The meaning of work

Like many people, there was a stretch of time that I identified myself by my work. And it was for many years. I was also blessed, for the most part, that I liked the work I did and for the companies I worked for. How I define why I liked working is that, again for the most part, I felt my work had some purpose and meaning. I tell you, it’s not often we can all say that, but in my life, I found enough purposeful work to get me to retirement.

I started in Education, first volunteering at a state institution called Willowbrook (bonus points for anyone remembering it and who became famous as a result), and I still friends today with David Rosenstock and Robi Nedboy whom I’ve known since 1971. After that experience I broadened my desire to serve (and to get out of the freaking heat and humidity of New York City) by working at summer camps for handicapped children. The first year was Camp Beaumont, and the next Camp Cochecton. I found these jobs through the Jewish Federation of NY. The most noteworthy of these is Camp Lymelight, which I attended as a counseller in 1973 and 1974 in upstate New York. This experience had a profound effect on my life because of the people that I met through it. I’m still friends today with many I met that I have been in active involvement with over at least 40 to 50 years. You’ve seen many of these friends in photographs that are in this blog already. They have all helped me with their love, given me the opportunity to grow and to learn, all which has guided me towards search for purpose at work.

Camp Lymelight staff circa 1973, getting ready for a staff play. Can you pick me out off this lineup?

During that time, close friends of mine including the Sommers, Buzzy, and Honky (yes, we had hip nicknames – mine was Hesh, short for Herschel, my Yiddish name) moved to California. They would call me periodically to push me into moving as well. I was working for a small special education ea dieschool, not in any serious relationships, and just finished graduate school, it seemed a little good time to move. Also, if any of you were living in NYC in the late 70s, it was a pretty tough place to live . But I still wasn’t ready to fly that fast. I was a die hard New Yorker. I was living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (remember Saturday Night Fever?) and still had a personal goal of living in Manhattan or the up and coming Park Slope. But on the salary I was making, that started to seem farther away.

My first job was not in education because there were few jobs for teachers when I graduated college. I was a clerk on Wall Street, which cured me of wanting to pursue anything that had to do with that street. I finally got to teach Special Education for five years. During that time, I went to night school to get my master’s degree. That degree was in designing learning materials and working with the emerging education technologies.

During that time, close friends of mine including the Sommers, Buzzy, and Honky (yes, we had hip nicknames – mine was Hesh, short for Herschel, my Yiddish name) moved to California. They would call me periodically to push me into moving as well. I was working for a small special education ea dieschool, not in any serious relationships, and just finished graduate school, it seemed a little good time to move. Also, if any of you were living in NYC in the late 70s, it was a pretty tough place to live . But I still wasn’t ready to fly that fast. I was a die hard New Yorker. I was living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (remember Saturday Night Fever?) and still had a personal goal of living in Manhattan or the up and coming Park Slope. But on the salary I was making, that started to seem farther away.

Soon after arriving in California, attending SF’s NY Street Games faire with my NY transplant friends

Given the crossroad I was standing in, I decided to visit my friends in California for the summer I finished my Masters. My friends greeted me, then hounded me to look for work. And like many a New Yorker who made the same journey West, I convinced myself I’d stay two years, tops. I found a teaching job, then flew home, got a car and trailer, packed my cat and my stuff and drove west. The day I arrived was truly “the first of the rest of my life.”

After a short time in California, I was able to move to Oakland (it’s been called the New Brooklyn, which quelled my need to return to Park Slope). I also was a resource specialist in a high school, which was meaningful to me. My second year I worked for the Oakland schools. That’s where I met Mary Ann, and, of course, decided to make the Bay Area my home .

1984 saw a big shift in my career which remaind with me until my retirement last year. I started to work for companies in the up and coming Silicon Valley. I stayed in education (companiescall it learning and dev, essentially designing training for adult employees in subjects I had no background in. I worked some interesting places like Apple, Genentech, Schwab, and Autodesk, among others. In all of this I had to find meaning and purpose. My passion was figuring out how people learn and how to make learning interesting. I also came to Apple at a time of it’s new technologies that launched me into experimenting with the use of technology and learning. Overall, being a teacher and writer were what felt fulfilling. It wasn’t until I got to my last job that I felt my career came together for me. I worked in HR and worked with leaders and teams, helping them become more fulfilled human beings through self-awareness and working together in teams. I learned how to design effective sessions and more importantly how to be a good facilitator. I got to travel and work in Europe and Asia and work with a gamut of cultures. For that, I felt I did make a real difference. I supplemented this with teaching graduate courses in the work I was doing. My plan was to work a few more years, then retire from corporate life, teach my graduate classes and do some consulting. Then life happened. My body started changing and I was diagnosed. I lost that plan – because turns out I really had no plans from the perspective of the larger universe.

My awesome colleagues from Autodesk

On the positive side, roles were changing at work and my role was going to change away from what I loved doing, so timing at least was in my favor. I thought in retirement I would miss my work and part of my identity. I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying it. Mind you it takes a couple of hours to start my day now, but an open schedule with time to rest, read, be with family and friends has taken the stresses I had while working. On reflection, I didn’t have lots of confidence in myself compared to others. I worked hard to achieve a personal best. But now, there are no comparisons – just me and the day.

I have kept up some volunteer work at my temple and try, where I can and how I can, to help others. I’ve heard from some that this blog has been helpful to them. Over the years, I’ve been president of the boards of an alternative high school and my temple. I’ve been involved with an interfaith council and set up dialogues between religious groups to show understanding. These experiences made up for any gaps in pursuit of my passion for Tikkun Olam (repair the world – a Jewish mitzvah) .

I’m a little surprised at how I don’t look back much at my career these days. I have personal pride from the work I’ve done and the people I’ve worked with and those I’ve touched. I’m saving all of my slide decks, but not sure how I might share them and my knowledge with others. But I am really enjoying my most precious time right now. I would encourage anyone thinking of retirement to think about time. The freedom is priceless. In my situation, I greet each day with comfort and joy. My only regret is not being able to physically pursue consulting and teaching, but for others who can, I encourage serious thought about your time. Use it to your advantage. And to those who love their work, I’d say keep at it until you no longer love it. More to come …0

8 thoughts on “The meaning of work

  1. OF COURSE I recognize you in that pic from years ago- you’re the goy who looks just like Ethan!

    I have always thought of you as someone who’s so relishes in his Judaism and I hope that one of your next post will be about your amazing satyrs at which I had the honor of attending for so many years.

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  2. Hesh,
    You turn back the time with your beautiful entries. Takes me right back with our shared memories. I cherish you and our friendship which puts a smile on my face with love and admiration.
    Donna

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  3. Is always very good to read, thank you so much for share. Im so sorry by my english Harry, but I would like to write but …

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  4. Dearest Hesh,
    Loved these reflections about work and time. Your love and passion for doing good continue with these writings. Thank you for sharing.
    Love you,
    Kathy

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  5. Work. Back in the early 70’s when we were running around Brooklyn there was one ‘job’ you always mentioned wanting – being a Father. From the looks of it another well done job! You were doing both your conscious and your unconscious work. Mary Ann appeared and the rest is history! Way ta go, Hesh….

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  6. Loved reading about your education, how you transitioned from NY to CA, your fulfillment with doing something you love for work (I get that one😉) and Loved the pic of the Camp Lymelight guys…awesome!!

    Like

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