The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, gives more speeches per year than I do, and I'm counting the ones I give to my daughter.
Four writers help with his speeches. They all sit a one row of cubicles, with two assistants right around the corner. I spent time with them last week before my talk. A more congenial crew I have never met. Three men and three women, all sophisticated, thoughtful, hard-working, funny, candid—and, apparently, happy.
Actually, more than apparently. I actually asked a couple of them them. Yes. They are happy. They each can rattle off the particular strengths of the others, and though I'm sure they're aware of one anothers' weaknesses too, they don't seem at all inclined to dwell on them. The work itself means too much to them to waste time infighting. And the work—which occasionally involves all-night writing sessions on trips around the world with the Secretary General—is demanding and usually stimulating too.
"Everybody," said David Simpson, whose (wonderful) title is First Officer of the Speechwriting Unit of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, "is on top of their game."
The whole thing almost—almost—made me want to work in an office again.
More importantly, it got me thinking about times in my career when work has been play.
But there were a few stretches at Ragan: When I took over as editor of the weekly Ragan Report, after years as an understudy. And then I became a managing editor there, thrilled to teach the young kids all the skills that I'd learned only a few years before. I was happy when I went off on my own and found myself writing communication commentaries one day, reporting magazine stories the next. And these days, come to think of it, as I write and speak about communication, saying and writing things that could only have come from a son of my writer mother and adman father, I'm pretty happy too.
There have also been down years in there, of course. Times at Ragan when I wanted to leave but couldn't figure out where else in the world that eccentric place had prepared me to work. (Happily, the answer was, "anyplace.") Times later in my freelance career when I realized with great anxiety and sadness that some of the journalism that I once felt privileged to do, didn't even stimulate me anymore. And times all along the way when I allowed myself to think: Goddamn, this world demands a lot of energy from its workers. And wonder, about that energy: Do I have enough?
This is all a way of asking you to tell me: What was the best stretch of your career? And remembering how good you felt then—how might you go about feeling that way again?