March 2003

Volume IX  Number 1   

New Beginnings and Both Sides Now


As I write this newsletter, we are beginning a new season.  Last weekend, it was warm enough to eat lunch outside, but there was still some snow in the yard -- and no buds.  This week, the snow is gone, and crocuses are in evidence.  That is the kind of climate change that we who live in the Metropolitan New York area expect and enjoy.  Our four seasons are predictable, different -- and each has its own positive cultural markers.  For example, March is St. Patrick’s Day and the Academy Awards; April brings the first flowers, Easter, Passover; and May is graduations and the long Memorial Day weekend.  Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from my friends at Restaurant Associates letting me know that soft shell crabs had arrived -- good news indeed!


Yet we have had continuing national struggles.   This has been a “winter of discontent,” as John Steinbeck titled his last novel. The employment market, mirroring our economy and the stock market, has been the most difficult in the over twenty-two years I have been a career counselor.  Our clients at G&S are having to redouble their efforts, and some have accepted positions very different from their last.


The transition process may be seen as going from a known “solid” place to another solid place, which then becomes a known. The time in between, which some have likened to being on a high wire or a trapeze, has gotten longer for most of our clients.  That is, for the most part, not a good thing -- for them, for their families, and for those of us who are with them emotionally.


Perhaps the core challenge of being any kind of counselor or coach is to be emotionally and intellectually there for a number of people who are experiencing some degree of discomfort, some challenge of being in that zone between the knowns.  One of the good things about getting older is the sense of the perspective it gives.


As a parent, one learns to accept differences as children grow and mature and sometimes change, to appreciate and share values or opinions. 


That need to understand and appreciate differences came to me on two occasions in the past week.  On St. Patrick’s Day, I walked through the NYFD contingent about to go up Fifth Avenue. I was reminded of 9-11 and of how many of them had lost friends, yet here they were, American flags on their uniforms, clearly having a good time.


Later in the week I passed through Union Square and the anti-war march of thousands en route downtown. They were carrying placards and ban- ners, denouncing the war.  Many were young, but a good number were my age and looked like they had emerged with the same clothing and hairstyles (albeit greyer) of the Vietnam era. I was moved by their dedication and commitment as well.


One of my mentors, the late Hy Weiner, who taught at Columbia for years and hired me when he was Dean at NYU, once told me that Americans should learn one thing from the Romans: There are many roads to Rome.  This week has given me new wisdom in that regard, which I hope will help me to help those on the transition trapeze.


Have a happy and hopeful Spring! 




Keep the Faith


The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, where I received my Masters degree in 1970, asked me to be the keynote speaker at an annual networking event for this year’s graduates and alumni.  They expected 80 people -- and 130 showed up. My contact, the Director of Alumni Affairs, commented that the graduates are apprehensive about budget cuts, low hiring rates, and even depressed salaries.


1970 was a very different time, I told the grad- uates, but there certainly are some similarities.  Penn’s orientation to prepare students to help both individuals and organizations change, which sets it apart from the more Freudian approach  of other schools, remains a commitment today -- and the Penn degree commands high marketplace recog- nition.  The School focuses on the health of indi-viduals and organizations, not on the dys-functional, and uses strength to leverage change. 


Finally, I reminded the audience that the University was founded by Benjamin Franklin, a man who never received any formal education and who had arrived penniless in Philadelphia in his teens.  Franklin had a vision of a better life and a better way, a vision that he contributed to the Declaration of Independence. 


All of us who help people or who raise children must, at times, lend a vision. We believe in the pursuit of happiness, that uniquely American idea; that includes happiness in the work we choose.  



The Last National Bank


A newly-employed client took me to lunch at a Wall Street restaurant that has a wine cellar in an old bank vault. It reminded me of a classic story. I was in Hartford with a colleague, where we dined at a restaurant called The Last National Bank. My colleague, Phyllis, gave the waiter, who had just received his M.B.A., some motherly career advice and her card.

Three months later, the waiter arrived at Phyllis’s office unannounced. Phyllis was not there, so the receptionist asked another colleague to see him.  Thinking he was a banker, Ted met with him, liked him, and set him up with former colleagues in two banks.  This proved to be the networking contact to land an offer.  You never know!



Books I’d Recommend


The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, Boston, Little Brown, 2002, $14.95 paper.


I had heard of this when looking for something to review; the Barnes and Noble clerk was most enthusiastic, calling it “an easy and fun read.”


Gladwell had written a New Yorker article that he expanded to what has become a bestseller.  He takes the theories of epidemiology and applies them aptly to different situations where change occurs.  There are three characteristics -- one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment. The third trait is the most important -- and is the Tipping Point. 


Connecting such things as the rise of Hush Puppy shoe sales to young hip in the East Village and West Hollywood and the decline in crime in the New York subways, the author moves fast and with obvious enjoyment. 


“But if there is difficulty and volatility in the world of the Tipping Point, there is a large measure of hopefulness as well.  Merely by manipulating the size of a group, we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas.  By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics.  In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action.  Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push -- in just the right place -- it can be tipped.”