The last week of December is the busiest time for customer service reps who are fielding calls from customer's whose gifts don't work. For most other office workers, this week is dead. And if you are in the office this week, you are probably looking for something to do.

1. Plan
Here's the first thing to do: Devise a plan for how to get out of working this week next year. Movers and shakers do not get swindled into working during this notoriously slow time of year. People who run out of vacation days work this week. People who have unreasonable bosses work this week. People in control of their jobs are at home licking their chops. You need more control over your job.

2. Date
Have you had your eye on the customer service rep on the floor below yours? Now's the time to make your move because you know your target is at work this week. Saunter down to his desk around lunchtime and invite him to the cafeteria. No one will be there because service reps are eating at their desk and everyone else is eating in their grandma's living room. So you will have an intimate date at the cafeteria, and if the person goes ballistic that you hit on him at the office you can say, “How can you think I was hitting on you? We were in the cafeteria for god's sake.” (Warning: It is not illegal to hit on someone at work. But I definitely do not recommend that you a. bug someone relentlessly or b. hit on someone who you have authority over.)

3. Eat
You know all the cookies and candy that vendors sent to the office last week? Well, it's still there, getting a little more rotten every day. So do everyone a favor and take some home. Think of it as a perk for showing up to work during what is, essentially, a holiday.

4, Surf
I like the Borowitz report. My husband thinks it's stupid and would tell you to go to the Onion. You might think this has nothing to do with your career, but my brother interviewed for a job in London, and made an off-the-cuff reference to an Onion article and the interviewer said, “Oh, I read that one, too.” So it is important to surf so that you can establish rapport during your interviews. Do not go to porn sites. The people who monitor your surfing habits can get to you even if they are not at work this week. Besides, porn surfing is not a reliable way to establish interview rapport.

5. Sleep
Everyone wants to sleep at their desk, but few people do it. In fact, I would say that more people have sex at their desk than sleep at their desk. Sleep is the new forbidden frontier of office debauchery. So go ahead. After all, there's no one around right now. Have a lunch laden with carbohydrates and go back to your desk as your sugar crash sets in. Now put your head gingerly on your desk, maybe on top of a pile of scruffy papers, and close your eyes. You have earned this treat — you showed up to the office between Christmas and New Year's.

Feeling stuck? Uninspired? As though your New Year's resolutions have no spark? Maybe it's time to start your own business. It’s likely you intuitively know if you're actually an entrepreneur stuffed in a corporate cubicle. The entrepreneurship bug isn’t something that hits in middle age. It’s something that's inside you from day one — a part of who you are. So don't be stifled by your age or lack of experience. Just make sure you have the right personality for success and the right attitude toward failure.

Get a good idea
Starting a business is very high-risk. Most entrepreneurs fail. So minimize your risk by honestly evaluating if your concept is valid and marketable. Remember, just because you like your idea doesn't mean there’s a market full of buyers for it, so do your research. Tip: your mom’s opinion doesn’t count because she’s biased, so find a small business mentor and ask her.

Assess your personality
You also need the right personality to run your own business. You must like people and people must like you — so you can get them to do what you want. You need to be able to make fast, confident decisions, and you need to be organized so that you can give clear direction to others. If your product launch flops, you are the one who has to tell everyone why the company is still on the road to success. If you can’t rally the troops, you need a business partner.

You also need boundless energy. When you own the company, you set the pace and the standards. Remember the day at the office last month when you were upset and tired from worrying about your personal life the night before, so you surfed the Internet all day? Relaxing, wasn’t it? You can’t do this when you own the company. Most small business owners work 80-hour weeks and wish they needed less sleep.

I have these traits. And I started a business. I raised funds and hired employees, and, surprise, the company was successful and I eventually cashed out. But I paid a high price. I worked almost every waking minute. When cash flow was poor, I worried not only about my own paycheck, but about the paychecks of my employees. When cash flow was good, deal flow was heavy and my workload doubled even though I was already maxed out. While I was negotiating the sale of my shares, my hair started falling out. I didn't know this happened to women, but apparently it does, usually from intense stress.
Fortunately, most small business owners are optimistic. And I am, too. I bought some Nioxin to make my hair grow back. And once I regained my former full mane, I started another business.

It failed. And I lost a lot of the money I made from the first business. There were many reasons for the failure: Bad timing, bad economy, and maybe, in hindsight, bad idea. If you think you have the personality to succeed as a small business owner, make sure you have the right approach to failure as well.

Minimize risk to your checkbook and your career
I invested only the money I could afford to lose. I had no kids and no mortgage. I lost my loot from my first company, but I didn't lose my shirt: I kept enough to live on for a while longer.” Think of starting a business as gambling: When you go to Vegas, never bet your plane fare home. Once my company closed, I enlisted a resume-writing service to help me frame my business flop as a career hop to the next level of management.

Fail quickly and move on
Most business leaders fail once or twice before hitting it big. Think of failure as a necessary career step and move through it quickly and assuredly — recognize when things are going poorly, fail fast, learn, and get another idea.

To those of you with the right personality, I say bring it on! You will be pleased that you turned tough economic times into an opportunity for fulfillment. And even if you fail, remember that statistics indicate you are most likely to succeed when you are doing something you love.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary. Once a hiring manager chooses you from what is probably the largest pool of candidates she’s ever seen, you know you’re a top candidate. The current economy won’t give you the edge to ask for first-class air travel, but you do have options that can improve your salary outcome.

1. Don’t disclose your pay requirements during the interview process. The first person to provide numbers establishes the range. If you give a number first, the interviewer will either tell you you’re in the same ballpark as him, or you’re too high.
If you ask for less than the interviewer was considering, you’ll probably get it — and never find out you might have earned more. So interviewers always want you to disclose your requirements first. (Do not try to remedy this situation by giving an unreasonably high number because then you will sound unreasonable.)

Your first line of defense is to say you’d like to talk about salary once you have an offer. Still, a good interviewer will persevere. So try asking the interviewer what HE would pay someone for this job. Whatever number he gives, you can say, “That will be a fine starting point.” (You will ask for more later.)

2. Do not negotiate until you have an offer in writing. Here’s why (and you should remember this for when the tables are turned): Let’s say the job pays a salary and a performance bonus, but you don’t know about the bonus part. If you do not get a written offer specifying the pay elements before you start negotiating, then you might negotiate a higher base salary but lose a portion of your bonus. That’s because the bonus gives your hiring manager some “wiggle room.” She can take it off the table before you know you’re supposed to receive it. (Then she can report back to her boss and say, “I saved us $5K.”) Get the full offer in writing so you know what you have to work with during your bargaining.

Once you have that written offer, ask for a night to think about it and come back with a counter offer. Admittedly, you may hate confrontation and feel you’re a poor negotiator, but you have nothing to lose and you’re likely to get more money. Plus you will get better at this each time you try. Remember, almost no one loses a written offer because he asks for more money.

3. Do your research and plan your attack.
To know what to ask for in negotiations, you MUST know the pay range for your position. Check out salary surveys online and in trade journals. Do not quote any numbers from surveys conducted earlier than 2001. They are inflated. Get more recent information. Talk with friends in similar jobs or recruiters who regularly fill this type of position in your geographic region. Find the top of the salary range and ask for that. Show the hiring manager your research and remind her why you are worth the top of the range.

If you are fortunate enough to find out that your offer already is in the high end of your salary range, then propose taking on more responsibilities so you can ask for slightly more pay. Suppose you are a marketing manager with a background in technical writing. You can say that while most marketing managers pass off technical writing in marketing documents to someone else, you will handle this yourself. This entitles you to ask for slightly more.

4. Know what you need.
Each person is compensated in different ways — and not always monetarily. For instance, if you love what you do, you may not mind earning less than your neighbor with the same degree. Likewise, if you have a shorter commute. Friends can advise you, but you are the one in the job, and you must decide if you want it, regardless of the size of your paycheck. No salary survey can tell you that. Decide what’s important to you and what trade-offs you’ll make pay wise, but be honest with yourself. Don’t give up being paid more because you hate negotiating. Self-knowledge, good negotiation skills — and a little chutzpah — will help ensure you earn what you deserve starting with your next job.


For all of you who are plotting to ditch your company's holiday party, forget it: You have to go. And for all of you who are really excited about the holiday party, you can also forget it: The open bar is off-limits to you.

Before I launch into a diatribe against people who ditch company parties, let me just say that I am not a fan of the company holiday party. For one thing, not everyone has a December holiday in his or her life, so the concept is culturally alienating. For another thing, in most cases, holiday party means Christmas party with a token menorah hanging from the rafters: More cultural alienation. But my biggest complaint is that company parties are almost never on company time; they are unpaid overtime for employees.

That said, when I have attended “holiday” parties at which the only holiday is Christmas, I have pretended to have a good time. And you will have to do this, too, because the people who are promoted in corporate America are the people who fit in. Console yourself with the idea that if you are successful in corporate life, you can run your own company and abolish all holiday shenanigans from your offices.

People who blow off company parties look like snobs. Everyone has something better to do that night. But the people who actually DO something better are dissing the people who show up. You will get more done at the office if people like you, and attending one or two office parties is a small price to pay for co-workers who do favors for you when your projects are behind schedule. Luckily, you do not need to be the first there and the last to leave. Show up, make sure people who know you see that you're there. And slip out as soon as you can without being rude.

Some times you have to attend client’s holiday parties. The number one thing to remember when participating in holiday parties — either at a client’s or your own office — is that it is a chance to enhance your image. So since you don't wear short skirts to client meetings, don't show up to a client's Christmas party as Santa's hottest elf. Leverage annoying conventions like grab bags to remind people that you are clever and thoughtful. Buy a good gift but follow the rules: Paying $15 for a $10 grab-bag gift is cheating and dishonest, and stupid gag gifts are just that – stupid.

And even though everyone knows not to get rip-roaring drunk at an office party, people do it all the time. Remember in junior high school when the drug awareness counselor told you to be ready to “just say no?” with a prepared speech when friends tried to push you wayward? You probably didn't use the speech then, but you can use it now. No matter how boring and intolerable the party is, the open bar is not your last opportunity in this lifetime for free mixed drinks. Surely you have a friend who is getting married or getting dumped. Save the ten Cosmopolitans for that event. The only way to manage your image effectively is to do it sober.

You should also buy your boss a gift. Not because she is starving or has a hankering for a fruit basket, but because a gift is an excuse to write a card. Take the time to thank your boss for what she's doing to help you. Be genuine and specific so you won’t seem like a brown nose. Maybe your boss has actually done very little for you, but I would bet money he thinks he's been very helpful. So you can thank him for trying, even if he has failed. After all, isn’t being generous and understanding what the holidays are for?

I am four months pregnant. But the baby is dead, inside me, and must be removed. I am devastated. I always knew this could happen, in the back of my mind. But you are never prepared for something like this to happen.

When I first heard the news, I did nothing. Cancelled every plan I had. Sat in chairs staring at walls, laid in bed hoping for sleep, and cried. And then came the day of the week when I had to either write my column or skip a week. Skipping a week, I thought, would probably be okay. But then I thought. Well, I'm not doing anything. I *could * write a column.

In the face of tragedy work is a weird thing. On the one hand, it becomes unimportant. I think back to the day before the day I knew. My sister-in-law called me and said, “How are you feeling?” I said, “Really rushed. I have two deadlines, and I don't have time to talk.” She said, “No, about the baby.” That day, work was so important.

On the day I found out the baby was dead I had scheduled three interviews. It was a tight schedule but I felt the interviews absolutely had to get done that day. But at the doctor’s office, when I was crying so loudly that I was taken to a room farthest away from the waiting area so as not to scare already jittery expectant mothers, I didn't care if the interviews got done. I know it is a cliche that a job isn’t life or death, but you see that truth very clearly when there is death.

Co-workers who, in the face of death, treat work as more important than death seem crazy. I know because of a boss whose mom died three hours before what was, admittedly, the most important speech of his career. He felt obliged to tell his direct reports the news so they would know why he was crying in his office. Word spread fast. Condolences poured in from co-workers throughout the company. Then he gave the speech. And no one could listen. We all thought, “Why doesn’t he go home? Why isn’t he upset? Why is he standing in front of us now?”

Co-workers who treat less serious events as if they were a death, seem equally crazy. They appear melodramatic and unreliable. For example, when a colleague’s boyfriend of one year walked out on her, she missed a week of work. That’s too much. I’m not sure where the line is for what’s too much, but a week is too much for that.

So where is the line for a dead baby that I never saw, but has been a part of me and is still inside? For two days I did nothing. But today I feel like work might be the best thing for me. For most of us, work isn’t just about getting a paycheck; it’s a way to connect with the world. I don’t want to be alone today, so I’m working.

And although I postponed my interviews, I won’t miss any deadlines. Not because I think the baby’s death is unimportant. In fact, in light of this event, I am sure people would be very sympathetic about my missing deadlines. But I won’t miss any because in the midst of personal tragedy, work is a way for me to maintain structure in my life and find not-so-tragic things to think about.

Thanksgiving. The start of the season of good cheer: Parties, shortened workweeks, year-end bonuses. For me, though, this season is also one of guilt — over what I actually give to the world. I know that if I flew to Somalia, I could keep a little girl from starving by personally feeding her each day. Likewise, if I spent every afternoon after school with an underprivileged nine-year-old on the brink of joining a gang, he would probably stick to his studies. I can do a lot of good in the world, but instead, I spend my time working at jobs that, let's face it, don’t save anyone.

I once tried to salve my guilt by way of my government surplus business. We planned to expand to a catalogue business, but the cost to organize the data was so astronomical that the idea didn’t make sense. But then someone mentioned India. “Data entry is cheap in India, and everyone speaks English,” he said.

I plugged Indian laborers into my P&L, and even when I accounted for a few U.S. managers, profitability for the catalog business was 85 percent. Too high, actually. I knew my board wouldn’t believe it. They would say my assumptions were wrong. So I spent evenings combing through the details of other catalog P&Ls searching for cost categories that I might have missed.

Then I read an article in Marie Claire magazine about sex slaves. Did you know that Indian cities are full of child sex slaves? They can be bought for $300 apiece. Here was my big chance to save a group of girls from a despicable existence. I added another 20 people to the P&L — they would be young girls — and then I included housing for them (above the rooms used for data-entry) and money for a school next to the cafeteria. I even increased staffing so that each data-entry clerk could spend an hour a day teaching the girls. One-on-one tutoring. Art classes. The Internet. My profit margins were 65 percent, the board's sweet spot.

I felt good going into the next board meeting. We brought up the India idea gingerly, focusing not on the Marie Claire article but on the cost savings and the shrewd worldview of operations. We presented charts and graphs outlining the economics of data entry in India. The board loved the idea. Before I could mention my save-the-world scheme, one board member gave me the name of a friend who had a company in India and and said the friend would do everything for me.

No flying to Mumbai. No rescue mission. No school. Instead I would be giving more business to the data-entry king of Mumbai who probably never thought about the sex trade in India.

So I gave money to AFESIP, the charity the Marie Claire article said rescues the girls. I gave a bunch of money because, at the time, I was earning a bunch of money. I told myself that making a lot of money working in corporate America and giving it to charity was better than actually working for a charity. My money, I reasoned, was worth more than my time would be if I were on the streets rescuing young girls from evildoers. I did some quick math in my head and figured that my earnings could pay for two or three rescuers, as opposed to me going to India myself.

I can't tell you that I gave a huge percentage of my income. I didn't. I kept some money to fund things like private yoga lessons and a new BMW. And I can't tell you that giving to charity made me feel 100% better.

But I live with a person who does, actually, get paid to save lives. (My husband implements programs promoting social justice.) And I can assure you that he never feels like he's doing enough, either. So I have a hunch that very few people walk through their workday guilt free.

But giving to charity does make you feel as though part of your workday, each day, contributes to helping someone who really needs help. Most people will not be able to turn a job selling widgets into a save-the-world gig, but you can feel like your job has more meaning if you give part of each paycheck to someone who needs it far more than you.

Learning to be a good manager requires that you perform a wide range of tasks from delegating, to coaching, to planning. When none of these go well, you need to perform the final task: Firing. Letting someone go is very difficult for most people – our instinct is to want to help people, or at least not harm them. But how you fire someone says as much about the firer as it does about the free.

In fact, the current job market encourages perfect hiring. Jobs are so scarce right now that a reasonable manager should be able to find a very good match for her needs. But first you have to fire the bad matches. My most difficult lesson in this arena happened when I had to fire a relative.

When my dad remarried, the first time we met our stepsiblings was at the wedding while we all waited to walk down the aisle. We exchanged names and marched. Only afterward, at the reception, did I realize that we had a lot in common. In fact, my new stepsister, Dana, was exceptionally clever and charismatic. She was leaving her job as an editor at a top New York publisher to seek work that would pay more. Since she had risen to the upper ranks of her prior company, I considered her a smart, detail-oriented person. And the fact that she wanted to make more money meant she was ambitious. So I offered her a job in marketing at my company.

My plan was a disaster. She was so detail-oriented that she could not see the big picture. Her perfectionism may have been appropriate for editing, but she wasn’t producing the volume that the position demanded. She would never accomplish enough to make an impact on the company. I changed Dana's job a few times to try to bring out her strengths, but she could never quite fill the role. Finally, the team approached me en masse and said that no one wanted to work with Dana.

I wasn’t surprised. Repeatedly, I had said things like, “You’re only as good as your team” and “Make your teammates look good because being surrounded by high performers makes you look good.” Also, I talked a lot about Microsoft and McKinsey having zero tolerance for B players. During performance reviews, Microsoft employees are ranked on a curve, and the lowest performers get the boot. McKinsey only keeps the top performers from its stable of entry-level analysts, and dismisses the rest.

I decided that if I wanted to be part of something as highly competent as these companies, I needed to get rid of incompetence on my own team. So I called my dad and said, “I have to fire Dana.” He said I shouldn’t have hired her in the first place — he knew it would never work.

Firing a B player is difficult, especially if you’re a good manager. You’ll likely respond to the person’s shortcomings by thinking that you failed to manage her or him properly, so you’ll try a few new approaches. When that doesn’t work, you’ll likely ask yourself, “What could I possibly have been thinking when I hired this person?” Only after you admit that you made a mistake will you be able to issue the pink slip. And even then, it’s difficult. You don’t have the same righteous indignation that you would if the person had stolen or harassed someone at work; instead, he or she simply wasn’t a star performer.

As I reluctantly prepared to fire Dana, I asked another person to join us, because the only thing worse than firing a family member would be getting sued for it. But she didn’t kick and scream. And she didn't even pick a fight at our first Thanksgiving together (though my brother joked at dinner that he wouldn’t work for me unless I gave him a contract with a good severance package).

If you plan to succeed in corporate America, you must be able to get rid of employees who don’t move or shake, even if they’re your relatives. Their work reflects poorly on you, and it doesn't help them, either, to be somewhere they don't shine. Dana may not have had vision as a software marketer, but she saw that, in the big picture, my firing her was the right thing — for both of us.

As the labor market slowly recovers from it's paycheck-killing slump, it's natural to hope for your next big break. But remember that when opportunity knocks you should open up cautiously. Beware of career opportunities that look like quick fixes because often they are really career derailments.

Figure out now what you want for your career so when opportunities pop up, you can judge them in the context of long-term goals you believe in. Managing a career is a difficult process — full of risks, disappointments, and feelings of hopelessness. People who stay on track are people who trust themselves to know what will make them happy and trust themselves to meet their goals.

Here are some examples of opportunities that derailed careers:

The family business derailment
Danny loved computers. He was an IT consultant for ten years and then he got a pink slip. He had never had to look for a job in a bad economy, so after he sent twenty resumes and heard back from no one, frustration and fear set in; Maybe he would never get a a job.

His dad, on the other hand, wanted to retire and sell his construction business. Danny saw a golden opportunity to avoid a prolonged job hunt, and he took over the family business. But Manny never wanted to run a construction company. He says he often finds himself fixing the company's computer network instead of building the company's client network. In hindsight, Danny says he could have suffered through a difficult job hunt and to remain in the IT. But at this point, he doesn't know if he has the heart to dump his dad's business.

The grad school derailment
As a college senior, my dad knew he wanted to be a history teacher, but he took the LSAT because his father wanted him to be a lawyer. My dad got a near-perfect score. So while he was applying to Harvard's graduate program in history, he filled out the application for law school, too. Harvard accepted him, but only for law. And my dad thought to himself, “Who passes up Harvard law?” So he went there, and he won a position at a top-tier law firm. But he never liked law and, frankly, he was never very good at it.

The gold rush derailment
Harry was an economic development wiz. He turned run-down cities into hipster destinations, and he had his eye on Los Angeles for his next big job. But then he saw people making millions of dollars on the Internet, and he wanted to make millions, too. So he dumped his government-pay-scale field for a dotcom. He hated his Internet company: Manic pace, pretentious twenty-somethings, and waffling management. He suffered though months and months with the hope of making millions, but the company went bankrupt. And then the economy tanked and most cities had some form of a hiring freeze. So the man who was a rising star in a field he loved became unemployed after spending a year doing something that made him miserable.

Each of these people knew what he wanted, but at a crucial point, diverged from the path he set out for himself. An opportunity is only as good as it's long-term effects on your life. Career focus will help you tell the difference between a good opportunity and a bad opportunity.

Career risks are good, but only in the context of career plans. So make a plan and then trust yourself to set goals and meet them. That way, when opportunity knocks, you won't budge for a quick fix or a big sellout — you'll focus on the path that is right for you.

In college I was such an introvert that when I went to parties (I had to be dragged) I brought a book. It was a lonely existence, but the pain of having to talk to people in an unstructured environment was too much.

So I was shocked a few years ago when someone told me, “Job hunting is easier for you than most people because you could sell yourself to anyone.”

That comment was testament to the fact that I had recognized you can’t get what you want in life without networking. Even though my natural instinct is to sit home and read, I worked very hard to learn how to talk to people. Luckily for me, books are a great resource in this regard.

I read everything I could find. I read that most introverts are scared they'll say something stupid or have nothing to say at all (both applied to me). So I read up on ways to feel self-confident in a room full of strangers and come up with things to say when I felt intimidated. (Here's a recommendation: You are the Message by Roger Ailes.)

I learned that people who are good at networking are interested in other people. And they are good storytellers. After that, I was able to go almost anywhere and talk with people. Good talkers recognize that there’s something interesting about every person, and it’s their job to get them talking about it. But you can't only bombard people with questions. You also need to reveal things about yourself. The best way is by telling fun and interesting stories that make you look good.

Not everyone can do this, though. After I had been dating my husband for about six months, I watched him print out a spreadsheet of names and phone numbers. “What's this?” I asked.

“It's my networking list,” he replied.

“But you never call anyone, ever.”

“I know, but networking is important, and I read that the first step is to have a good list.”

It was an extremely detailed list. For every name, there was a phone number and description of the person. For example, “Bennie Conover. High school music teacher — dead.” Or my favorite, “Penelope Trunk. Girlfriend.”

But my husband is an introvert, someone who loves details but hates talking to people. If you’re similarly introverted, you can still network even though you’ll never get excited about going to parties and learning interesting things about each person in the room. These tips can help.

Use email. Nowadays, you don’t have to speak face to face with contacts. You can write and rewrite your message until it’s right. And you don’t have to worry about saying something stupid because the person caught you off guard. Of course, you lose the intimacy of a personal meeting, but sometimes you can compensate for this by sending an extra e-mail or two.

Read everything. When something is published about someone you know, send a congratulatory e-mail. Incessant reading means getting gossip without having to gossip. Just be sure to act on it.

Go to parties rather than dinners. If you’re like most introverts, the problem isn’t the quantity of people, it's having to show up at all. You can kill more birds with one stone by making one of your rare social appearances in front of lots of people. And think ahead: Have a few things prepared and ready to say to other partygoers.

Write for trade publications. While you aren’t actually talking to people, you’re reaching them, making a point and hopefully being memorable. A reader may even write back to you: Miracle! You have just met someone without leaving your home.

Help others. For instance, send leads to jobseekers you know. You don't have to talk to them, but they'll remember the favor and view you as a friend. My husband maintains a list of specialized job sites that he sends to friends who have recently lost jobs. They're grateful for his help and the time it saves them, while my husband is grateful that he only has to research job sites instead of having to talk to people.

Send New Year's cards. Sending cards at year-end is tantamount to saying “You’re someone I care about.” So send cards generously. If you can, include a short note to each person. Sure, it's a struggle to find things to say, but since it's early November, you have two months to think. Write a few cards each day, and when you're stuck for words, remember the key to good networking: Be interested in other people and talk about yourself in interesting ways. Networking is one of those long-range, money-in-the-bank types of things; you never know when something you say will have a great return. So introverts, start writing!

It was one of those nights when my husband rolled over to my side of the bed. Usually this is the first step toward the grand maintenance of our fairly normal marriage. But this night was different. On this night I said, “I can't. It'll ruin my career.”

“Huh?” He was baffled and not quite stopped in his tracks.

“What about me hosting that TV show?” I said. “I can't be pregnant.”

And herein lies the reason that every girl should bring her career to bed with her: Pregnancy is not good for a career. A large belly is limiting; a kid even more so. But society's own perception of a mom vs. a career girl are the most limiting constraints of all.

I know because I planned my first pregnancy around my high-powered career. Everyone told me, “Don't rush. You have plenty of time.” So I didn't rush. I waited until I had made my way through two of my own companies, working long very parent-unfriendly hours. I waited until I could relocate my career across country to be in the same city as my husband. And then, just as my perfect plan reached its apex, the World Trade Center fell two blocks from my company, putting me out of a job. And all the work I did to build an impressive resume was undone when I showed up pregnant for job interviews.

I would like to tell you that employers don't care about pregnancy, but I would be lying. And I can’t fault them for having a negative viewpoint of pregnant job applicants: If two people are equally qualified for the same opening — a common occurrence in this market —the best hire is the one who isn’t five months pregnant- at least in the short term. It’s easy to be philosophical about the long term — how corporate America will only benefit from the systematic accommodation of pregnant women. But the long term is a hard sell to a hiring manager whose bonus isn’t tied to revolutionizing the workplace.

So back to the TV show. Officials with a production company had called to say they like my column and ask me whether I wanted to host a TV show about finance. Of course I was thrilled.

My husband, who’s always skeptical when skepticism isn’t warranted, said, “How can you host a TV show on finance when a company you started went bankrupt?”

“People learn from their mistakes,” I said. Then I said, “Shut up.”

The TV people wanted to interview me so I flew to LA. My husband, Mr. Pessimism, is also Mr. Hollywood (graduated from film school, dated an MTV producer, blah blah). He said, “You need someone to do hair and makeup,”

“They just want to talk to me,” I said.

He said, “They want to see how good you would look on TV.”

So I had someone do my hair and makeup, and I looked great that day. The executives told me they loved my column. They thought my wit and sensibility would come across well on TV. They talked about how the TV show would be structured and the training I would receive in on-air technique. Then they said, “Okay, we'll get back to you.”

My husband said, “That means you'll never hear from them. It's over.”

But if I listened to all my husband's pessimism, I'd have killed myself by now. So I’m still hoping.

Which brings me back to the bed. There we were, talking. We had planned another pregnancy for around this time. But I don't think I’d be hired as a TV host if I were pregnant. By the time we began taping, I'd be very pregnant. It's one thing for Catherine Zeta-Jones to show up really pregnant at the Oscars because the whole world knows she’s hot and she still looks a little hot, belly and all. But my TV audience wouldn’t know if the non-pregnant me was hot. There’s no way I could be pregnant for my TV debut (come to think of it, has anyone been pregnant for their debut as a TV show host?)

And I knew something else: You can't control everything, and there’s no perfect time to have a baby. But one time is better for women than others, and that’s sooner. When I learned the risks of waiting to have a baby, I was shocked. When a woman gets pregnant at 35, her baby has a 1 in 224 chance of being born with Down’s syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 chance the test for Down’s syndrome will kill the baby. And the odds increase with every passing day. I didn’t hear this when I started a company at 32. Instead I heard, “You have time.”

So now I know I don't have time. And I know that if I put my next pregnancy on hold until I hear from the production company, something else is likely to come up to foil my plan of harmoniously integrating my pregnancy and my career.

We had sex that night. And we hoped for a baby. Because as a seasoned career girl, I know that even if postponing pregnancy would eventually have boosted my career, in the short term, the delay made it too high risk for my liking.