My dad just called. He said one of his fifteen-year-old students asked, “Why do we need to know this? How will To Kill a Mockingbird help me in life?” My dad loves questions like that because he has asked them himself.

My dad has always loved school. He was the kid who did the extra credit even though he already had an A. So he had a lot of options at the end of college. He applied to two graduate schools: Yale for history and Harvard for law. He got into them both.

Before I tell you what he chose, I have to tell you about my family. Rich. Mob money. My great-grandfather, my dad’s grandpa, was the lawyer for the Chicago mob: solid work during prohibition and a reliable profession during the depression. Money flowed freely during my dad’s college days, but his grandfather threatened the inheritance if my dad chose history over law. The way my dad tells the story, he always knew he wanted to teach, but he was scared to risk his family “?s wrath, to say nothing of their wealth.

So, after Harvard, my dad went to the top law firm in Chicago (without even having to interview.) My dad hated it, but he wasn’t a risk taker, so he hated it for a long time, thinking the money was worth it. Like the BMW: he drove one of the first cars (when the motorcycle company diversified in desperation) and the cars were so rare that the BMWs would flash each other when they passed. (I’d yell from the back seat, “Hey, there’s one! Flash, Dad, flash!)

There came a point, though when my dad asked himself, “Why do I need to know about all these cases? How is this helping me in life?” His grandpa died, his law firm merged, and the bottom of the BMW fell out.

Finally, after years of thinking his career would get better, it didn’t, and he quit. He went to graduate school to teach high school history. He was older than all the professors. His kids were older than all the students. After thirty years of practicing law, he started over.

I asked him about classes and he’s say, “It’s hard to go back to school. It’s hard to no know what I’m dong after so many years of doing the same thing.” He said his favorite class was the history of civil rights, because when they got to the ’60s he could write papers about his college days.

Upon graduation, everyone in his class got interviews and he didn’t. No one even talked about age discrimination because it was so obviously there and so obviously unavoidable. Finally, though, he got a job. Teaching English. He wanted to teach history, but he’s entry level now. It’s like doing HTML when you’ve got a degree in computer science.

But my dad is thrilled. He took a big career risk and he’s happy. He’s happy to be interacting with the students, but also, I have a feeling that he’s happy he took a risk. Changing careers is so scary, but it’s so empowering-it gives you assurance that you can al ways choose to do what you want most — the hard part is to know yourself well enough to know what that is. So think like a fifteen-year-old and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” And then think like a risk taker and jump like my dad when you know your time is right.

Whenever I have found myself in financial trouble, the first thing I thought was “Can I solve this problem with school?” I learned this behavior early, when boys were stealing my lunch money on the way to school; I started going to school extra early to do times tables with the teacher until the boys stopped looking for me. I continued this behavior into adulthood, and used grad school as a way to occupy myself during bad economic times.

I am not alone in this technique. But grad school is pricey. Most programs cost more than $8,000 a year, and MBA programs can run $100,000 a year. Unless you can get your parents to pay for school, you risk being stuck with loans that you can't pay. So you should check out predictions for the jobs markets of the future, and get credentials that will prepare you to pay back loans without totally limiting your work options. (Here's a start: Healthcare worker, good. Violinist, bad.)

You should also be honest with yourself about whether or not you can stomach school. A friend of mine wanted to change careers, so he considered getting a degree in the new field. He took one class to test the waters, and the first day, the professor asked students about their political views. Each student defined her views in relation to those of her parents. Not surprising for a bunch of 20 year olds, but untenable for a seminar if you're 35, like my friend. No degree program for him, but here's the good news — he got a job anyway. And you might be able to do that, too. So don't be so quick to sign up for four more years of schooling.

If you are still gung-ho on more schooling, make a plan for what that degree will get you after school, in terms of lifestyle and job satisfaction. For example, polls show that lawyers are typically not happy in their profession and biochemists are very happy. Don't neglect the dreaded grad school essay. If you are having trouble writing about why you want to go to a particular program, you probably trying to solve a problem that school can't solve. My third grade teacher put it to me this way: It doesn't help to come back to school when your brother ate your after-school snack.

A lot of the going-back-to-school game is luck. During the last recession, I went back to school for English. I thought I would be an English professor, but I got sidetracked by the computer science department and wrote my thesis in HTML. I was lucky that while the idea of teaching English was delusional (jobs are scarce), the Web was the new big thing, and no one knew HTML. I turned my generally useless grad school program into a lucrative job in the high-tech industry.

So think carefully before you go back to school, but realize that all the planning in the world does not make you a predictor of the future. Grad school is not a way to play it safe, but it's a way to play the odds by opening new doors for yourself.

My husband takes the subway to work every morning and gets off right in front of the NBC building in Manhattan. That subway stop — Rockefeller Center — is huge and very busy in rush hour, and I'm sure the stop has come up in conversation among insane but unfortunately still-crafty terrorists.

I have asked my husband to get off at a stop right after or right before Rockefeller Center. At first I asked really nicely, like, “I know you really like to get Jamba Juice at the store in the subway station on your way to work, but could you please get off at another station?”

When it was clear he was ignoring me, I tried bribery: I make the bed every morning to compensate for his extra four-block walk to work. He said “Forget it, you never tuck the sheets in tightly.”

Finally, when there was Anthrax at the Post I said, “You are going to die and I am going to be pissed off because when you die, you aren't the one who is home crying, I am. So if you are going to stay married to me, you have to get off at a different stop.” My husband told me that I was overreacting, but as a compromise, he helped me stock up on bottled water as a nod to my water-supply paranoia.

But then NBC got anthrax, just one block away from him. I called him to tell him not to open any mail. He said the only mail he gets at work is the stuff I buy on the Internet and have shipped to his office. I called him back to tell him that his mail was probably in the same post office as the NBC mail. He said then I should probably stop having stuff sent to his office.

He came home from work with tales of troubles that had nothing to do with Anthrax. “The German sales team wants a whole new product in German by the end of the week. It's impossible.” He got hot and sweaty like a person whose life is in danger and then said, “Sales people are always so unreasonable. They should have to be developers for a month before they can make requests of development.”

I felt snitty. I felt like if he was going to downplay my worries, I would downplay his. I decided to say, ” Maybe if you understood the sales process then you'd have more sympathy.” But then I didn't say that because really, it is admirable that he can go on with his work. It is admirable, really, that the European offices are still talking to the American offices when most reports say Europeans are sick of us. I told him I was sorry. I told him not to eat the canned soup because it's part of my emergency supply.

We usually meet on Thursdays for dinner at Rockefeller Center. If I lived anywhere else in America I would suggest that we eat at home. But New Yorkers don’t do that. I met him at the subway stop before Rockefeller Center. We ate at a place on 59th and 6th, which seemed safe as long as no one set Central Park on fire.

He said, “My boss was on the phone all day. His daughter is too scared to go to school. And a guy in my office came into work at 11 a.m. so he didn't have to go through the Lincoln tunnel during rush hour.”

The next day my husband called when he got to work. He said, “I am sweating. I got off the subway one stop early, and I walked seven extra blocks to another juice place.” I said, “Thanks,” and then he said, “I need to work on the German project late tonight. Don't wait up for me.”

My earliest memory of Yom Kippur is one of my dad writing a note for me to give to my second grade teacher: “Please excuse Penelope from school tomorrow. She is Jewish.”

Maybe if there had been other Jews at my school, the note would have had more context. But my dad was apoplectic about the fact that Christmas was an official school holiday and Yom Kippur was not, and he would explain nothing. So I tried, as best as a seven-year-old-could, to explain to the teacher that Yom Kippur is the most important Jewish holiday. I said: “It’s so important that we don’t even eat.”

Now that I’m in charge of my own fridge, I haven’t fasted in years. But I still take the day off to go to synagogue, and I still find myself explaining the holiday to the uninformed: “It’s a time to mourn the dead. It’s a time to be thankful for being alive and to try to figure out how to be a better person next year.” Even if Jews neglect Judaism in their day-to-day lives, most show up to synagogue for Yom Kippur. Some Christians may relate — they may not say the rosary every night, but they never miss Christmas mass.

As a kid, I considered Yom Kippur an interruption of my secular life. When other kids asked about my absence, I told them I was at home sick or had a very long dentist’s appointment so no one would know I was different. As an adult, there are always more Jews in my office than there were in my grade school, but at the office I have found new problems with Yom Kippur.

The first year that I didn't live with my parents I felt rebellious: I worked on Yom Kippur. But that day it felt bad. I told myself that it would be okay if I spent time at work thinking about how to be a better person the next year, but I ended up thinking only a few minutes, locked in a stall in the back of the bathroom.

By the time my career progressed to management jobs, I knew I would feel bad if I didn’t go to synagogue, but sometimes I still skipped Yom Kippur. I worried: What if a meeting was held and since I wasn't there someone delegated all the grunt work to me? I needn’t have worried — all meetings were postponed out of respect to the number of Jews who were out of the office, except for me, who showed up.

I didn't learn my lesson. I worked on Yom Kippur the year I was supposed to give my first presentation to senior management. The printer broke. The presentation was postponed. No one cared. I fasted the rest of the day at my desk.

Another year, my reason for ditching synagogue was less career-driven and more water-cooler-driven. The O.J. verdict was going to be announced, and I didn’t want to miss the communal fun of hearing the verdict at work. I imagined highly-charged debate, or at least a lot of shouting. So I stayed at work, where reaction to the O.J. verdict hoopla was anticlimactic and short-lived.

After that, I usually took a day off with all the other Jews. I came to enjoy the Yom Kippur chatter in the office among Jews because during the rest of the year, Jews are mostly secular and so is the chatter. Yom Kippur would be more convenient if it fell on Christmas (everything’s closed, Jews have nothing to do — a great day to fast!) but I realized that the Yom Kippur interruption of work would not derail my career, it would only derail my weekly schedule.

This last Yom Kippur, which fell on Sep. 27, two and a half weeks after the terrorist attacks, I discovered something new: Yom Kippur gives me a peaceful time that I would not otherwise allow myself at the expense of work. People are still shaking from the World Trade Center attacks and the looming threat of our country at war. We are all expected to get back to work and be productive — while a necessary process, it is one that feels abrupt. Yom Kippur gave me a break. So I did in that time what that time is set aside to do. I mourned those who died. I gave thanks that I was alive. I thought of how to be a better person next year.

Some will call me on the fact that I only lean on my faith when I need it most. But this tragedy has made many of us revisit, reassess, and most of all, re-appreciate. For years I looked at Yom Kippur as an inconvenience — I always felt I would be missing something at work. This year, the timing could not have been better, and I realize I would have missed out on something more had I gone to the office.

This piece was originally published by Time magazine the week of 9/11.

At the Wall St. train stop people were covered with papers. A plane crash. That’s what everyone said. Then a boom. Everyone ran. I ran to my office and called my brother in the Midwest.

I wanted to be closer. At the corner of Church and Broadway, I angled my way through a large, packed crowd to get the best view. We talked about people jumping. The police stood behind the yellow tape. Minutes later, there was a boom. I thought it was a bomb, so I crouched, but people ran, so I ran. I couldn’t see anything. I don’t know how far I ran. Couldn’t see where I was running. Didn’t know if I was in a street or next to a building. Didn’t know what street I was on. No one could talk because the dust filled our throats. After about ten steps I tripped over a pile of people and then people tripped on me.

I laid there. The only sound was the falling of dust and debris. No one moved under me. The weight of people on top of me got heavier. I couldn’t breathe. I knew we were all going to die in that pile. I pulled myself out of the pile. My slip-ons slipped off. I stood up and saw nothing. Not even an inch in front of me. I put my hands out and felt for something. I bumped into the brick side of a building. I bumped into milk crates. I stopped. I had no idea what to do, and I knew everyone around me was suffocating. I thought about my mom and dad, they would be so sad to hear that I died. I thought about my husband. Just married and I will not get to live my life with him. I thought about my brothers. They would cry. I told myself to just keep trying to find a way to air, but I didn’t believe I would live.

I bumped into something that I could feel the top of, so I lifted myself up. I worried I was going into the back of a dump truck, and I was scared I’d be trapped. I didn’t know if there was fire, or a bomb. I didn’t know how to protect myself “? find air. Go up? “? so I didn’t know for sure that a dump truck would be bad. I think it was scaffolding. I think I jumped over piles of bodies by climbing scaffolding.

I pulled myself into a building. What building? I don’t know. And I took a breath. I took two breaths. I was sure the building would be bombed. I looked for stairs. I kept thinking I needed clean air. I found a bathroom. I didn’t realize I wanted water until it was there. Four men inside. Two fighting over the faucet. I shared the toilet with another man. We drank almost the whole bowl.

Once the four of us were calmed by water and air, we ventured outside the bathroom. We walked up stairs. Slowly. We checked doors behind us, left them all open. We got up only one floor. We waited. I cried. They shared one can of apple juice.

The intercom in the building announced stay where you are. I was so relieved to know people knew we were there. The intercom announced again and I thought another bomb would go off and I’d die. I cried. The guy with the apple juice put his arm around me. I wondered why no one else cried. The intercom announced to go down the stairs. I picked up a wastebasket: I planned to fill it with water. Planned to use it to shelter myself from the next bomb. (I still had no idea the building collapsed.)

In the lobby of the building someone gave me a Nantucket Nectar and told me to vomit. I walked outside the building with the drink in my wastebasket. There was no one around. White everywhere. The four of us had nowhere to go. I couldn’t remember where I was. I walked toward the water. Police directed everyone north. I asked a woman next to me, “Where are we going?” She said, “I don’t know.” She had no dust. She looked so steady. I followed her. This was the beginning of her long protection.

She said, “You can walk home with me. You need a shower.” I coughed. She asked why I was carrying a wastebasket. I said, “In case there’s another bomb.” She held onto my arm as we made our way next to the river. In Chinatown, she bought me shoes. At the Bowery we finally found a payphone that didn’t have a line of people. So she called her husband and I sat down next to my wastebasket. It was the first time I sat down, and I started crying.

We resumed walking. Sometimes we ran. I made sure to keep up and I didn’t tell Teresa that I was worried that I would faint. I drank Nantucket Nectar every time I got dizzy.

At 59th St. a plane went overhead and I screamed. In front of Bloomingdales. There was no one there from Wall St. I knew I looked crazy. I screamed anyway. I reminded everyone there were no planes allowed to fly. Someone said, “It’s the army.” I came out from under my wastebasket and kept walking. Theresa’s apartment was 71st on the Upper West Side. Where everyone looked fine.

In the shower, dripping debris down my body, I remembered one more moment under the rubble. When I couldn’t breathe. When I couldn’t see. In the middle of the dead quiet was a voice. He said, “Is there anyone here? Can someone hold my hand?” I reached out to the voice, and held his hand. It was shaking and the skin was old. I squeezed and then I let go.

I am sitting outside Starbucks waiting until 10 a.m., when I am to meet the CEO, who is waiting for me inside to talk about who-knows-what before we visit a client. I do not want to be one minute early in case I run out of stuff to talk about. He greets me with a huge smile, an energetic handshake, and a two-shot latte. “I got one for you,” he says. I do not tell him this will force me to get up from the meeting 20 times to pee.

He tells me he redid the entire presentation the night before.

He says, “How was your weekend?” I say, “Fine.” Why would he care what my weekend was like? And if he did care, he definitely would be unhappy to hear about it. I ask him how his weekend was because I am trained in the graces of human conduct. He says his brother got in a car accident.

He tells me about his brother. He tells me his brother is depressed and has not been functioning for years. No one knows what to do. He thinks the medication caused the accident.

I take a sip of my latte. What to say? I say, “It must be really hard on your family.” Yes. This is good. Compassionate yet vague.

CEO: Yeah. Depression is so hard to understand.

Me: I know. I have experience with it. People’s first instinct is to say, “Get up. Go do something.”

CEO: Do you know this from other people or personal experience?

I take another sip. Why is he asking this? Why is he having this conversation with me? I decide he needs a friend, and there is no one else he can talk to. I say, “Both.”

At this, he tells all and more. What drugs his brother takes. Why his brother won’t listen to anyone. He tells me his sister is also depressed. He tells me she used to be a real go-getter who could go for weeks without sleep.

I get the whole picture now. I tell him that actually, I know a lot about this stuff. The drug his brother is taking is usually prescribed for depression, but it sounds as though he and their sister are manic-depressives, and his brother’s reaction to the drug was typical for a manic-depressive. I tell him his brother and sister sound like they are at opposite ends of the same hereditary mental illness.

The CEO is wide-eyed. I am worried that he will think I am insane. I say, “Did you read that article in Fortune about CEOs who suffer from mental illness? I think it’s common.” I say, “I think, actually, that you are manic-depressive too, but you are manic, which is great for running a company.”

He says nothing.

I say, “You are lucky.”

He says, “Maybe not. You never know when you will be hit with something like this — when you wake up one day and can’t get out of bed.”

I am pleased that I used my coffee time with the CEO to bond — which is what all the how-to-be-great-at-work books tell you to do. And I think I made a good impression as being someone who has a well-rounded base of knowledge.

Each time in my career that I have ignored sexual harassment aimed at me, I have moved up the corporate ladder. For example, the boss who once pulled all senior management out of the company’s sexual harassment seminar because he thought it was a waste of time — and patted me on the butt as he left the room — has turned out to be my most reliable cheerleader (and a very impressive reference).

In my first eight days of my job at a financial software company, I was sexually harassed six times by my new boss. This list does not include his sexual harassment of me during the interview process, which I chose to ignore, since it was my first interview at a respectable company in six months.

Maybe you’re wondering what, exactly, I regard as sexual harassment. The easiest conversation to relay is this one:

Me: “Thank you for setting up that meeting; it will be very helpful.”

Boss: “Big testicles.” (He then pretends to squeeze his genitals.)

I had no idea what he meant by this comment, but it is short and easy to relay to make my case.

Here are some other choice moments:

When he took me out for lunch on my second day on the job, he told me he once fell in love with a woman as tall as I am but was intimidated by her height, so they just had casual sex. I said nothing in response.

But I knew, from a legal perspective (and also a moral one) that I needed to tell him his comments were unwanted. So that afternoon when he said, “I want to hug you, but it would be illegal,” I said, “You’re right.”

Each night, I relayed some of the best lines from work to my husband. He was stunned. He couldn't believe these events actually happened in today's workplaces. I told him this was standard. He told me I should sue so that we could go to Tahiti. I told him I’d probably settle out of court after three years for about $200,000, and I’d be a pariah in the workplace.

I told my husband that his very hot, 27-year-old boss gets hit on as much as I do. He said he saw her at work all the time and this never happened. I told him that OF COURSE men don’t harass women in front of other men. After all, it’s illegal. Men are not stupid. But I suggested to my husband he was perpetuating the myth that harassment isn’t widespread.

In fact, 44% of women between ages 35 and 49 report experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace — even though almost every company has an explicit, no-tolerance policy. A national survey shows that 21% of all women report being sexually harassed at work, while a Rutger's University study indicates that for knowledge-based workers, the percentage can go as high as 88%. Yet when women leverage the no-tolerance policy their names are plastered over the business pages, and they are blacklisted in their industry.

So the best way to change corporate America is to gain power and then wield it. To get power, you have to stay in the workforce, not the court system, and work your way up. Unfortunately, this means learning how to navigate a boys’ club. But when you know the system, you then are clear about the root of its problems, and you know how to initiate change.

In this spirit, I hatched a plan to rid myself of my harassing boss. Originally, I took a job in business development, even though I hated selling to clients, because it was the only place with an opening. I told myself that the members of the management team were so smart that I would learn to love sales from them. After weeks of harassment, though, I thought management was so smart that if I explained why I wanted to be moved to another department, they would see my request as extremely reasonable. I figured they would be grateful for my low-key approach to this sensitive problem, rather than resentful that I had been hired to work in biz dev and then asked to be switched to a department with no openings.

I was right. I was moved into marketing, which I prefer. I received a more prestigious assignment and gained a smarter boss. Had I reported that I had been sexually harassed during the interview process I would not have gotten the job. Had I reported the harassment to my boss's boss without presenting a plan for solving the problem, I would not have received a better assignment. In fact, if you have a strategy, enduring sexual harassment can be a way to gain power to achieve your long-range goals.

Epilogue: Eventually, my boss was fired. Officially for low performance, though I have always fantasized that it was for rampant harassment.

There were no available hotel rooms in Los Angles last weekend. That's because E3 — the Electronic Entertainment Expo — is the biggest trade show that ever comes to LA, unless you count the Democratic National Convention.

At E3, the rooms are dark and the budgets are high. The booths that house the large video game publishers are like amusement parks. The booths flash and moan with sex and death, and video screens are everywhere, as if MTV has taken over the world. The people who go to E3 are generally eighteen-year-old boys who do not work in the industry unless you count playing video games every night in their dorm room work.

There were no available hotel rooms in Los Angeles, but I persisted. For some insane reason I forgot how incredibly stupid E3 is, and I told my company I would go. I told my company I've been to E3 a million times (true) and I'd be able to cut some deals (false).

I forgot, though, that I have hated E3 every time I've gone, and every time I've gone I say I'll never go again. I also forgot, that I am not really a deal maker. I am great at strategy and I'm great at process, but I am not a person who can sell oil to Arabs, or whatever that expression is.

So I stay in a hotel an hour from the convention center and work out in their crappy gym in the morning to prepare myself for my powerfulness on the negotiating floor. I check my email but I cannot check my email because I cannot dial up. I call the front desk and they send up a “technology person” who says he's not allowed to touch peoples' computers.

I get to E3 in the early afternoon. As soon at I approach the convention center doors, I remember how intimidating E3 is. The ratio of men to women is about 100:1. I'm not kidding. So you can imagine that the place is a fashion nightmare: Shorts and T-shirts rule, and I'm not talking about the clean kind.

I am in my DKNY negotiating clothes and I look like an adult who came to pick up her kid at a birthday party. I spend about ten minutes roaming through the multi-leveled Micorsoft booth, the beer-filled Apple booth, and the Nintendo booth that is so large and packed that I have to push a kid off his video console in order to escape.

I realize the sad truth is that the people cutting deals are not on the trade show floor — they are in rooms at the edge of the building where it is invitation only and I don't have one. I realize the sad truth is that my company spent $1300 for the plane ticket and $500 for the hotel and I will do nothing at E3.

In fact, after ten minutes, I am ready to go home. I tell myself I will memorize pieces of the exhibitor directory so that when I get back to my office, I will sound like I got a lot of work done. Thank goodness no one in my company has ever been to E3 so no one knows how absurd it was that I came here.

I am ready to leave but I cannot leave. I have come with a friend who wants to play video games, and we are not meeting up again for four hours. Cell phones do not work on the floor. I have four hours to kill. I notice a sign for a media relations room and I have an idea: I swap my software bus dev badge for an eCompany media badge, and I am a new woman. I am a reporter. The first thing I do as a reporter is go to the room filled with fast computers for filing stories and I check my email.

I decide I will be the reporter doing a story about women at E3. I look for women who look cool. The first woman I talk to is an admin at Activision. The next one is not sure what she is. “Talk to him,” she says, and points to the guy she's with. I tell her I'm doing a story on women. “I'm only talking to women,” I say. Turns out that she is the guy's secretary, but only for a couple of weeks until her vacation ends and she goes back to Amsterdam. The guy wants to talk to me about his company. I ask him if he's staying in the same hotel room as his secretary. The interview on the whole goes pretty poorly.

I talk to Lana who is actually very cool. I spot her playing an Infogrammes game where you drive a truck and do truck jumps. She drives off a ramp and does a double spin and lands on her wheels. I am impressed that she can figure out how to do the game on the first try, and I am impressed that she wants to. I ask Lana what she's doing at E3. She says she's looking for a job. She just got laid off from an Internet company. She is cool because she's wearing a dress at E3 — the cool kind that you wear with gym shoes — and she is cool because she seems to not notice that every guy at the Infogrammes booth is eyeing her.

I want to give her a job, but she is a bookkeeper, and I don't need a bookkeeper since I haven't made any deals that need keeping track of. Besides, she lives in Vancouver, BC, which would be a long commute to my office. But someone should hire her. So here's her email address:

Lana would probably be good to invite back to my hotel so we can hang out at the pool, but it's very embarrassing to be a reporter who is really a bus dev person who is really going to sit a the pool for the rest of the conference. So I thank her for talking to me and start writing the report I will send to my boss to show how much work I got done.