Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Root Cause of America's Financial Problems...and a Good Solution

It all started with the people who wanted to buy something they couldn't afford. Rather than save up until they could, they applied for a loan: for example, for a new car, a home, real estate investment, new furniture, jewelry, vacation, etc.

In earlier times, if their income suggested they would be unlikely to afford to pay back the loan, lenders would turn them down and the person would have been forced to save some money or increase their income before trying again to get a loan.

But in recent years, lenders had a lot of money to lend and had methods--often deceptive methods--of making a profit even if the loan went unpaid, so lenders offered to lend money to unqualified borrowers.

And those borrowers accepted the loans, many knowing they were unlikely to afford to pay it all back but could later walk away from their car or credit card debt, or sell their real estate at a profit if the market went up or walk away from their mortgage if the market went down. And so now, for example, a record number of U.S. homes are in foreclosure. The number of repossessed cars has increased 10% last year and expected to rise an additional 7-10% this year.

In short, the root cause of the problem is borrowers' and lenders' poor ethics.

If poor ethics is the core cause of America's financial mess, then, even if the taxpayer ended up repaid, is the wisest solution to bail out the miscreants with $700 billion ($6,200 from every household in the U.S.) of your and my money? Especially a bailout that even its advocates are unsure how helpful it will be to us on Main Street or even to Wall Street?

(Update: The $700 billion has now been additionally larded with $150 billion in pork. Even in crisis, politicians will be politicians.)

Is the solution yet more government intervention, thereby shackling the invisible wise hand of the free market? Remember the government's track record. Here are a few examples in the financial arena:
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, massive government-sponsored enterprises, now in financial disarray and under conservatorship. Fannie's stock price has crashed from 70 a year ago to 1.5 today. Freddie's has plummeted from 62 to 1.7.
  • The Community Reinvestment Act, which encourages lending to underqualified borrowers in the name of "social justice" and thus helped cause America's current financial disaster.
  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which mandated that U.S. companies submit mountains of paperwork that cost companies and in turn consumers $1.4 trillion(!) without clear evidence of SOX providing even a small fraction of that amount in societal benefit. You can't legislate integrity; unethical people will always find a way to be dishonest.
Yes, a modest increase in regulation is probably prudent, for example:
  • Requiring buyers of CDOs, CMOs,and CDSs to meet margin requirements, just as stock buyers are.
  • Preventing conflicts of interest between credit rating agencies and issuers of CDOs, CMOs, and CDSs.
  • Ensuring that the companies that write insurance on those securities keep enough capital on hand to make good on the policies they issue.
But in my judgment, a taxpayer-paid bailout and a major increase in government regulation are not the answers to America's financial crisis.

If we are to get to the root cause of our financial crisis and of many other structural problems in the U.S. economy, a far wiser solution is to make the citizenry more ethical.

Of course, that's no easy task. After all, every business major must take an ethics course and that has hardly solved the problem. But I'd certainly rather see the nation invest $700 billion on improving people's ethics than to bail out the bad guys and then try to police everyone from being unethical again. That's not much more likely to succeed than Prohibition was to eliminate drinking.

How would I invest $700 billion to improve Americans' ethics?

1. Parenting education in the public and private high schools, colleges, adult schools, churches, etc., including how to--from Day One--ensure that your child treats ethics as the highest priority.

2. A critical-incident-based ethics curriculum from preschool through college. Many educators will claim that the school day is already overpacked but I believe the time would be better spent on ethics than, for example, on P.E., history, art, and yes, even the currently sacrosanct multicultural education.

3. A public education campaign, much like that used to reduce cigarette smoking, to emphasize the primacy of ethics to the life well-led and an America worth living in.

4. Periodic ethics training in the workplace. Just as annual sexual harassment workshops are required, annual ethics workshops should be. This training should focus on ethical stress points in that particular workplace: for example, whether a salesperson should voluntarily disclose a product’s weaknesses to potential customers.

5. 1-800-ETHICAL. Just as participants in Alcoholics Anonymous can call for counsel and support when tempted to take a drink, a government-paid-for hotline should be available for people, especially in the workplace, tempted to do something unethical.

6. Reinventing our system of electing leaders. Currently, it is rife with opportunity for dishonesty. We get the message that ethics is not primary in America when we see that our leaders get elected by accepting cash from special-interest donors, money that is used to air deceptive commercials and to hire spinmeisters.

7. Enforce our laws. For example, if we allow 13,000,000 people to illegally step ahead of the legal immigration line, and if we bail out unethical lenders and packagers instead of punishing them, we are taught, by example, that ethics is not primary in the U.S.

Of course, forgoing the bailout will mean a serious decline in our economy, but that decline is likely to be shorter and the eventual recovery more enduring than one that would follow a bailout.

As corporate America, government, indeed all of us should have done in the past, we need to eschew short-term profit for long-term, sturdy growth.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This I Believe

I just read a book, This I Believe II, which consists of 75 people's essays on their core belief. That motivated me to write my own.

The book suggests that a good "This I Believe" essay must be truly honest, short, and based on a specific anecdote. Okay.

I would have thought I'd have no trouble landing a professorship. After all, I had a Ph.D from the University of California Berkeley, specializing in education program evaluation (a hot field then and now), my dissertation was nominated for UCB's dissertation of the year, and I've always been told that I'm a fine teacher and writer.

Yet I applied for a number of professorships, and after a while wasn't too picky about it--I even applied to places like the tiny Brescia College in Owensboro, Kentucky. Yet I was offered not one job that was more than a low-pay, part-time, temp, fill-in.

Finally, I was interviewed at San Francisco State for a tenure-track position. It was the interview from heaven: The professors nodded and smiled in agreement throughout the interview. When the chairman asked the other interviewers to leave and for me to stay, I was sure I'd finally be offered a job.

But he said, and I remember it word for word: "Marty, if you tell anyone I said this, I'll deny it but I want to save you the cognitive dissonance. Marty, you are by far the most qualified candidate for this job, and you don't stand a ghost of a chance of getting it. The dean has informed us that the next seven tenure-track positions to be filled will (emphasis his) be women and minorities."

Over my 2,900 career coaching and higher education clients over the past 23 years, I have seen countless examples of such reverse discrimination. Indeed, reverse discrimination is not the exception; it's the norm.

And my perhaps most deeply held belief is that the benefits that derive from reverse discrimination are far outweighed by its liabilities. Society is ultimately doomed when it prioritizes something other than merit in choosing its bridge builders, medical school students, brand-name-college undergraduates, government, non-profit, and corporate leaders, etc.

The latter reminds me of a client--an eminent, brilliant minority woman, I might add--who serves on the board of three major corporations. She told me that to meet government "goals" and to avoid the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton machine boycotting the companies or getting the media to call the companies racist, the companies have to hire and promote many blacks who, on the merits, never would have been hired. She continued to say that they may have brand-name degrees, (also the result of reverse discrimination) but they're not good employees. "The companies just write them off as a loss and farm them out to the jobs where they can do the least harm."

I worry terribly that reverse discrimination and its devastating effects, rampant already, will only accelerate under an Obama administration. His spinmeisters paint him as a "post-racial candidate" but a careful reading of his 2008 speech on race, and more important, his long-term associates--not just Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Frank Marshall Davis, but most significant, his wife who, for example, headed Public Allies--makes clear to me that Obama will use his prodigious abilities to push merit yet further toward the back of the bus. To devastating effect.

This I believe.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Performance Reviews: Giving Them, Getting Them

I just read an article of that title, which motivated me to write one myself.

Most people dislike giving and getting performance reviews, yet they can be invaluable. I believe these are the keys to making the most of them: 

When Getting a Performance Review
1. Be prepared. Ideally ongoing, you should keep a file or all your accomplishments and praise you've received. Whether you're aiming for a raise or just to avoid the axe, that goodie file can be invaluable. Bring a printout to your performance review or email it to your boss in advance.

2. Before entering the room, remind yourself that if you follow the advice below, a performance review can really help you.

3. Encourage candor. Some bosses won't give negative feedback for fear of demotivating you. It's in your interest to get the straight scoop: it will help you grow or at least help you learn what you need to improve in to avoid getting fired. 

So to encourage candor, at the beginning of the meeting, say something like, "I've been looking forward to this, sure, to hear the good things so I can continue or build on those, but also to hear the areas for growth because I really want to be as good as I can be." 

4. When receiving negative feedback, it's usually wise to not disagree on the spot. If you can't simply say, "Good point. I'll really work on that," say in a pleasant or at least not-defensive tone, "I appreciate your candor and want to take some time to reflect on it." That avoids the boss thinking that your not objecting is tacit agreement with the criticism. Certainly, however, ask follow-up questions so you fully understand the boss's real concern.

5. If you're unhappy with some or all of the performance review, end by reiterating that you'd like a little time to reflect and would appreciate  a follow-up meeting in a few days. 

6. When you get home that day, review your notes and take an honest look at yourself: What can you do to build on your strengths? Is he correct about your weaknesses? Not sure? Ask a trusted colleague.

When Giving a Performance Review
1. Be honest. You're dealing with your supervisee's life here. He at least deserves the straight scoop so he can work to improve. Or if a weakness is unlikely to improve, perhaps you can readjust the job description to be a better accommodate him or if necessary, let him know he needs to look for another job that is a better fit.

2. Start with the positive. That will make the evaluee more open to suggestions for improvement.

3. Always give suggestions for improvement. We all need to grow. Be as constructive as possible, for example, rather than say, "You speak in a monotone," say, "I believe you can be more effective in meetings if you say every sentence as though you were a concert pianist: varying loudness, pace, emphasis. "

4. If the supervisee gets defensive, that's the cue for you to get as calm as possible. Let the person spew and only when finished say something like, "I understand how you feel. Take a couple of days to reflect and perhaps check out my perception with a colleague or two, and then let's set up a time to talk again. Whaddya say?"

I am aware that following such advice is easier said than done. Performance evaluations are stressful for all concerned, but having a game plan going in will help you do better. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

One Approach to Falling Asleep and Staying Asleep

I've shared my sleep ritual with my clients who have sleep issues. Even some who have attended Stanford's Sleep Clinic said it has helped them. So, perhaps it might help you.

I do the same sleep ritual every night. It's comforting, in the same way that people's religious rituals are comforting. Here is that ritual:

1.  Two to four hours before my likely bedtime, I ride my exercise bike for 30 minutes.  That way, after the immediate energizing effect of exercise has worn off, I will have tired myself.

2. I do not have a fixed bedtime. When I start to feel tired (That varies within a one-hour range), I head downstairs from my home-office, brush my teeth and get undressed.

3. Like a hibernating bear, I keep the bedroom cool, which lowers your metabolic rate, making you more likely to sleep.

4. I hop into bed with my wife (or a stuffed dog when she's not there) on one side, and my real dog, Einstein, curled up against me on the other.

5. I read pleasant things that close down my brain: for example, a gardening mail order catalog, mutual fund report, or the book 14,000 Things to be Happy About

6. When I feel myself getting quite tired, on my bedside CD player, I play the CD: Through a Dog's Ear:  Music to Calm Your Canine Companion. Developed to calm hyper dogs, it also calms me. It's classical piano music that has been slowed down and simplified.  I rarely change the CD. Its familiarity is part of the ritual.

7. I turn out the light and envision something pleasant: usually my strolling along a tree-shaded creek, picturing and then rating every plant in my garden, or simply monitoring my breathing, thinking: "In with the good air; out with the bad."

8. If I get up in the middle of the night (rare), I think to myself, "Perhaps my body is telling me I don't need to sleep." (That reduces any anxiety about not getting enough sleep.) But I know I probably do need more sleep, so I repeat steps 6 and 7 above. 

I hope that at least one aspect of my ritual, if not the entire one, is useful to you. Post here to let me know, or if you have other suggestions that might help my sleepless in Seattle or wherever readers. 

Ron Paul Strongly Opposes the Bailout

I just received this from Ron Paul. At minimum, it suggests to me that we shouldn't rush to providing a $750 billion bailout.

Dear Friends:

The financial meltdown the economists of the Austrian School predicted has arrived.

We are in this crisis because of an excess of artificially created credit at the hands of the Federal Reserve System. The solution being proposed? More artificial credit by the Federal Reserve. No liquidation of bad debt and malinvestment is to be allowed. By doing more of the same, we will only continue and intensify the distortions in our economy - all the capital misallocation, all the malinvestment - and prevent the market's attempt to re-establish rational pricing of houses and other assets.

Last night the president addressed the nation about the financial crisis. There is no point in going through his remarks line by line, since I'd only be repeating what I've been saying over and over - not just for the past several days, but for years and even decades.

Still, at least a few observations are necessary.

The president assures us that his administration "is working with Congress to address the root cause behind much of the instability in our markets." Care to take a guess at whether the Federal Reserve and its money creation spree were even mentioned?

We are told that "low interest rates" led to excessive borrowing, but we are not told how these low interest rates came about. They were a deliberate policy of the Federal Reserve. As always, artificially low interest rates distort the market. Entrepreneurs engage in malinvestments - investments that do not make sense in light of current resource availability, that occur in more temporally remote stages of the capital structure than the pattern of consumer demand can support, and that would not have been made at all if the interest rate had been permitted to tell the truth instead of being toyed with by the Fed.

Not a word about any of that, of course, because Americans might then discover how the great wise men in Washington caused this great debacle. Better to keep scapegoating the mortgage industry or "wildcat capitalism" (as if we actually have a pure free market!).

Speaking about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the president said: "Because these companies were chartered by Congress, many believed they were guaranteed by the federal government. This allowed them to borrow enormous sums of money, fuel the market for questionable investments, and put our financial system at risk."

Doesn't that prove the foolishness of chartering Fannie and Freddie in the first place? Doesn't that suggest that maybe, just maybe, government may have contributed to this mess? And of course, by bailing out Fannie and Freddie, hasn't the federal government shown that the "many" who "believed they were guaranteed by the federal government" were in fact correct?

Then come the scare tactics. If we don't give dictatorial powers to the Treasury Secretary "the stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet." Left unsaid, naturally, is that with the bailout and all the money and credit that must be produced out of thin air to fund it, the value of your retirement account will drop anyway, because the value of the dollar will suffer a precipitous decline. As for home prices, they are obviously much too high, and supply and demand cannot equilibrate if government insists on propping them up.

It's the same destructive strategy that government tried during the Great Depression: prop up prices at all costs. The Depression went on for over a decade. On the other hand, when liquidation was allowed to occur in the equally devastating downturn of 1921, the economy recovered within less than a year.

The president also tells us that Senators McCain and Obama will join him at the White House today in order to figure out how to get the bipartisan bailout passed. The two senators would do their country much more good if they stayed on the campaign trail debating who the bigger celebrity is, or whatever it is that occupies their attention these days.

F.A. Hayek won the Nobel Prize for showing how central banks' manipulation of interest rates creates the boom-bust cycle with which we are sadly familiar. In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, he described the foolish policies being pursued in his day - and which are being proposed, just as destructively, in our own:

Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion.

To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection - a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end... It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression.

The only thing we learn from history, I am afraid, is that we do not learn from history.

The very people who have spent the past several years assuring us that the economy is fundamentally sound, and who themselves foolishly cheered the extension of all these novel kinds of mortgages, are the ones who now claim to be the experts who will restore prosperity! Just how spectacularly wrong, how utterly without a clue, does someone have to be before his expert status is called into question?

Oh, and did you notice that the bailout is now being called a "rescue plan"? I guess "bailout" wasn't sitting too well with the American people.

The very people who with somber faces tell us of their deep concern for the spread of democracy around the world are the ones most insistent on forcing a bill through Congress that the American people overwhelmingly oppose. The very fact that some of you seem to think you're supposed to have a voice in all this actually seems to annoy them.

I continue to urge you to contact your representatives and give them a piece of your mind. I myself am doing everything I can to promote the correct point of view on the crisis. Be sure also to educate yourselves on these subjects - the Campaign for Liberty blog is an excellent place to start. Read the posts, ask questions in the comment section, and learn.

H.G. Wells once said that civilization was in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.

In liberty,

Ron Paul

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"ONE MILLION People Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence EACH YEAR"

I just received this from a nonprofit called RADAR (Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting):

Tuesday, September 16, Wendy Flanders of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was convicted of making false claims of domestic violence and for committing perjury in a child custody hearing.

Ben Vonderheide, the target of the charges, explained he had been subjected to more than 40 false allegations over the past six years, including charges of domestic violence, harassment, and even the kidnapping of his own son.

"All I wanted was for Wendy Flanders to get help, and stop behaving in these awful ways, destroying her life and ours. " Vonderheide revealed. "I'm overwhelmingly happy for the fathers down the road who may not have to go to jail, for the children who are going to know their fathers, and love their fathers."

Ben Vonderheide is just one of the one million(!) (See Note 20 on p. 12) persons who are falsely accused of domestic violence each year. 

In order to stop the wave of false allegations, the theme of the 2008 Domestic Violence Awareness Month is "False Claims Hurt True Victims: Fix VAWA Now!"

(VAWA is the Joe Biden-sponsored Violence Against Women Act, which excludes male victims of domestic violence and makes it easy for wives to use false domestic violence claims against their husbands as a way of getting more desirable settlements in divorce cases.)

RADAR has prepared a flyer to hand out at political rallies, meetings, or other meetings. The flyer can be found here: http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/RADARflyer-DVAM2008.pdf

To learn more the problem of spurious charges, we invite you to read RADAR's Special Report, "A Culture of False Allegations: How VAWA Harms Families and Children:" http://www.mediaradar.org/docs/RADARreport-VAWA-A-Culture-of-False-Allegations.pdf

Ben Vonderheide's battle cost over $350,000 in legal expenses. False allegations of domestic violence have become a legal and social travesty. For our children, we must work together to stop this epidemic.

R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://www.mediaradar.org

Monday, September 22, 2008

Higher Education's Iconic Status Continues to Erode

I've long written, for example, in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that higher education is America's most overrated product. 

I've also pointed to growing support for that contention in major media outlets. The most recent occurred today in a BBC editorial denigrating no less than Harvard Business School. 

It is ironic that the more prestigious a college, the worse the instruction is likely to be. That's because colleges gain most of their prestige from their professors' research productivity, which is inversely correlated with the ability and desire to teach. Also, compared with low-prestige colleges, prestigious universities spend a higher proportion of their budgets on research. 

Designer-label colleges can get away with charging so much and providing so little because students are brand-name driven in choosing a college, knowing that, with a designer-label diploma, employers will hire them, whether or not they learned anything at college.

Interestingly, the BBC invited Harvard Business School to respond to the scathing segment--Harvard declined to.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Is the Bailout a Blunder?

Help me out here.  

The government is about to spend $700 billion of our tax dollars to bail out the finance companies and the people who took out no-qualification loans to hide their credit-unworthiness.

The rationale for this largest bailout in U.S. history? That it will stimulate banks to lend again, thereby boosting our economy.

But isn't that just going to reward those borrowers and lenders for their greed and dishonesty and make them more likely to revert back to their irresponsible behavior?

Sure, the bailout will be a short-term boost to the economy, but it will be like a heroin shot: it feels good briefly but soon, you're much worse off. 

An economy should not be based on liberal lending. It should be based on people and businesses buying for cash, and only when truly necessary, on credit when both the investment and the borrower are truly credit-worthy.  Of course, such conservative financial practices will lead to a slower-growing economy, but it will be an economy build on a foundation of bricks, not a house of cards. 

Maybe what's needed is not government bailouts that prop up that house of cards, but the old-fashioned self-discipline needed to build a sturdy home.

What am I not understanding?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thanks for reading my blog

I thought you might like to know that you have lots of company. Although I only started blogging on March 24, and started with virtually no visitors, now, this blog gets 10,000 page views per month. I do appreciate your interest in what I have to say.

While I'm being personal, a few readers have asked about my wife. She's Dr. Barbara Nemko, the Napa County Superintendent of Schools, and 2004-05 Greater Bay Area Superintendent of the Year. She's my frequent co-host on my NPR-San Francisco radio show, Work with Marty Nemko. Here's her picture. Obviously, she's a lot better looking that I am. 

Male Victims of Domestic Violence

A woman assaults her male romantic partner--It's far more prevalent than the media would have you believe.  A large body of research concludes that nearly half of severe domestic violence is initiated by women.  

A new study will explore these men's experiences. If you're a man between 18 and 59 who has been physically assaulted at least once in the last 12 months by a current or former intimate female partner, you might be eligible to participate. Visit www.clarku.edu/faculty/dhines or call 1-888-743-5754. Participant information will be kept strictly confidential.

Tips for Tough Times

  • Enjoy low-cost pleasures.  In risky times, unless you're wealthy, it's wise to hold off on the new car, expensive vacation, clothes and jewelry, etc. 
You're likely to derive as much joy from low-cost pleasures: a walk in the woods, reading a book or watching a video you got free from the library, inviting friends over, creating something artistic, watching a good show on TV, playing a favorite video game, or being a volunteer tutor or mentor. Not only will you derive more pleasure from those than from buying expensive things, you'll avoid a big credit-card bill.
Last night, my wife and I spent an hour playing with our dog, Einstein. We got as much pleasure from it as any expensive pleasure I can think of. 
  • Rent rather than buy a home. Home prices have risen, basically uninterrupted, for decades and have declined only for the last three years.  That decline will likely continue, and not just because of the tight credit market. Until real estate prices started to decline, potential buyers felt they had to act fast: "If I don't buy now, prices will be higher." Now, the psychology has reversed, "If I wait, prices will come down." That psychology is decreasing demand, which of course will lower prices. Remember, objects in motion tend to stay in motion in the same direction.  
So, if I were thinking about buying a house, I'd wait until the prices in my target market were up 10%. Sure, I'd miss the bottom of the market, but I'd thereby have significantly reduced my downside risk. As they say in the financial world: Never catch a falling knife.
  • Solidify your position at work: Make yourself indispensable to your boss, become beloved by co-workers, ask a trusted colleague if your boss dislikes you--and fix the situation.
  • Don't bet against the world. Sure there are big worry signs now, but rather than put your money under a mattress, invest it in a good mutual fund, for example, one of Vanguard's All-in-One funds.
Or essentially eliminate your risk by investing in high-yielding bank CDs. Bankrate.com lists banks offering high CD rates. Probably, the government would pay off depositors in failed banks but, to be safe, I'd give up a few tenths of a point in interest to have my money in a bank rated safe on Bankrate.com.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Liberal Feelings from a Libertarian

Yesterday, I was walking my dog when a homeless person asked for spare change. 

For once, I wasn't in a rush so I gave him a dollar and asked what his situation was. He explained that he's a laborer and been unable to get work. 

I asked why? He said, because employers prefer Latinos over Blacks--"They work like dogs for minimum wage." 

That reminded me:
  • of the tension between Blacks and Latinos, who often compete for the same jobs.
  • of the costs and benefits of uncontrolled immigration. 
  • most emotional to me, that real estate developers live in mansions on the backs of poor people willing to kill themselves for minimum wage. 
Today, I dropped my dog at Alfonso, the groomer. (I don't like primpy dogs but I don't want my baby, Einstein, to get matted--it's uncomfortable.) I asked Alfonso if the slowing economy is hurting his business. He said no but that the cost of food and other basics was making it difficult for him to get by. Alfonso is the best-regarded dog groomer in Oakland, who owns his own business, and even he struggles to get by. 

Something is wrong. Something is wrong when real estate developers, lawyers, bond traders, and insurance salespeople are rich and the best groomer in Oakland is worried about whether he can afford to eat.

I do believe that small government and free-market solutions are, in the end, best. I was just listening to Obama call for yet more regulations to try to keep financial firms from failing. And that reminds me of how harmful government regulation so often is. For example, corporations spend billions trying to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley's phalanx of accounting requirements, and by all accounts, it has done little good other than to waste money and force thousands of human beings to devote their lives to filling out meaningless paperwork. Government cannot control greed or incompetence.

In another part of Obama's speech today, he promised to bail out all those investors and homeowners who used "no-qualification" loans to pay for a house or other real estate they knew they couldn't afford, but hoped would go up in value.  It's wrong for government to take tax dollars from honest people to prop up those who chose to speculate with money they don't have.

And I'm virtually certain that Obama's expensive schemes to fund alternative energy, yet bigger spending on education, and mass legalization of illegals will be very poor uses of taxpayer dollars and a net negative on the nation.

And yet maybe, just maybe, in light of the huge gap between rich and poor, it's time to see what would occur under that perfect storm of liberalism: a hard-lefty Obama, with a liberal congress, and an ever-more-baldly liberal media.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Case Against Traditional Psychotherapy

Research finds that psychotherapy helps more patients than it hurts, but I'm skeptical of that because:
  • Those studies are often biased because they're almost always conducted by psychology PhDs.  Consciously or unconsciously, they want to show that psychotherapy works; otherwise it invalidates all their years of training and work in their field. 
  • Not all therapy is alike. The major metaevaluations lump-together traditional psychotherapy that focuses on the childhood roots of one's unhappiness with the more effective cognitive-behavioral therapy, which corrects the irrational beliefs that keep a person stuck.
Most of my skepticism about traditional psychotherapy comes from having been career coach to and acquaintances of so many people who have spent months or even years exploring their childhood with a therapist. I've found that:
  • Traditional psychotherapy too often keeps people stuck in their past. I've found, again and again, that all that analysis of their childhood actually makes people more inert: analysis paralysis.  They seem less able to move forward than equally troubled people who have not been in therapy.  One former therapy junkie told me, "Therapy gives you insight into yourself, but your life is no better."
My guess is that spending a lot of time examining one's bad past strengthens the brain's neural pathways associated with those negative thoughts. That makes those thoughts top-of-mind and thus continue to drag a person down. 
I've found that people are more likely to have career and life success if, when a negative thought from their past intrudes, to simply say to themselves, "Stop! What baby step I can take right now to improve my life."
Therapists who advocate delving into your childhood argue that the above advice is simplistic. They'd say, "Before you can move forward,  you need to understand where the fears and anxiety originated."  But I'm convinced that, for the reason stated above, most people would be wise to simply push themselves harder to take action than to undergo childhood-analyzing psychotherapy. And doing that has none of these side effects:
  • Psychotherapy too often discourages self-efficacy. Many therapists who see clients for more than a few sessions consciously or unconsciously make patients feel dependent on them. That's the opposite of what therapy should be doing: building self-efficacy.
  • Psychotherapy too often encourages narcissism. I've noticed that many clients and friends who have had extensive psychotherapy are self-absorbed in conversation and less likely to care for others.  The word narcissistic comes to mind.
  • The cost.  
I do think that brief cognitive-behavioral therapy is often worth it, but before trying that, make all efforts to push yourself forward and if that won't work, journal about it: For example, ask yourself: What's the pros and cons of taking that baby step? If the worst occurred, am I better or worse for having tried? Usually, low-risk baby steps are, indeed, worth it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Idea for a Business: Parenting Training

Before you're allowed to drive a car, you must receive training and a license, yet no training is required to be a parent.

And most people find parenting far more difficult than driving a car. 

I believe that a business that offered high-quality parenting training would enable a person to do well by doing good. 

If you don't have the skills to offer such training, hire someone who does, and you take care of the marketing, accounting, etc.

Your Parenting School could offer one-on-one coaching and/or classes, or even a weekend-long parenting bootcamp aimed at pre-parents and parents of children at different ages, or with special problems: for example, drug or alcohol abuse, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, etc.

My favorite approach to training is to demonstrate model parenting and then provide the parents with supervised practice in dealing with critical incidents in parenting: 
  • a baby who won't stop crying
  • a destructive toddler
  • a child who won't do his homework
  • a child who hates school
  • a child who is mean
  • a child who is disliked
  • when your child asks about "the birds and the bees," 
  • a child with a drug problem
  • a teen who is or is contemplating having sex.
You could market your Parenting School by conducting free or low-cost introductory workshops at PTA meetings,  by writing articles in a local publication, especially one aimed at parents, or by emailing a brochure to local pediatricians and ob-gyns.

Whaddya think?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Seven-Day Job Search

I've found this approach to be one that works best for the most people. 

Cramming the guts of your job search into one week avoids the burnout that comes from a drips-and-drabs job search. 

Also, it maximizes the chances of your getting multiple job offers at the same time. That enables you to pick the best one rather than settle for the job you finally landed after months of job searching.

Day 1: Create your resume using Resumemaker.

Day 2: Create a 10-second pitch that describes the sort of job you're looking for: for example, "a tech-light job that requires a great people and project management skills." 

Create a 60-second pitch, that tells the story of how you've come to be looking for that job now. 

Ask a reference librarian in the business section of a major library to help you develop a list of 20 target employers. Major libraries subscribe to many databases. 

Day 3:  By email or phone, give your 10- and/or 60-second pitch to the 20 people in your professional and personal network most likely to know someone who could hire you for the kind of job you desire. Ask if they know anyone at the target employers you identified in Day 2. If so, ask if they'd make a call of introduction on your behalf or even set up an in-person meeting. If not, ask if they know someone else you should speak with.

Days 4 and 5: Write a form letter to the 20 target employers and any others that the 20 people in your network suggested. Have your letter include:
  •   the name, if any, of the person who referred you to that organization. 
  •  your 10-second pitch 
  • a few highlights of your career that would impress your target employers.  
  • Customize your letter with one paragraph explaining why you selected that employer.  No need to research the employer extensively: 5 to 15 minutes is enough. Just Google it, and then scan the employer's site and perhaps one or two others. Then craft your paragraph.
  • "I'd welcome the opportunity to meet so we could assess if I might be helpful to the organization and/or to get any advice as to where I might otherwise turn. " 
Day 6: Answer any appropriate want ads on your 20 employers' websites or on simplyhired.com, indeed.com, usajobs.gov or your state or local government's website. 

Wait two or three days. Then:

Day 7: Phone the target employers you contacted on Day 5 to follow up. Leave voice mail if necessary. Typical message: "I'm the former Dynastar manager who's recently moved here to San Francisco and wrote to you about a possible interview. I'm assuming that, not having heard from you, you're not interested, but I know things can fall between the cracks, so I'm taking the liberty of calling to follow up."

The interviews should start coming in.

A more detailed presentation of the one-week job search is on my site.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike: In Crisis, There is Opportunity

Rarely do we know a disaster will hit, but with Hurricane Ike (unless the predictions are wrong as they were with Hurricanes Hanna and Gustav), we know that Galveston, Texas and perhaps Houston and western Louisiana will suffer enormous damage.

Hurricane Katrina taught us that there will be tremendous needs: for example, people to repair the damage, provide food, shelter, and medical care.  So, if you have those skills, you might consider going down there after the storm. 

Even if you don't have the direct skills to help, perhaps you could be a facilitator, for example, being a recruiter: developing a stable of nurses, construction workers, etc. willing to go to Galveston if needed. 

There will also be many less obvious needs. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, the government bought (at the usual ridiculously high prices that government is willing to pay)  trailers for temporary housing.  

Of course, I am not suggesting that you take unfair advantage of the situation. I believe it would be unethical for you to raise your prices to take advantage of an emergency. But if you are involved in the manufacture or distribution of a product or service likely to be needed post-Ike, you might want to develop a plan for how you might serve the Galveston area. 

Tip: Google-search such terms as ("Hurricane Katrina" rebuilding) and ("Hurricane Ike" aftermath) to get ideas of what other products and services are likely to be needed in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Ike.

Your willingness to help rebuild the Hurricane-Ike-devastated Gulf Coast at a fair price would seem to be a sure way to enable you to do well by doing good.

Family is Overrated

Politicians, clerics, and just plain folks extol family as our most important institution.

I believe family is overrated. So many people suffer inordinately from family. Of course, there are the obvious examples:
  • Child abuse
  • Spousal abuse
  • Incest
  • Psychological abuse
But much more often, there’s less dramatic but still painful family-induced misery:

  • Other than pleasantries, your adult child refuses to speak with you.
  • Your spouse has fallen out of love with you, yet fear, inertia, and shared history preclude a dissolution. So you trudge along in your lackluster life.
  • Your parent is still trying to control or demean you even though you’re already an adult.
  • Your nine-year-old regularly screams, “I hate you, mommy!”
  • Your adult child is back on your sofa still trying to “find himself” (with the assistance of drugs or alcohol.)
  • You're not capable enough to compete with a sibling or parent, which dispirits you.
  • You make major efforts to care for your aging parent, motivated mainly by guilt. Privately, you resent how much time, energy, and money it takes.
  • Your spouse doesn’t earn enough income or do enough around the house.
  • You suffer the effects of an impaired, alcoholic, drug-abusing, gambling, or just plain lazy and parasitic family member.

Millions of people don't even speak with a family member. Millions more spend years and fortunes on therapists, trying to undo the ills that family perpetrated on them.

All this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, unlike with friends, we are placed in our family of origin at random, with no say in the matter. We do choose our spouse, but hormones seem to preclude our doing a very good job of it--witness the 50% divorce rate.

While it’s unseemly to discuss, money is part of the equation as we evaluate whether family is overrated. It costs a fortune to support kids, let alone a stay-at-home spouse. To pay for it, many people choose lucrative careers that are far less enjoyable than those they’d otherwise choose. Do you think that, if it weren’t for the need to support a family, as many people would choose to sell insurance, be pest control workers, sewer repairers, or bond traders? Wouldn’t many of them choose a career, for example, in the creative arts, in a nonprofit, or as a computer game maker?

Of course, I can envision some readers thinking:

What? Are you advocating a society without children? Encouraging my readers to think more carefully before having children is hardly going to lead to a world without children. I am merely asking people to be more circumspect, not reflexively fulfilling society's expectation. Besides, environmentalists argue that overpopulation is the greatest threat to the environment. A few less children wouldn’t hurt the world and its seven billion people.

Life is even more difficult to live without the support of family. I’m not saying that people don’t need support. I’m arguing against the automatic assumption that you have greater obligation to support family members than others. For example, when your ne’er-do-well sibling asks you for money because he or she is unemployed, rather than succumb to the reflexive guilt that society imposes because “he’s family,” you'd be wise to view the issue in fuller dimension: in terms of the net effects on you, him, your family, and, yes, society. For example, does giving Sammy the Slug the money yield a greater net good than, for example, investing in a startup developing a drug to prevent sudden heart attack, the leading killer?

My main message is to resist automatically succumbing to convention, and instead, to make your choices consciously, based on what will ultimately yield the greatest good en toto: for you, your family, and society.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Finally a Book on Men that Doesn't Ridicule Them

Save the Males has been published for three months now, is a wonderfully written and significant book,  and I'll bet you haven't heard of it. As usual, the media censors anything pro-male. 

I'd bet that if it were written by a man, it never even would have been published, let alone by Random House. Fortunately, it was written by a woman, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker.  

The book makes clear (and entertaining) how badly, how unfairly, men and boys have, for decades, been treated by the schools, colleges, media, and courts, all, ironically, in the name of gender equity.

I do have some problems with the book:

Her main motivation to write the book is not to be fair to men, but because daughters and society need men to be brave, hard workers. Men aren't worthy merely as humans; they must be beasts of burden.

She deifies family unduly. I believe that family, along with higher education, are America's most overrated icons. I've seen so many people's lives hurt more than helped by family.

Follow the Money, not the Polls

The latest polls show McCain with a slight lead over Obama.  Yet intrade.com, which offers betting on the race, shows Obama well ahead. 

Especially because what people say to pollsters inaccurately reflects what they'll do in the voting booth, I believe it's smart to ignore the polls and follow the money.

Obama will win. I'm taking bets.

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Favorite Stress Reducers

My clients and I find these helpful:
  • Remember that it's just not that important. And even if it is, stressing about it is more likely to hurt than help. Just work slow and steady, doing the best you reasonably can. 
  • Remember that all you can control is your effort, not the outcome of that effort. Once you've done your part, let it go. Even if it doesn't work out, unless you have stage 5 cancer, you can survive. (And even if you have stage 5 cancer, soon you'll be at peace, just as though you were sleeping soundly.)
  • Listen to soft instrumental music while working. If that's not permitted (even with headphones),  on the way to work, listen, again and again, to the easiest-to-hum relaxing, short piece of music. It will become an "ear worm," rolling around in your brain, meditatively, as you work.
  • As soon as you start feeling stressed, get up, stretch, and take three deep breaths.
  • Take a five-minute walk, ideally in nature, but down the hall will do.
  • Help someone.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wake-up Call to the Media

The loudest and longest reactions during Sarah Palin's acceptance speech occurred when she said:
I’ve learned quickly these last few days that, if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. (AUDIENCE BOOS)

But now, here’s a little newsflash for those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this great country. (APPLAUSE)

Perhaps I'm imagining this, but since that speech, I've noticed the media being a bit more even-handed in covering the campaign. I can imagine many media members thinking or even saying something like, "Sure we want Obama to win, but we'd better tone down the bias for a while. Our bias has been so obvious that it's created a big backlash, which ironically may give McCain-Palin votes. Obama's so great, even though he's down now by a few points, he'll win without our help. So, at least until the election's over, we better do what C-SPAN has always done: be fair and balanced. That will restore our credibility, and then we can go back to injecting our liberal bias (subtly) and have the influence we want."

Whatever the media's motivation, I do hope it does its best to be fair and balanced in covering this campaign. And to that end, my #1 recommendation is that the media vets Obama's core policy recommendations as fully as it is vetting Palin's.

For example, in his acceptance speech, Obama said:

  • If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don't, you'll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves..."I will cut taxes for 95 percent of all working families." In addition, Obama has long said that he wants a path to legalization for the estimated 13 million illegals in the U.S.

I would like to understand how Obama will provide Congressperson-level health care for everyone while giving 95% of families a tax cut, especially because the 45.5 million Americans who do not have health insurance as well as the current 13 million illegals have above-average health care needs. Obama will, for example, need to explain how American's already overtaxed doctors, nurses, etc, will provide decent care for all those additional patients (at lower cost,) when already, every year, 100,000 people die and countless more suffer unnecessary pain and suffering because of medical errors.
The media should be taking as hard a look at that as it is at the GOP's statements that Palin was against earmarks and the Bridge to Nowhere.
  • "I'll pay them (teachers) higher salaries."
Despite having a Ph.D. from Berkeley specializing in evaluation of education and, for decades, reading studies on what improves student learning, I have not seen data that shows it's worth taking the huge sums from taxpayers that would be required to fund that.
Can we look working- and middle-class people in the eye and say, "Forcing you to give the government money to pay for higher teacher salaries is a better use of your money than to allow your family to use it to pay for expenses or save for your family's future?"
The media should be taking as hard a look at that as it is at Palin's (totally wrongheaded in my view) belief that abortion should be prohibited even in cases of rape or incest.
  • "I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy."
The working and middle class is having a tough time paying the rent, let alone a mortgage. Should they be forced to hand over $150 billion to the government to pay for projects that the private sector rejected as unworthy to invest in? If a project was worth investing in, the private sector would have invested in it. For example, the private sector often rejects projects that take 10 or more years to complete, because by then, the available technology or world needs might well have changed enough to make the project's goal obsolete. Think, for example, what has already happened to the government's plan to make ethanol the solution to our energy problems.
The media should be taking as hard a look at Obama's $150 billion alternative energy proposal as it is at Palin's (again, wrongheaded in my opinion) view that creationism should be taught in schools.
  • "Now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons."
Per the extensive evidence I've cited in previous posts and articles, the research is clear that for the same work, women and men are, on average, paid equally. The media has chosen to report terribly misleading broadbrush statistics such as "women earn 80 cents on dollar." Or they uncritically report the results of studies (all conducted or sponsored by biased entities such as the American Association of University Women,) when in fact, a decent undergraduate could rip apart those studies' validity. For example, their most recent study claims as evidence of bias against women the fact that "full-time-working" women in the computer industry earn less than full-time working men in the industry. It fails to report, for example, that full-time working men work many more hours per week than full-time-working women, and that men are much more likely to hold very technical programming jobs requiring a rarely-held skillset, which, therefore pay more than, for example, human resources jobs in the computer industry, which are much more likely to be held by women.
The media should be taking as hard a look at this as it is in reporting that as governor, Palin is usually not fully engaged in the issues.
Let us--liberals, conservatives, and libertarian-leaning sorts like me alike--continue to boo the media until they--now and long after Obama's election--return to their critical role as truly fair investigators and reporters of the issues important to our lives.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bond Builders

These will likely help you bond with someone:
  • What have you been thinking about lately?
  • That's interesting. Tell me more.
  • Could you help me out? (Most people, if they're not too busy, like to help, and their doing so creates an investment in you, making them feel a bond with you.)
  • Great shoes! (works only with women)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Parasite Syndrome

Most of the women and men I know are hardworking. For example, my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko, Napa County Superintendent of Schools, works 60 hours a week while being a good wife and mother.

However, over my 29 years and 4,500 clients in my career counseling practice, in my out-of-work conversations, and in reading trend pieces in the media, I've observed a dramatic increase in the number of people, capable people, afflicted with what I call the Parasite Syndrome.

Here's how the Parasite Syndrome prototypically plays out:

1. After graduating from a brand-name college, the parasites in-training go abroad, for example to India or France, to "find themselves." They return a month or year later, no clearer, although perhaps more desirous of a pleasant and fulfilling life.

2. They take a pleasant and/or fulfilling but low-paying job. (Most pleasant and fulfilling jobs pay poorly--supply and demand.) But because of a desire to live a middle-class lifestyle, the person mooches off parents or romantic partner.

3. At this point, many of the female parasites-in-training think that potential long-term romantic partners who don't make good money are losers. Most males don't think that way of educated low-income women, and so are more willing to marry them. And so, many more female than male would-be-parasites find a host.

4. Sometimes, the income-generating spouse prefers that his spouse not work but that's now uncommon except among the wealthy. More often, the income generator (or his or her parent) asks the spouse to try harder to land a professional-level job so she can contribute to the family income she's good at spending.

So, the non-earner makes a half-hearted failed effort after which she or he rails, for example, "You don't understand how tough the job market is, especially for a woman, and especially with a liberal arts degree."

Few husbands or parents have the guts to tell the non-earner, "Then why did you major in art history?! (or French literature, sociology, women's studies, etc.)" They fear the onslaught of fury, tears, or retaliatory accusations likely to follow.

5. Soon after, if a woman, she gets pregnant. Sometimes, the husband subtly or not subtly asks her if she wants to have an abortion, for example, "Do you think we're ready?" Because he can't force her to have an abortion, the baby comes, even if he doesn't want to be a father nor financially support it, let alone become the sole source of income so she can be a stay-at-home mother.

Men, unless you are ready to be a father or have absolute trust that your partner, without fail, uses reliable birth control, you must wear a condom every time or, if you're sure you never want children, have a vasectomy. Why? Because if she gets pregnant, you have no power: No matter how fervently you plead that you don't want a baby, if she decides she wants it, you're stuck with at least 18 years of enormous commitment of time, energy, and money.

Ah, relationships: They can be so rewarding yet so fraught.

5. She (or occasionally, her husband) insists it's important for her to stay home at least until the child is five, although, as I've documented in earlier posts, the research does not support the validity of that assertion. See, for example, the review of the literature I present in the third-from-the-last comment on this post.

6. When the baby reaches school-age, the brand-name-U-grad mother knows it's unseemly to remain a stay-at-home mother, so she gets pregnant again or goes to graduate school.

7. After taking a long time to finish graduate school and after another desultory job search, she fails to find more than an easy, ill-paying, part-time job, claiming, for example, that the job market is tough for stay-at-home moms.

8. The stay-at-home woman or man creates make-work to seem busy, taking longer to do things than necessary: for example, cooking unnecessarily time-consuming meals ("I had to stop at the Indian market for this spice,") searching for the perfect bathroom accessories, and getting overinvolved/overprotective with the kids, often inhibiting the child's self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Here's a less obvious example. After booking a teenager onto my show to talk about the book he wrote, his stay-at-home mother sent me a dozen emails filled with more information about him than I could use in five shows. Despite my saying, "I have more than I need," she kept sending more stuff. That enables her to tell her husband and friends that it takes a lot of time to support her son's efforts to promote his book.

9. If our reluctant worker lands a job, he or she doesn't work hard at it. She or he invokes excuses she's heard from her friends, pop psych or women'smagazines, or therapist, such as "I'm so afraid of failure that I don't try." or "I'm a perfectionist, which is painful, so I avoid tasks."

10. So this person continues as a mediocre worker, or quits, complaining that the boss is a jerk, work is too stressful, that corporate America (or government, or nonprofit employment) sucks, and/or that the workplace isn't family-friendly, or that "It really would be better if I stayed home with our child."

11. Women live much longer than men, in part because of the stress of an out-of-home job, so it is likely that women non-earners will bury a beast-of-burden husband or two and go to her grave having taken far more from family and society than she has given. She has been a parasite.

The saddest part is that these people--both the women and men--who are afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome are so capable; they could so abet society.

Alas, they choose to have hurt the society they could have helped. They take up slots at prestigious colleges.,  having written application essays asserting that they want to do important things to improve society. (I've never known of a successful application essay to Brand-Name U whose admission essay said, "I aspire to be a stay-at-home parent.")  They then freeload off parents and spouse, and later, often squander yet more societal resources by going back for another degree without ever making much use of it. They certainly never come close to living up to their potential. You don't need a brand-name degree or two to be a good stay-at-home parent, let alone a stay-at-home childless wife, which, as reported in a recent study, is a growing group.

Medical school is a particularly unethical example. Many people go to medical school knowing they'd like to work part-time and take some years off for parenting--Given the shortage of physicians, especially in urban and rural areas, that is unethical.

If you know someone, male or female, who is afflicted with the Parasite Syndrome, consider emailing or showing the person this article. True, their first reaction will likely be defensiveness at being called a parasite, but if their behavior, in fact, fits the syndrome and they are reasonably well-adjusted, their desire to not be thought of as a parasite is more likely to motivate them to change than would a tactful request to put more effort into their career. Why? Because a tactful request rarely disturbs complacency, let alone a parasite.

Will the Everyone-to-College Fad Finally Fade?

I've long argued that, for many people, a degree is not worth the time and money: too little of value is learned, for example, in improved thinking skills. And the long-advertised income advantage of getting a degree is withering in our global economy.

As former Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Alan Blinder says, soon, any job whose work product can be shipped over the Internet, will be. That means that mainly jobs such as plumber, electrician, and chef will be offshore-proof. The good news is that those careers don't require the time and cost of a college degree.

I've long written that we send too many students to college, and now, my position is gaining support, for example, the just published book, Real Education and an op-ed in today's Christian Science Monitor

I believe it's worth pursuing a bachelor's degree only if you meet these requirements:
1. You love academic learning or want to pursue a career that definitely requires a college degree, for example, nursing.
2. Without the structure of school, you'd be too undisciplined to do a thorough job search or start a business.
3. Are rich enough to afford a four-year college's sticker price or poor enough to get a lot of CASH financial aid. (Community colleges are often the smartest choice--the best teaching for the lowest price.)

One of these alternatives may, for you or someone you love, be a wiser choice:
  • An apprenticeship. This site will help you find the right one.
  • Learn how to run your own small business by taking a job, any job, at the elbow of a successful small business owner who is willing to mentor you. You'll also learn a lot about starting a small business at www.sba.gov.
  • A short NON-degree career-prep program at a community college.
  • The military, which offers quality training for a surprisingly large number of careers.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Conveyer Belt

As Hurricane Gustav appears to not be another Katrina, I am reminded of life's fragility. You're planning your Labor Day holiday when suddenly you're ordered by your mayor to evacuate your home because of "The Mother of All Storms," when you've already experienced the previous mother of all storms.

Alas, quiescent life is much more often instantly disrupted by other things: you lose your job, you get a middle-of-the-night call that your aging parent has an emergency, your annual checkup yields a diagnosis of cancer.

We're all on life's conveyer belt. If we're lucky, we slowly move along until, finally, at the end of the assembly line, we're taken off. But many of us fall off the line prematurely.

Let us take this opportunity to ask ourselves, "What's something I want to do more and less of in whatever time I have on the conveyer belt?"