Karen Baum Gordon’s “Last Letter”

I tell this story often.

By the fall of 2013, it had become apparent to me that regime change was imminent at MTV News. One morning, I told Abbi that I’d done three things to foment my exit: 

  1. I hired a resume coach to sharpen my cv, and
  2. An executive coach to hold me accountable to my goal of having a new job by Q3 
  3. I enrolled in the Sulzberger Fellowship at Columbia University.

I accepted a role at Facebook later that summer.

Central to that transition and many, many since, is Karen Baum Gordon, who, in her role as faculty at Sulzberger (now the Media Transformation Challenge at The Poynter Institute), coached me through the transformation of MTV News from a TV-first to digital-first newsroom, and coached me through my ongoing transformation from a frazzled, unfocussed, impatient media executive to a better-balanced, strengths-oriented coach, consultant, author and musician. 

Karen was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, before attending Harvard. She co-founded Strategic Horizons, Inc., an executive coaching and management consulting firm after working as a consultant at the fabled McKinsey & Co., managing NYC restaurants, and training as a chef in France. Karen lives with her husband, Bob, and black lab, Ollie, in Brooklyn, NY.

In her brand-new book, “The Last Letter: A Father’s Struggle, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Long Shadow of the Holocaust,” Karen explores the stories and events that shaped the lives of her grandparents — two Holocaust victims that her father tried in vain to save in early years of World War II.

It is a painstakingly researched, heartbreaking page-turner where we are reminded that sometimes, we can never go home. And we often need to let go to move on.

“Evil,” Fred Rogers once said, “would like nothing better than to have us feel awful about who we are.”

As my coach, Karen spent a fair amount of time doing precisely the opposite. In order to be a better leader at work, but moreover, to be better for myself, Karen encouraged me to lean into my family, my time in nature, and with a guitar in my hands. She helped me take the long view, and address individual challenges with time-tested, well-reasoned approaches to incremental problem solving. She reminds to stay humble, and patient, and proactive but responsive to ebb and flow of real life.

In “The Last Letter,” Karen models this on every page. She shows us, step by step, how to stay curious and vigilant, to look for the helpers, and mention the unmentionable in order to be the change that we want to see in the world.

“There is no life free of pain,” Fred Rogers said. “It’s the very wrestling with our problems that is the impetus for growth.”

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