Even though it's not cool to complain about your job in a recession, people do. And one of the most common complaints I hear is that the job “isn't creative enough.” But most of the lack of creativity people pin on their jobs really comes from inside themselves.

Creative thinkers approach whatever they do – painting, sculpture or business — with innovative ideas. Are you really as creative as you say you are? Here's a quick checklist: creative people have high standards, inherent intensity, and an obsession with coming up with something new. If you are a creative person who complains about being stifled in the business world, unleash your creativity on business problems, and you are likely to be happier in your job and promoted more often.

Business building is inherently creative, and people who get to the top are people who consistently think of creative solutions for business problems. Think of your favorite strategy games — they all involve creative thinking. Business is just like those games; if you approach a problem in a different way from your competitors, you are more likely to pull ahead. Think about Bill Gates — he realized that he could take other peoples' products and market the products more creatively than the original producer. Or how about David Neeleman at Jet Blue? He approached customer satisfaction differently than all the other airlines, and surprise: People want leather seats more than they want bad airline food.

But don't forget to be practical in your creative thinking. If you don't want to be practical, you should be a visual artist. But let me tell you something — you get paid a hell of a lot more for creativity in the business world than you do in the art world. The good thing is that the two are very closely linked.

The current exhibit at the Plus Ultra gallery in New York is a great example of this link. The economy is bad, and the art world is hit hard because when there's recession you focus on your mortgage not your art dealer. So this gallery is showing works by the Jani Leinonen. He has developed his own business model for the art world: Pay per view. Each painting is covered with a specially treated frosted glass. You put your money in the vending machine slot next to the painting and then the frost dissipates and you see the art.

If Leinonen were in corporate America, his boss would praise him for using technology to develop a new business model for a stale market. Think of yourself as an artist at the office; notice that each business problem begs for creativity. And be happy that you have health benefits and vacation days, which you wouldn't if you showed your solutions in galleries instead of conference rooms.

Some people will say, “My boss doesn't want any creativity.” Before you say that, consider that maybe what your boss doesn't like is outlandish, shoot-from-the-hip suggestions for difficult problems — or worse yet, risky solutions to unimportant problems. But maybe it is true, that your boss does not appreciate creativity. It's probably because he is scared of risk and change. And that fear is the first problem you must solve with your new, creative approach to your job.

You can make sure next year is a good year for your career by taking charge of the areas you can control. Here are ten things you should plan to do in 2007 to help you meet your goals.

1. Make a ten-year plan
Then break it down. What ten things need to happen for your ten-year plan? Do the first thing this year. The ten-year plan takes more than ten minutes to make. It might even require a few sessions with a career coach. But if you don't form a path for the next ten years, you will go exactly where you plan to go: nowhere.

2. Find a mentor
You can get to the top a lot faster if someone is helping you. Lucky for you, people love to help, as long as you take their advice. So find a mentor. Explain your goals, and ask her for advice on how to get there. Take her out to lunch at nice restaurants — it's a tax deduction. (Doh! A boss is not a mentor. A boss is the person your mentor helps you to impress.)

3. Get seven hours of sleep a night
Studies show that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your brain as alcohol. If you're getting four hours of sleep a night you are no better than an alcoholic at work. Your thinking is slow, your patience is low, and your co-workers know you have no control over your life. A good manager can manage everything well. Start with yourself.

4. Hire someone you'd never hang out with
Diversity is a proven factor in corporate success. If you want your team to stand out in terms of productivity, you need to hire a diverse team. Diversity isn't five guys from five different fraternities. Diversity is hiring someone who scares you because she sees things so differently than you do and she will challenge you.

5. Take a public speaking lesson
You might say, “I don't have to give speeches.”

Beware of Thanksgiving. It is the holiday of disaster. It is the only national holiday when everyone in the whole country gets in a car or plane at the same time. It is the only national holiday where family members meet from far away places and do not placate each other with presents. And it is the only holiday that makes people a wreck at the workplace.

All other work holidays are a treat because order starts to disintegrate a little before the holiday, providing a sort of bonus holiday. For example, when July 4th is on a Wednesday, forget Monday and Tuesday. Those are beach days. And you can't expect United States workers to show up the week before Labor Day when all of Europe got the whole month off.

But Thanksgiving, that's something else. Unless you are in customer service, your job takes a hiatus between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is not an official hiatus — everyone shows up for work as if they care. In fact, some people do care, but not enough people care about work during the time to accomplish anything. This makes for a completely frantic three days before Thanksgiving. The real cause of Thanksgiving disaster is a short fuse from a long week.

You can solve a lot of problems by not bringing work stress to the turkey table. This is not something you can will. You must take action. Do yoga, get a massage, read a book. Thanksgiving is vacation time; use Wednesday night to create a break between work time and vacation time. Thanksgiving is short, so if you are a person who takes four days to unwind you will miss the whole thing. Which is lame, because when you have to answer, “Why do I work?” surely part of the answer is so that you can enjoy your family and friends. So here you are. This is it. If you can't calm down from the stress of your job in order to enjoy this workweek break, then what is the point of working?

As an overworked worker contributing the Thanksgiving improvement plan, the only thing you have to do well at Thanksgiving is contribute to good dinner table conversation. Fortunately, you have practiced being a good listener at work. You can't talk over your boss without getting fired, so somewhere, somehow, you have trained yourself to not interrupt people. Use that skill at the dinner table. Surprise your little brother by letting him finish a sentence. He might be so touched that he'll say something nice about you. Besides, if you don't practice good listening in all aspects of your life then you're likely to be lazy about it at work, too.

And one more thing about conversation – Don't ask the unemployed people at the table how their job-hunt is. Because here's the answer: it sucks. If you have to talk jobs, don't make suggestions on how to get one. Really, the unemployed person has tried everything. And even if he hasn't tried everything, he doesn't want to have to talk about it at Thanksgiving, in front of aunts and uncles who lived through the depression and are like, “Why can't you just be a tailor?”

So do your best, but don't despair when things go poorly. Everyone needs a good “My Thanksgiving was so bad that” story to tell at work on Monday. After all, that’s the day work stops and the month-long conversation-at-the-cooler begins.

My friend Liz just got an offer to be director of a groundbreaking, high profile, psychology program. It's a lucrative, five-year contract. Liz is 35 and single and has tons of time to devote to her career. But she's not sure if she wants to take this offer because what she really wants is children.

Like many women in this age group, Liz spent her 20's and early 30's building her career. She has lots of experience meeting men she can manage and very little experience meeting a man she can date. (Conversation we had when the last guy stopped talking to her at dinner: Me, “Dump him.” Liz, “But you said talk isn't constant when you've been together a while.” Me, “Three weeks is not a while.”)

Her current job would be great if she had a guy lined up for kids because she could work part time, which would allow her to stay on her career path and spend a lot of time at home. But alas, there is no guy lined up. Her current job is good for online dating, too, because she can work from almost anywhere so she can conduct a broad search across county lines, (and because she can peruse Match.com from her office unnoticed.)

But Liz is antsy to have a child and even with the Internet, dating is not a fast process. So she is thinking of taking things into her own hands. She has contemplated telling a boyfriend that she is using birth control when she is not, and getting pregnant that way. But she can't get past the conversation she'd have with her teenage kid:

“Mom, why didn't my dad stick around?”

“Because I tricked him into having a kid.”

Liz has two, non-boyfriend options: buying sperm from a bank or buying a baby from Asia. Both options cost about $30,000, which is a good argument for taking the new, high paying job. The ongoing cost of childcare – which, for a single mom in her neighborhood, would be about $400 a week — is another good reason to have a high paying job. Her current job would not provide enough income to fund this baby venture.

But once she's the director of the program, she couldn't work part time, she couldn't move, and she probably couldn't even find the time to date. So for Liz, this job decision is loaded. It's the decision between holding onto the dream of a spouse and kids and a part-time job, or giving up the dream for more practical measures and going the child route alone.

Liz calls me every day to discuss her life, which has become somewhat like a horse race. She tells me that this month's boyfriend might be in love. “He took me to his parent's house for dinner.” She thinks it'll be a really good sign if he takes allergy pills so he can sleep over in her cat-infested bed. “Then marriage is a real possibility.” Last week, she got herself another month to make the decision about the directorship. “By then, maybe I'll know.” But she sighs a deep sigh, and we both know that when it comes to giving up a career for a family (or vice versa) really you never know.

Usually, politics is off-limits when chatting at work. But Election Day is different. Tuesday it's okay to say, “Did you vote?” And it's a good question to ask. It's not a lightening rod like, “Do you support late-term abortion?” but you can learn a lot about your co-workers by whether or not they vote, even if you don't know how they vote.

One of my earliest memories is of my mom taking me into the voting booth with her. (I have never actually seen parents do this in other places — maybe it's a special treat for us rural Illinois kids.) She made voting seem like a very important treat, and I remember being shocked as a teenager to discover that there were nonvoters in my neighborhood.

Now I understand that there are three steps to the process of voting: Convince yourself that your vote matters, figure out who to vote for, and make time to vote. The first two steps, you'll have to do on your own, but I can help with the third. For those of you thinking that you can't take time out of your workday to vote, I've got news for you: You will look better at work if you vote, so you may as well take the time off.

The best people to work with are the people who vote, even if they vote for politicians you hate. People who vote think what they do matters, and they feel the power to effect change: two key attributes of someone who will take charge in business. Also, people who vote are thoughtful. They have 1. taken the time to decide that voting is an important aspect of democracy and they want to participate and 2. done their homework to figure out which levers to pull. Voters are people who take responsibility for themselves and the greater good.

It is not a coincidence that voters make better co-workers, because companies depend on many of the ideas that democracies depend on. For example, both believe strongly in the concept that each person matters, but both will continue even if each individual does not participate whole-heartedly. Both thrive on the idea that individuals can effect change and that people are responsible for their own fate.

I have voted in four states, and in each state, I received an “I voted” sticker when I left the polling place. I love wearing the sticker to work because on Election Day, voters form a club. These people know that even if they did not vote the same way, on some level, they have shared values because they made the decision to vote. There have been people at the office whom I despised, but when I saw them wearing that sticker, I thought, “Okay. Maybe he's not that bad.”

So for those of you who are having trouble making time in your busy work schedule to vote, remember that voting actually makes you more respected in the workplace. People make time for what's important to them. If you have decided that voting is important, but you do not make time to vote, you look like you are out of control at work — unable to manage your time. You make the world a better place by telling people that voting is so important that you have to leave work early to get to the polls before they close. And if you're a manager, you can't force your employees to vote, but you can close the office a few hours early. And I recommend that. Because good voters make good employees.

If you want a big-time, hotshot career, you have to know how to talk to the press. You might think, “Who cares? No one ever calls me.” But one day, in your climb to the top, the press will call. Maybe your name will be in a press release. Maybe your company's PR director will field a question only you can answer. And if you are useless on the phone the first time, you will not get a second try.

That's because a reporter just wants to get her story written and she is calling on you to help. If you do not give good quotes, if you do not give intelligent, on-topic input, the reporter will decide you are a waste of time and she will avoid you. If you are very helpful, she will call you again for related topics. If you're really good, other reporters will see your name in print, and they will call, too.

Now that I'm the press, I realize all the stupid things I did when I was the public, trying to get my company in the news. Here are things I wish I had known:

Talk in sound bites. The LA Times is not going to run a four-paragraph quotation from you. The newspaper will run one or two sentences if you're lucky. So say something short and snappy – intelligent and informative with a hint of cleverness is most likely to get you quoted. Funny is good. Then a reporter with a dry, boring topic, can sound witty just by quoting you.

Be fast. If you get a message from a reporter, call back immediately. She probably needs to get the story written that day. But even if she's not on a tight deadline, she has called many people who might get to her before you and make you redundant. Also, if she knows you call back quickly, she's likely to call again, when she's in a pinch.

Spell your name and reiterate your title. You will be misquoted, and you will have little recourse because frankly, that's how the press works. But you can control whether your name looks right in print. And make sure your company name is spelled correctly, too, so that your boss doesn't think you care more about your career than your company.

Be newsworthy. You want the press to be your PR machine, but the press wants you to have a story. So if you want to plug something while you're on the phone, make it sound like news. Every time I talk to my dad's friend Sarah, she has another idea about how I could write about her in my column. She has told me about her company, her ads, and her products. But when it comes to Sarah, the only thing that's newsworthy is how annoying she is.

In contrast to Sarah, I worked for a guy who built his career on talking to the press. I didn't know this about him until we were at the airport, ready to get on the plane, and someone from the Wall Street Journal called him with questions about our government sales. He talked to her while everyone else boarded. He talked to her while we heard the last calls for standby passengers. After the plane took off, he told me, in his impeccable sound-bite form, “It's cheaper to buy a new plane ticket than to buy space for yourself in the Wall Street Journal.”

My husband and I always thought he'd be the stay-at-home parent, so I am shocked that I am the one changing diapers all day.

When we were dating, I was making a solid, six-figure salary in the software industry. I had already founded two companies and cashed out of one. He was a video artist and traveled to festivals all over the world showing arcane art on activist topics. He planned off-beat things to do on our dates; I would pay for them.

I was rising so fast in my corporate career that a business magazine paid me to write about my ascent. I ended up making as much money writing as my husband made at his day job. People asked me if I resented having two jobs and subsidizing my husband's career as an artist. Actually, I didn't mind at all; I loved to work, and he agreed to stay home when we had kids. I thought I was one of the lucky women who could blast through the glass ceiling and have kids because I had a husband who would take care of our home life.

We planned to get pregnant at a time when I would not disrupt my career, but in September 2001, our designated family start-date, both my husband and I got laid off. I got pregnant anyway. As my belly grew, I continued my freelance writing career while he volunteered in non-profits, and we lead a bohemian life with corporate savings. But by the seventh month, I missed the structured, team-oriented atmosphere of work. I was editing my resume the morning I went into labor.

When the baby arrived, I planned to get a full-time, office job right away, but after only a few weeks of sleepless nights, my husband got a job offer. He wasn't even looking, really,— he was doing things like soothing diaper rash and assembling the breast pump. But one of the people he met through volunteering got him an interview at a top-notch human rights organization. The job offer was for his dream job, so we decided he should try it.

Now I would be home with the baby, alone. For those of you who haven't had a baby, let's just say that going to an office is about a thousand times easier than dealing with a newborn. With a newborn there is no schedule, no break, and no performance review to let you know if you're screwing up. So naturally, I wanted to be the one with the job. I tried to be happy for my husband. I tried not to hope that he would hate his job and quit.

During my first week as a stay-at-home mom, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't write and I couldn't figure out how any adult can stay home all day with a baby who can't talk. So I hired a babysitter for a few days a week and I went to an office to write and look for a full-time job. But I never got around to the job hunt because I missed the baby while I was away — I missed his smile and the way he stares at his hands like he's not sure if they're his.

People often describe their family life in terms of earning power: The spouse who has the higher earning power is the one who works. This is logical, but it doesn't always work out that way.

Here are the great myths about pregnancy: Women can put it off until they establish themselves in their career. Women can control the reproductive system. Women can make a grand plan. Forget it. I'm pregnant now, and I know.

I'm pregnant now, and I waited until I had established myself in my career. I climbed up the Fortune 500 ladder. I started two of my own companies. I told myself the whole way up, Thank god I don't have kids, and I worked long, long hours.

I didn't get married until after my second company went under, and I could leave Los Angles and live with my husband in New York. I told myself I would get settled in a new job, and then have a baby. And just as I got settled, I got laid off. So after fifteen years of carefully planning my career and my family life I was old enough to be in the high-risk pregnancy category (35), and out of work in a recession.

To get back to where I wanted to be in my career before I had a baby, I would have to find a job (average six months) get settled (let's say six months) and get pregnant (at my age — average six months). But that would mean having my first child at age 37 — if I had average luck with pregnancy and the job hunt. If anything went wrong — 38, 39, who knows. Let me tell you about the risks of having a baby at 35: 1 in 169 chance the baby has Down's syndrome; 1 in 200 chance that the test for Down's syndrome kills the baby. And the odds get worse every day I get older. People did not tell me these odds when I started a company at age 32 in LA instead of getting married in NY. People said, “You have time, you have time.”

Now, fearing that I might wait too long to be able to carry a child, for the first time in my life, I risked my career for my family. And wouldn't you know it, blowing away all statistical odds, I got pregnant in a week. I felt lucky, I felt excited, but I also felt scared: I was laid off and pregnant, facing a six-month job hunt, where I would get a job, work three months, and then take maternity leave. Needless to say prospects are looking dim.

What I want to tell you is that my grand plan didn't work. I grew up thinking that women had everything: I had access to education, I had access to the pill, I had access to money and jobs. I felt that society easily accepted my choices to be single, to focus on my career. Everyone told me “don't worry about kids, you'll have time.” I thought I was in control, making choices, but there are so many factors that I could never have controlled. I thought I was so smart, so organized and driven for waiting. But I'm not sure if waiting got me all that much except a high-risk pregnancy.

I will have a pause in my career. I think it might take me a while to get back on the fast track after I have a child. Maybe two. I am not sure why a pause in my career now would have been any different than a pause in my career at any other, earlier point in my career. However I am sure that the pregnancy would have been easier if I had done it earlier. I am not sure what a solution is, but I am sure that the way women today meticulously plan their families and their careers means that women leave themselves open to the inherent unpredictability of volatile markets and high-risk pregnancies.

Don't get me wrong. I'm really excited to be having a baby. But as the first generation of women who had access to career planning and family planning, I'm here to tell you that nothing came out like I planned.

Here’s the worst performance review I ever received: “You were great.” The review was via email, and when I commented on its brevity, my boss said the “outrageous Internet salary” he gave me was testament to how much he wanted to keep me.

Apparently he did not know that survey after survey has shown that salary is not the most important factor in job satisfaction. People want to feel useful, they want to be challenged, and they want to be recognized for their contribution. A key way that managers can do this for their employees is to conduct a careful, well-planned and insightful review. (A good fallback is to use a systematic approach, like performance appraisal software.)

But good performance review takes heart. You need to really see the employee and understand what motivates her. You need to understand where she wants to go, because the job of you, the manager, is to help her get there. And of course, a good manager will show the employee why she should want for herself what her manager wants for her.

An employee knows right away how prepared you are for the review, so don’t bother trying to fake it; this is not a college essay test, this is real life. Lack of preparation means that you do not take the review seriously, so you can bet the employee will ignore what you say. Lack of preparation means mentoring and leading are not high priorities, and managers who do not make those high priorities are managers who have ill-prepared disloyal employees.

Here’s the best review I ever had: My boss sat down with me and handed me two typed pages — one of my strengths and one of my weaknesses. This might seem like standard practice, but to do this practice well requires thoughtful preparation. In the strengths section my boss highlighted areas of my performance that I didn’t think he noticed — like that I am a strong mentor. He also highlighted areas that I didn’t realize were strengths — like that I can lead without explicit authority.

When my boss got to the weakness section of the review he had already won me over with his insight, so I listened attentively. He told me that I needed to be more discreet when I want to disagree with him. And he gave me examples of ways that I had disagreed with him over the past year, and ways that I could have done it without publicly undermining him. He also explained to me how to make sure that people don’t do that to me, their manager, now that they have seen me do it to my manager. In ways like this, my boss let me know that he really wanted me to succeed, and he was going to help me to make sure it happened.

There was no raise at that review (I had already blackmailed him for a raise earlier in the year and he had given me the raise and explained why my approach was not good for building relationships). There was also no quantification (“You get a six for teamwork, you get a five for cleaning up the kitchen…”). What there was in that review was a deep concern for me, as a person, and a deep appreciation for what I had done for his company.

So take this opportunity to make a big impression in someone’s life. You do not get the chance to save starving children, but you can make the world a better place by approaching reviews in a way that makes each employee feel cared about and important. This goes for employees who suck, too. In fact, people usually suck because they hate their job and feel like it’s not doing anything for them. It was layoff season at the end of last year. If you couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the person at that point, you owe it to everyone to make the best of the situation with a well-prepared review. And for those of you who have a boss who has rescheduled your review six times, or not scheduled it at all: send her this column.

In New York, a town where one third of the workers worked downtown, and more than one third were affected by the twin tower attacks, one of the best places to network is at trauma groups.

You have to interview to get in a group. Not because they’re exclusive, but because peoples’ experiences are so different and the groups, apparently, are most effective if people have similar experiences.

There are groups for people who lost a spouse and there are groups for people who sat in their apartment in Queens watching TV. The group I got put in is filled with people who escaped from their offices by dodging splattering body parts of jumpers. I am the curious standout in the group. As the other members were running away, I was walking closer. I am the authority on what it was like to suffocate under fallen debris.

After a few sessions, though, we all knew each others’ stories, and we all found we were in the same place: Tying to reacclimatize ourselves to the world, which for everyone, included somehow getting back to five days a week at work. Most people are still employed, at the large, or small-but-largely-affected firms you’ve probably read about, like Marsh & McLennen or Cantor-Fitzgerald.

One guy, from a large trading firm, has a cube next to someone who has cried every day for three months but has not gone to counseling. Is it appropriate to suggest counseling? Normally, a suggestion like this would be out of line, but the group agrees that in this case, it would be okay.

A woman in the group was caught in the subway, under the tower when the second plane hit. People panicked and could not decide to get off or not and the doors jammed. Now she won’t get on the subway, so her commute from the Bronx is three bus transfers and a ten-block walk. She is often late to work and she is scared it’s affecting her performance. People in the group gently tell her how they overcame transportation fears. But we all admit to having formed weird transportation rituals to ward off flashbacks.

Sometimes someone remembers something new, and it’s horrifying: “When I fell, I got hit by a severed hand.”

Sometimes the reports are gossipy, and it’s fun to be an insider: “A woman I know was burned on 40% of her body and survived, and her high-profile trading company pays her only $170 a week for disability.” (We all concur that the company is scum.)

Some of us are looking for jobs. One guy who worked at a brokerage firm decided to take a severance package rather than commute to the new office in New Jersey. He said he’s sick of information technology and he wants to work in a nonprofit. The social worker gave him a list of possibilities.

One guy kept talking about his wife who worked in human resources at a big company in tower two. Every time he talks about her — her phone call, her escape —- I hear “human resources.” Finally, I asked him if I could send my resume to her. He gave me her email address and her work and home numbers. I sent the resume, (and my friend, who is not in the group, said, “Oh god, I just interviewed there. I asked the hiring manager what he liked about the company and he said, “Do you mean now or before all my friends died?'”)

One guy quit his job because even a month after the attacks his boss still had not even mentioned the World Trade Center to him. This guy worked in a building that had one side blown off. That means there’s enough of the building left for him to go collect his belongings.

His company scheduled collection times with the cleanup crew. The guy in my group went last week. He said it was creepy to go back because the buildings he went to every day were gone. But it was worth it, he said, because right before the attacks he had ordered PaintShop Pro furtively, for personal use. He stole it when he went back to Ground Zero.

When he said that, the group laughed. “A was sign of normalcy,” the social worker said. A sign of hope to all of us.