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Know Thyself: A Poet’s Advice for Remote Management

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

Once upon a time, I had a romance straight out of a romantic comedy. I'll set the scene for you...

It was one of those late summer evenings in New England where the sun was still out. The day was warm, but the evening chill foreshadows the autumn season coming around the corner. As I walked along the brick-paved path between colonial houses and an umbrella of elm trees, I heard a voice, “Hey, Tam.”

I turned around and saw my date for the night riding on his city bike with a book in the front basket—a gift for me of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems with a handwritten note inside: “For Tamara, There’s no better Virgil for a Voyage of the Heart.”

We've broken up since then, but ever since, I've been enamored by the words of the late poet. And as a remote work advocate, I've someone drawn a connection between Rilke's poetry and remote work.

In Rilke's timeless classic, Letter to a Young Poet, he writes letters back and forth to a young man wanting feedback on his poetry. Rather than telling him WHAT to do, Rilke advised him on HOW to go about writing poetry. He encouraged the young poet to be patient and curious and that the answers to his poetic questions would appear one day through lived experience.

Of course, Rilke said it more eloquently:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything.”

Not surprisingly, the letters spanned six years. (It takes time to live the question!)

Likewise, we believe that to be a good remote manager, you need to learn through experience. You need to know yourself before you can successfully manage others.

As we know, this is hard. And sometimes, it can help to use a third object to reflect on the more nuanced questions. As one of my favorite Quaker teachers, Parker Palmer, once wrote: “Mediated by a third thing, the truth can emerge from, and return to, our awareness at whatever pace and depth we are able to handle.”

So, on that note, I thought we could use the symbolic language of Tarot to learn more about yourself and your remote work journey.

I've pulled five cards that represent critical points on a remote worker's journey. Take a moment to look at the card and description, and then reflect on the associated questions.

The Fool: Represents fresh starts and new beginnings.

  • What did you want to be when you grew up?

  • How did you feel at the start of your career?

  • What excited you about your career journey?

The Hermit: Represents a teacher or a healer who we can learn from.

  • Who has been a mentor to you?

  • What is an important lesson that you’ve learned recently?

The Justice: Represents justice, fairness, and truth.

  • When was a time that you felt treated unfairly? What did you learn from that experience?

  • How would you describe your values in three words?

  • How do these values show up for you at work? How do they align with your company's values?

The Tower: Represents sudden endings and unforeseen changes.

  • What has been a major U-turn in your life?

  • What happened as a result of that U-turn?

The Sun: Represents renewed optimism and energy for the future.

  • What are your hopes at work? Outside of work?

  • What helps you feel refreshed?

Reflection Questions:

  1. Did you learn anything surprising about yourself?

  2. What are ways that you can navigate your work week better with this self-knowledge?


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