In Memorium John Updike: Work 2.0 Role Model

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John Updike (1932-2009) in 2002.

As you most likely know, John Updike succumbed to lung cancer on January 27th, at age 76. His name registers instantly in the mind as one of the preeminent authors of our era; two of John’s novels were awarded the Pulitzer Prize and he wrote scores of widely-read essays, short stories, and poems for The New Yorker over a span of more than 50 years.

Why am I pausing to remember John Updike on this blog? Three reasons:

  1. We share two towns in common
  2. I was fortunate to have had several brief conversations with him
  3. He is a great role model for the Work 2.0 movement.

John resided in Ipswich, MA, where I live now, from 1957-1979. He spent the remainder of his life in nearby Beverly Farms, MA, where I resided for two years prior to moving to Ipswich. John was an integral member of both communities. While living in Ipswich, he regularly attended town meetings and participated in numerous town committees. He frequently wrote for the local newspaper, The Ipswich Chronicle. He was a deacon of the Congregational Church and a member of the Lion’s Club. He played poker biweekly with a small group of townies and was often seen tanning and playing volleyball on Crane Beach. He was known by locals as “an everyday guy”, not a famous author.

I had the pleasure of meeting and conversing with John while we both lived in Beverly Farms. I was working part-time at the local package store, having lost my “real” job as a software industry analyst/consultant to the burst Internet bubble. John would patronize the store from time-to-time and was almost always smiling and pleasant. We briefly talked of small things: the economy, local happenings, the Red Sox, and wine. He was one of the friendliest and most genuine people I have met. However, John made his biggest impression on me after his death, while I’ve been reading his obituaries in various local newspapers and thinking about not only what he accomplished, but how he lived his life.

John was a freelancer. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker for two years after college, then left regular employment with the publication to be his own boss. Of course, much of his writing was published in The New Yorker throughout his life, but John refused to work for anyone but himself. He knew that he was very good at what he did and had the confidence to sell his work at a price that allowed his family to live comfortably. That’s the cornerstone of Work 2.0!

John had a work schedule that we would all do well to emulate. He wrote, uninterrupted in his office, from 9 am to 1 pm, Monday through Saturday. Essentially, he worked four hours a day and spent the rest of his time interacting with other people. Those relationships and the fruits of their interactions were the primary subject matter of his writing. He was able to pen an astonishing number of literary works (60 some novels alone) precisely because he worked only 24 hours a week — not in spite of that limited schedule. John’s working time was a highly-focused outpouring of everything he absorbed and did during the rest of his waking hours.

Shouldn’t we all strive for that kind of balance? Limit our working hours, but be 100% productive during that time? Take time to observe and know people? Make time to absorb as much learning as possible in our primary domain of interest? Sounds like a great lifestyle to me and John Updike’s legacy is proof of its merits. I just wanted to point that out, because it is a detail that might otherwise get easily lost as we remember the man and his accomplishments. Thank you, John, for showing us all a better way to live and work!

Photo Credit: © 2002 Rick Friedman/Corbis

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2 responses to “In Memorium John Updike: Work 2.0 Role Model

  1. Thank you for the article. I’ve recently left IBM in the wake of its recent actions to work for myself. Mr. Updike’s philosophy is inspirational and your comments only bolster that. Confidence is a very important aspect of going independent. I hope others are also inspired by your post.

  2. Ditto above. Although not an avid ready of TNY, I grew up with it ALWAYS in the house and perhpas therefore know of J.Updike’s work. What a treat to hear from someone who knew John. I can only reiterate “inspirational” from above. We all strive for work – life balance >> such a “role model”.

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