Roger Ebert

Posted: April 5, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Several pages in today’s Chicago Sun-Times were devoted to honoring Roger Ebert, who died yesterday at age 70.  One especially touching editorial talked about how Ebert was lucky to do work that he loved.  In part, it was luck.  However, it was also a matter of skill and good career management.

Too many people float from job to job without asking the important question: What do I want to do?  When I coach clients who are thinking about changing careers, I ask them to think about those skills that they most enjoy using on the job.  These skills are best thought of as “gifts.”  The better we can align where we work with our gifts, the more likely we are to be happy on the job.

After you define your gifts, the next step is to identify positions that require those special skills.  Then start to identify companies that are potential employers and begin to search job boards.  The job search is never easy, especially for people trying to change careers.  If your goal is to be happy at work, make the effort.  Employers do not care if you are happy as long as you do your job.  You have to be responsible for your own happiness at work.  If you’re not happy, start looking – now.

Posted: April 4, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I never met Roger Ebert, but he’s always been a part of my life.  From PBS movie reviews in the 1970s to his writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert talked about movies in language that a normal person could understand.  While he was brilliant, he never talked down to his readers.  Instead, he was one of us, the person sitting next to us, a fan of movies.

Roger Ebert died today after a long bout with cancer.  I’m assuming his death was unexpected because his friend the columnist Neil Steinberg wrote a great piece entitled: “Roger Ebert is not Going Away” in today’s paper.  Ebert announced yesterday that his cancer had returned and that he would be reviewing fewer films.  He described his decision as a “leave of presence.”  Responding to Ebert’s words, “I am not going away,” Steinberg wrote: “This is certainly true.  He couldn’t, even if he never wrote another word.  He is lodged in the culture he swayed, in the minds of readers across the world, and in the hearts of his friends at the Sun-Times.” I’d add the hearts of his viewers and readers of several decades.

A person like Roger Ebert does leave us at death – his presence remains as long as we live.

Posted: March 25, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life and the work of living.]

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle to read books in the online age.  Today I got a similar feeling reading the Sunday paper.  I've always enjoyed the Sunday paper because – most Sundays – I have no or limited work responsibilities.

I read the Chicago Sun-Times.  Once upon a time I read the city’s other daily newspaper, but it seemed to get worse year by year.  Then it was bought by a truly ugly man who insulted his writers and readers.  That drove me to the Sun-Times, and I am better for it. 

Today’s paper is a wonderful example of why we need good newspapers.  The first article reports on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s support of public schools.  Is the mayor serious or blowing smoke?  Time will tell.  The paper’s great columnists – Mark Brown, Mary Mitchell, Neil Steinberg, and Carol Marin – cover topics that range from safety in schools to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Marin’s editorial on our recent election is to the point and very funny, beginning and ending with a visit to the Wiener’s Circle.

Investigative reporting is a hallmark of the paper.  Over the past months, it has covered a case in which the nephew of former Mayor Daley was allegedly involved in a crime, which seems to have been covered up (or very poorly investigated).  Today, three pages of the paper are devoted to investigating connections between government officials and a company that sells milk to Chicago public schools.  A list of school prices in city and suburban schools gives the reader a way to compare how the biggest buyer of milk in the state pays the highest price, which makes no sense.  There is also a side bar that names and profiles the individuals involved in the story.  Connections mean everything in Chicago, and the Sun-Times reveals who is making money off the public’s dime.

The paper’s two best writers have nothing to do with politics or related scandals.  Roger Ebert writes about movies, and Rick Telander covers sports.  In today’s column, Telander ponders the death of his co-worker and friend, Lacy J. Banks, who covered basketball for the paper.  Here is how he describes Banks, who was called the Reverend because he was an ordained minister, at a press conference: “The Reverend elbowed to the front of media crowds and stared directly at his subjects with purpose, and he asked his questions in a booming, from-the-pulpit vocal splendor that sometimes left interviewees mute, staring at him slack-jawed.”

This week’s Sunday paper was unusually good.  However, week in, week out, day in, day out,  the Sun-Times helps me understand and appreciate the city.  It introduces me to new people and places.  Most of the time, it’s very well written and interesting.  Smart people say the newspaper is dead.  It’s just a matter of time until it disappears.  We’ve heard that line about jazz for decades.  Ask Wynton Marsalis or Kurt Elling (or their fans) if jazz is dead.  Viva newspapers!  Viva the Chicago Sun-Times.

Posted: September 19, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

(On Sundays, Career Calling explores work and life issues in “Sabbath.”)

Roger Ebert – Take Two

A few months ago, I wrote a Sabbath post admiring Roger Ebert’s passion and productivity as a writer.  This week a new aspect of this man’s skill and work was revealed – Roger Ebert is a cook.  That fact is pretty amazing since Ebert, who has had several surgeries for cancer, hasn’t eaten solid food since 2006.  He has also lost his sense of smell, which is an important tool for most cooks.

Despite these limitations, Ebert still loves to cook, and he has written a cookbook entitled The Pot and How to Use It.  Ebert’s favorite kitchen tool is a rice cooker, which he uses to make a range of dishes, including oatmeal, eggs, and chili.  A recent story in the Sun-Times describes Ebert as a conductor in his kitchen, giving instructions, adding ingredients and spices.  When there is doubt about an ingredient or how long something should cook, he simply says that the “pot knows” – Zen and the art of cooking.

Why does Ebert still cook if he know longer eats?  He explains that he loves the social aspects related to cooking and eating.  He can only talk with the aid of a computer, and frequently writes answers and responses.  The article describes how Ebert interacts with his guests and his wife, Chaz, his partner in pot cooking.  He loves being a host as well as a cook. 

Ebert advocates passionately for his style of cooking.  With his professional success and tenure, he could easily take his loved ones and friends to restaurants or have chefs cook in his home.  Instead, Ebert wants to cook for them, which involves the care and art that are the foundation of all good work.  As a writer and a cook, Roger Ebert loves what he is doing.

This story has inspired me to cook more.  I’m even going to buy a rice cooker and learn to use “the pot.”

Sunday Extra Helpings:

A blog post on Ebert & how to use the pot to cook risotto

An article on Ebert and the Pot from the Huffington Post

Posted: October 25, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

[Sabbath is a Sunday feature that ponders work & life.]

The Passions of Roger Ebert

Every Friday morning I get the same feeling of admiration and wonder.  The cause?  Roger Ebert.  Almost every review in the Sun-Times movie section is written by Ebert, whose writing has a naturalness and grace about it that sets it apart.  Most movie reviewers want to show how much they know, why they are an expert.  Ebert loves movies.  His reviews – positive or negative – speak to normal people who are trying to decide whether or not to see a film. 

Ebert wrote 8 of the 10 reviews in this week’s movie section.  I don’t know how long it took to write and edit these reviews, but we have to add to that effort the time it took to watch each film.  Most columnists and reporters produce 2-3 features a week.  Often those pieces are based on a brief interview or review of documents.  Ebert is not only one of the most talented writers in American journalism.  He is one of the hardest working.

The best kind of work is fueled by passion, which Ebert exemplifies.  Not only does he produce several movie reviews a week, he also writes one of the most popular blogs on the internet.  In this space, Ebert covers a range of topics from news to personal matters.  He reads comments and often responds to them in detail. 

Most amazingly, all of this is happening while Roger Ebert is fighting cancer.  The man who was one of the most engaging voices on TV (his program with Siskel/Roeper, appearance on the Tonight Show) can no longer speak.  Some would let this misfortune stop their creativity.  Ebert seems fueled to do even more.  He continues to attend film festivals, including the one he sponsors.  He recently gave a large gift to the University of Illinois.  There is no self-pity in this man.

Roger Ebert embodies the value of doing work that drives our passion.  When we are engaged with a task we care about – something we love – work offers us a reward greater than money.  As we see in Ebert’s example, it’s still hard – it’s still work.  But when we find a job that satisfies our passion, we take away an extra bonus from our work: joy.