Top Five on Friday: What I've Learned | Daily Dose

Friday, August 30, 2013

Top Five on Friday: What I've Learned

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Jennifer Gutman and Brian K. Mahoney
  • Jennifer Gutman and Brian K. Mahoney

Hi all,

My name is Jennifer, and I've been writing these Top Five on Friday posts since early March. I've very much enjoyed working on the top five every week, aiming to bring a bit more substance to the "Best Of" lists now ubiquitous on the web. Each week, I do research into a given topic, and try to support our top picks with description, examples, and good humor—all with the purpose of informing our readers of the great and varied things going on in the Hudson Valley.

I'm taking this moment of authorial intrusion to tell you that this will be my last Top Five on Friday post. I've been working at Luminary Publishing for a bit over a year now, and I will no longer be in the position of assistant editor here. Happily, I will still contribute to Chronogram (and occasionally make guest appearances on the Chronogram Conversations podcast) as I pursue a precarious yet ever-alluring career in teaching.

Meanwhile, I'd like to take this time to tell you about the top five things I've learned while working at Luminary Publishing, and serving as assistant editor to a publication that I feel a great amount of love and respect for.

1. Be happy where you are.
When I graduated from SUNY New Paltz with my BA in English, I wanted to go to grad school somewhere far away. I applied to schools all over the country, got accepted to NYU, and was just about out the door before a fortuitous run in with an old professor and an offer for a teaching assistantship while I completed my masters degree. After I completed my MA, I still had the itch to go far away. I wanted to move to France, and applied to teach abroad programs that would allow me to live in Europe for a couple of years. Long story short, I didn't get accepted into a program and ended up at Chronogram. After spending the past year immersed in this regional publication—interviewing people and getting to know more about the multifaceted cultural landscape of the Hudson Valley—I have a newfound appreciation for the area. Through Chronogram, I've learned that the Hudson Valley is such an exciting place to live, with interesting, inspiring, and provocative developments at every turn. Though I'm still interested in traveling, I feel a contentedness with living in the Hudson Valley that I hadn't had before. The grass may always be greener on the other side, but it can't get much greener than it already is here.

2. Stay positive.
In any job, there are going to be days that are difficult, trying, stressful, tedious. If you let them, these moments can get the best of you. When I first started working at Luminary Publishing, Chronogram launched a new website, and I became heavily entrenched in updating and managing its content. For those of you who have not done this type of work, it involves a lot of attention to very minute detail. This was an intimidating world for me at first—I had never worked so intimately in the digital sphere, and even considered myself a bit of a Luddite. But there came a point when I realized that the way I felt about this work was not dependent on the nature of the work itself, but on the way I thought about it. In his speech "This is Water," David Foster Wallace gives advice to a graduating class about being in control of the way you think about day-to-day occurrences. He says,

"As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head. Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

This perspective is transformative—the seemingly mundane routines of your daily life become opportunities to learn and grow. No matter what you spend your time doing, you have the choice to approach it with positivity and open-mindedness. Try to.

3. Take breaks.
I don't smoke cigarettes. Never in my life have I felt at a disadvantage because of this—until I started working in a small, intimate office environment. Every hour or so, I watched my coworkers go outside where they got to spend a few minutes away from their computers, chatting with each other and briefly disconnecting from the workday. In the beginning, I didn't take breaks. I stayed intensely plugged into my work, eating lunch at my desk and getting up only when the forces of nature beckoned me to the bathroom. I don't encourage this. A short walk around the block, lunch on a bench in a park, even standing up for a stretch now and again can set a whole new tone for your day. This isn't a new idea—it's a hot topic in conversations surrounding the general health and well being of people who work in office settings—but if you're anything like me, you'll have to stay on top of yourself and remain active in your pursuit of the small things that can bring some joy and levity to your day.

4. Express yourself.
Have ideas and share them with people, whether you're expected to or not. Nothing is unchangeable, and a small, seemingly insignificant thought might be the seed for something great. Some of my favorite memories at Chronogram involve sitting around a table and brainstorming ideas with Brian, my editor, and other coworkers—whether searching for a pithy title or trying to come up with a new, inventive way to approach a much-written-about topic. Most recently, I had the pleasure of serving on the planning committee for Chronogram's 20th Anniversary Block Party. The beautiful, brilliantly executed day of community and celebration was a product of a few small, silly, unformed ideas spat out around a table of highly caffeinated Chronogram staffers. Being a part of that collaborative effort—and watching it take shape on Wall Street a couple of weekends ago—was a very bright spot in my time here.

5. Be professional, but don't take yourself too seriously.
This balance is difficult to maintain. Working in a deadline-oriented environment has taught me that. Things need to get done, and they need to be done well. While working for Chronogram, I was not just representing myself, but the publication as a whole. Mistakes I made reflected poorly on the magazine, and I was responsible for maintaining a standard of excellence in everything that I contributed to it—from a 1,500-word article to the way I cropped an image on the website. Approaching your work with professionalism, respect, and care is very important, but of almost equal weight is the importance of being lighthearted, flexible, and humble. Though mistakes should be avoided, they will be made. When they are, you can't beat yourself up over it. All you can do is try not to make the same mistake again, continuously work toward being your best self, and feel okay with the fact that that will always inevitably fall short of your ideal self. Last March, I went to a show at BSP Lounge (one of the many fantastic local shows that I attended after learning about them through Chronogram). The show was by Jeffrey Lewis, an "anti-folk" singer-songwriter. During his set, he played a song called "Time Trades" that deeply moved me. The song itself is simple and straightforward—like a kids' sing-along song—but it packs a powerful message. It is this song's message that I think best articulates the most important thing that I've learned this past year. Here, listen:

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