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Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things

Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things

3.3 3
by Lee Kravitz

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After losing his job, Lee Kravitz, a workaholic in his midfifties, took stock of his life and realized just how disconnected he had become from the people who mattered most to him. He committed an entire year to reconnecting with them and making amends. Kravitz takes listeners on ten transformational journeys, among them repaying a thirty-year-old debt, making a


After losing his job, Lee Kravitz, a workaholic in his midfifties, took stock of his life and realized just how disconnected he had become from the people who mattered most to him. He committed an entire year to reconnecting with them and making amends. Kravitz takes listeners on ten transformational journeys, among them repaying a thirty-year-old debt, making a long-overdue condolence call, finding an abandoned relative, and fulfilling a forgotten promise. Along the way, we meet a cast of wonderful characters and travel the globe-to a refugee camp in Kenya, a monastery in California, the desert of southern Iran, a Little League game in upstate New York, and a bar in Kravitz's native Cleveland. In each instance, the act of reaching out opens new paths for both personal and spiritual growth. All of us have unfinished business-the things we should have done but just let slip. Kravitz's story reveals that the things we've avoided are exactly those that have the power to transform, enrich, enlarge, and even complete us. The lesson of the book is one that is applicable to us all: Be mindful of what is most important, and act on it. The rewards will be immediate and lasting.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an uplifting and truly life-affirming book." —Hope Edelman, author of The Possibility of Everything
Sarah Halzack
There are hints of self-indulgence…But generally Kravitz writes with an inspiring sincerity. His experiences are so familiar that it would be hard for readers not to reflect on their own unfinished business—and want to tend to it.
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Former Parade editor in chief Kravitz makes amends and spends a year living connectedly. Reflecting on his life after losing his job, the author was not pleased with what he found-a workaholic living in self-exile not just from his family but his greater life. He felt diminished because of his firing, and he felt guilty about the important things he dropped by the wayside: family and friends, a broad curiosity, an inclusive worldview. "As good as my life looked on paper," he writes, "it was sorely lacking in the one area that puts flesh on meaning: human connectedness." So the author devoted an entire year to tying up loose emotional ends. Despite being fearful and anxious, he reached out to reconnect with family, friends and acquaintances-a schizophrenic aunt, a high-school teacher, friends he has been concerned about, an old nemesis, people along the way he has made promises to that have gone begging-and found many pleasing nuggets of gold. Though genuine, Kravitz's writing has a high pitch-not desperate, but somewhere between hopeful and eager to please. On the surface, his journeys are not particularly exciting; there are no swooning epiphanies, and the results don't fit comfortably into a paint-by-numbers philosophy. Nonetheless, they are truthful, generous and worthwhile. Through his experiences, he found meaning, an acceptance of life's absurdity and the insight that so much comes down to attitude and keeping the many threads of life thrumming. Vignettes of a life recovered, not deep but authentic. Coordinated appearances around the author's lecture schedule. Agent: David Black/David Black Literary Agency
Publishers Weekly
When Parade editor-in-chief Kravitz loses his job, he takes account of the many things he let slip in his quest to get to the top of the publishing world. He decides to take the next year to pursue all he's let pass: a reconciliation with a long-lost aunt; an exploration of spirituality; a payment of a 30-year-old debt; and other pursuits. In the process he learns a great deal about patience, humility, love, and family and reminds readers that the best time to do the things you say you're going to do is now. Kravitz is a thoughtful writer, and his memoir reveals a delicate personal journey, but many of his grand setups result in poor payoffs. While readers will be pleased that the author has made these valuable connections and has enriched his life, they may not connect sufficiently with him to be able to sympathize. His account is full of small, personal gestures, but their ultimate accumulation doesn't have much resonance.

Product Details

Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Lee Kravitz


Copyright © 2010 Lee Kravitz
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59691-675-3


Compiling the List Ten Things That Truly Matter

FOR OVER a year, things had been going downhill at work. A growing rift had opened up between me and my boss. It was hard to pinpoint what had gone wrong, but the affection and trust we once shared had steadily diminished. Unless things changed, either he would fire me or I would need to quit.

It was a tough admission to make, because I loved my job and I had assumed that I would be working there the rest of my life.

As the months wore on, my boss shunned me and I felt increasingly marginalized. I made attempts to change our dynamic, but nothing seemed to work. I kept my game face on around my colleagues and got done what needed to be done. At home, however, I sulked and felt sorry for myself and was irritable around the kids. On the last Sunday in September, Elizabeth and I were looking out across the lake, watching a flock of Canada geese lift from the water and set their sights south.

"I wouldn't mind joining them," I said.

"You'd take your computer along and spend the whole flight working," she said.

"I wouldn't," I said. "I'm dreading going to work tomorrow."

"I know," she said, putting her hand over mine. "Maybe it's time to leave."

I felt ready to move on, something I had never seen myself doing before.

* * *

THE NEXT MORNING, when I arrived at the office, an executive of the company told me that I no longer had a job. Because the conversation lasted less than a minute and took place in a hallway, I thought he was joking. But it wasn't a joke; I had been fired.

I called Elizabeth. In the few minutes it took for her to call me back, I went through a gamut of emotions: I was numb, then angry. I felt manipulated and betrayed. I had been tried, sentenced, and banished from the kingdom without a trial. Part of me expected my boss's boss to overturn the decision-a fantasy, of course. But mostly I felt humiliated. My father had lost his job when I was a teenager and nothing good ever came of it. No one in our family got any closer, wiser, or more giving as a result of his being unemployed. Instead, the loss of his job ushered in years of worry and fear. Now I was the one who had failed my family. How could I explain to my three young children that their father who worked all the time didn't work anymore? How could I protect them from everything that had confused and scared me when my own dad lost his job?

By the time Elizabeth reached me, I was too exhausted to talk. "I know how bad you're feeling," she said. "But in a few days you'll realize that this is the best thing that could have happened to you." I hoped she was right.

AT FIRST I tried to make up for lost time. I took the kids to school, saw all of their ball games, and helped them with their homework. I made plans to work out, lose weight, and lower my blood pressure. It was fun to go to museums with Elizabeth again; we hadn't done that in years.

Within weeks, though, I began feeling nervous and self-conscious about not working. Instead of seeing friends again, I stopped taking their phone calls. Instead of playing with the kids, I took naps. Instead of going on dates with Elizabeth, I stayed home to watch episodes of Law & Order I had already seen.

I'd stay in bed until ten or eleven in the morning, thinking about the moment I was fired and the people who had been responsible for firing me. I'd make a pot of coffee and drink cup after cup, until I was so wired that I couldn't stay focused on reading the paper or watching the news. Not having work preoccupied me as much as work had, and I thought about it constantly: when I took out the garbage, waved to a neighbor, or walked Pip, our dog. Because I had never anticipated being in this position, I had given no thought to what I might do next in my life. The realization unnerved me, to the point that I avoided the possibility of any conversation that might lead to another person asking me about my plans.

ELIZABETH SUGGESTED THAT I spend a few days at Kripalu, a yoga retreat in the Berkshires. She said that I might be able to relax there and gather my thoughts. When I shrugged her off, she handed me the phone.

On a rainy afternoon in late October, I set off from our home in Upstate New York and drove north on the Taconic and east on Interstate 90 into western Massachusetts. Most of the leaves had changed color and fallen by then, and I strained through the rain and my windshield wipers to make out Exit 2, which would take me to Routes 7 and 20 and the winding road to the town of Lenox. Somehow I got there and a little beyond-to the huge building that had once housed a Roman Catholic monastery.

Most of the people wandering through Kripalu's lobby were in their early to mid-fifties and looked a lot like I suppose I did-stressed out and clueless. I registered at the desk and dropped my duff el bag off at the room I was sharing with three other middle-aged men.

After a dinner of lentil soup, kale, and sweet potatoes, I had a choice of attending a movement class or a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita. Along with a dozen or so other people, I decided to spend my evening moving free-form to the rhythms of two drummers from the Ca rib be an.

At first I felt silly, fl ailing my arms back and forth like the Hindu goddess Durga. I felt even sillier when a man with a graying ponytail pulled me into a circle of other mainly middle-aged men and women. But gradually I started to relax and enjoy myself, moving faster and faster over the hardwood floor in my bare feet. When our circle broke in two, we slithered around the room like a giant undulating snake. As the drumming reached its climax, we shed each other one by one and collapsed into a pile of sweat-soaked gigglers.

Proud of the progress I was making toward becoming the chilled-out father my kids wanted me to be, I retired to my dorm room and fell fast asleep.

The next morning I went to a six a.m. yoga class and had a breakfast of rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, and green tea. When I returned to the dorm room to shower, there was a note on my bed summoning me to the front office. An attractive young woman confided to me that two of my dorm mates had complained about my snoring, Kripalu's cardinal sin. She directed me to the snorers-only floor, Kripalu's Siberia.

The rejection by my dorm mates felt as piercing and punitive as losing my job. Less than a month earlier, I had been an important man, with an office and a secretary. Now I was just another snorer.

I WASN'T YOUR typical garden-variety, nine-to-five, you-can-invite-him-over-for-a-drink snorer. I was a workaholic snorer. And it had taken a huge toll on my family.

For years Elizabeth had been telling me, "You're never there for me." And I wasn't. Even when I was home, I was thinking about work. Did I appreciate the fact that Elizabeth did 80 percent of the child rearing and even more of the chores? Of course not. I had too much work to do. Did I make even the smallest effort to lessen her load? Sometimes, but mainly because I wanted to get ahead of the curve so she would let me work in peace.

The worst part of being so focused on my work was the relationship it kept me from having with my children. Benjamin said he was afraid to approach me, and his twin sister, Caroline, told the babysitter, "Daddy never smiles." They were almost eleven and beginning to pull away. Noah, who was nearing eight, still liked to crawl into bed with Elizabeth and me and cuddle. But to enjoy his affection, I needed to be in our bed and not in my study, working on my computer.

Easier said than done.

Being a workaholic was in my genes. My father was a workaholic, and so were my grandfather and great-grandfather, a Lithuanian peasant who got up at three a.m. to plow his fields.

In a world that valued hard work, no one worked harder than a Kravitz. Of course most of the Kravitz men died of heart attacks in their early sixties, and most of them had only a handful of friends, but you could never accuse a Kravitz of slacking off: We lived to work and worked until it killed us.

And society fed our disease. In my twenty years in corporate America, I was seldom told to work less, and when I was, the boss saying it didn't mean it, unless he was under strict orders from his own boss to cut overtime. You did not get promoted for being a good husband, father, or friend, or for volunteering for the local school board, or for taking time off , even when you had earned it. You got ahead by being perceived as an employee who worked day and night and put your job first. You didn't get a raise by attending your child's teacher conferences or by leaving your BlackBerry off . You got it by beating your boss to the office each morning and working through lunch. By working weekends and holidays and on vacations. And by always being in touch.

All of these thoughts came to me during my week at Kripalu. I didn't reach nirvana there, but I did gain perspective on what my dedication to work had cost me, and it made me less eager to find another job. Not that I could have found one: I was a fifty-four-year-old magazine editor in an industry that was hemorrhaging jobs and going through a period of fundamental change. With Elizabeth's income and my severance pay, we could get by for maybe a year. I could spend that year learning new skills with which to reenter the job market. Or I could spend it making myself a happier and more appreciative person, with richer friendships and a far better sense of who I was and what genuinely mattered to me. That's what I really wanted to do, but how and where would I begin?

THE ANSWER CAME by accident in the form of ten cardboard boxes that had been sent to our country house from my old workplace. The boxes had spent the last thirteen years in a closet there, and they contained everything I had saved from the previous four de cades of my life.

Why had I kept the boxes at work? Because there was no room for them in our tiny Manhattan apartment. Why hadn't I moved them to our country house before? Because I was always working and didn't have time to think about them or the distracting memories they might contain.

But now I did. I gave myself a week in the country to sort through the boxes and organize the accumulated stuff of my life. Elizabeth and the kids were in the city, so I had the run of the house and room to spread things out. It would be one of those big, messy projects that I both loved and hated to do. I would need to make piles of what to keep in the country, what to keep in the city, and what to throw away. I would need to make decisions I dreaded and create a lot more chaos before I saw even a semblance of order.

It would be a considerable undertaking but not without its own pleasures. So I poured myself a glass of wine and raised it in a toast to the project ahead. Because I wanted anything I did to help me become a better father to my kids, I queued up one of my son Noah's favorite songs, the Beatles' "Eight Days a Week." Then I went to work.

After opening the first few boxes, I realized how impatient I must have been when I packed them: Files of notes and essays from college shared the same box as a giant map of Central America and my bronzed baby shoes. My letter jacket from high school covered memorabilia I had collected at the 1992 Republican and Democratic Conventions.

One box contained my report cards since kindergarten, carefully stapled by my mother into two piles, the good and the bad. There was a list of friends and later girlfriends at ages seven, eleven, nineteen, and twenty-six, and eulogies I had written for family pets, my maternal grandmother, and a friend who died of cancer.

In another box there were more than a thousand letters from my father, one per week since college, featuring his distinctive use of brackets, quotation marks, and red type for emphasis. My roommates and I had spent hours trying to decode my father's letters for secret messages. We never found any. But we did find plenty of Knute Rockne-type advice and coaching. My father's letters baffled but also compelled me, so I kept them all. There was a collection of my old baseball caps in the box, along with an Indonesian shadow puppet I had purchased in Bali.

The boxes were full of strange and wonderful juxtapositions, but what struck me most was how the different objects reflected parts of myself I had suppressed or forgotten. The machete I used when I harvested bananas on a kibbutz in Israel reminded me of the thirst I once had for adventure. A barely decipherable dream journal brought back a year when I was so poor and scared for my future that I couldn't sleep at night but got by with a little help from my friends.

There was a box containing the notebooks and memorabilia that my grandfather gave me two weeks before he died. He spent the last two de cades of his life creating businesses that gave jobs and dignity to the survivors of the Holocaust. He was my biggest hero at a time when I still believed in them.

That same box contained a copy of my high school yearbook. Flipping through it, I experienced dozens of where-is-he-now, why-didn't-I-keep-up-with-him feelings of curiosity and regret. I noticed, for example, that the photo of my childhood bully was directly across from mine, reinforcing my sense that he had been born to torment me. There was also a photo of my favorite teacher, a young Episcopal priest who inspired me to think and write and believe in my obligation to do good in the world. I had fallen out of touch with him, just as I had with my soul mate in high school, a boy who had opened my eyes to the possibility of experiencing God and who later became a monk.

Life goes fast. Click. You are fifteen. Click, click. You are fifty-five. Click, click. You are gone. And so are the people who loved and nurtured you.

In one box there was a doctor's report confirming that my mother's mother, my beloved Nana Bertie, could no longer live on her own. When I was six, she taught me how to play Fish. When I was eight, she accused me of cheating. When I was twelve, fifteen, seventeen, and twenty-one, she came to my graduations and told everyone how proud she was of me, even though I cheated at Fish.

I found a photo of one of the few times in twenty-five years that my brothers and I gathered in the same place at the same time with our wives and children. One of those times was at my wedding, when Elizabeth was six months pregnant with our twins. Why didn't we get together more often? Busy working, the family disease.

How quickly it all goes: There were photos of me with and without a beard and in various stages of baldness over thirty years, a jar that contained the ashes of our poodle Buster, a letter from a friend in London who had been waiting for me to travel to Paris with him to visit the grave of Jim Morrison of the Doors, photos of Joyce and me at my high school prom. She was my first love and we were still friends fifteen years later when she was killed in an automobile accident as she was driving home from her wedding shower. She was buried two days later, on the same afternoon that she was supposed to get married. Joyce and I had always said that we'd be friends until we were eighty. That dreary September day she died was one of the saddest of my life.


Excerpted from UNFINISHED BUSINESS by Lee Kravitz Copyright © 2010 by Lee Kravitz. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lee Kravitz, a former editor in chief of Parade magazine and the founding editor of React, is currently the board president of Youth Communication.

Kevin Foley has over thirty years' experience in radio and television broadcasting, commercial voice-overs, and audiobook narration. He has recorded over one hundred and fifty audiobooks.

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Unfinished Business: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
anovelreviewer More than 1 year ago
<p>When Lee Kravitz became suddenly unemployed at age 56, one thing he had going for him was a strong support system in the person of his wife, Elizabeth. After collecting his thoughts and including her in his decision-making, he planned to take the next 12 months to fulfill intentions he had allowed to be crowded out during his years of being a workaholic. Adversity is overcome only by levelheadedness&mdash;a trait that easily escapes us when the proverbial rug has been pulled from under us. I know&mdash;from experience. That's why <strike>I wanted</strike> I needed to read <em>... unfinished business ...: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things</em>. </p> <p>By the end of the second chapter, I began to see a pattern emerging. During or after the resolution of each item on his list, Kravitz became a recipient of residual benefits in one form or another. These were unexpected outcomes due to sincere efforts on his part that brought closure to others' lives as well. In Chapter One, <em>Searching for Sorrow's Daughter</em>, he located his Aunt Fern living in a nursing home; and learned she had not had a visitor in over 14 years. Even though she had the presence of mind to bring sunshine into the lives of the staff and fellow residents of Aurora Manor, she never realized she was only 30 minutes away from her childhood home&mdash;until her nephew, "Lee Richard," began to visit and told her so. </p> <p>I've come across reviews where this book was recommended for a specific segment of the population. The only qualifiers I would suggest regarding this book would be an open mind and a willingness to seek the best in any circumstance. That's what Lee Kravitz brought; and he came away with so much more. </p> <p>I received a complimentary hardcover edition of <em>...unfinished business...</em> directly from the publisher. This has in no way influenced my review of the book. I have neither been offered nor received monetary compensation from the author, publisher, or other literary agents. I thank Bloomsbury USA for allowing me the opportunity to write an impartial review. A similar version of this review will has been posted on <a href="librarything.com" target="blank">LibraryThing</a>. </p>
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have learned via another one of my favorite books that not every one from your past should remain there. I love that the author provides an in-depth look at how to reestablish those connections and how to tie up those so called "loose ends." It is amazing. Absolutely amazing. For anyone who still feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain from a past mistake or event, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. I was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe it is because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. "When God Stopped Keeping Score" is available here on BN.com.