Life at Amazon

by Judy Koven

Last weekend’s New York Times article on the demanding workplace culture at Amazon has sparked intense discussion across digital and traditional media. As someone who helps people looking for therapy, I’ve heard many stories from stressed-out Amazon employees struggling to fit into what they experience as a hyper-competitive, sometimes aggressive environment and keep some semblance of balance to their lives. Whether you’re a satisfied Amazon customer, hate the company’s giant footprint on Seattle, or fall somewhere in between, the article raises important questions about what it means to work in our new economy, how we live our values and envision our community, and how well we’re able to sustain a balanced quality of life.

Though many who’ve worked at Amazon have had a negative experience, others have more positive opinions about their employer. Click here to see some of the feedback the Times received about the article.

No One’s Favorite Topic..but a vital and important read: On Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

by Peggy Shafer

Death and dying are high on the squick factor scale for most of us, and when we get right down to it, our ultimate fear isn’t of dying itself but of all that can happen to our bodies and minds months or years before we toddle off and vanish into the sunset. Perhaps we prefer to imagine that we will die in our sleep at 97 after completing a triathlon, but most of us who will be fortunate enough to live well into old age—fortunate because people in the last decades of their lives report the most satisfaction with their lives—will, in the end, experience a precipitous decline.

Reading the first half of Gawande’s book can be a somber excursion, but his beautiful, often lyrical, prose eases our way through the parts describing the grim history of our “care” for the frail elderly, the modern incarnation of which is assuring health and safety at the cost of autonomy, privacy and meaning.

In comparison, reading the second half of Being Mortal is an uplifting experience. Already there are scores of home-like living situations for frail people where the provision of privacy, autonomy and human—and animal—connections lengthen lives, motivate people to walk rather than waste away in wheelchairs and reduce prescriptions for all medications including those that render people confused and helpless. Gawande urges us to demand humanizing changes to all assisted living and nursing home environments and to insist that they change direction from fighting for longevity at all costs to fighting for what makes life meaningful.

Gawande’s latest book is laced through with intimate and moving stories of patients and of his own father’s decline and death and how they, and the innovators he learned from, radically changed the ways in which he conversed with patients close to the ends of their lives. In the final pages of the book he writes, “the aged…have priorities beyond being safe and living longer…the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life. We have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of our lives.”