Category Archives: vocation and work

A quick trip to Brooklyn: A meet-up of past and present

Home to the First Unitarian Congregational Society, Brooklyn.

Home to the First Unitarian Congregational Society, Brooklyn.

During a quick visit to Brooklyn for a workshop related to my work, I didn’t expect that a nostalgia trip would be part of the deal. But it came with no extra charge!

As I wrote in 2015, I lived in Brooklyn for nine years, which back in the day was a housing refuge for fellow Legal Aid lawyers and other non-profit and public sector types pushed out by the sky high rents of Manhattan. I spent chunks of that time traipsing around Brooklyn Heights, a beautiful, historic neighborhood located one subway stop away from Manhattan.

This workshop was hosted by the First Unitarian Congregational Society in the Heights, located in a beautiful Gothic Revival building erected in 1844. As I approached the church on my walk from the subway, I encountered a familiar building that I hadn’t seen in decades: The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Second Department. Oh my! I was admitted to the New York Bar in a ceremony there, and as a Legal Aid lawyer I would argue cases before the appeals court in its majestic courtroom.

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One of the courts in which I cut my legal teeth during the mid-80s!

I’m the kinda guy who doesn’t like to be late for things. Especially when I’m relying on public transportation to get me to and fro (which is, basically, almost all the time), I plan to get to my main destination a little early. The subway zipped me over from Manhattan to Brooklyn in minutes, so with time to kill and some rumbling in my stomach, I found Fascati Pizza, a classic New York slice joint, and ordered a slice of thin-crust cheese pizza. It hit the spot on a cold, wintry day — hot, flavorful, and crispy underneath.

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Umm, I took a couple of bites before thinking to take a picture.

Of course, my main purpose for this brief Brooklyn sojourn was not to wallow in memories, but rather to attend a workshop on bystander intervention training for harassment and related situations. The topic is pertinent to the work I’ve been doing on workplace bullying and abuse for many years. You can read a write-up on this excellent training session that I posted to my Minding the Workplace blog.

And so I found myself interspersing good memories with the work I’m doing today. The two are fairly distinct. My focus on issues of workers’ rights, workplace bullying and abuse, and human dignity was not on my radar screen when I was a young lawyer. I was drawn to law school generally by an interest in politics and a desire to engage in good works, but I was pretty clueless on so many things. Fast forward to today, I’m feeling the march of time, but I know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

Right now, however, I wish I could go back to that pizza place for another slice. My mouth is watering just looking at that photo.

The new boarding houses: Dorm life for graduates

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Okay, college graduates, if you could continue dormitory-type living even after leaving school, would you opt to do so? If your answer is “yes,” then you may be pleased to see this option developing in certain cities.

WeWork, a company that has pioneered the concept of co-working rental office space for entrepreneurial start-ups, is now branching out with WeLive, “communal housing” rentals aimed at recent graduates and young professionals who may find themselves priced out of the housing market in expensive urban areas. Melody Hahm, writing for Yahoo! Finance, explored the new WeLive space in Manhattan:

I thought my college years were behind me. But I’m seriously reconsidering the dorm life since visiting Manhattan’s first-ever location of communal living startup WeLive.

Of course, the concept of communal housing isn’t novel. . . .

But this isn’t your typical dorm situation: You have your own apartment but get access to a chef’s kitchen, yoga studio, conference room, laundry/arcade room, and neighbors who actually want to talk to you.

In many ways, WeLive looks and sounds like a post-graduate residence hall, at a premium price:

The layouts in WeLive’s 400 units range from small studios to four-bedrooms, and all apartments come fully furnished. Per-tenant pricing begins at $1,375 but if you want a bit more privacy, you’ll have to dole out at least $2,000 per month. The most common setup is the “studio plus,” which comes with two beds (one is a Murphy hidden in the wall); these range from $2,500 to $2,800. A flat monthly utilities payment of $125 covers electric, water, cable, wifi and cleaning costs (yes, housekeeping is included).

Here’s how WeLive describes itself on its website:

WeLive is a new way of living built upon community, flexibility, and a fundamental belief that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. We know life is better when we are part of a community that believes in something larger than itself. From mailrooms and laundry rooms that double as bars and event spaces to communal kitchens, roof decks, and hot tubs, WeLive challenges traditional apartment living through physical spaces that foster meaningful relationships. Whether for a day, a week, a month, or a year, by joining WeLive – you’ll be psyched to be alive.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, then you know that I’m fond of sharing nostalgic moments from my college and law school years. I can even get a little soggy over memories of dorm life. At Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, my undergraduate alma mater, I lived in dormitories, with the exception of a final semester spent in a study abroad program. At New York University in Manhattan, my legal alma mater, I lived in law school residence halls throughout my stay there.

When I graduated from NYU Law, bound and determined to save the world as a Legal Aid lawyer (and with a $20,000 salary to remind me of my lofty idealism), my Manhattan housing options were practically non-existent. Consequently, I followed the trail blazed by other young denizens of the city’s non-profit sector and crossed the bridge into Brooklyn for a relatively cheap apartment share and a long subway ride to work. My first place was a three-bedroom apartment share. I believe the total rent, split three ways, was $1,000.

Those affordable Park Slope apartment shares are no more. The brownstone rentals so popular among my fellow Legal Aid colleagues and others similarly situated are now homes commanding high six and even seven figures in the current real estate market.

And so comes the market opportunity for WeLive. With more bohemian living options no longer available in places like New York, WeLive steps into the void and offers young, hip, and conveniently located housing options aimed at Millennials. Measured against the cost of living standards of almost any other area, WeLive is still pretty expensive. But to find a comparable rental in New York, your daily commute might start to resemble a sojourn.

When I moved to New York in the 1980s, gentrification and higher living costs were very much a part of the civic dialogue. Today, however, the housing costs are mind boggling. New York is not alone in this reality, at least among high demand urban places. This is definitely the case here in Boston.

It’s why ventures like WeLive are getting attention. In reality they are expensive versions of what 50 or 75 years ago would’ve been called boarding houses, with a dose of social selectiveness built into the marketing: WeLive is a new way of living built upon community, flexibility, and a fundamental belief that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with.

Personally, I’d rather have affordable apartment shares in Brooklyn, but I realize that time has passed.

“Welcome to first-year orientation” (Gulp)

 

Samuel Morse's landscape picturing the university as paradise, using NYU's original Gothic style building (1835-36)

Samuel Morse’s allegorical landscape picturing the university as paradise, placing NYU’s original Gothic style building at left (1835-36)

For many educators, mid-August brings a sort of foreboding: Uh oh, school is starting up again very soon. The endless summer is coming to an end.

Now, this may sound odd coming from someone who enjoys teaching and is grateful for the opportunity to make a living as a professor. But yes, I feel this way, too.

I trace this anxious rumble in my belly to memories of first-year orientations as a college and law student many years ago. I suppose they planted the seeds for how I regard the beginning of an academic year.

Let me go back to August 1977, first-year orientation at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana. Valpo, as it is colloquially known, was only a 45-minute drive from my parents’ home in Hammond, Indiana. But I was quite unworldly at that early juncture of my life, so that distance felt like a million miles away during those first few days (and the weeks to follow).

In terms of events, I hazily remember a bunch of meetings big and small, a large-group assembly or two, and some type of cookout. VU’s orientation program neither eased nor stirred my anxieties. However, the status quo was about as much as I could’ve asked of it, given my constricted comfort zone. It would take another two years for me to find my social and extracurricular groove at Valparaiso, mainly via my joining the staff of the campus newspaper and eventually spending my final semester in England. A good number of lifetime friendships were forged during those years.

Now let’s quickly jump to August 1982 and law school orientation at New York University. Outwardly I tried to maintain a friendly and upbeat demeanor, but privately I wondered if I was in over my head. I had moved from Indiana to the heart of Manhattan. Lots of my new classmates had gone to elite colleges. Many had done fancy internships. When a fellow 1L mentioned that he had spent the previous year working as an assistant at the U.S. Supreme Court, I decided not to offer that during the same time I was working as a stock clerk at a retail drugstore.

NYU’s law school orientation was the usual mix of welcoming speeches, panel discussions, intro classes, and receptions, but the content and people were such that I came out of it mildly reassured that I would (1) survive law school; and (2) have some good job opportunities at the finish. I was also pleasantly surprised that so many of my super-talented classmates were genuinely nice people, and I started making friends very easily. Overall I had the strong vibe that this was the right place for me, which turned out to be true.

Academic orientation programs are organized with the very best of intentions, and often they convey important information that can set the stage for the remainder of a student’s degree program. As to whether they soothe or stoke individual anxieties, well, that’s a crapshoot. I think it depends more on the specific student than on the content of the program!

Someday, when I’m in an even more nostalgic mode than is my usual state, I’ll have to sift through the memory bank to recall other orientation-type programs during different chapters of my academic and professional lives. Maybe I’ll find some similarities and connections between my reactions to them.

If you’ve got some time to kill…

As some of you know, I’ve been writing a professional blog, Minding the Workplace, for over six years. A lot of the material is heavier stuff, looking at employee relations, workplace bullying, employment law, psychological health at work, and so on. But on occasion I’ve written pieces with a lighter touch that may be of interest to readers here. I thought I’d dig into the archives of that blog and share a few of them:

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Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments? (2014) — “So, in the absence of these colleges for 40-year-olds (and beyond), how can we think and reflect upon our lives to date, our lives right now, and our lives to come? For those who, like me, sometimes turn to good books for guidance, let me introduce a thick anthology, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (2006), co-edited by Mark R. Schwehn & Dorothy C. Bass, both of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater.”

What now, not what if (2013) — “Currently stored on my DVR are a PBS program and a National Geographic docudrama about President Kennedy, both produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Although I’m a devotee of history, I have a feeling that I won’t be watching them….That lesson was reinforced to me in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy.”

The perils and pleasures of nostalgia, even about work?! (2013) — I get especially nostalgic about two work experiences. The first was my initial year as a Legal Aid lawyer in Manhattan, following my graduation from NYU’s law school….My second nostalgic focus: Returning to NYU after six years of legal practice as an instructor in its innovative first-year Lawyering Program….Both clusters of memories, however, gloss over the fact that I was years away from discovering my true passions as a teacher, scholar, and advocate. I was clueless about a lot of things, and not exactly on the leading edge of emotional maturity.”

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August 1982: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (2012) — “This month, I find myself particularly nostalgic over events of 30 years ago, when I moved from Hammond, Indiana to New York City to begin law school at New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village. This was a pretty big deal for me. Although I had benefited greatly from a semester abroad in England during college at Valparaiso University, I was far from worldly and had never been to New York City before applying to NYU….Within a few days of my arrival, I would start classes in Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, on the southwest corner of Washington Square….”

Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts (2012); Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) — “With Commencement season coming to a close at colleges and universities across the nation, I beg my readers’ indulgence as I use a short series of posts to reflect upon my own collegiate experience….”

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Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide toward good transitions (2012) — As we turn the calendar to a New Year, I wanted to gather together some recommended titles for those who are engaged in or contemplating a major work or personal transition….If you’re in the midst of big changes, these books may prove a worthy investment in terms of your livelihood and well-being. I hope you find them helpful.

Does life begin at 46? (2010) — “Conventional wisdom, according to research, is wrong. True, we start off our adulthoods pretty happy and become increasingly disenchanted as middle age approaches. However, our outlook then gets better as we age. The Economist cites research studies to back up its proposition, overcoming the presumption that this is more Boomer-inspired babble about how 60 is the new 40.”

Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010) — “Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true. I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity. Two long-time friends come to mind when I ponder this. Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University (Indiana) who is the author of historical novels for young adults. Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, is creating a niche for itself in the Greater Chicagoland indie rock scene.”

Returning to the scene of the crime

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On Monday I was in Washington, D.C., to participate in a panel discussion on employment law at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), the primary organization for legal academicians. The panel went very well; it was a genuinely engaging and interactive discussion with fellow presenters and colleagues who attended. My paper was on workplace bullying and the law, a topic I have studied and written about intensively for some 15 years. (For more on that, see this entry posted to my professional blog, Minding the Workplace.)

The conference was held at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, adjoining the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. It’s a huge hotel, with multiple towers of rooms. Even with the guidance of the hotel’s helpful employees, you can easily feel lost and bewildered attempting to navigate it, especially if you’re at a professional event and have to get from one location to another in a matter of minutes.

And herein lies the nostalgic connection: Way back in the fall of 1993, I spent two nerve-wracking days at the same hotel, taking part in initial screening interviews for law teaching positions at the annual “meat market” hiring fair hosted by the AALS. I was in my third year of teaching as a junior instructor at NYU Law School (my legal alma mater), and now I was going on the market for a tenure-track appointment.

Here’s how it works: A successful screening interview may lead to an invitation for an extended, follow-up “callback” at a school’s campus, consisting of more interviews and a formal presentation. The process is a grueling one that can span several months, with no guarantee of success. I was fortunate that it worked out for me, including the offer I accepted from my current employer.

Thus, going to the Marriott Wardman Park was a bit of a trip down memory lane, a return to the scene of the crime. For so many who have experienced the AALS hiring fair at this hotel, the sprawling layout of the place contributed to the already Code Red anxiety levels we felt in our guts. This was especially the case if you happened to have interviews scheduled closely together on opposite ends of the hotel!

In that weird way that may be inherent with middle aged memories, in some ways it seems like yesterday, in other ways it feels like an epoch ago.

Some two decades later, I can breathe a small sigh of relief and be enormously thankful that I jumped through that big hoop in 1993. Participating in a panel discussion at that same hotel, this time purely for the purposes of sharing my work and learning from others, was a blessed thing indeed.

Throwback Thursday: Being a fish out of water (Summer 1984)

Image courtesy of animalclipart.org

Image courtesy of animalclipart.org

Thirty summers ago, I was a summer associate for a large corporate law firm in Chicago, doing legal research and writing assignments under the supervision of attorneys representing commercial clients. The work was challenging, I was being paid handsomely, and I was working with very good lawyers who happened to be down-to-earth folks.

And yet…it didn’t feel quite right for me.

For those uninitiated in the lingo of the legal profession, “summer associate” is the usual job title for a law student who is working at a law firm for the summer. At large law firms, summer associates are brought on board with the assumption that they will be considered seriously for offers of full-time employment as associate attorneys if their work is of high quality. The pay is very good, approaching the weekly equivalent of a first-year associate’s salary.

I secured one of these jobs for the summer following my second year at NYU Law. Although I went to law school to become a public interest lawyer, I decided to give the corporate legal world a try. Also, having grown up right outside of Chicago, I wanted to see if returning to the Midwest was the right thing for me.

Even before I started, however, I knew in my heart that I was not meant to be a corporate attorney. The night before leaving for Chicago, I went to a classic Broadway musical, “42nd Street,” starring Jerry Orbach:

 

That show captured it for me. I didn’t want to go to Chicago.

But I went, and I worked very hard at that law firm. I tried to fit in and to be a part of it all. My law student colleagues were smart and friendly, and the firm treated us very well. Nevertheless, within a few weeks, I found myself regretting that I had passed up several offers to work for public interest legal organizations that summer. I also missed New York terribly.

How much did I feel like a fish out of water? Well, as the summer wore on, I found myself dodging the friendly “round ups” of summer associates to treat us to lunch. Instead I would grab a quick bite to eat and spend lunch hour in a bookstore. I also made excuses for not attending some of the firm’s social functions, preferring to visit various historical sites in Chicago or read the books I had purchased during my lunch breaks. (Had I been more self-aware, I also would’ve realized how those patterns revealed an introverted side that only in recent years I have come to acknowledge and value.)

Still, my objective was to secure an offer of full-time employment, as I knew it would be a good thing regardless of whether I accepted it. So I gave a maximum effort.

I got the offer soon after my summer stint ended, and for a few weeks I sat on it. But I knew I had to go a different route and declined. During my third year of law school, I accepted an offer from The Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. It turned out to be the right decision.

Since then, I have tried to be true to myself in terms of vocation. However, with a bit more maturity under my belt, I also now understand that enjoying a span of work and career choices is a huge privilege. “This above all, to thine own self be true,” wrote Shakespeare, but when it comes to earning a living, not everyone has that luxury. It’s something to consider when assessing one’s blessings in this life.

Pursuing your passion (realism edition)

If only...

If only!!!

The title of Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow (1989) is perhaps the world’s easiest eight-word commencement speech, and it has been repeated, mantra-like, in countless pep talks and career counseling sessions. At least before the Great Recession hit, the book was extraordinarily popular in college career services offices, especially for liberal arts majors.

In fact, it’s a pretty good read and worth a look for anyone in a career/life shifting or changing mode. However, the message conveyed by the title may sound downright starry-eyed and naive to those juggling rent payments or a mortgage, kids, car payments, a grocery bill, and the rest…maybe to the point where you’re saying to yourself, oh c’mon, what a load of fertilizer.

And yet, we go around only once in this lifetime, and it strikes me as being a terrible shame for folks to give up on what activities engage and excite them. So here’s what I call the Realism Edition of Pursuing Your Passion:

First, it may be possible for you to turn your passion into a job. Is there a demand for what you like to do? Are your talents sufficient to satisfy that demand? Will the income pay the bills? It could take you a while to answer these questions, but if the answers lean toward yes, then maybe you can make a go of it.

Second, even if the prospects of turning your passion into a full-time job are limited or doubtful at this juncture, can you start by doing it as a side gig or perhaps as an avocation? You’ll be able to derive enjoyment from the activity, maybe earn some income from it (or at least cover expenses), and plant possible seeds for turning this into your next career.

Third, if your passion doesn’t necessarily translate into income, can you pursue it as a hobby? With the busy demands of everyday life, we’ve lost sight of hobbies as a meaningful, important activity. Maybe it’s not in the stars, at least for now, for you to be a pro basketball player, famous clothes designer, or featured nightclub singer. But how about joining a hoops league at the Y, setting up a knitting space in a spare corner, or participating in a local singing group?

In some cases, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow may be more dreamy invocation than hard reality. But even if your passion isn’t meant to be your main income source, there should be a way to bring the core joys of that activity into your life. There are no guarantees, of course, but wouldn’t it be a shame not even to try?

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