10 steps that put the ‘good’ in ‘goodbye’

goodbye artMost of us have faced change and uncertainty in our lives. When it’s happened to me, I’ve reached out to learn from those who have gone before me. I’ve looked for a how-to book to give me guidance, or sought advice from a close friend or colleague who has faced similar circumstances.

That’s why my reading list has suddenly grown: I am leaving my employer of 34 years and looking for new career opportunities. And, wondering about how to do it right.

So, I was reassured to find an article titled “Ten Steps to a Successful Good-bye” that offered advice on how I should leave behind a company that’s been part of my identity, my narrative, for more than three decades.

The tips on how to say goodbye to your longtime employer and co-workers come from Bryant Associates, Inc., an executive recruiting and placement specialists firm. The list is similar to another I found on the Internet that was credited to the National Business Employment Weekly. I am guessing these tips have been shared in various forms over time. To whomever came up with the original list: Thanks! Here are the tips, in abbreviated form:

1. Express your appreciation and stay connected. Take time to reminisce with colleagues about projects you’ve worked on, special times you’ve shared and joint accomplishments.

2. Let go. Focus on what is instead of what was.

3. Leave your office in top shape. Provide employees with updates and leave notes on ongoing projects.

4. Create a morale-building file. Keep positive work reviews, thank-you notes and other documents that will supply you with enthusiasm, courage and hope in the coming weeks.

5. Don’t be critical. You may feel bitter and demoralized, but letting others know your feelings will backfire.

6. Prepare, reflect and move on. View your job as a bridge to the next one. Dream about what might be.

7. Take time to play. Even a long, leisurely weekend can help you become relaxed and re-energized.

8. Recognize the value of friends. A job change can seem overwhelming, and retreating from friends and activities may seem inviting. Don’t hide in a corner. Contact and reassurance from others may be what you need most.

9. Analyze your financial status. Take steps to become more secure in this time of transition.

10. Be open to new possibilities. Your job change can be an opportunity in disguise.

Changing jobs can be both exhilarating and frightening. It’s probably not a good time to “wing it.” So, look for advice. It might make the process more stimulating than scary.

When there are fewer reporters, democracy suffers

reporter artI feel like an alarmist for saying so, but there are days I fear for democracy’s future in the United States.

What makes me particularly fearful is the continuing erosion of what is known as the Fourth Estate – the news media – as a result of rapidly shifting reading and advertising patterns.

(The term “Fourth Estate” was actually coined in Great Britain, and refers to the societal and political force of the news media in balancing what politician Edmund Burke referred to as the Three Houses of Parliament.)

In a report titled “The State of the News Media 2013,” the Pew Research Center estimated that in the American newspaper industry alone, newsroom cutbacks have reduced the number of journalists 30 percent since a peak in 2000.

You might argue that there’s a counter-balancing effect, one that’s been noted in many U.S. industries as a result of the Great Recession: higher productivity on the part of employees. Perhaps the news industry today is simply “doing more with less,” you might reason, and producing just as many vital news stories and investigations as it once did.

Actually, that’s not the case.

The report goes on to say that in local TV, stories related to sports, weather and traffic now account on average for 40 percent of the content in newscasts. On CNN, the TV network built on Americans’ appetite for instantaneous news, produced story packages were cut nearly in half from 2007 to 2012. There’s more, but it only gets more depressing.

The fact is, if we have 30 percent fewer journalists we are actually doing less with less — less coverage of what’s important, and fewer reporter watchdogs uncovering what ails us. I don’t have recent statistics, but a count of statehouse reporters by American Journalism Review magazine in 2009 indicated there was also a 30 percent drop in the number of newspaper staff reporters covering state capitols full time over the previous six years. Only in two states was there an increase in the number of reporters covering the state capitol.

And, while weekly community newspaper operations have struggled mightily to maintain the number of journalists in their newsrooms, I must tell you with authority that in many cases those have dropped as well.

Said Pew: “This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands … At the same time, newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media.”

This cannot be good, can it? The answer, of course, is “no.”

Until the public takes notice and/or the news industry discovers an economic business model that actually works, there can only be one outcome and that is: less objective information available to the voters and elected officials who face many critical decisions in the years ahead.

The once-upon-a-time family snapshot

Tom and Patty Given_edited-1Long before Twitter and Facebook, the iconic storytelling device was the family snapshot. This was before our growing need for instant gratification, a hunger satiated today by social media, fast food, and online shopping.

Think about it for a minute: Someone loaded film into a camera and then composed and snapped a photo – hoping like heck that the magic process of film development and print-making would produce something memorable … a few days from now. Sometime after that, the resulting photograph would personally be shared with others, dropped in the mail (snail mail, not e-mail) and sent to a family relative, or stuffed into a drawer to collect dust.

Occasionally the end product would be an image like you see here – an actual photo from the boxes of family “stuff” in my basement. It captures my wife’s younger sister and her late father, many years ago. Likely scorned when it came back from the photo lab, this head-absent portrait now rests among our favorite family images.

The point is, we have lost a bit of magic, a bit of serendipity, with recent advancements in camera technology. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s a wondrous and occasionally beautiful thing to have everyone carrying a phone/camera in a pocket, and taking and sharing important or endearing photographic images almost instantaneously.

But sometimes I miss the chuckle, guffaw, or groan that came days after snapping a pic and finally gazing at that image-on-photographic-paper. It was delayed gratification, disappointment, or ho-hum, depending on the results. And it produced that inevitable conversation: Remember when we did THAT?

Cook more at home: message that sticks?

Michael Pollan's new book.

Michael Pollan’s new book.

A Mark Hertsgaard commentary in today’s Star Tribune newspaper reminds us that reforming our country’s agricultural system has far-reaching benefits – to our economy, to our climate, and to our health, to name just a few.

The commentary, headlined “Climate change: Reducing the carbon hoofprint,” advocates no-till farming as a way to replenish our soil and reduce our carbon output, thereby slowing the current swing toward climate change.

Hertsgaard liberally quotes best-selling author Michael Pollan, and for good reason. Pollan, author of the 2006 bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and more recently “Cooked,” also favors a change in our industrial agriculture system.

While their defense of reformed farming practices is solid, I wonder whether that message strikes a chord in most people. Probably not.

The approach that seems likeliest to catch on is one that Pollan promotes in his book published last spring; that is, the most important thing you can do is add to the number of meals you cook at home, hopefully with local food.

You see, for various reasons, much less cooking is happening now than decades ago. Experts say only 57 percent of meals are now cooked, and that number is squishy because of how “cooked” is defined. In any case, it’s a fact that millions of Americans are spending more time watching cooking shows on TV than are actually spending time cooking in their homes.

Think of the benefits that would accrue from cooking just a couple more meals at home – more use of local, healthy food, and more communal meal-sharing included – and you can see that demystifying home cooking is a goal worth pursuing. And, since it’s the cooking we do that really drives our agriculture system, the benefits of reducing our consumption of processed food and returning to “real food” could result in sweeping changes to our health and planet.

Nutrition, agriculture, and climate change represent “wicked” problems, I’ll give you that. There are no simple solutions. But you start with a simple act – cooking just a few more meals at home – and you’re on your way to significant change.

Behind every great city: great people

Installing the soaring eagle artwork.

Installing the soaring eagle artwork.

Local members of Rotary recently funded and installed a major artwork in front of the Eden Prairie Community Center. The soaring eagle and prairie grass beneath it are enduring reminders that communities should be defined less by boundaries than the people who live and work within those boundaries.

For example, the Eden Prairie A.M. Rotary Club which I belong to rather quietly goes about its business improving life in EP, raising money from members and through community fund-raisers and then funneling that money into social services, student recognition, and many other community-minded causes.

This is a club that, year in and year out, gives money to the local food shelf, to mission trips, to student-mentoring efforts, and much more.

There are a few Rotarians who join to foster business relationships. My experience is that these folks come and go, and the ones who stay are those whose primary interest is in giving back to the community. Those words – giving back to the community – can be a well-worn cliché. But it’s the truth: When you devote part of your time to helping others less fortunate, you feel better. You feel better about the community. You feel better about yourself.

The Eden Prairie A.M. Rotary Club is one of many civic organizations helping make local lives better. You can see the same thing in most other communities, but my experience is that civic pride and involvement is especially strong in Eden Prairie, despite its youth and its suburban characteristics. It’s part of what makes people stay in Eden Prairie.

So, when you see the soaring eagle in front of the Community Center, think less about the art and more about the people and dollars that Rotary and other civic organizations have leveraged to create a better place in which to live.