Archive for January, 2014

Walter Mitty


If you read the original short story written by James Thurber you will get a very different story than what you see in Ben Stiller’s movie version.  The original story leaves the reader wondering what kind of delusional looser Walter Mitty is.  He seems feckless and spineless and the story ends that way.  It’s as if his day dreams are a coping mechanism to stave off the feelings of guilt and shame at the life he has trapped himself in.

Not so with the movie.  Although Ben Stiller’s Walter Mitty may look dispensable to the obnoxious frat boys who are brought in to transition LIFE Magazine to a digital publication, the viewer senses something deeper in his character.  As the story unfolds, one sees that the trauma Walter Mitty experienced earlier in his life may have driven him to create a world that is rich in imagination yet small and controllable.  As the interactions with his family indicate however, he is not a social misfit.  His world is not so small that he cannot provide for the various needs of his elderly mother and irresponsible sister.

In so many hero stories there is a point where the protagonist says “this far and no further”.  What was it for Walter Mitty?  It might have been the inspirational gift from the intrepid photographer played by Sean Penn.  Maybe it was the imminent demise of the work both of them were doing?   Whatever it was, the situation clearly presented a line Walter Mitty would not be pushed past and it awakened in him a part of himself long-buried.  You might say he was brought back to life.

“Be properly scared and go on doing what you need to do.” – Flannery O’Connor

Is there a point you will not be pushed past; so urgent that you stop living in your head?

Thomas Merton said that “A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live”.

Are you living?

Frozen Man


James Taylor wrote a song in 1991 that he included on the “New Moon Shine” CD entitled “The Frozen Man”.  It’s a song inspired by a National Geographic story on the lost Franklin Expedition which sought to discover a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.  The article chronicles the subsequent expeditions that tried to find out why it failed. They found the remains of some of the members of the expedition amazingly well-preserved.  Taylor’s song goes on to imagine the fate of one of these men as he is, through the miracle of science, brought back to life.    He experiences a kind of second death in isolation and alienation from the modern world.

The bitter cold that had the average national temperature at 14 degrees last week had me thinking about this poor guy.    Not only is it a cautionary tale for those wanting to cryogenically preserve themselves (a la Ted Williams), it is also a warning about letting résumés and profiles go stale.

For many, this is the time of year to take stock of career paths and decide what changes ought to be made.  I wondered how many of us appear like John Torrington (frozen dude above) to the people who review our LinkedIn profiles or résumés.   I decided to put my own to the test.

I exhumed my résumé and was horrified. The summary contained at least 5 of the most overused words (to say nothing of the subjective descriptions), and there was nothing in it telling anyone what I am interested in doing going forward.   I am busy with salvage and reconstruction.

One of my favorite verses in the song is:

“It took a lot of money to start my heart

To peg my leg and to buy my eye

The newspapers call me state of the art

And the children, when they see me, cry”

It serves as a reminder that if I don’t regularly  review and update my work skills and interests, I will end up the functional equivalent of ‘the frozen man”.

Is your résumé a tombstone?

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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