The Torontonians

torontoniansFor an upcoming book club I snagged a copy of The Torontonians, by Phyllis Brett Young.  Originally published in 1960, this is a book of suburban ennui at a time when the city is changing.  Starting with the delivery of a green Chinese carpet, the main character Karen struggles with achieving materially what she wants to achieve.  The start of the suburbs and the world populated only with women while the men all work downtown.

The book feels very contemporary.  The city of Toronto, which seems like a character in the book, continues to grow and change at a rapid rate.  From my recent experiences with the super rich wives of Southern CT, the towns that become all women during the day experience many of the same issues explored in this book.

Mostly I enjoyed a book not set in the late 50s, but a book from the late 50s.  This isn’t told through the pen (or laptop) of a modern writer, trying to inject authenticity.  This book was revolutionary for its time.  It doesn’t set historical context, it is the period.  This isn’t written for people who enjoyed Mad Men.  This was the cutting edge of Canadian literature for the day.

There were definitely moments where I lost track of what was happening, but overall I really enjoyed the book.  It had texture and moved at a different pace.  And I felt like I knew my city better at the end.  I’m looking forward to the book group discussion about the book.

Get Your Sh*t Together

knightIn the world post-US election my stomach has been in a knot and I was having some small panic attacks.  The day would be normal, then I’d check twitter and SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED.  And then my day was shot.  I really felt like I needed to do something to feel less like my body and world was falling apart.

Add to that there have been some recent really big changes in my life.  The kind that bring masses of bureaucratic paperwork and balancing the bureaucracies of two countries and multiple cities.  Add to that my mail being forwarded to me via Taipei (choice of USPS, not me) and I’m missing a few deadlines.

Suddenly I’m thinking “I seriously need to get my sh*t together”.  Nevermind the sheer amount of stuff I’m trying to juggle.  Nevermind that I managed to move internationally with just a few week’s notice and managed to get a great apartment and get all my stuff here, despite the best efforts of United Moving and Clancy Moving.  Nevermind that I wrapped up and left my last job in good shape and took on a new job with huge amounts of responsibility with absolutely no handover notes.  None.  Not a quick note.  Nothing.  I’d say more, but I really shouldn’t in public.

All of this is to say that I needed more than a $20 book.

Strangely, it wasn’t until I started to read that it hit me that this book may not be for me.  I have a sky high credit score.  I have retirement savings.  I manage illnesses while managing major jobs.

Knight starts out with her theory that everyone is a member of the Chipmunks.  Are you Alvin?  Simon?  Theodore?  Yeah, I’m definitely Simon.  She claims she is too.

A good bunch of the book is aimed at Alvins and Theodores.  Show up on time.  Keep your job.  Don’t lose your keys.  Realize you’re an adult and no one else is responsible for you.

Maybe it wasn’t her plan, but this part made me feel a little better.  Maybe I’m not unravelling as fast as I thought.  Other than an occasional issue with finding my keys, most of my concerns in this area were not staying on top of managing my investments or filing my taxes early enough.  It turns out that’s how everyone feels.  Who knew.

The part I found really helpful was the section on emotional health.  Now I’m sure my lovely readers have probably all figured out that was my issue, but I was too tired to make that connection.  Knight has some interesting suggestions to cope that I found useful.

Mostly I think the book is about the fact that adulting is hard.  If you’re not doing it, it’s not someone else’s job to adult for you (unless you’re paying them).  If you’re doing it, give yourself a break.  If there are parts of it that are killing you, figure out how not to do those parts (i.e. hire someone, not evade taxes).

This book isn’t brain surgery and it’s not a substitute for actual therapy.  I loved that she had the same response to “The Life-Changing Power of Tidying Up” and I felt like it was a friend giving me a reality check.

Worth a read.  Won’t change your life.  Only you can do that.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

the5dysfunctionsofateamNo matter how good you are as a leader or how good your team, there is always room for growth.  No matter how matter how many teams a leader has led, a new team always brings new challenges.  Or as I said to my last HR Director, I’ve managed plenty of people before, but I’ve never managed THIS person.

I was lent this book to get a fresh perspective and I really enjoyed it.  Told as a fable of a new president coming into a failing company, it takes you through the critical building blocks that need to be in place for a team to work.  It seems simple enough to say trust or accountability, but the fable is a good way to show what a team looks like when those pieces aren’t in place.  At the end of the book there is a helpful framework for evaluating the dysfunctions in your team and suggestions to fix issues.

What I found just as helpful was how realistic the author was about teams going through change.  The leader may be great.  The change may be necessary.  You may be able to demonstrate the need for change and the positive outcomes of making the change.  But that doesn’t mean people will be willing to make the change.  Logic doesn’t bring change.  You can’t just reason someone into making change.  And when someone won’t change, then it’s not always a tragedy if they leave.

Change is really hard.  And sometimes as bad as dysfunction is, it’s comfortable.  Sometimes the dysfunction gives you an excuse for why things aren’t working or something to blame for failure.

This book was helpful for reframing and refreshing my memory about teams and change.  I would recommend it to anyone, but particularly for managers and leaders.  Good teams are hard to build, but they make life so much easier in the end.