I was featured in an article in The New York Times today. The point was that some people have actually felt more comfortable during the pandemic than with their lives before — a sentiment that applies, at least partially, to me.
My ability to control my environment and be close to my immediate family is what has made this time a sort of an island of peace for me. For me, travel is stressful. So is socializing at events and giving speeches. So is meeting clients in person, and perhaps misinterpreting some key element of body language.
I can do everything I need to do from my desk, including writing, editing, video meetings with clients, and video workshops. And when I’m done, I can immediately relax, because I’m in my own home.
Certainly, there are things I miss, including seeing friends and the family members I don’t live with, going out to eat, and going to movies and plays. And I won’t miss the masks. But I’m doing just fine now.
How my home office helps me cope
Katherine Taylor, the photographer for the Times, came to my house and photographed me at work. (I opened all the large windows open in my space, she kept her distance, she wore two masks, and I have been vaccinated. It was about 38 degrees Fahrenheit in my office when this photo was taken.)
Looking at her photo of my workspace, I recognized how I have set it up to connect me to things I need to feel safe, connected, and inspired.
(I moved my three-monitor setup to the conference table for the photo — I’m normally facing out the window that you see behind me.)
The most important element for me are the windows. I look out onto my green front yard; my view includes not just lots of trees but neighbors, my front walk, and a flowering crabapple that attracts a variety of birds and squirrels. Earlier this week, I even saw a red fox. Being able to look at things in the distance is essential — focusing close in and then far away is good for your eyes, your brain, and your ability to be inspired.
I’d like to point out a few of the things I surround myself with to extend that inspiration. In addition to the the three big screens — which are necessary for someone like me with vision problems — I have a custom-built L-shaped wood desk with acres of space, mounted at an ergonomic height.
Many of the other items you see in Taylor’s photo are important to me. On the sill behind my monitors are two sets of books: the ones on the right I wrote, and the ones on the left I edited or helped with. I often grab one for quick reference, but even when they are just sitting there, they validate my existence and my work.
That little drawing is from my son, and is one of a number of things on that pillar that mean something to me, including the cover graphic of Writing Without Bullshit and the first $2 I made from consulting on my own, thanks to Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable. (She sent a check for $1498 along with that $2 bill, because she knew what it would mean to me.)
Everything in these frames is meaningful to me: a photo of my grandmother as a child, of me with my kids when they were very young, and keepsakes including tickets from a show Charlene and I went to in New York to celebrate Groundswell, my rider card from a charity ride from Boston to New York, and a postcard photo of my wife and her sister on the beach in Maine when we were all much younger.
A little further away are calendars including one with wildlife photos that my friend took, and a whole shelf of books my friends wrote.
Finally, when I’m on Zoom, the image behind me includes a couple posters mounted high on the wall behind me, including the original Groundswell poster that I persuaded our publisher Harvard Business Press to give me when they were done hanging it in their offices.
Those stuffed animals on the bookshelf behind me also mean something — I got them when presenting to MTV Networks. And that bookshelf has every book and manual I’ve ever published in the last 40 years. Even the file cabinets were culled from the auction sale at Software Arts, my first real job.
I hadn’t realized until I saw that photo from the Times just how much I’ve set up my office to make me feel confident and connected and to remember how I got here. My friends and my past are there with me, even if they don’t know it.
How’s your workspace? What do you keep close to remind you who you are? Do you need a cocoon like this, or do have some other way to keep yourself sane? I’d love to hear.