, on the other hand, you’re hoping that the “exposure” will catapult you to literary fame and eventual riches, think hard. Writing for free might give your writing career a boost, but as so many people have documented, it’s a rocky road, destined it seems only to get rockier.

Note: In some of the discussions about this piece (on Facebook and Twitter), I’ve raised another point I often think about which is this: does my occasionally writing for free help degrade the market for professional writers? I’ll admit that question nags at me, but so does the question that logically follows, i.e. if occasionally writing for free does help ruin the market for professionals, what does that mean? That people who do not make a living by writing should refrain from expressing themselves all together? That seems pretty problematic, too. So, yes, this is a thorny issue, and I don’t have all the answers. Comments, critiques, and discussion are all very welcome.


Why Have You Stayed? Part 1…

In Essays on October 21, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Note from Work Stew Editor Kate Gace Walton: Over on Facebook, I recently posted this message: “I’ve talked to many job changers. Now I’m on the lookout for people who have stayed with one employer for a long, long time. Anyone?”

I heard from quite a few people, and over the coming weeks, I plan to share the brief Q&A exchange I had with each of them. First up: Priscilla Emerling who has worked at Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch resort for more than two decades. 

PRISCILLA1. When you first joined the company you’re with now, how long did you intend to stay? 

Initially, I only planned to stay for a winter. I had just moved to Burlington, Vermont from Washington DC and was having trouble finding a job. At that point in my life, I had great plans to save the world working with troubled teens, but found it difficult to get my foot in anywhere, especially without a Masters. A friend was headed out to Smugglers’ to apply for a job, and I decided to tag along. I applied on a whim. I thought it would be fun to be a ski bum for a season. Little did I know that, 23 years later, I’d still be here!

 2. Why have you stayed as long as you have?

Laziness? I think a lot of it has to do with the atmosphere, especially early on. There’s nothing like working at a resort: you get to work, play, and live in a place where people spend oodles of money to spend their hard-earned vacation/family time. In a word, it’s fun! Plus, I was learning so much. Because line-level resort jobs are seasonal, you needed to be willing to do whatever is needed to stay employed during the slower shoulder seasons. For me, this meant brush cutting ski trails, painting facilities, building bridges on the cross-country trails, acid-washing pools, waxing slides… For a girl who didn’t know the difference between a wrench and pliers, these were all huge accomplishments. The other important factor is the people. There’s a longevity epidemic at Smugglers’ and the people you work with are more than just co-workers—the company as a whole is much like a large, dysfunctional family. We fight, we tease, we nag—but give us a crisis to get behind, or (god forbid) someone say something negative about us, watch out because we’re a force to behold. There’s one thing we all have in common: we love the mountain. It’s not just a job or a resort, it’s a family.

3. Was there ever a point where you considered leaving? Making a change? If so why? What made you decide to stay instead?

Many times. Mainly because I didn’t want to get stuck in the same job for 20 years and not be able to find another one. You can see how well that turned out. One of the downsides of working at a resort is that you’re asked to do many things outside what would be considered a normal job description. Jack of all trades, master of none. It’s difficult to figure out where you fit in the real world—or if you’d fit at all.  On paper, I’m the art director/graphic designer at a year-round resort…but that just doesn’t translate as well as it would if it were the same position but at an advertising agency, or a magazine—even though I direct our ad agency and produce a magazine. There are a lot of little things that keep me here, beyond not being able to (half-heartedly) find another job: flexibility being the most important. As long as I get my job done, I can work from anywhere. I can come and go as I please. For me, this has become more and more important with my father passing away and my mother getting older. Frankly, I’ve come to realize that working here for as long as I have has turned me into a spoiled brat. I work hard, and for the most part under the radar—but at the same time I have no filter. I will give you my opinion regardless of your position and apparently missed that day in school when they taught business correctness and how to suck up.

4. Why do you think changing jobs is so common? What are other people seeking that you have perhaps already found?

I think most people are more ambitious than I am. Plus, for the most part, my quality of life and where I live was much more important to me than making the big bucks. Ive never been one of those people who always had to trade in and up—I’m quite content and comfortable with what I have. THAT or it’s because I don’t like change. My father spent his entire career with J. Walter Thompson, so I suppose there’s something to be said for doing what you know.

5. Is there something, anything, that could—at least hypothetically—lure you elsewhere? If so, what is it?


Q&A with a Career Coach (Willing to Share Her Methods!)

In Essays on October 1, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Brief note from Work Stew editor Kate Gace Walton: For the most part, I post essays and podcast  interviews, but I’ve also published a couple Q&A-style pieces: Christine de Brabander’s thoughts on business travel and Leland Dirk’s take on living off the grid. The Q&A format, in which I lob a few questions at an unsuspecting reader, turns out to be a good way to capture at least a slice of someone’s story—without asking them to do all the heavy lifting that an essay entails. For this piece, I turned the tables on career coach Marcy Porus-Gottleib: typically, Marcy likes to be the one asking people why they do what they do, but here she tackled that question herself.


marcyporusgottlieb1. You’re a career coach. How did you find your way to that role?

It has been quite a journey! I’ve had a variety of work experiences: during high school and college summers, I was in fast food—ice cream scooper at Baskin-Robbins and drive-thru queen at Burger King. And I learned a lot: how to wow customers, solve problems, and be pleasant at the same time! After graduating, I worked for ten years in the retail industry (people manager, buyer, product developer), spent another seven as the VP of People and Operations at an outdoor travel company, and another few as the Director of Alumni Relations at the Haas School at UC Berkeley. For the last ten years, I’ve focused on career coaching—helping clients to identify their passions, define themselves, and move toward meaningful work. My own career path is a crooked one, to say the least! But there’s a unifying theme: all the work I’ve done has centered on helping people get or do what they desire. I like to say that I see people so that they can see themselves—and I’m honored to do it!

2. If you could go back in time and counsel your younger self at various junctures (maybe graduating from college or when you were poised to make a change), what would you advise?

This is what I’d say: “Relax. Clear away the critical voices of your parents or society. Set aside the “shoulds” and just listen to what comes up for you. Trust yourself. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished thus far. Look inside: what do you care about, what are you uniquely good at, and what do you feel good doing? Then move toward that.”

Here’s the truth: we show ourselves to ourselves at a pretty young age. A few years back, I was going through old journals from my teens and twenties. I talked a lot about what I thought I might be interested in and how I might want to shape my career. Sure enough, I saw words that describe elements of exactly what I’m doing now!

3. Is there any one thing that you find yourself saying to almost all your clients, i.e. is there some “nugget” you’ve hit upon that seems to help in almost every instance?

The question many of my clients—no matter who they are or how much experience they have—commonly need to answer is this: how do I know what my best and most energizing skills are, the ones I want to use going forward? (The thought is that if you can identify your distinct strengths, then you can move toward work that employs those strengths.) One way I guide clients toward these answers is to ask them to identify moments in their personal or professional lives when they were feeling really on their game—when they felt proud of, and energized by, what they did (this could be anything from “planned out and tiled my bathroom shower” to “project managed a gnarly job, on-time and on-budget” to “wrote a novel”).

Now, let’s shoot back to 4th grade math—remember factoring? When you took 24 and broke it down as 6X4 (or 8X3), and then as 2X3X2X2? In order to really hit on what you have to offer, you gotta break it down. So you liked the way you managed that tough assignment—but let’s look deeper. What specific tasks did that involve? How did you handle, motivate, and communicate with the team? Juggle the timeline? Troubleshoot problems? Report to stakeholders? Manage the budget? After breaking it down, the task is to identify what parts you loved, what parts you hated, what parts came to you easily, and which were like slogging through mud. It’s this process—examining the “factors” of different experiences—that create clarity and pave the way to fulfilling work.

And the second nugget? To some it’s obvious, to others less so: I tell clients to sniff out the work that sits where their talents and passions intersect with a genuine need. That’s the sweet spot, and once there, it feels really good.

4. Can you describe a moment in your coaching work that served to reinforce your sense that career development is the right fit for you?

That moment happens every time I see a light go on in a client’s eyes—when they discover what makes them tick or they reconnect with their values. It sends a chill right up my spine.

Having been completely lost myself at different times in my career, I used to think I’d be the absolute WRONG person to be doing what I do. Now I feel that having had to find my own way is a big part of why I can help others.

5. If you weren’t focused on career development, what would you be doing? Is there any other path that you could envision for yourself? 

If I weren’t doing what I do, I’d love to be a professional interviewer. I used to pine for Katie Couric’s Today Show job. I’m crazy about asking questions, poking around in someone’s head to find out why they think or feel or act the way they do. And I’m very direct, so I’d love to lob the hardball–or curveball—questions and see what ensues!

Otherwise, I’d run a bakery/coffee spot in a small town. Next door would be a small but extremely well-curated bookstore. That would be my husband’s domain.

Marcy Porus-Gottlieb is a professional coach and a consultant on career transitions and development. Based in Seattle, she can be contacted via LinkedIn and Facebook.

Would you be interested in fielding some questions about your work life? If so, please email me ( or drop me a message via Facebook. Other Work Stew contributors have found it helpful to capture their thoughts in writing—and the final decision on whether or not to publish will always rest with you. 






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