What’s just outside of your umbrella?

When the interviewer asked if I’d ever dealt with union officials, it seemed best to admit: “That will be a learning area for me.” Was it ever! I privately thought of one key person as a well-known figure in the French revolution and dreaded antagonizing him; yet interacting with him helped me learn when to stand my ground and how to facilitate discussions. We all have the people with whom we’d prefer to have lunch, the recreation at which we excel, the place — be it mountaintop or sailboat — where we feel most alive or most comfortable. Let’s call that the “umbrella.” The problem is, umbrellas block the view. Outside of your umbrella are, yes, more risks, but also opportunities, whether to enjoy beauty — as I did on a recent rainy morning — reach an unforeseen audience, or grow into the people we can become. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, take a peek.

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community story writer

On purpose: The big ‘why,’ answered

We all have the same purpose, I was surprised to read in Doctor-writer-life scientist Deepak Chopra’s “The Book of Secrets.” Chopra writes that our shared purpose is to help the world “expand and grow.” He suggests it may be counterproductive to have rigid goals and to struggle too hard to meet well-defined timelines, because of what we might miss. All you need to do, he writes, is commit to fully explore your own life. In this way will you find your part in the big picture — the ways in which you can help the world. These daffodils have got it without even trying. Why shouldn’t we?

In 1804, William Wordsworth wrote the world’s most famous daffodil poem. Read it here: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

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Some might call it freedom

As our car inched along by the Hudson River on Manhattan’s far western edge, a trapeze school came into view, way up high, silhouetted against the sunset. Gridlocked, we watched student after student climb the ladder, grab the swing and … go! Every student took flight, guaranteed. With this kind of exposure, above their gigantic sign, it wasn’t know-how the school was selling. They were selling a feeling, one that all of us with our bumpers up against each other wanted. Some might call it freedom; others happiness or courage. People buy based on feelings. What feeling does the best use of your abilities offer your employer, client, or community? That feeling is the particular value you bring. If you imagine it’s your swing and grab on, there’s no telling where it will take you.

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How do you stand out in a crowd?

An acquaintance recently described to me his method of looking for a new job; he had a system, he said, but no job yet. Then he described a major fundraiser, a medical situation, and an entrepreneurial project; he revealed his frustration that his income does not match his energy output. Do you see the problem? Meanwhile, a client who works with college students talks about their “information overwhelm.” A brilliant organizational theorist describes rapid technological change with which it is nearly impossible for CEOs to keep pace, no matter how hard they try. We are all aware of a cacophony of demands, channeled to us 24/7 through electronic devices, “to-do lists,” and the people in our lives. What’s scarce and needed is attention. For multi-talented businesspeople tired of trying hard and not gaining the hoped-for ground, this means choosing a specialization and clearly stating the mission, then finding helpers to handle the rest. Not only does this enable others to understand what you are about and how you can help, but the clarity is a relief to everyone, eliminating the “static” and all that would get in the way of your call to action. When you concisely describe what you do, who you help and how, you convey a message of capability and competence, something on which to focus amidst the encroaching jungle of demands.

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What’s your headline?

Headlines help the reader decide whether to read or move on. You have a headline all your own if you are on LinkedIn. It’s just below your name, and may appear to be your current or former job title. That’s because the site populates your headline from your job experience section. You can make the most of this prime space and here’s how.

Didn’t know your headline could be edited? On your home page, choose “profile” and “edit profile.” Put the cursor on the words just below your name and single-click. The space turning blue is your cue to type your very own advertisement in the text box that appears to the right. If you edit your headline, the job title that was formerly your headline will appear in smaller letters below it.

Some headlines give a one-word profession: architect, attorney, Batman (just checking!). Assuming you aren’t the only one (like Batman is), try stating what you do and what’s unique about how you work: “Lamp repair and you pay nothing until it shines!”

Other headlines have it all: “applications programmer/senior analyst, radiology department, University of …” Stopped reading yet? I did.

My headline comes in at just under LinkedIn’s limit of 120 characters — check it out and browse your connections to find headlines that you like. LinkedIn will show you some as well if you click on “Show examples” below the text box where you edit your headline.

So how about taking two minutes to do this for yourself, not just the two seconds you usually allot to you and — supposedly — to every stop sign you meet!

If you’d like some free and confidential feedback on your new or prospective headline, send it to me in the comment section below or via LinkedIn’s inmail and I’ll respond. Consider it my Valentine’s Day gift to you.

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What do ‘snow days’ mean to you?

Do you ever long for a change? Wish to be your own boss or, if you already are, to instead take a job with a regular paycheck? Do “snow days” for you mean frenetically working from home while several children climb over your head? Just last week while sitting in my kitchen on such a day, in anguish I exclaimed to my 12-year-old, “I’m trying to think of a headline!” Well, the newspaper went to press right on schedule and then I went home last Friday for good.

Three weeks ago, I resigned from that much-loved job of three years. Anxiety? Yes, but conditions seemed right — almost like the perfect storm, which actually held off until the following Monday (today). This was the day I’d planned to take steps toward launching my writing and editing enterprise. However, a nor’easter blew in and plastered the streets with snow; oh no, this isn’t an allegory! Yet the website was already set up (feel free to browse), my calendar clear, and a rate sheet in the offing. With school cancelled and rowdies in the house (well, out sledding at the moment), it was time to scale back plans and enjoy a day off for a wonderful change!

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Looking for Big Boy — and Friends


The kind of dust you can feel but not see. Streaked with gold. Medusa-like stems; cracks, dots, and dashes: tomatoes from a friend. I press my nose against their warm skin; even the scent is delicious.


A clerk at Burlington Coat Factory becomes enchanted with my son, then two years old. She asks him, “Can I call you friend?” I hold my breath and hope for a sociable answer. Petulant, he replies, “Call me Big Boy.”


Our canoe cuts silently through the waters of the canal. Once the province of mule-pulled coal boats, today algae and forest growth carry out their slow coup. At a clearing, we greet a fisherman: “Catch anything?” He is optimistic: “I’m goin’ to; there’s a big one in there!” We wish him luck and glide on by.

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Mere stones and stories they tell

While our storytelling can reshape the past and present, occasionally something happens to set events in stone, connecting them to future generations forever, it seems.

On a recent visit to Roosevelt Island, a lesser known part of New York City, stones lay nearly everywhere. They covered the shores. Some crumbled in heaps amidst moldering ruins; others graced the island’s tip, marble and bright white.

Originally home to the Lenni Lenape tribe, the island first became the pig farm and then the quarantine zone to the city’s residents. The masonry of the vine-choked walls at the abandoned Smallpox Hospital adheres, barely, as a testament to the days when the wealthy could be drawn to a sanitarium, if it was ornate enough for them.

This island, narrow and only two miles in length, lies in the East River that courses alongside New York City. In the 1920s, the place came to be known as “Welfare Island,” site of low income housing. Then that term fell out of favor.

Across the river in Manhattan, the United Nations complex rose, inspired in its foundation by what Franklin D. Roosevelt called, in his 1941 State of the Union speech, “four essential freedoms.” These are freedom of speech and self-expression, freedom to worship as one chooses, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

FDR had also served as the governor of New York State, so when the time came in 1973 to find a new moniker for the island, the natural choice was “Roosevelt.” Less natural, and so all the more incredible, is that a buildout of earth and rock should be created to extend the southern tip of the island, putting it on par with the U.N. complex. The architect Louis Kahn designed the grounds and monument to be installed on that extension in memory of Roosevelt. Pick up a book about Kahn written anytime in the four decades that followed, though, and the project is among Kahn’s “unbuilt” works.

Not so any more.

The linden tree-lined Four Freedoms Park, completed in 2012, features optical illusions along paths that lead to an outdoor “room” of stone, sunlight, and serenity. All this, even though the monument lies exposed to the river and to the cityscapes of Manhattan and Queens. Along the banks of that borough to the east, a red Pepsi-Cola sign is lashed to a row of bleak apartment buildings. There is the certain knowledge that, to the west in Midtown, car horns and sirens call out their warnings. Yet those sounds are muted.

The very walls of the memorial encourage tunnel vision: Look to the river, they seem to whisper. For, despite what we humans deem permanent, water will wear down any stone. The haze in the air that day gradually obscured the sights on the opposite banks. It diminished the strength not only of the sun, but also of a busy mind. My thoughts drifted while my body relaxed onto the summer-warmed white marble couch.

I gazed off the memorial’s stern right angles and into the river. There, sea gulls huddled on water-smoothed rocks, as if waiting to learn what else we may build of mere stone.

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Where the runaway imagination goes

Last summer, my vegetable garden ran away and inspired me to do the same thing.

The garden ran away with weeds, no see ‘ums, and platter-sized squash leaves. In consideration of this and of the previous years’ invasions of cabbage moths, ground hog and poison ivy, I’ve given up. The plot is ready for something new and so am I — an all new plot.

For inspiration, I consulted Thomas Marent’s “Butterfly” and other such books and discovered the milkweed plant. Perhaps I should say re-discovered because I distinctly remember gluing the seeds with their gossamer threads onto blue paper in first grade. The milkweed plant, say the books, attracts and provides habitat for butterflies.

It turns out that milkweed grows thick on the hills of the Trexler Nature Preserve above the Lehigh Valley Zoo. They stand in willowy patches and fields, in amongst the coneflowers and black-eyed susans. I found them, you see, because I’d run away, but only for the day.

On returning, I brought with me all kinds of ideas for how the future could look and so this blog was born.

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