The Year of the Memoir



Note: it is only August, I have much reading to do. Still as my summer of reading winds down, I felt as though this was a good time to share away. 


These days are rough on all of us. What is, what will be? The questions are many. Covid and Delta have made it that way. Will there be school? Is there a way to work successfully? And this is where someone else’s story as a panacea comes into play. In very real ways, falling into someone else’s headspace is a magical elixir. Books are a gift like that. 

To know me, is to know how much I love a great story. Books are my food, my snack, my amuse bouche, my indulgence — it just depends which one I am in the mood for. I have very strict formulas (I know, too much, right!). For example short stories serve to cleanse my palate before I remove myself from one reality and immerse in another via that next book. And ooooh, that next book – sitting in a stunning pile – fresh, new and hopefully waiting for its spine to be broken. It is kind of like some reality show…”pick me, Julia please pick me”…

I listen to books only if they are memoirs or nonfiction and read by the author. This was what Michelle Obama taught me and was further validated by Melinda Gates. Listening to the author share her own experiences – that is the holy grail. 

As such, this year has been a careful balancing act of fact and fiction (sure this could possibly describe the  real world too, but for the sake of this moment – we are talking books). And this year, 2021 has been ripe with worthwhile memoirs. For me, these books are holding me, like newly found best friends – the connection is powerful. And healing as well. In fact, a big issue I am having right now is that I am meditating less and listening to other people’s reality more. I know this likely requires its own interpretation. I am going with — I am too damn worn out to meditate or maybe not open to being quite so present with myself. I will own both, either or neither. 

While I do consider these issues daily, Nicole Lynn Lewis brings them to live through her honest, first person narrative

Bottom line, I am spending my time lovingly listening to memoirs. I wanted to share a few that meet my criteria. To review:

  • Memoir or autobiographical 
  • Read by author
  • Compelling, relatable or inspirational – the trifecta is a major win. 

Here’s what’s doing it for me. Share yours, please!!!



I made an exception to my rules – yes I did, but just for this book, Crying in H-Mart. I read Michlle Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H-Mart the week it was released. And, lent it out soon thereafter. It is that powerfully compelling. Really, you must read this one, and take your time with it.  And having a good stash of Korean food close by will be an essential strategy as well. You will also need tissues. So kimchi and Kleenex – got it? Note too – the H-mart in the book is located in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania (go Panthers!) on Old York Road…shout-out to my hometown of Philly! 



Alight, alright, alright. No, you did not see that one coming did you? I began listening to Matthew McConaughey’s dramatic playbook of life and in specific his adventures and epiphanic moments at the request of my son Sam. It comes on fast and furious — little time to ease in, just BAM you and MM are BFFs and you are in the TMI weeds.  There is so much energy packed into each word it can only be listened to during the day. And when you do – you get poems, prescriptions and well as a big chunk of things that make you go hmmm. I do get my 19 year olds son’s love of this one…there is a lot to process and a lot to plan for. It makes anything feel possible. And that is a good thing. @OfficiallyMcConaughy 



Oh I adored spending time with Laura Friedman Williams as she made her way from we to me. Newly divorced and with no plan, we join along as she reimagins herself with such absolute candor. I have suggested this to my former divorce lawyer as a “new client” gift. And I have been sending this audiobook around as my super-empowerment with laughter guide to what’s next to my newly separated mid-life friends. Man the road is rough. It seems only fair that Laura is there to validate all that allures, confuses and frustrates. Either way, the more you read, the more you adore her. Including the ways in which she begins to make sense of herself. From learning what is the new way to do things (waxing 101) to what casual means in this century, there is much for Laura to master. Add to this – she is a ton of fun on social media. @laurafredmanwilliams



This one is an amazing first row seat into an outstanding performance of “she said/he said” genre — what is there not to love?  Meet Joseph and Meg, a couple who openly share their first ten years through their own, unique lens. And who laid it all out there – consequences aside (I think!). It is fun and it is an expedition. A great deal happens in ten years. And yes, it does fly by. But the moments count and add up. I loved listening to Joseph Fink and Meg Bashwiner tell their truths — great stuff! @LadyBash (Insta spoiler – baby makes three!!!), hope there is a parenting book in their future! 


An attempt at clearing out the library! And yes, I do have textbooks from GWU!
An attempt at clearing out the library! And yes, I do have textbooks from GWU!


Seriously – I could never have pulled off what Julie Klam accomplished in the research and writing  of this book.  And she reads it in a way that compels you from the very first word. Note, I think it is not called reading, but performing feels off to me. Her level of curiosity and willingness to cover the globe in an effort to uncover the true story of her great family myth is impressive to say the very least. We all know how each of our families grows stories, it is just a fact. It is only Julie’s insatiable curiosity and people’s instant, positive reaction to her charm, that  opens the gates to the truth – not only in action but also in circumstance,  that bring the pieces together. She breaks the fourth wall to add to the listening fun. We learn a great deal not only about the Immigration experience and Jewish life in the 1900s, we learn about choices and their ripples.  Even simple facts like basic dates change the narrative completely. And I was so grateful to be along for the ride! 

Next Up is….

Ladyparts by Debrah Copeaken is currently in my ears…I am hooked…guessing you will be too. It opens with blood and a lot of internal dialog about women’s health disparity in the US — I am in love. @dcopaken



And the mood. Add flowers and a candle to really escape.  Inheritance was a wild escape as is Dani Shapiro’s Podcast, Family Secrets.

Writing For First Timers

There is something powerful about listening to and really growing through a writing assignment. I have been busy crafting a few chapters that focus on first-time mothers returning to the workplace for Harvard Business Review. One is specific to Breast Pumping and work and the other to PPD. For these, for all my writing, I call on sources that include the parents of Its Working Project’s Portrait Project. Here I find years of candor. And am reminded too of the evolution of working parenthood since IWP was launched in 2013.

One thing that comes up over and again – both via IWP stories (here are a few – Sara Weinstein and Natasha D) and my current research is one simple truth, parenting is a series of phases. Experience shows us that this too shall pass. Thus anxiety is comfortably lower in second and later time parents. I think of this in my own experiences. It was not a fluke that I grew more relaxed and confident as I made way to this month when my youngest graduated from High School. I am sure this is the natural result of my recognizing that there was always a route from here to there. And, sometimes the very best thing to do was absolutely nothing. This was a hard-earned truth.

Ann Smith, president of Postpartum Support International reminded me how very true this is with newly minted mothers. She stressed that even with the most caring mentors, dedicated support system and loving friends and family in place –  a full one in seven, or 14% of new mothers suffer from a mild to severe perinatal mood disorder. PPD can happen to anyone. It crosses all lines – ethnic, geographic, racial, economic – you name it. And feels more likely to impact first-timers.

I am so very pleased that HBR has asked me to contribute two chapters to this book. And even more so that they agreed to accept PPD as one of the topics. We must keep listening and sharing the truth about new motherhood. Neither perfect nor completely in our control, it is ours. And if our experience feels bigger or heavier than expected. If we are fair in our expectations of a new version of ourselves and yet still feel off. There is help to be had. There is no shame in asking and receiving whatever gets us from here to there. Because, for better or for worse, this too shall pass.



I was taking a little stroll down memory lane. There I found the last piece I published pre-pandemic, pre-she-cession and pre- end of the world as we know it (respectful nod to Michael Stipe). This article was published in February 2020. It was about Postpartum depression – really the whole of the spectrum from Blues to Psychosis. And, how to offer support in very real ways. The topic still applies. 

Since then I have written a great deal on our working lives during the Pandemic. From how we find and keep our kids in productive Learning Pods to ways in which organizations have created and maintained Family Friendly Work Cultures.

Here is what I’ve been thinking: 

Observation 1

All those articles I have written or you have read about return to work as a parent or both are completely applicabile now (as you find your way back into the workplace)

Observation 2

The part where I am constantly suggesting how very powerful a mentor can be is still true, but I can’t quite make the math work on this one — how can one be or find a mentor for something none of us have done before?

Observation 3

The same way in which organizations would offer increased weeks, months of parental leave —  the horse race as I call it, expect that to manifest itself in a new multidimensional format. 

Observation 4

Sure, pivot was a fun buzz word, but that is so last year. Expect to hear more about flexibility, remote, job share and off-site.

Observation 5

Dear employers, It really is your problem. Child Care, Eldercare, Remote Work Options — all of it. Zoom has brought whole lives out of the closet. No putting them back now. Rise up. 

Observation 6

TSA agents — has anyone bothered to retrain them re how to handle milk, pumps and pumping or nursing mothers?


What are you thinking about? I would love to hear it!

4 Strengths of Family-Friendly Work Cultures


In the media: Harvard Business Review

Date: September 14, 2020


As Covid-19 grew into a pandemic, Michael Schaffer, a father of three in a dual-working household, worried a lot: about his parents in Delaware; about his highly creative, curious, and social kids, who’d had to switch to remote learning; and even about his dog, who was now sharing the home with everyone 24/7. But what Mike did not worry about was his role at Edelman, where he was Senior Vice President, Digital + Corporate. While friends, family, and colleagues all around him had to suddenly adjust to remote work, he’d already been doing it for close to 18 months. That’s how long it had been since he and his family had moved from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles for his wife’s career. Edelman was committed to supporting the shifting needs of its employees and their families, even if they had to relocate, and to that end the company had put in place a set of technologies, protocols, tools designed to help enable remote work — which had made it possible for Mike to move to Los Angeles with his family but still stay on the DC team that he loved. He felt lucky.

The It’s Working Project, where I make sense of the challenging and ever-evolving intersection between work and caregiving, has interviewed employees and HR departments about how their workplace dynamics are shifting during Covid. It’s important that workplaces get this right, because although one-third of the US workforce is considered essential and has been on the job through the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the rest of American workers have shifted to remote work, some of them probably permanently. It’s been a bumpy experience for many employers and workers, especially parents, but in recent conversations with Mike and others I’ve noticed a compelling pattern: The workplaces that are thriving today are those that had already invested in family-centric policies and are building on what they’d learned.

As late as February, when companies committed themselves to family-friendly benefits by offering flexible work days, back-up-care reimbursement, and remote working options, and by prohibiting end-of-day meetings, they typically did so in the name of recruitment, retention, and brand culture. But no longer. Some of these programs grew out of the economic realities of a formerly low unemployment rate, they’ve left organizations well positioned for the quickly shifting workplace dynamics of Covid-19. To understand how — and why — I’ve begun collecting the stories of workers.

Let’s consider a few here.

Click here to read the full article.