Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Einstein, My Co-Counselor (For dog lovers only)

A real client (permission to publish granted), Einstein, and me
This will be published as the BackPage essay in The Bark. I thought you might enjoy an advance look. 

Einstein, My Co-Counselor
By Marty Nemko

To be accurate, Einstein is my receptionist, co-counselor, stress management consultant, and fitness trainer.  He greets my clients with an enthusiasm no paid receptionist could match. I mean, even if I paid a receptionist $100,000 a year, s/he wouldn't give each client a big sloppy kiss.

Following the few-second love fest, Einstein gives a new meaning to the term “lap dog:” In his excitement, he runs laps around the house, each time breaking the land-speed record. It’s the Barktona 500.

Fortunately, Einstein recognizes he has another job. So after he’s completed his appointed (ahem) rounds, he downshifts and escorts the client to the sofa, of course, sitting right next to him if not on his lap bestowing another round of kisses. Of course, there’s the occasional client who prefers career counseling without a face washing, in which case the client eases Einstein off the sofa. In those cases, undeterred, Einstein assumes the position---head on the client’s shoes.

Jack of all trades, master of all, Einstein is my co-counselor. Even though I’m a career counselor not a psychotherapist, sometimes a client gets anxious during a session. After all, it’s not easy to discuss having been unemployed for eons and now trying to land a good job at a time when they’re harder to find than a perfect and cheap dog sitter who’ll stay at your house 24/7. So when clients feel stressed, they often pet Einstein and if they were already petting him, they tend to speed up—a useful anxiety detector for me.

Sometimes, Einstein has yet another job: doggie playmate. If I learn that my client has a dog who won’t pee on my carpet to show Einstein who’s boss—I invite, no, urge, the client to bring said pooch. Einstein then--ever the flexible host--leads whatever activity the guest desires: from more laps to play fighting to dog-to-dog snuggling. Einstein is even gracious enough to allow guests to share his kibble, an offer most of my human guests pass on.  

Einstein wears two other hats. He’s my stress management consultant, on call 24/7. When stressed, I’ll often snuggle up to him on the floor, nose to nose, and rub his belly. 30 seconds of that makes anxiety a physical impossibility.

Einstein is also my fitness trainer. Without him, it would be too tempting to stay on my butt but Einstein needs his exercise and poopertunities, so we take walks four times a day, one a vigorous 45-minute hike. An overpriced, overmuscled fitness trainer couldn't keep me that diligent.

Lest you think Einstein is the perfect dog, I’d like to acquaint you with what he was like before he matured into a multitasking professional.

When I walked into the pound’s adoption area, I was greeted in the first cage by a pit bull who sort of snarled. I sped up. In the next cage, a Rottweiler retreated in fear. I walked on by. But in the third cage, a little white terrier with a poodley face got on his back legs and pawed the cage squealing, “Please take me out. Puhleeze!” The attendant told me that that sweet dog had been thrown over the fence into the pound’s parking lot in the middle of the night and was found in the morning clutching a barbecued rib.

“Want to take him for a walk?” "You betcha," I replied. And I swear, the doggie knew it was an audition. He stood up as straight and proud as he could, bent his head down so the attendant could put the leash on and when the attendant handed me the leash, tail up, he smartly led me toward the door. We got outside and he continued to walk perfectly—without pulling—until he found an irresistible bush to pee on. He was trained!  Of course, it had been love at first sight, a love made practical when I saw that perfectly placed leg lift. 

Unfortunately, pound policy required My Doggie to stay there for seven days lest the owner (“mean owner, bad owner, bad owner”) decided to reclaim him. Can you imagine how hard it was for me to have to leave My Doggie there in that cage?!  The very first minute the pound opened on the seventh day, I phoned, “Is that little white terrier/poodle mix still available?” Yup. I jumped in the car and retrieved him from prison. He jumped happily on me, then equally happily into the car---Yay, he likes car rides! He didn't,  however, like our next stop—the vet for neutering. But he handled it just the way a sweet doggie should, without a hint of a growl.

Alas, while his trials were over, mine were just beginning. I named him Einstein because of his looks and somehow hoping that the educators are right: students live up to high expectations. Nope: Einstein is no Einstein. His name is false advertising. He may be as sweet as they come but he’s dumb as dirt. And although he was almost a year old, he still had a bad case of puppy hyperactivity on top of new-home anxiety. Within the first week, “Einstein” had eaten the only pair of eyeglasses I've ever felt looked good on me and he ate a hole in three yes three carpets.

Let me issue a cautionary note here. They say doggies are comfortable in a crate. That certainly did not mean that Einstein was comfortable in an enclosed room, even though it had a doggie door to the backyard. Now, isn't that as nice as a “crate” can get? I had to leave the house and so I left him in that room with food and water, plus music on to keep him company. When I returned, everything---books, paintings, papers-- were strewn all over the floor. Was it an earthquake? A tornado? No. It was Einstein. Worse, he had eaten the carpet next to the door in a frantic attempt to escape the luxury “crate.”  

And that wasn't the worst thing. A day or two later, Einstein decided to make a meal of my medication. The fact that it was in a sealed pill bottle didn't stop goal-oriented Einstein. He treated it like a chew toy with a treat inside that he’d get as a reward for pulling it apart. Alas, the reward was 20 pills. Off to the vet to get his stomach pumped.

But scariest of all was one morning when I opened the door to get the newspaper. Einstein escaped and tore down the street. I--in my tee shirt, shorts, and slippers—raced after him. While there are many turns he could have chosen, he picked the one that put him on the freeway on-ramp. I chased him up the ramp and for the first time in my life, I was grateful for traffic. The freeway was dead-stopped. Knowing Einstein likes being in the car, I  yelled ahead, “Someone, open your car door!” Miraculously, someone divined that I wasn't a stalker, opened the door, whereupon Einstein jumped in and my idiot was saved.

But believe me, it has all been worth it. Like so many dog owners, and I’m guessing it’s especially true of The Bark readers, Einstein is a truly beloved family member. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I care about my doggie more than I do most people. I love him almost as much as my wife. He’s a true member of the family, even if he weren't the world’s best receptionist, co-counselor, stress reducer, and fitness trainer.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Will You Shine in a Job Interview?

We're never as engaged in reading material as we are when we read a test question.  So of late, I've been making my USNews.com posts a quiz.  Today's is Will You Shine in a Job Interview?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Not-Obvious Careers for PhDs and PostDocs

Friday, I'll be giving a keynote address at the University of Calgary's career day for PhDs and postdoctoral scholars. I'll be ad-libbing it but in preparation, I wrote a script. Here it is:

Beyond the Obvious

First, I want to give a tip of the cap to Daniel Oblak and the PDAC team for having not only the vision but the guts to put on this career day in which options beyond academia will be explored. Why guts? Because some in the academic community view careers outside of academia as second-class work. Some students and post-docs don’t feel they can talk with their advisor or peers about non-academic careers lest they be viewed as less than.

In fact, if we’re really being honest, we’re forced to recognize that some academics don’t make the greatest of contributions. Consider, for example, the philosophy professor whose life's work is critiquing Heidegger’s hermeneutic circles and whose ideas never went further than a relative handful of other professors who chose to read it in an obscure journal. Or even cancer researchers. Alas, too many of them spend their lifetimes without having made significant progress against the disease. Some PhDs make at least as big a contribution and are as happy or happier in a career outside the halls of academe.

It is in that spirit that I sally forth this morning with this talk I’ve titled, Beyond the Obvious. I’ll share some specific careers that are perhaps not obvious and some not-obvious research areas for study that are exciting—well, at least they seem exciting to me. Then I’ll spend a little time talking about some not-obvious keys to success, no matter what career you pursue.

First, a bit of reassurance. It’s easy to believe that a PhD prepares you mainly for work that’s explicitly connected to your research area. In fact, countless employers have hired PhDs because they hold transferable skills: problem solving, project management, written communication, oral communication, plus because their mind is good enough and their work ethic persistent enough to have earned a PhD.

Beyond-the-Obvious Careers for PhDs
Here are some careers for PhDs that you mightn’t have thought of. Of course, this is just a sampling and none may be right for you but I hope it will at least remind you that you have more options than you may think:

Let’s start right here at the university. Every research university produces patentable technology and the technology transfer office—here it’s called Innovate Calgary--is responsible for figuring out how to turn those technologies into products that can be commercialized: licensing, joint ventures. PhDs are hired to help make that happen.

Staying in the field of education, there’s little doubt that ever more learning will occur online, from preschool to graduate school. But to date, most online courses are not outstanding. Imagine instead that an intro to statistics course taught not by whomever happens to have room in his or her class on your local campus but online by a dream team of the world’s most transformational statistics instructions, those rare souls who have the ability to get students to understand statistics so well that it becomes part of way students think. Imagine further that because the cost of such a course could be amortized across many thousands, even millions of students, world-class immersive video-centric simulations could be embedded into the course. PhDs will be needed to design such courses and the IT infrastructure for the courses.

Science magazine editor. Many people love being an editor of  a magazine such as Discover, Popular Science, Psychology Today, American Scientist or Scientific American---I apologize to the Canadians--I did look for a major scientific magazine with Canada in the title but couldn’t find one. Maybe there’s an opportunity for you: Start Canadian Scientist or Scientific Canadian. People love the job of editor of a science magazine because they’re constantly exposed to new and important ideas. It’s not easy to land a job as an editor of such publications but a PhD in science puts you ahead of many other applicants.

Alas, one field that appears to be recession-proof is security. So PhDs may find important work working for government or on a government contract regarding bioweapons, cyberterrorism, as an intelligence analyst, cryptographer, and so on.

Also key to our security is energy. PhDs are employed in everything from solar to nuclear, energy generation to energy distribution, from technical consulting to policy making.

Of course, public policy goes well beyond energy. PhDs are hired by corporations, nonprofits, and industry to craft all sorts of policy—from immigration to transportation. They also hire people to get policy enacted, for example, as a lobbyist.

Or try to make change from the inside--as a politician. I couldn’t find the numbers for Canada but 20 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have a PhD and 22 are MDs.

Nearly every product, especially in health care, is subject to a thorough evaluation process. Companies hire people, many with PhDs, as regulatory affairs specialists: helping the company meet the requirements with minimum red tape. On the other side of the table, government employs people to ensure the requirements are met. When I first heard of regulatory affairs, it sounded like a boring career. But having spoken to a number of people in the field, they tend to really like their job: It’s complex, requires interaction with people not just documents, and they’re always learning about a product on the cutting edge. Regulatory affairs is an under-the-radar career that, because it doesn’t sound sexy, may be easier in which to find employment.

The investment industry hires PhDs for their quantitative analysis skills. For example, you might be developing an algorithm for predicting which stocks are worth buying or how to reduce a stock portfolio’s risk with minimal impact on its profit potential.

Ph.Ds are hired by credit card companies to develop algorithms for, for example, determining the probability that someone’s online credit purchase is being made with a stolen credit card.

If you’re a bench scientist looking to move into industry, you might consider being a Field Application Scientist. You work for companies that sell sophisticated lab equipment. Your job is to go to the customer’s lab, perhaps as salesperson, more often as the technical expert explaining and demonstrating the equipment, training personnel on how to use it, and troubleshooting problems. For example, I’ve seen this with operating room equipment and medical devices. The Field Application Scientist is right there in the operating room.

Or if you fancy getting still more education, your employability may be enhanced by adding, for example, a law degree to your PhD. Science PhDs with a law degree have become, for example, intellectual property attorneys. Petroleum Engineering PhDs with an MBA have become oil industry executives.

And of course, countless PhDs have pursued careers that don’t require a PhD: from nonprofit management to owning a low-status business. The book, The Millionaire Next Door, profiled 750 millionaires and found that a disproportionate number owned what the author called “dull-normal businesses:” businesses with little status, in which most of the business’s competitors don’t have PhD-level intelligence, skills, or drive, which should make it easier for a PhD-level person to succeed in that business. Examples of dull-normal businesses: owning a chain of espresso kiosks, a sand blasting business, used truck part brokerage, a mobile home park maintenance service. Those careers are not for everyone. Most people seek a measure of status. But sometimes, status can be the enemy of contentment. You can quote me on that.

Beyond-the-Obvious Research Ideas
But let’s say you want to pursue a career as a researcher. Here are a few ideas for research areas that you mightn’t have considered. The research directions you hear about are likely to derive from your professors and courses. The following derive merely from my attempt to identify important unmet needs. For example, a health sciences PhD might want to study why hospital personnel—who know that the simple act of washing hands frequently will reduce patient infection—often don’t do it, and what could get them to? A molecular biology or neuroscience PhD might want to study the biological basis of that attribute we call intelligence: the ability to learn quickly, remember well, and reason abstractly. A music PhD might want to study why some pianists can, almost effortlessly play anything they can hum in full arrangement (I must admit I am one) while others can’t, and how that skill might best be taught. A political science PhD might want to study why university faculty tend to get mired in office politics and what could make university committees more effective.

To bring another measure of practicality to this talk, I’d like to ask for a volunteer to come up here to the stage, someone who is unsure what he or she would like to do careerwise and I’ll try, in just a few minutes, to help them identify a well-suited direction to explore. Who’d like to volunteer? (I’ll do one or two Few-Minute Career Counselings)

Finding a Good Mentor(s)
Your career success depends not only on choosing a well-suited career but on other things, for example, finding a mentor. Many of us hoped we’d find a mentor, someone who really believes in us, takes us under wing, gives us wise counsel, opens career doors for us, and so on. Alas, too often that hasn’t happened. In the spirit of this talk’s theme, ‘Beyond the Obvious,” may I suggest that you go on what I call a “first date” with a faculty member or administrator you sense could be a great mentor. Reveal something about yourself—for example, that you’re considering a career outside academe. How did that person react: asking good questions or prematurely judging you? Do you feel that person will bring out the best in you or make you feel small? As in romantic dating, you may have to go on a few “first dates” before finding a good mentor.

Mentoring needn’t be a structured, weekly affair. That professor with whom you had a successful “first date,” could simply be someone you call on as needed. It may be worth offering the relationship to be reciprocal—you offering to be of support to your mentor, rather than your always asking for his or her help.

For example, every month, I have a one-hour co-mentoring session with a respected colleague. For the first half hour, he asks me about one or more issues he’s facing--professional or personal--and I raise questions or offer counsel. And in the second half hour, we reverse roles and I tell him about an issue or two I’m facing.

Michael and I have been doing that for five years now and we both get enough out of it that we’d never think of giving it up.  In fact it’s worked so well that a year ago, I expanded the concept. I invited a half-dozen of the people I most respect to become a Board of Advisors that would meet once a month for one hour by teleconference during which anyone can raise an issue and get the others’ input. That too has proved an invaluable source of mentorship.

Long-Windedness: A Not-Obvious Career Killer
A perhaps not obvious key to success is avoiding being long-winded. Some academics can be long-winded. They explain things very completely, perhaps unaware that they’re boring their listener—whether a colleague, potential employer, or in their personal relationships. If you’ve been called long-winded, you might want to try what I call The Traffic Light Rule: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: you can speak with impunity. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow: the chance is increasing that your listener is waiting for you to shut up so he or she can respond. Your listener also may start to think you’re long-winded. After the one-minute mark, your light is red. Yes, occasionally you want to run a red light, for example, when telling an interesting anecdote or are explaining something that, even if edited to its important parts, takes longer than a minute. But usually, you’re wise to stop. If the person wants to know more, she can ask a question.

Good Career and Good Parenting, a Catch-22?
Another perhaps not-obvious key to career success is the ostensibly irresolvable conflict between parenting and professional life. Many people feel they should put their career on hold when they have children. It may not, in fact, be an irresolvable conflict. The literature and common sense suggest that a child may, net, be better off, when parents are working. It is good for your children to see the role model of a parent who also is a professional. Also, being a parent 24/7 is taxing—it can make one lose their temper too often. Also, well-educated people who choose to stay at home end up channeling all that intelligence and drive into their kids. That of course yields benefits but it also can yield side-effects: for example, the so-called helicopter parent who is so hovering it creates an entitled child, whose every need must be met and/or a child who becomes insecure and fearful because the parent is overprotective, denying the child opportunities to develop self-efficacy. Yes, kids fall and scrape their knees, even break a bone, but those heal. A child’s sensing the parent’s ongoing worry can yield insecurities that are more difficult to heal. Of course, arguments can be made in favor of a parent forgoing his or her career for some period of a child’s development but the message here is that, if you choose, you can be a full-time working parent and not only not shortchange your child but perhaps better your child. One more reason to keep your career alive when you have children is that many people say that having become a stay-at-home parent made their brain go to mush. Your PhD mind is a particularly terribly thing to waste.


A lesson from my father
There’s one more perhaps not-obvious key to career success, indeed to life success. And this one is perhaps best explained by a story. It’s the story of my dad. The year was 1939. The town was Sierpc, Poland. My father was a teenager living with his parents. One day there was a knock on the door and it was two Nazis in black boots. But unlike in the movies, they didn't yell. One was silent and the other whispered: "You will be out of your house with only what you can carry on your back by noon tomorrow or else." The next day, there were two trucks in the town square and 12 Nazis, but now they weren't whispering. "Rouse!" And they went into the Jewish households and threw the most able-bodied people on one truck and the others on another. My father never saw his parents again. At the end of the war, my father was dropped in the Bronx without a penny to his name, no English, no family, no education. Only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. What did he do? He took the only job he could get: sewing shirts in a factory in Harlem. And at night, what did he do? He went to Roosevelt High School's night school to learn English. And what did he do on the weekend? He went to the owner of the factory and asked, "Can I buy the shirts I sewed for you during the week and sell them out of a cardboard box on the street?" What did he do with the money? He used it to pay the first and last month's rent on the only storefront he could afford: 105 Moore St. in Brooklyn. On one side was a deli specializing in chicharones (deep-fried pork intestines) and that smell merged with the smell of stale blood from the live chicken market on the other side. My father's store was so small that he had to display most of the merchandise on folding tables in front of the store. But the neighborhood was terrible so, on the weekends, when the kids were out of school, they'd come by and grab clothing from the tables and run away. So when I was old enough, on Saturdays, I'd be the security guard. And I remember standing in front of the store one day and business was slow, so my father was standing there next to me. And I asked him, "Daddy, how come you so rarely talk about the Holocaust?" And he stiffened, which he rarely did, and he said, "Martin, the Nazis took five years from my life. I won't give them one minute more." He said, "Martin, never look back. Always take the next step forward."

Each of us has had bad things happen to us but I've had the privilege of having been career coach to some of our most successful, contributory people as well as to some real strugglers. And one of the differentiating factors is that most of the successful ones follow my father's advice: Never look back; always take the next step forward. I can leave you with no better advice.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Making the Most of a Conference, Convention, or Trade Show

My next column for the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer, is on making the most of a conference. I thought you might like an advance look.

The Life Well-Led
By Marty Nemko

Making the Most of a Conference, Convention, or Trade Show

When I came home from conferences, I'd often wonder if it was worth the hassle and time of going.

Now, I less often feel that way. What has helped is that I do each of these. Perhaps they may help you make more of the upcoming Mensa Regional Gathering. (RG.)

Before leaving for a conference, I think about what I want to accomplish there. Sometimes it’s as simple and vague as R&R and learning something new. Other times, I want to try to get quality time with particular people I know will be at the conference.

I enjoy public speaking so I always apply to present a session. I’ve titled my session at the upcoming RG, “What the Hell is the Meaning of Life?” I’ll share the stops and starts in my journey to define the life well-led.  If I were single, I’d probably volunteer at the registration table or as a welcomer for newcomers.

If the conference is far away, I try to arrive on the early side. Not only does that improve my ratio of conference time to travel time, fewer people are there early, which makes it easier for me to establish or build relationships.

I arrive early at sessions. That allows time to talk with people and perhaps ask someone to sit next to me during the session.  

During such pre-session chats, in between sessions, or at the hospitality suite, etc., I occasionally find myself wishing I could extricate myself from a conversation. Until recently, I A friend suggested this: At a propitious moment, stick out your hand, shake the person’s hand and say something like, “I’m going to grab something to eat. Maybe we’ll talk more later.” (And maybe not.)

At sessions, I’ll often ask a question. We grow from such customized active learning.

Sometimes, I skip an hour or two of sessions and instead, talk with someone or visit the exhibit area. The latter are often underrated. Vendors often send top people to staff their booth. Visiting the exhibit area provides an easy opportunity to chat one-on-one with some particularly interesting people.

If I want quality time with someone, I ask if he or she wants to sit together for one of the scheduled meals, to have a drink, or to go out for a meal or walk.

If I’ve not planned to sit next to someone at one of the conference meals, I try to arrive just a few minutes after the scheduled meal period begins. That way, I’ll have a good choice of people to sit next to yet I haven’t arrived so late that almost all the seats are taken.

Throughout the conference, I make note of people I want to follow-up with or things I want to do in light of the conference. I try to do those things right after the conference. Knowing me, every passing hour makes it less likely I’ll actually do them.

I hope to see you at the RG.  If I do, I hope you won’t take offense if I stick my hand out. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

How Good is Your Resume?

The tight job market means your resume must be stellar, not just good.

My USNews.com article today asks you ten questions to help you assess how good your resume is. HERE is the link.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Superfast, Superhealthy Yet Surprisingly Tasty Recipes

Perhaps I have defective taste buds but I find these superfast, superhealthy recipes quite tasty. Perhaps you might too.


Superhealthy Yogurt
To non-fat plain yogurt, add fresh or frozen fruit, plus, if desired, a little sugar.

Even easier, instead of fruit, use a teaspoon of jarred lemon curd.

Total time required: less than 1 minute.

Blueberry Walnut Oatmeal
1.  Put 1 to 1.5 ounces of Quaker Quick Oats and just enough water to cover the oats in a paper bowl-- Washing oatmeal from ceramic bowls is time-consuming. Microwave it for one minute. (Of course, time will vary depending on the microwave.)

2. While the oatmeal is cooking, put 1 to 2 ounces of your choice of fresh fruit or frozen berries in a bowl and take out a bag of brown sugar, and of walnut bits.

3. After the oatmeal is cooked, if you're using frozen berries, put them in the microwave for 30-40 seconds.

4. While the berries are cooking, add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of walnut bits to the oatmeal.

5. Add the berries.

Total time required: 2 minutes.


Tomato and Blue Cheese Salad
1. Break up rinsed lettuce leaves into small-enough pieces, add tomatoes and blue cheese to taste.

2. Sprinkle a little red-wine vinegar on it.

Total time required: 1 minute.

Manna Sandwich
To create this delicious grownup adaptation of peanut butter and jelly, simply spread almond butter and a bit of Hogan's lemon curd on Manna Sunseed Sprouted Bread. My favorite almond butter is Trader Joe's raw unsalted, $6.99 in the stores)

Total time required: 1 minute.

Multi-Flavored Chicken
1. Microwave a chicken breast until the center is white, not pink. (The time can range from 4 to 10 minutes depending on your microwave and whether the chicken is frozen.)

2.  Season each bite with one or more of these: garlic powder, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, curry powder, rosemary, and/or onion powder.

For moister chicken, spread a bit of mayo on the cooked chicken.

Total time required: 5-11 minutes but only 1 minute when you can't be doing something else.

Broccoli Parmesan
1. Microwave 4 ounces of frozen broccoli for 2 minutes.

2. Sprinkle it with grated parmesan to taste.

Total time required: 2 minutes 15 seconds.

Dear reader, care to suggest another superfast, superhealthy yet surprisingly tasty recipe?

Are We Paying Too Little Attention to the Bioterrorism Threat?

I am scared of bioterrorism. I can think of many ways even that a solo actor could wreak mass devastation on humankind.

Here's just one scenario.
UPDATE: I've now deleted the scenario because I've spoken with a true authority who says it's feasible. I don't want to take the chance of encouraging terrorism. 

An clearly unfeasible version of that I posted months ago has been reposted on one or more Internet sites but leaving that there presents insignificant risk.

I can, alas, think of other seemingly feasible solo-actor Armageddon plans. Among the world's seven billion people, I'd imagine that at least one deranged but brilliant person could develop and execute an Armageddon plan that would actually work.

I am a bit reassured by this: If such an act were so likely, why hasn't it happened yet? But only a bit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Venus, Iris, and Mayor Boggle: Another children's story (but not really)

Here is a sequel to the children's picture book, Venus and Iris, the text of which I posted previously.

I read it aloud here and provide the text below. Even as an adult, I enjoy being read to and thought you might too.

Venus, Iris, and Mayor Boggle
by Marty Nemko
 (to be illustrated)

Last we saw Venus, he had saved Iris's life by eating the beetles that were destroying her. Venus ate the beetles even though he knew that eating them would kill him. Fortunately, Iris then saved Venus's life by getting him to cough up the beetles.

So Venus and Iris were heroes to everyone in Bogville. Indeed, some Boggies painted a mural of Venus and Iris in Bogville's town square.

Venus and Iris were heroes to everyone that is, except Mayor Boggle. He was jealous that they were now more famous than he.

So he told Venus and Iris, "FarAwayBog School needs teachers. You both would be great. You're heroes. You can teach there!"

"Thank you, Mayor Boggle, that's so nice of you," said Venus.

Really, it wasn't nice of the mayor. He just wanted them far away from town so the Boggies would forget about them.

While Venus and Iris were gone, Mayor Boggle, to make himself more famous, made big promises to the Boggies he couldn't keep: "If you re-elect me, I'll get rid of all the mosquitoes in the bog."

Venus and Iris worked hard teaching--and you know that teaching is not easy. (picture of Boggie students fooling around.)

And when the school year ended, Venus and Iris returned to town and saw that the big mural of them had been replaced by an even bigger mural with Mayor Boggle's face and "End Mosquitoes. Re-Elect Boggle."

Still, many of the Boggies had not forgotten about Venus and Iris. Indeed they were glad to see their heroes. That made Mayor Boggle mad. So, using his sweetest voice, the mayor said, "You did a great job as teachers. So, as a reward, I'll give you a carrot farm: the land, the seeds, and even a Boggie to help you."

"Oh thank you, Mayor Boggle!" replied Iris.

Of course, the farm was even further from town than the school was. And the land was so hard that carrots, which even in good soil take a verrry long time to grow, would take forever. And to make sure the farm failed, the Boggie that Mayor Boggle sent was Bogwump, who no one wanted to hire because he was lazy and steals.

Venus and Iris tried and tried to grow carrots--without much help from Bogwump. After a year, only three carrots came up and Bogwump ate all three.

Venus and Iris returned to town. Now "End Mosquitoes, Re-Elect Boggle" posters were pasted all over town.

Venus and Iris went to Mayor Boggle's house and apologized  for not producing any carrots, and he replied, "Don't worry. I'll give you another chance. Go five miles east to SandyBog. There are water lilies there. Just  bring them back and give them to the Boggies. It will make them happy. I'll pay you a lot of money."

But in the next room, Mrs Boggle overheard and raced in. "Mr. Boggle, you know very well that SandyBog is filled with deadly snakes. How could you send Venus and Iris there?!"

And Venus and Iris finally realized that Mayor Boggle was not their friend.

So Venus and Iris returned to where they first met, the quiet bog just outside of town, where lots of flytraps and an occasional iris lived a simple but happy life.

Oh, and Venus and Iris had a baby: a beautiful iris that just happened to have a few traps.

Meanwhile, while admiring a poster of himself, a swarm of mosquitoes bit Mayor Boggle. He itched and he itched for a whole week! Do you feel bad for him?

Do you know a kid like Mayor Boggle who's mean to someone they're jealous of? What should you do about it?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Time Management: How well do you manage you time? Plus not-obvious tips for improvement

Everyone knows that time is your most valuable possession but most people don't act like it is.

My USNews.com piece today asks you ten questions that assess how well you use your time. In answering them, you'll learn specific things to help you make more of your day.

HERE is the link.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Case for Allowing Dogs in the Workplace

My furry co-counselor, Einstein, and I coaching a client
Research indicates that dogs in the workplace reduce stress and increase camaraderie, and that problems typically end up being minor and easily addressable.

I make the case for allowing dogs in the workplace and suggest how to get your boss to allow it in my AOL.com article today.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Handout from My Upcoming Berkeley Adult School Class

Here is the handout for my upcoming class at Berkeley Adult School.  

If you would like to attend, it's this Saturday Oct 5 from 10 AM to 1 PM. 

It's free, with donations accepted, 100% of which will go to the Berkeley Adult School scholarship fund.  

For information and registration, click HERE, although I think you can just show up.

How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School
Marty Nemko, Berkeley Adult School, Oct 5, 2013

Career Success
Realize that all ethical work—from laborer to leader-- is sacred and makes the world better.

Few people burn out from long work weeks. They burn out from doing work they're not good at or from working with the wrong people.

Where are you on the continuum from
Work the least you can get away with
Do the most you can accomplish?

Where do you want to be?

Replace dabbling with laser focus.

Procrastination is a career killer: 15% of the highly successful call themselves procratinators. 90% of unemployed people do.  Procrastination may have worked in school but there’s much less grade inflation in the workplace.

To reduce procrastination:
1: Remind yourself of the key benefit and liability of getting a task done: for example, how good it will feel to get it done, how much your procrastination has hurt you.
2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That too shall pass.
3. Be aware of the moment of truth when you decide, usually unconsciously, whether to do an uncomfortable task.
4. When tempted to procrastinate, break down the task into baby steps.  Write them on a “thermometer.” Then stay in the moment and put one foot in front of the other. Don’t know how to break the task down? Get help.
5. Struggle for only one minute. If you haven't made progress by then, get help or decide you can do the project without conquering that roadblock.
6. Stay vigilant to avoid procrastination all the way to the task’s end.

Find out the truth. Most people think they're above average. Getting the truth might help you before it's too late. And if you are above average, feedback helps you be even better. Ongoing, get feedback from your boss and respected co-workers, perhaps using Checkster's Talent Checkup: www.checkster.com/solutions/talent-checkup.

Be low-maintenance. You pay a big price for being high-maintenance. Even asking too many questions or offering too many ideas may be unwelcome.

Think time-effectiveness. Ongoing, ask of yourself, "Is this worth doing?" And if so, how perfectionistically?" Just as we drive faster or slower depending on the situation, we should choose the right speed for tackling a task.

I do my best thinking while hiking or pacing in my office.

Try to work solo if you're brighter and more motivated than most of your co-workers. If you're not, get on teams.

Tell quest stories. Everyone knows that most people are persuaded at least as much by story as by statistics but less well-known is that a most powerful form of story is the quest story: Describe a serious problem and the travails of trying to solve it, ideally a problem you tackled.

Hire slow; fire fast. Hiring may be a manager's most important task. Rather than rely on responses to job ads, tap your extended network – they're more likely to refer good candidates. Then evaluate applicants mainly by having them do simulations of tough tasks they'll encounter on the job. If an employee is doing poorly, after a brief attempt at remediation, it's usually wiser to cut your losses and try someone else. Spending extra time trying to improve a bad employee is usually a poor and stressful use of your time, increases the employee's enmity and, in turn, the likelihood of a harassment or wrongful termination claim.

Negotiate gently. Rule of thumb: Reject the first offer, accept the second. Think cosmically: In the largest scheme of things, how important, for example, is that extra money, after taxes. Will it change your life significantly? Enough to risk losing the job or your boss's good will?

Don't innovate; replicate. The leading edge too often turns out to be the bleeding edge. Guinea pigs usually die. You lower your risk in starting a business by taking a proven business idea and cloning it in a new location or giving it a minor tweak. For example, you're more likely to succeed by incorporating the best features of five busy laundromats into yours than by trying to invent some new product or service.

Keep it simple. The more complicated the business, the bigger the risk. Do one simple thing well. For example, sell amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.

Be very careful in spending. Money is a business's lifeblood. So if you spend too much, your business will die. So, for example, work from home or see if you can get space free from a friend, a room in a church, whatever. Hire on a just-in-time basis. Use a template website, not a custom-created one. Figure out how much to pay for products based not on the retail price but on what it likely costs to manufacture. Example: Eyeglass frames may cost $100 retail but pennies to make – they're just cheap metal or plastic. So if you, Mr. Optician, think you're getting a good deal in buying frames "wholesale" for $20, you're wrong. $1 is closer to right.

It's easy to be liked: listen more than talk, praise often, and disagree rarely. The question is, is it worth the loss of integrity?

There's cost and benefit each time you criticize or suggest. Only sometimes is it worth the price. Make the choice consciously.

Don’t overestimate the power of a rational argument. Before making it, pause to think, “How will that make the person feel?”

Don't try to show how smart or good you are. Usually, it's wise to prioritize making others feel good about themselves.

Long-winded? Constantly ask yourself, "Does the person really need and want to know this?" Remember The Traffic Light Rule:: 30 seconds=green, 30-60 seconds=yellow, 60+ seconds=red.

Are You Assertive Enough?
Not that long ago, to stay reasonably employed, you had only to do what you're told. But today, alas, mainly the assertive thrive. Are you sufficiently assertive? Rate yourself 0 to 10 on each of these:
1.   10 = To better suit your strengths and/or meet the employer's needs, you'd make the case for changing your job description.
0 = You'd take or leave the job description as-is.
Your score: ____
2.  10 = You negotiate fairly but firmly.
0 = You accept the first offer.
Your score: ____
3.  10 = You regularly solicit feedback on yourself and take action to improve.
0 = You never solicit feedback on yourself and if you get it, don't do much to improve.
Your score: ____
4.  10 = You regularly offer positive and negative feedback, for example, if you believe you were treated unfairly or that a co-worker's poor work is affecting you or the organization.
0 = You never give feedback.
Your score: ____
5.  10 = You're likely to take-on or ask your boss if you can take-on a project: streamline a system, identify a new profit center, start an online discussion group, whatever.
0 = You never propose doing a project.
Your score: ____
6.  10 = You often make suggestions in meetings or to your boss.
0 = You never make suggestions. You only agree or disagree with others' ideas.
Your score: ____
7.  10 = If appropriate, you express disagreement with your co-workers or boss.
0 = You never express disagreement with your co-workers or boss.
Your score: ____
8.  10 = You’re comfortable making cold calls or emails, whether to get a sale, information, or a reasonable favor.
0 = You're scared to and never make cold calls or emails.
Your score: ____
9.  10 = You don't need the structure of school to learn. You do most learning on your own or with a tutor rather than taking a course, which may be expensive and/or inconvenient with much instruction that’s insufficiently relevant or too fast-and-slow-paced for your needs.
0 = You need the structure of school.
Your score: ____
10.  10 = If your job is boring, unethical, dead-end, insufficiently remunerative, or otherwise unsatisfactory, you look assertively for better work.
0 = You stay put unless terminated or a better job drops in your lap.
Your score: ____

Utterly Unvalidated Scoring Key
> 90:  Fully assertive. You'll likely move up in responsibility, perhaps way up, and no matter what, you'll feel control over your worklife.
70 - 89:  Assertive
45-70:  Average
25-45:  Fairly passive. You’ll likely hold only individual contributor roles.
< 25:  Passive. You may be at risk of losing even an individual-contributor role.

Whatever your score, is there an item or two you'd like to work on?

Parenting. Invoking guilt is a surprisingly effective technique and one that helps encourage your child to be intrinsically motivated.

Romantic relationship. Consider having a relationship summit on one or more of these: sex, communication, career, money, chores, children.

Emotional health
If your self-esteem is low, perhaps focus on finding work you can succeed at. Real self-esteem comes from accomplishment.

Antidote to depression and anxiety: Replace self-absorption with "How can I serve another person or society?"

Look for and  exaggerate aggrievement and you'll likely have a worse life than if you look at your glass as half full.

Preventive efforts are much more potent than treatment. NY Times: 40% of procedures are useless or worse: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/medical-procedures-may-be-useless-or-worse/?_r=0

Fast eaters: To slow down, put your fork down after every bite. You'll not only consume fewer calories, you'll enjoy them more.

How can you live decently on $20,000 a year? Key: Make the effort to find an inexpensive place to live—e.g, iffy neighborhood or a room, basement or attic apartment, or backyard cottage in a nice neighborhood. Also, drive an old Toyota, buy clothes at thrift and consignment stores, Wal-Mart, etc.

Maximize your contribution to your workplace's retirement plan: 401(k), 403(b), or, if you're self-employed, to a SEP-IRA.

Don't overdiversify, putting your money in lots of places. That adds to your paperwork and makes it difficult to follow how you're doing. An all-in-one fund provides considerable diversification at low cost, and puts all that diversification on one statement. Widely recommended: Vanguard all-in-one funds: https://personal.vanguard.com/us/funds/vanguard/onefund.

Locking in new behaviors

Vigilance regarding communication and procrastination is key although difficult.

If you want to lock in a new attitude or behavior, say and/or write that and why. Then keep paraphrasing, NOT reading it, three times a day for at least one week.

A comforting thought: Seven billion people are, in their own way, trying to make things better. How can one not be an optimist about the world's future?

A crucial lesson: Remember my dad’s story’s lesson: Don't look back; always take the next step forward.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Four Favorite Ways to Reduce Procrastination

The National Society for Leadership asked me to record three minutes of tips on how to conquer procrastination. HERE it is. To hear it, after you click on that link, when the webpage opens, click on the down arrow on the right side of the screen.