Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Favorite Career and Life Advice

Tonight was my last show on KGO and so I offered what I believe are my most potent career tips. Here they are.

Analyze less. Act more. Most successful people plan and analyze only moderately, then take low-risk action steps and, based on that experience, revise their plan, if needed.

Live consciously.
Decide what you want rather than just accept what falls in your lap.

You can refine, rarely remold. While a small percentage of people have improved themselves radically, on average, it may be wise to accept your basic self and work to improve only things that don't require a personality transplant. Be where your strengths are needed and your weaknesses aren't key. For example, I'm stress-prone, so I structure my life to minimize it.

After moderate exploration, choose a career it even if you're not 100% sure. Otherwise, you're likely to be waiting for Godot. Usually, career contentment comes only after you've entered the career and, like a great-looking suit, have tailored and accessorized it to fit you. For example, career and life coaching fit me only moderately but I now like it quite a bit, in large measure because I adapted it to fit me: I made nonnegotiable that I'd work from home and that I'd be a more active participant in sessions than is the typical counselor who mainly just listens. I also stayed committed to getting better and better rather than giving up after just a couple years of lackluster performance.

Strive in the moment. Let go of the outcome. You can't control the latter.

Sustain focus. Pick a goal and stay focused on achieving it, getting help where needed. Yet you must change goals when you believe that additional sustained focus would be better directed toward another goal.

Balance being driven with gratitude for the status quo. Whether in trying to get ahead, improve your organization, or your relationship, recognize that with seven billion people on the planet and our lifetime being a mere blink of history's eye, doing great or screwing up won't make that much difference. But don't use that to rationalize a passively led life. That would further reduce your life's value. Make the effort to become world-class or at least a go-to person at some pursuit but accept that you may not succeed every time or even ever.

My favorite tool for reducing procrastination: Whenever tackling a task you're tempted to procrastinate on, ask yourself, "How could I make this task more fun?"

Ask for what you want. If someone says no, ask someone else.

Be kind where possible; tough when necessary.

Rule of thumb: expect the best from people. That will motivate most people to give you their best. If they disappoint you once, ignore it--we all make mistakes. Twice: warn. Third time: distance yourself.

Attend You U. Colleges are usually terrible places to get career training. Too much is theoretical, irrelevant, taught in a massive bolus rather than just-in-time, and taught not by master practitioners but by devotees of the arcane. Whether or not you feel the need to get the piece of paper, do as much of your learning as possible by reading articles you find by Googling or elsewhere, reading the most on-target books you find on Amazon, attending conferences, finding mentors, watching master practitioners, and having them watch you. In your job application letters, explain that in choosing You U over State U, you believe you've prioritized substance over form, and ask whether they'll interview you to give you a chance to prove it.

Be nice. Look for opportunities to brighten the day of every person you encounter, even if it’s just to flick a piece of lint off their jacket. If a coworker is less capable than you, try to suppress your impatience and offer to help. Be generous with earned praise--feeling worthy is a primal need.

The best question you can ask your boss: "Is there anything I can do for you?" Be the antidote to a boss being overwhelmed, the aspirin for her headaches.

Hire slow, fire fast. Take all the time needed to find a great candidate. Focus interviews on simulations of the job's key tasks. Hire for a short project before employing a person"permanently." If after a few efforts to improve a weak employee, you see too little progress, cut your losses. Studies are unequivocal that hire slow; fire fast is core to the excellent employer.

Don't innovate; replicate. If you're contemplating self-employment, I know it's exciting to test out a new idea but the leading edge too often turns out to be the bleeding edge: guinea pigs usually get sacrificed. Find a successful business--a pizza shop, coffee/dessert cart, mid-priced men's haircutter, whatever--and replicate it in a good location. If, for example, I wanted to open a burrito shop, I'd simply visit a few wildly busy ones and incorporate their best features into mine, in a great location, of course.

Integrity is key. My mouse pad is imprinted with the statement, “Integrity is key." Yes, cheaters often win—in the material sense. Many, maybe even most, deceptive salespeople, plagiarizing students, and cook-the-books accountants, get away with it, but they still lose. They lose in the larger game of making their life meaningful. If you—especially when it’s to your selfish detriment—do the ethical thing, you may well become respected and even loved on this earth, and if there’s a hereafter, honored in that one. And you will go through life with your head high, knowing you are making the world a better, not a worse, place.

Our most valuable possession is not money; it's time. Keep asking yourself, "Is this a wise use of my time?" "Is there a more time-effective way to do this task?" Or use the Wise-Life meter: Where would this activity score from -10 (Marketing cigarettes to children) to +10 (working to cure cancer.) Or if that metric is too altruistic for you, how about -10 (minimally living up to your potential) to +10 (fully living up to your potential?) The higher my life's average score, the more valuable I believe my life has been.

Never look back. Always take a baby step forward. I learned that lesson from my dad. I asked him, a Holocaust survivor, why he never complained about having lost his teenage years and his entire family. He replied, “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward.” We’ve all had bad things happen to us but nearly all the successful people I know refuse to wallow. They always ask themselves, “What’s the next positive step I can take.”

Try to live by these principles, and even if you do so very imperfectly, you will likely have lived a better life than do the vast majority of people.


Dan said...

Marty, it is very disappointing to learn that you were replaced on KGO because of your unorthodox opinions on race and gender issues. That's exactly why I listened!

And that you are being replaced by an hysterical, ultra-liberal potty mouth who got fired from KGO for saying over the air that Joe the Plumber should die is really distasteful.

I think it is important that your voice is on commercial (syndicated?) radio somewhere, and not as a job counselor but as a general talk show host who can comment on any issue.

We need more creative thinkers on the radio and less political orthodoxy on both the left and right.

Good luck.

Marty Nemko said...

Dan, thanks for the kind words. If you'd like to express your opinion to KGO management, the link is:

Anonymous said...

I recently discovered your KGO show and am sad that it has ended. I especially enjoyed your "last lecture" segment and wanted you to know that I successfully used one of your "favorite career and life advice" tips today.

I wanted to participate in a career workshop that is held once a month; however, I would not have my materials ready in time for the upcoming one. Instead of waiting another month, I asked if it was possible to meet with the instructor between workshops. I was surprised to learn that I could.

Thank you very much for the timely and useful advice which saved me weeks of downtime!!!


Marty Nemko said...

Most recent Anonymous: Yes, asking for what you want, as long as it's ethical, is an easy, powerful way to improve one's life.

Anonymous said...


I missed last Sundays show and am very dissapointed with the change KGO made. I did really enjoy your show and the frank advice you gave out to those that called in. I know what I won't be doing on Saturday and Sunday nights and that is listening to KGO. I hope that you get on at another local station.


Anonymous said...

powerful ideas, thanks