Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Two-Minute Meals: Tasty, healthy recipes for people with better things to do than sauté.

Slow food, shmo food.

Some people have orgasms over some brand of olive oil.  

Then there's me. I can barely tell a black olive from a green one.

I can rarely tell frou-frou wine from Two Buck Chuck: "A flavorful deluge of rich black currant, hints of cherry and a long finish of sweet mocha and velvety tannins?!" It's all red wine to me. I'd rather have a diet orange soda.

Maybe you too have retarded taste buds. 

Or maybe you can taste the difference but don't care enough to spend time sautéing rather than quick microwaving.

Whether you're cooking for yourself for the first time,  a culinarily challenged bachelor or, like me, would rather eat something good that takes two minutes to prepare than something very good that takes an hour, this post's for you.

Here's a tasty (at least to me,) healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner that each takes just two minutes to prepare. 

Breakfast a la Nemko
In the morning, when my stomach starts to peep, I trudge into the kitchen and:
1. Pour some oatmeal into a paper bowl. (Washing a ceramic bowl would take too much time.)
2. Put it in the microwave for one minute.
3. While it's cooking, take my supplements (fish oil and curcumin,) put an ounce (no you don't need to measure) of frozen blueberries in a small dish, and take a bag of brown sugar and of walnut pieces from the cabinet.
4. Add the blueberries, a level tablespoon of brown sugar, and walnut pieces. Stir. Done. A healthy, filling tasty breakfast in two minutes.

I can hear you saying, "Yeah, breakfast's easy. After all, you're using Minute Oats.  How about lunch and dinner, big shot? 

Lunch a la Nemko
1. For 40 seconds, I microwave two pieces of whole wheat bread that I keep in the freezer.
2. While the bread is heating, I put some mayo in a can of tuna (or salmon) and mix.
3. I eat the tuna/mayo mixture with the bread, tomato slices and a pickle.
4. I have a fruit for dessert.

Dinner a la Nemko
1. I put a frozen chicken breast or piece of salmon in the microwave on high. The average breast takes 12 minutes, a portion of salmon, six.  (Yes, times may vary with your microwave. Mine is 1,100 watts.) Once you've learned to time it right, they come out great--juicy, perfect.
While it's cooking:
2. I put frozen broccoli  and/or string beans on a small plate, covering it with a paper towel. 
3. I make a salad: Wash the lettuce, tear it into pieces, squeeze out the water and put it in a bowl and slice in a tomato. I add blue cheese and vinegar or my favorite dressing: the award-winning Trader Joe's nonfat balsamic vinaigrette. If the chicken or fish aren't ready, I start eating the salad. 
4. When the chicken or salmon is done, I replace it in the microwave with the veggie for two minutes.
5. I season the chicken or salmon and the vegetable with curry powder, garlic powder, soy sauce, and/or parmesan cheese. 
6. I sometimes have a (cheap) glass of wine with dinner.
7. I have a fruit and/or frozen yogurt for dessert.  

And voila, a tasty, healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each with just two minutes of prep time!

Dear reader? Do you think this has the makings of a small book, perhaps selling it in bulk to companies that make microwaves. Perhaps they'd want to use the book as a selling tool: "A free copy of Two-Minute Meals" is included with every one of our microwaves." 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

People are Stupid

This is an adapted excerpt from my newest book, "What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals. 

We deify rational thinking: We teach it relentlessly in schools. We admire our universities and think tanks. We make fun of stupidity. Yet so much of what we do is downright idiotic.

Seventy-seven percent of mutual fund investors use actively managed mutual funds rather than index funds, even though decades of data make clear that index investors do better.

Homeland Security
We spend billions every year, including to make every airplane passenger spend a half hour or more in line, taking off their shoes, and having their toothpaste checked to ensure it weighs less than three ounces, when even a retarded terrorist knows we do that and so would simply bomb one of the millions of unsecured targets, for example, a water reservoir in Wyoming or a Bar-Mitzvah in Brooklyn. A more sophisticated terrorist would, in the  lobby of an international airport terminal, reach into a shopping bag, open a vial of highly communicable mutated smallpox virus and saunter across the terminal, infecting enough people headed all over the world to kill billions. A rational government would accept that we can't stop terrorism by policing it no matter how many billions we spend. But we're not rational.

A Google Search on the term "Surrender to God" yields 900,000 links. Countless people follow the Bible's urging to be passive, to wait for God to provide. For example, 

Philippians 4:19 Be not wise in your own eyes; God shall supply all your need.

Proverbs 3:1: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

1 Corinthians 10:17  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability,

Matthew 17:20  If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.
What are the odds there is an omniscient, omnipotent deity watching the seven billion people's every move to ensure they all do okay? Forget about whether surrendering to God will result in your landing a good job in this economy. Remember that billions of people, including newborns have died screaming in agony. And what about all those catastrophic earthquakes and epidemics? And if "God will provide," why do billions of people lack basic food, water, shelter, and health care? Could anyone with a mote of rationality "surrender to God?" 

Education as key to closing the achievement gap
We continue to bet billions and billions on education as the tool most likely to close the achievement gap. That, despite more than a half-century and trillions of dollars (also see this) spent trying so many permutations and combinations of teaching style, curriculum, etc. Yet the achievement gap remains as wide as ever. We haven't been able to do better than to tout a non-replicable superstar teacher or pilot program: from Marva Collins (her school is now closed due to lack of enrollment) to Michelle Rhee's DC non-miracle, to bad-data KIPP, to the latest fad, Khan Academy. Go take a Khan Academy lesson and ask yourself if a year of that is likely to close the algebra achievement gap. They're boring. Only highly motivated students will learn algebra that way. Do you really think America's low achievers will learn algebra so much better with Khan lessons as to close the achievement gap?

Yet we continue to prefer to bury our heads in the sand and bet a fortune and our children's future that the next classroom innovation du jour will close the achievement gap. Couldn't the enormous costs of those classroom programs, trainings, etc., be more wisely spent? For example, mightn't it be wise to accept that we aren't close to knowing how to close the achievement gap and so rather than spending more trillions on unlikely-to-work classroom programs, reallocate those dollars to foundational research on figuring out the gap's true roots and only then develop programs based on those roots, and if there's money left,  return it to the taxpayer?  But we are not rational. 

A Solution
 The most important thing schools and colleges should teach is how to think rationally: 
 how to make decisions based on an probability-based assessments of risk, reward, cost and opportunity cost. But we're too busy teaching the periodic table of elements, the causes of the French and Indian Wars, and how to solve quadratic equations.

A New Approach to Anger Management

When I was young, I was a hothead. Some of that is physiological--I can go from zero to 60 in two seconds. And some of it is cultural--I'm a New York Jew, a culture that is more accepting of  displays of anger.
A few years ago, I finally realized that most successful people are relatively calm. Both President Obama and candidate Romney are examples. So are Bill and Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, Dick Lugar, and John Kerry. I saw the 2004 presidential front-runner Howard Dean kill his chances with one whoop, a mere moment of irrational exuberance. 

But what I think what most convinced me to change was watching C-SPAN. It's a parade of America's most influential people: not just political leaders but CEOs and eminent experts. Even when discussing terrorism, their demeanor usually remains moderate.
I looked back on times I displayed anger and never was I glad I did. Sure, positive passion, a measure of enthusiasm, is great. But showing anger is a no-no. (So much for America being a tolerant society.) 

For example, I had written the cover story for a major magazine and eagerly bought a copy to see what it looked like in print. To my horror, the second paragraph had been omitted in error. I was furious. All I could think was that many people would stop reading it after the first two paragraphs because that second one was a non-sequitur. I grabbed the phone and laid into the editor. Of course, all I accomplished was to reduce my chance of ever writing for that magazine again. In retrospect, I doubt if anyone was hurt because the paragraph was deleted.
I've become aware that, alas, few things matter that much in the larger scheme. Billions of us are trying to change the world or at least our sphere of influence, and even when you do everything right, it's hard to see real change. So yes, it's worth trying hard. Without working diligently toward goals, life has too little meaning. But being too invested in the outcome may be a fool's game. I do think the Buddhists have it right: Be in the moment and focus on your current task, but after it's done, let go of the outcome. That is beyond your control.
I've also used this approach to anger management: If I start to feel angry at someone, I force myself to leave the room, take deep breaths, remind myself to have perspective, and only then return. When I'm angry at something I see in writing, I draft a response but delay sending it until the next morning when I can view it with fresh eyes.
Mainly, I just try to remember that the most successful, influential people stay calm except for demonstrating an only moderate amount of enthusiasm. I also work at staying in the sweet spot of trying hard but letting go of the outcome.
I can't always make myself retain Obama-like equanimity but I'm getting better. I'm hoping at least some of my approach to anger management will do the same for some of you. 

Should You Follow Your Passion as Your Career?

This is the fifth in a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

Many of us have deliberated whether to do our passion as our career or as a hobby. Most often, it's some creative activity: writing, performing, creating visual art, fashion but also could be environmentalism, journalism, etc.

The commonality across all of those is that they are popular passions and so supply and demand means that only a small percentage of wannabes will earn enough money doing their passion to even pay back their student loans, let alone to make a sustainable income.

But one size doesn't fit all. Should you pursue your passion as your main career? Or should you relegate it to hobby or sideline status? Perhaps these questions will help you gain some clarity:

1. If you pursued your passion as a sideline or hobby instead of as your main career, you'd be:
a) dissatisfied (30 points) 
b) somewhat satisfied (12 points)  
c) satisfied (6 points)  
d) very satisfied (0 points)  

2. If you pursued something other than your passion as your main career, what would you likely earn per year?
a) Less than $20,000 (15 points)
b) $20,000-50,000  10 points) 
c) $50,000-$75,000  (6 points) 
d) $75,000-$100,000 (3 points) 
e) More than $100,000  (0 points)

3. In the past year, how much have you earned from doing that thing you're passionate about:
a) More than $75,000 (15 points) 
b) $50-75,000  (12 points)
c) $25,000-50,000 (8 points) 
d) $5,000-25,000 (4 points)  
e) less than $5,000 (0 points)

4) Which best describes the feedback you've received from people with the power to pay you to do your passion:
a) A person(s) would definitely pay you a good-enough annual amount to do what you're passionate about (25 points)
b) A person(s) would likely pay you a good-enough annual amount to do what you're passionate about (15 points)
c) A person(s) would possibly pay you a good-enough annual amount to do what you're passionate about (8 points)
d) No one with the power to hire you has said they might pay you a good-enough annual amount to do what you're passionate about (0 points)

5. What percentage of people stably earn at least a working-class annual income doing your passion? For example,  database programming would get 10 points, fiction writing would get 0 points.
a) More than 75% (15 points) 
b) 50-75% (12 points
c) 25-50% (6 points) 
d) 5-25% (3 points)
e) less than 5% (0 points)

SCORING: Add up your points  The closer your score to 100, the more likely you'd be wise to pursue your passion as your main career.

A Fairly Low-Risk, Fairly Fast Path to Wealth

This is the fourth in a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

Of course, there is no guaranteed path to wealth, slow or fast, but my vote for the most likely approach to fairly quick wealth is to clone an ultra-simple business:

1. Pick one of the simplest businesses. There's less to go wrong and less start-up money needed so you can afford setbacks or even total failure. Examples:
  • College financial aid counselor. They help families complete the forms so as to maximize aid--like a tax accountant but for college financial aid.
  • Career coach in a niche: unhappy physicians or lawyers, people with Asperger's, etc.
  • Relationship ad writer and/or photographer

  • The cost of rent can be prohibitive so, if possible, run such businesses from home, meet at a coffee shop, or at their home or office. Or rent space by the hour from a friend. There may also be rent-by-the-hour meeting rooms available in your locale. 

  • Clean out and add shelves and cabinets to basements, garages, and attics. My favorite name: Spacemaker.
  • Shoeshine stand. My favorite name: Shine On, or in California, Dianne FineShine
  • Soup sold from a cart. My favorite name: Souper!
  • Espresso cart in the financial district. My favorite name: Liquid Assets.

      Buy your major equipment used, at auction, etc. The cost saving can be enormous.
2. Visit a few successful businesses of your chosen type. It's easy to find which brick-and-mortar retailers are successful:: Just see which ones have long lines of customers. For not-retail businesses, check out the websites of businesses that get lots of excellent reviews on Yelp, Angie's List, ServiceMaster, etc. Incorporate their best features into your business.

3. If needed, hire one of those successful business owners to be your consultant in helping you start up. Agree to not compete in their geographic area.

4. Run the business yourself for a month or two. Resist the temptation to delegate. Not only will you save money, you'll learn the ins and outs of the business so you can keep improving it. 

5.  When the business is running optimally, even if it nets as little as $500 a month, clone it in another (excellent!) location. Take the time to find a wonderful person(s) to staff it. Pay the person(s) fairly, including profit sharing. At least as important, treat them with deserved respect and kindness.

6. Keep cloning the business until you're making $100,000 to $200,000 a year. That's enough to live well. Expand beyond that and the risk of quality and efficiency too greatly declines and of theft increases, not to mention the headaches of running a bigger business.

The New Rules for Getting Promoted...Or At Least Staying Employed

This is the third in a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

The rules for succeeding in today's workplace have changed. For example, a few years ago, I would have confidently suggested that key to success is asking lots of questions and suggesting new ideas. Now, that could get you fired, oops, "laid off."

Being Low-Maintenance
Of course, inveterate complainers and naysayers are high-maintenance and so disproportionately find themselves on a layoff list. But there are more subtle ways you can be high-maintenance:
  • To appear enthusiastic and to avoid errors, many new employees ask lots of questions but too often, bosses resent the time it takes to answer them. (That happened to me when I was working at a radio station.)
  • Similarly, many employees figure they add value by suggesting lots of new ideas. But each new idea requires time to implement and if the boss doesn't like the idea, s/he thinks less of you. Plus s/he has the uncomfortable chore of explaining why s/he's turning you down.  
In today's trying times, bosses usually don't need  more ideas; they need more doers. So in many of today's workplaces, it is wise to look for opportunities to make life easier for your boss and coworkers. If you have some bandwidth, you might ask boss and coworkers something like, "I have a little room on my plate. Is there anything I can do to make your life easier?" 
Are you valuing work enough? 

If you think you don't have any bandwidth left, you might ask yourself if that's true or if you're insufficiently valuing work? Too many employees still try to get away with doing as little as possible. That's ironic in that it not only makes them layoff-prone, they're likely to feel their life is less meaningful. Over the 4,000 career coaching clients I've worked with plus my friends and colleagues, it's clear to me that, on average, people who work long hours, for whom productivity at work is key to their identity, are more content with how they're living their life than are people who try to get away with doing the minimum.

Become a Go-To Guy/Girl.  It's fun to dabble--to learn a little about lots of things, but in today's workplace, those ubiquitous Jacks and Jills of all trades, masters of none are more likely to be on the layoff list. Pick something key to your employer and stay focused on mastering it so you become the invaluable go-to guy or girl.

Are you a procrastinator? 

In school you could get away with waiting until the last second and still get a good grade, but there's less grade inflation in many of today's workplaces. Shoddy work is a fast track to the layoff list. I've written a lot on overcoming procrastination. (Click on "procrastination" in the label cloud on the right side of this blog.) Here I'll simply remind you of the cliched but potent advice: If you're overwhelmed by the prospect of doing a task, remember it doesn't need to be perfect and break it down into baby steps. Don't know how? Ask someone.

Ask for a pay cut?

A few years ago, I helped many of my clients strategize for a pay raise. But today, with good jobs few and job seekers many, and with employers more carefully evaluating employees' cost-benefit versus an automated solution or hiring a worker in a low-cost country, it's often wise to not push for a raise. It may even be wise to ask for a pay cut so in that next "reorg," you don't stick out as expensive.

Fire quickly; hire slowly

If you're a manager, your employability can hinge as much on your supervisees' performance as on your own. And generally, remediating your weak employees is a poor use of your time--It's hard even for a psychotherapist working with a low-performing client for years to fundamentally change him or her So, if brief efforts to remediate a weak employee fail, cut your losses and try to counsel him or her out: "I think you'd be a better fit with X sort of job. I'll try to help you find it." Iff that doesn't work, if possible, terminate the employee.

When hiring, don't rely on ads. Too many job seekers are using all manner of subterfuge to make themselves appear better than they are. It's wiser to tell everyone you respect that you're looking to hire an excellent person for (insert job description.) They'll more validly screen applicants. In job interviews, mainly put candidates in simulations of the work they'll be doing rather than asking coachable questions such as, "Tell me about a challenge you faced."

A Gallup poll of 60,000 top managers found that they generally do follow that rule: fire quickly; hire slowly.

Beg for honest feedback
In these stressful times, bosses are more reluctant than ever to give negative feedback--They figure it will just demotivate you. So they just shine you on and include you on the next layoff list.

But lack of feedback can be a career killer. So ask your boss and perhaps others for candid feedback. Try something like, "As any good professional, I want to keep growing. So might I ask for some candid feedback on what you see as my strengths and areas for growth?" Don't want to ask directly? Talent Checkup enables you to ask questions of 3 to 8 people. To preserve their anonymity, you'll receive an email only of the aggregated results.

It hurts me to be issuing all this tough love but I'd rather see you work a little harder and smarter than face the daunting search for a new job.

New Ideas for Landing a Job in Today's Tough Market

This is the second in a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

This one is on the art of landing a job in tough times.

It basically comes down to one surprising word: love. An employer can easily do a worldwide search for the perfect candidate. That means that hiring you is likely to be irrational--you're unlikely to be the best candidate in the world. And an employer is likely to make that irrational choice if s/he loves you. As you may know, love can make us do all manner of irrational things.

So the question is how do you get an employer to love you?

Coffee, not Cloud

1. Connect in-person or by phone or Skype rather than email, Facebook "friends,' etc. Many of my clients are landing jobs relatively quickly by scheduling at least three coffees, lunches etc. per week with people with the power to hire them, provide a lead, or advice.

2. Key in those meetings is to use a ten-second pitch that explains what you're looking for and why, if you're so good, you're looking for work. For example, "I've always received good evaluations as an accountant but feel I'm not making enough of a difference. I really would love to help revitalize hospitals in a low-income area."

3. In those one-on-ones, after just a bit of pleasantries, make your request for a job lead or advice. Spending too much time chatting about family may appear to be a transparent ploy. If the person says s/he can't think of how to help you with your job hunt, ask him or her to keep ears open and if, after a month, you're still looking, would s/he mind your checking back?  S/he'll usually say yes and thus you've recruited a scout. It's more likely the person will have a lead for you in the next month than on the spot.

The next part of such conversations is to switch to what matters to the other person. Try to unearth what's important for them these days. It's usually one or more of these: career, health, family, money, looks, politics, a nonprofit cause, or a hobby.

Make mostly "Moving toward" utterances, for example, a question to better understand their situation or a statement of agreement, empathy, or amplification, such as a compatible example from your own life. Beware of too much disagreeing and of offering unwanted advice.

The Influencing Packet

Of course, most hiring is done with both head and heart, so to seal the deal you also need to address an employer's practical concerns. I've written enough previously on the art of applying and of interviewing. (To see some of that, click on "Job Search" in the label cloud on the right side of this blog.) So here I'll focus on something less standard that is often key to landing the job: the influencing packet. 

In your application or as a supplement to the de rigueur post-interview thank-you letter, submit one or more influencers, for example:
  • A revised job description that matches the employer's needs as well as your strengths. To avoid seeming hubristic, preface it with something like, "Of course, I'm not privy to all the considerations but in light of what you said in the interview, perhaps this revised job description would better help you achieve your goals."
  • A White Paper. That is a few-page document on a topic of interest to the employer that would demonstrate your expertise in your sought-after work. For example, if you're looking for a job marketing B-to-B smartphone apps, you might write, "Seven Keys to Marketing B-to-B Smartphone Apps in 2013 and Beyond." 
A White Paper is a particularly helpful influencer when trying to land a job in which you have little previous experience. Google-based research can quickly yield you a fair amount of expertise.
  • A list of sales prospects. If you're seeking a sales or business development position, it can be impressive to send your target employers a list of prospects you'd contact if hired. You might, however, want to send only a partial list: "Here are 10. I have 30 more. Hire me and I'll show them to you."
  • A portfolio of your work. Of course, creatives such as graphic designers, architects, and musicians routinely submit a portfolio of their work, but showing samples can be effective in many fields. For example, a manager might want to include a a budget s/he crafted, a strategic plan s/he contributed to, the PowerPoint deck from a presentation on a topic that would impress the target employer, etc.
Finally, a word about ethics. In these tough times, it seems that more job seekers are being unethical: lying on their resume, using phony references, giving deceptive answers to interview questions, or hiring a resume writer to make them appear better organized and a better thinker and writer than they are. Yes, cheaters often win but I invite you to remember that job-seeking is often a zero-sum game. If your chicanery results in your getting a job over a more qualified human being, can you really feel good about yourself? The strategies presented in this article, applied ethically and diligently, will likely yield you an appropriate job in a reasonable amount of time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

How I Could Live Decently on $20,000 a Year (revised, June 27, 2014)

Update 6/27/14: HERE is a little video I created that I believe both drives the point home and is quite entertaining--if I say so myself.
 Per the article in The Atlantic, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, and one in the New York Times, The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs, and in light of the beliefs we career counselors quietly admit among ourselves, ever more formerly middle-class Americans will have to work for $10 an hour. That's $20,000 a year.

Even if you're not forced to, if you can live decently on $20,000 a year, you then have the option to  pursue a career you'd love even if it pays little--for example, a creative career.

The good news is that with a little smarts, you can live decently on $20,000 a year. I have done that and still do many of the things I'll suggest here:

Basically, it comes down to digs, wheels, and heals.

Take the extra time to find a great deal on digs, a place to live. For example, tell everyone you know you're a good tenant looking for a good deal on an apartment, backyard cottage, basement or attic room in a house, etc. When I came to Berkeley, I was able to unearth a room-to-rent listed by a widow living in a mansion who was nervous about living alone. So I got to live in a Berkeley Hills palace for $85 a month. Okay, that was in 1973, but in today's dollars, that's still just $439.

Wheels? From a private party, buy a three- to 15-year-old Toyota. (Subarus are okay  too.) They are the most reliable, long-lasting cars. Over my lifetime, my family members and I have had a half dozen Toyotas and they've averaged over 200,000 reliable miles. My current one, a Prius, has 235,000 miles on it, it runs like new, and all I've had to fix is the water pump. All I do is take it to a quick oil-change place every 5,000. I've never done the "routine scheduled maintenance" and nary a consequence. Keep your cars until they drop and you'll save a fortune.

Heals? Well, if I did work for Wal-Mart for at least 24 hours a week, my kids and I would get $1500-deductible health care coverage for just a dollar a day. And Wal-Mart kicks in another $500 a year for uncovered expenses. But let's make things difficult. Let's assume my employer didn't provide health benefits and no family member could include me on their plan. The smart money these days is on Kaiser--it's the most tied-into ObamaCare. And you can get a decent individual plan for a few hundred bucks a month. A year ago, I looked up plans for me, a 62-year-old male, an expensive category. They range from $317 to $723 a month depending on deductible and co-pay. Kaiser adds dental coverage for just $25 a year.  Google "Kaiser individual plan" to get to the correct page on Kaiser's website. Importantly, most good docs I know are opting to work for Kaiser because they incur no start-up or malpractice-insurance costs, and the work hours are livable.

Just those three things--digs, wheels, and heals--get you down to $20,000 annual living expenses, especially if you do these less central things:

Get clothes at Wal-Mart, Target, Ross, consignment stores, or thrift shops like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Choose carefully and you can look great for little. My wife has bought $1,000 designer dresses at consignment shops for under $100, usually well under.

Ironically, healthy food is among the least expensive: vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread, canned tuna, peanut butter, etc.

Recreate cheaply: Instead of going out for $20 dinners and $8 drinks, invite friends over for dessert or your secret-recipe cheddar cheese popcorn. Go on a hike or play ball instead of an expensive sport like golf or skiing. Borrow books and videos from the library. Read and watch YouTube videos on the Internet. Have sex.

Many people resist living this way, not because their quality of life would be bad but because of a desire for status, a desire to appear wealthier. But if someone thinks less of you for living modestly, s/he has shallow values, hardly a person for whom you should change your lifestyle, let alone to a career you'd like less.

Key to living well on less is recognizing that status-seeking is the enemy of contentment.

A Simpler Way to Choose a Career

This is the first of a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

Many people struggle too hard to pick their career. They spend years of angst waiting on the sidelines for the magically perfect career to descend like manna from heaven.

Here's a more likely path to career contentment:
  • Pick what feels best, even if doesn't yield ecstasy. Passion usually comes after you've done the items below.
  • Get good training. (Tip: Getting mentored and trained on the job is underrated and more often possible than you may think.)
  • Do a thorough job search so you get multiple job offers and thus can choose the best one.
  • Tweak the job description to match your strengths.
Do just those things and you'll likely be more satisfied with your career than are most people.

That said, here are a few careers that many people find rewarding and which promise a decent job market for the foreseeable future:

Optometrist: high earnings, good status, high success rate with patients, regular hours. Training: four years post-bachelors or a seven-year BS/OD program.

Terrorism prevention: biochemical, cyber, conventional. Yes, opportunities are best for PhD-level scientists but social science analysts are needed with expertise in Middle Eastern and home-grown terrorism.

Immigration.  Odds are that President Obama will get reelected, and he has promised to make amnesty/comprehensive immigration reform top-priority. Thousands of government workers will be needed to process citizenship applications, teach courses to prepare immigrants for the citizenship exam, etc.

Accountant. Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and President Obama's promise (threat?) to increase IRS funding suggest a robust market for accountants, especially auditors. Perhaps even more plentiful will be jobs for health care accountants. ObamaCare has been called a full-employment act for accountants.

All things Muslim. We hear a lot about the U.S.'s  burgeoning Latino population but close behind are Muslims:  from conversion, immigration, and a high birth rate. As all ethnic and religious groups, Muslims have preferred services and products. For example, Muslim women will not disrobe before a male health care provider, so there's a great need for Arabic-and Farsi-speaking female health care providers. An under-the-radar product example: Muslims are fond of goat meat and their religion requires animals to be slaughtered using a special method. So Halal goat farming may be a viable U.S career.

Simple, cloneable self-employment:  Look at successful retailers of a simple product: shoeshine stand, flower cart, gourmet food truck, etc.. Incorporate their best features into your version of that business. When your first store is running well, clone it. That approach is a more likely path to self-employment success than to follow the MBA principles of: choosing a field with high barrier to entry, innovate, and go national fast. My motto: Don't innovate; replicate.

Or here are a few of my favorite low-cost self-employment service businesses: help people create their profiles and photos. College financial aid counseling. Convert cluttered basements and attics into clean, shelf-rich spaces. 

A word about following your passion. Most people's passions fall into just a few categories: the environment, entertainment, fashion, nonprofit work, and creative work. Supply-demand means that it will be tough to make a living in those fields unless you're very talented, well-connected, and/or lucky, ideally all three. You're more likely to make decent money and be treated well in a less crowded field. I'm a big fan of doing what you a hobby.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beating the Odds in Self-Employment

Here's an excerpt from my Commonwealth Club talk on beating the odds in self-employment:
Advice to the Self-Employed: Don't Innovate... by FORAtv

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Succeeding in Today's Tough Work World:

HERE is the link to the video of my address that kicked off the Commonwealth Club's month on the future of work. It covered these topics:
  • Under-the-radar great careers
  • Ahead-of-the-pack strategies for landing the job
  • How to get promoted or least layoff resistant
  • Beating the odds in self-employment

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I Give a Talk Today: My Best Career Advice

A reminder. Today at 5:15 PM I kick off The Commonwealth Club's month on The Future of Work.

My talk's title: "What Every Career-Minded Person Should Know for 2013 and Beyond."

For info: click HERE.