Let’s abolish the word busy. When you ask someone, “How have you been?” and they say, “Busy,” it doesn’t mean anything. I’m sick of it. We all have the same 24 hours to fill. Everyone’s are filled with something.

The difference is that the “busy” people feel frenetic during those hours. Those of you who walk around telling everyone how busy you are, get a grip. Make some tough choices and calm down. There’s a big difference between a busy day and a full day. The former is so frantic that you aren’t effective.

Don’t tell me you can’t help it. You can. Here are the steps to take:

1. Recognize that a frenetic life is a life half lived. You should aim for “Flow,” a concept from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a unique state of mind where productivity and creativity are at their highest. Csikszentmihalyi shows, in his wide-ranging study, that Flow generates the grand ideas, phenomenal work, and intense, rewarding experiences that people identify with happiness.

Flow occurs when you are fully present and engaged in what you are doing; the concept of time melts away in a commitment to the goal-oriented activity. This feeling requires being occupied and engaged for uninterrupted chunks of your day without ever once thinking that you’re rushed for time. People who are busy do not get this feeling.

2. Recognize that you are addicted to busy. You like what busy does for you.
Busy gives you an excuse for poor performance. Busy gives you a way to ignore parts of your life that are falling apart and need attention. And when what you do makes you feel inadequate — for example, if you’re a volunteer, taking care of a parent, meditating or doing other things that are not valued by society — busy gives you something to say that society does value.

Many people mistakenly feel that busy means important. But busy really means out of control. A full day means planned and prioritized. A busy day means frenetic and unorganized. Full is fine. It is expected. But important people have full days, not busy days, because important people can’t afford to be out of control.

3. Prioritize. This does not mean making a to-do list. Nor does it mean making a list of career goals. You need to list what you want in life. It should be a short list, because life is short. Don’t make a list of dreams; you need to give up your dreams. Not all, but most.

This is because being an adult means making choices. It means admitting that we cannot do everything and choosing to devote the time we have to what’s most important. By not making choices, you aren’t facing the realities of adulthood. By scheduling your days with more things than you can accomplish, you are not taking control of your life. You’re letting chance take control. Chance will dictate what gets done because you refuse to prioritize.

4. Say no. Whenever someone asks you to do something, be ready to say no. Your priorities at work, home, and during your personal and networking time should be clear.

Do not worry that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings by saying no. To do something well, you must be focused. That takes self-discipline. But when you say yes to please someone, it shows you lack the self discipline to be truly focused. Saying no is a gift to the people and projects that are the priorities in your life.

You do not automatically have to say yes to everything you’re asked to do at work either. Your boss establishes your priorities. If she then gives you work that would compromise those priorities, you can refuse (with an explanation). Sticking to the plan will makes you look smart and committed.

5. Change how you talk. Don’t ever say again that you’re busy. If this is your current response, realize you can’t bear to give up your dreams and being busy veils your fear of underperformance. You need to say something more honest than busy.

When you have done the first four steps, you will no longer be busy. You will have room to be focused and enthralled. Then, when someone says, “How have you been?” you will have something more interesting and engaging to say than “Busy.”

Couples therapy: My husband is slumped at the edge of the sofa, sulking. I sit in the center cushion, upright and animated, ranting about why he needs to get rid of his bike.

The therapist tells me to be quiet, but in a couples-therapist way: “Let’s give him a chance to talk about the bike.” He says he needs to keep the bike in the kitchen, where it will stay until he formulates a daily riding schedule.

I listen. But not really. Mostly I plan my arguments about why what he is saying is irrelevant and why I am right: The plan is too detailed, he’ll never finish the plan, and because we live in a New York City shoebox, the bike is a waste of space.

We go through this routine for every topic: He cannot figure out every single detail, so he cannot plan; I have no patience for details, and I always have a plan. When we decided to have a child, he wanted to overcome every hurdle first — from finding an apartment with a playroom to setting up a college fund. I told him we had to move forward, hurdles and all. At every session he ends up very quiet in the corner of the sofa, and we accomplish nothing.

Our therapist tried a lot of tactics to get us to communicate. I took notice when she observed that the problems I have in talking to my husband are probably the same types of problems I have in talking to people at work. This made sense to me immediately because I always say that I love my husband but would never want to work with someone like him.

He’s a slow, methodical thinker, and I generally do not have patience for them at work. But the therapist points out that I chose such a person for a husband. “You must have had a reason,” she says. And it’s true. In my heart of hearts, I know that a slow, methodical thinker is the perfect counterpoint for me. At home, my husband is the one who takes the time to find out that our first-choice apartment has rats, and our second-choice apartment — which we live in now — has a secret cubbyhole for keeping cookies warm. In my work, the detailed thinker is the perfectionist who compensates for my disinterest in details.

But knowing something doesn’t mean I’m willing to change. Just like when I claim to be listening to my husband, I seem as though I’m listening to people during work but in reality, I’m more interested in my own ideas than those of the person talking. I talk over and past them. I am dismissive and unresponsive. “How do you keep people from strangling you?” my husband asks, when he’s particularly annoyed and probably considering strangling me himself.

So back to the bike. I tell myself that if I’m patient, he’ll come up with a great plan that will make keeping the bike in the apartment a good idea. That if I can just learn to control myself in the context of the bike, the therapist, and the annoyed husband, then I will do much better in my career. It is clear to me that I deal with my husband in the same way as I deal with people at work. And my career will be stronger if I can become a stronger marriage partner, because the communication skills are the same.

So every time I get frustrated in couples therapy, or I think that it’s a waste of money, I remind myself that communication skills know no boundaries. I can tell myself that I’m a good communicator at work, but the best feedback I can get is at home. If you want to know what your weak points are at work, ask your significant other — that person knows.

Here are some areas of your work that you should think about when deciding if it’s time to find another job. (Give yourself three points for an a, two points for a b, one point for a c.)

1. Your boss:
How often do you have lunch alone with your boss?
a. Every week at your favorite restaurant.
b. A few times a year at your boss’s favorite restaurant.
c. Once a year when your boss is apologizing for missing your performance review.

2. Future prospects at the company:
You get a big, very important assignment due in two weeks. You
a. Get unsolicited coaching from your boss because she wants to make sure you succeed at the project and get a promotion.
b. Put off the work until the last minute because you find it difficult to please your boss and you worry that you will fail.
c. Work very, very hard, but generally have no idea what you’re doing. In the end, the project is a colossal failure and your boss makes a point of taking no blame.

3. Sense of belonging:
The theme of your company party is dress as your favorite movie star. You
a. Tell your boss you resent stupidity at company parties. But you make the best of it and dress like James Dean so you can get a thrill from wearing jeans and a T-shirt to work.
b. Lobbied for a come-as-you-are party and lost. So you show up to the party but don’t dress up. You stick out like a sore thumb, or at least a sore loser, but your co-worker joins you, so good food can make things acceptable.
c. Avoid the party in full because last year the CEO drank too much and started making passes at people in your demographic.

4. The public’s perception:
Your phone rings fifteen times in one hour. Who’s on the phone?
a. Headhunters, because you are so high profile in your job that people are starting to talk about your future in the field.
b. Your friends because they know you make your evening plans in the afternoon, when work gets slow.
c. Your mom because you told her if you don’t get a new job soon you’re going to kill yourself.

5. Personnel policies:
You wake up with a throbbing boulder attached to your gum. You
a. Leave a message for your boss that you’ll be at the dentist. Receive an email from your boss the next day expressing genuine concern.
b. Call human resources to find out if you have a comp day left. When you find that you have none, declare that you’re working from home and then go to the dentist.
c. Go to work with blood dripping from your mouth. Wax nostalgic about the good old days when you had sick days at work and health insurance to pay for them.

6. Company stability:
Your company is in the newspaper today. The company just
a. Beat Wall St.’s revenue expectations.
b. Canned the CEO and hired a top turnaround specialist
c. Laid off 50% of the staff and sent a list of the jilted to the press

7. Office stress:
Your co-worker just got dumped by the guy she thought she would marry. Now she
a. Asks you if you have any friends who are available.
b. Cries all day, stopped doing her work and now you have to pick up the slack.
c. Informs you that she stole a bunch of electronics from her ex and is storing the stash in her cube. She adds, “If he comes by with a gun, don’t worry. He’d never use it.”

8. Office environment:
Your office space is:
a. Bright and sunny with nice carpet; you wish you could entertain your dates here instead of at your apartment.
b. A claustrophobic cube but at least it’s ergonomically correct.
c. Rotating. There’s one computer for two people and you use it when your co-worker goes to the bathroom.

9. Location, location, location
Your company is located
a. Three blocks from your dream house and you walk to work.
b. In a state you promised yourself you would not live in for more than five years.
c. A five-hour plane ride from the home where your three kids live.

10. The Starbucks factor:
How many Starbucks cafes are within walking distance from your office?
a. Five, because employees at your company are raking in the dough and everyone knows that where there are high salaries there are $4 cups of coffee.
b. One, but the cafe has big, cushy seats for falling asleep in the middle of the day.
c. None. To get through morning meetings you must resort to the No Doze pills of your college days.

11. Company perks.
At the end of your midday workout you:
a. Toss your sweaty clothes into the company’s health club laundry and your clothes are laundered and in your locker by tomorrow’s workout.
b. Go to the company cafeteria and load up on subsidized carbohydrates.
c. Hit the bars; work is so slow that there’s no reason to go back.

12. Salary
During your performance review, your boss
a. Gives you a map for the next five years that will rocket launch your career.
b. Informs you there is a salary freeze for everyone not related to the CEO.
c. Tells you that his own boss gave him a horrid performance review and asks if you would put in a good word for him.

13. During a business trip with the CEO
a. He uses the time to mentor you about the ways of deal making and then sits back and watches you close the deal of your life.
b. You book a flight on an obscure airline with two plane transfers to save money and find out the CEO is flying American, for twice the price, to get frequent flier miles.
c. The CEO invites you back to his hotel room at midnight, and when you decline, he says he’s insulted that you would think it was for anything but business.

14. You hold a team meeting in your office and
a. They surprise you with a birthday cake even though you didn’t tell them it’s your birthday.
b. Everyone shows up late except for the person you have been trying to fire for a year; she showed up a day early.
c. Your office is so small that the meeting has to be moved to a conference room, but there are none available because everyone’s office is too small so you cancel the meeting.

Scoring yourself:

10- 14 points
You are probably so upset about your job right now that you can’t even pull it together to launch a hunt for a new one. So instead, invest in a therapist. Try to figure out why you have stayed in this job as long as you have. Figure out why you put up with so much crap in your life. On some level, you probably enjoy it, which is why you got yourself into this mess in the first place.

You are probably bad at setting goals for yourself, because if you had any goals, you’d realize you’re not meeting them by staying in your current job. Make an honest assessment of what the two or three most important things in your life are. Figure out what you need to get them, and focus on that. Surely, part of your plan will entail getting rid of this current job.

It’s a bad economy, but for someone like you, that can’t matter. You still need to find a new job. Think about taking a step down in salary and responsibility in order to get into a better working environment. Many of the people who score very low in this test will say that they keep this job in order send their kids to camp, buy a flat screen television, etc. But your kids need a role model who is happy in their job more than they need camp. Besides, you can find a discount camp once you settle for a discount salary. And for those of you who justify your awful job in the name of wonderful electronics, remember that you spend more time at your job each day than you do in front of your television. So you get more mileage out of a job that makes you happy than a job that makes you able to buy a TV.

15-24 points
You are probably not the happiest worker in the world, but your job can be salvaged. You need goals and you need boundaries and once these are in place you will be able to put together a good job among mediocre opportunities.

Get a clear image of what you would need at this company in order to be very happy. For most people, feeling challenged and appreciated are the most important aspects of their job. So take a look at those areas first. Then examine your long-term goals and make sure that what you are doing at work now is setting you up to achieve your goals in the future. It’s a lot easier to put up with workplace BS if you know that your job meets your big- goals.

As long as you deliver a little beyond what your boss asks of you, you will be free to request additional projects that interest you and perks that enable you to continue high-level output. Let your boss know what parts of your job you like, and what parts are difficult for you — either because you hate them or because you need more coaching. Also, be sure to tell your boss how she can help you to succeed at work. She’ll appreciate this request since the better you perform the better she looks.

Reassess your situation in three or four months. If you score higher on this test next time you take it, then you are headed in the right direction. If your point spread stagnates, you need to start asking yourself some questions: Are you unable to create change because you are timid and unsure or because you are in a job that will never improve? If you think the truth lies in the latter then make a plan to jump ship. But remember that things are not so bad where you are, so look before you leap. There’s no point in jumping when there’s no other ship in sight.

24-30 points
You have a great job. The only problem you have is that you took the time to take this test. Did you not realize that you would score in the ranks of the happiest contingent? Do you not realize that you are in the worst economy in decades yet you have a great job at a great company?

Before you get yourself into trouble, learn to evaluate situations with a sharper eye. To continue your career path in the direction of success, you will have to trust your instinct. Right now, your instinct is not great — perhaps clouded by chronic self-doubt. For you, it’s important to be able to look optimistically at a situation that deserves optimism.

You are probably too unsure about your current position to have expressed proper gratitude to your boss and co-workers. When you have a good situation at work you should let people know you appreciate them. And, you should let happiness about your job shine though during the day. Your office is a nice place to be, in part, because the people are happy. You should contribute to this atmosphere by letting people know that you are happy, too.

Also, take time to learn from your boss, who seems to be very good at managing you. Few people get the chance to work for someone who cares about their career as much as your boss cares about yours. Watch what she does so that you can give people you manage the same level of support and respect.

Finally, make sure you have a clear vision of where you want to go next. You’re in a good position to get what you want out of your career, but first you have to know what you want. One of the keys to ensuring a successful career is to have a mentor. So talk to your human resources department (or your boss, if it’s a small company) about hooking you up with a mentor. It sounds like you work at the sort of company that would be happy to provide this service.

Hey, all you college kids! It’s time to get off your butts and start applying for jobs. Do not delude yourself into thinking you can wait until May. Spring is the time to be buying clothes for the job you already have. Top internships, management training programs, entry-level investment banking jobs and the other good jobs get filled early. After all, employers are not stupid. What are you going to do between now and June that will enhance your workplace value? For 99% of you, the answer is nothing. That’s why the juiciest companies beat the rush and hire the best candidates before anyone else can get to them.

Based on my experience, I’d say a good rule of thumb is that you’ll get one interview for every 50 resumes you send. That’s if you’re great. If you’re not great, double that resume number.

And God help you if you do not have a decent resume. Even if you’re great, with a lame resume, your greatness will not show. Here are the three most important rules to ensure your resume measures up:

One page. That’s it. I don’t care if you are the smartest person on earth or if you have founded six companies and sold each of them for a million dollars. Think of it this way. A resume gets only about 10 seconds to impress whoever’s looking at it. So every line must say that you are amazing because you don’t know where the person’s eye will go first (though you can be sure the person won’t read every line).

People with resumes that exceed one page say, “I couldn’t get it down to a page.” But here’s what a two-page resume says about you: “No ability to see the big picture.” You are so mired in the details of your career that you don’t know how to summarize it. This does not bode well for future career success. Cut your resume to one page.

Every line must quantify success. A resume is not about what you did. A resume is about what you accomplished. Don’t say: “Managed two people and created a tracking system for marketing.” Say: “Managed the team that build a tracking system to decrease marketing costs 10%.” Any college graduate can do what an employer tells them to. Not everyone will do it well. Show that you’re a person who does things well.

Think of it as the difference between writing, “Went to my classes and took tests” vs. “Have a 3.5 GPA.”

I know what you’re going to say next: “I can’t quantify my success. I didn’t have those kind of jobs.” You are wrong. Everyone has successes they can quantify. Let’s say you had a babysitting job, which I hope not very many of you will have to put on your resume. But for the sake of argument, let’s say you took care of two kids. You could write: “Managed household in parents’ absence and helped kids to raise their grades one letter.” Stupid, yes, but you need to make even stupid jobs sound marginally stupid.

No paragraphs. I shouldn’t have to list this last rule because no one should still be using paragraphs on their resumes. But recent grads do it all the time. In fact, my friend who edits my web site, and who is definitely very smart, showed me her resume and I nearly died: All paragraphs.

No hiring manager reads paragraphs. With a stack of 500 resumes in front of her, she’s scanning – looking for something that stands out enough to warrant an interview. Nothing stands out in a paragraph. So by using them, you take yourself out of the running unless the hiring manager is your dad’s best friend and he has to read your entire resume.

Most of you will say, “No paragraphs? Everyone knows that rule.” Good for you: a confidence booster. You will need it because it’s a tough job market out there. Now start sending out resumes. Think of each one you send as a lottery ticket. The more you have, the luckier you’ll feel.

My ex boyfriend emailed his online personals profile to me and asked me what I thought. I thought it made him look needy and told him so. I said that if he wanted to attract someone with an independent personality he should change the profile. I wrote a few paragraphs that he ended up submitting in his final profile.

It did not surprise me that he used my wording because I am gifted when it comes to composing personal profiles. I edited my cousin's profile and he immediately met his future wife. I thought this was a fluke until I rewrote my friend Liz's profile. Now she is getting married.

My profile-writing abilities are similar to my resume-writing abilities. In both genres, you must include specific achievements that differentiate you in an interesting way but do not make you seem boastful.

I could write an entire column on this: How to leverage your resume-writing skills to get a date. Instead, I want to explain why it’s important to have a clear career focus.

I have a hard time keeping my career focused because I keep thinking about starting new businesses. I have many ideas, but this is typical of me. I launched two companies earlier in my professional life, and most entrepreneurs are serial entrepreneurs, so I'm sure there will be more coming In fact, my freelance writing career is actually a business, with my writing being the product. I perform all the normal functions of a regular business: marketing, billing, product development and staffing, to name a few.

But here’s where my focus issues emerge. As I work, I keep thinking of new ventures, the latest being, thanks to my ex boyfriend, rewriting peoples' personal profiles.

This idea occurred after my ex asked me to look at the profile of a woman he had considered contacting. (Note: Do not send me emails saying my ex shouldn’t talk to me about this love life — we broke up amicably eight years ago.) So I read the profile, and I was appalled, “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “She screams ‘relationship nightmare.'” I thought this because:
1. Her photo showed her smiling without opening her mouth. This is unnatural. Only people who are hiding something smile like this
2. She wrote mostly about her work and did not appear to have another interest (all recent reading was work related).
3. She said her best friend was her dog.
I could go on. But my next thought was that if she paid me to fix her profile, she wouldn’t have to date psychos. She could attract nice guys. (I don't know what this says about my ex, but trust me, he's a nice guy.)

By now, I had decided the world needed me to start a personality-profile-writing business. She would be my first client. I spent 10 minutes crafting an email to her about why her profile makes her look bad and how I could help her — for a fee. I provided amazing insights so she would trust me. Then I tried to send her my email using her dating-network address.

This was a mistake. As it turned out, I had to join this network to contact her. I spent the next 20 minutes trying to figure out how to sign up for this network. First, I had to create a profile of myself and then, since I’m married, figure out how to use the “hide profile” function. After all that, I was asked to pay a membership fee?

Reality set in. If I was going to invest time and money in this venture, I had to do it right. I needed a business plan — not a long one, but something that would tell me, for instance, how long each profile would take to fix, how much I’d charge and how many pitches I'd need to make to lure a customer. I also would need to advertise on personals sites. Since my success would depend on an initial, online contact, I probably needed to hire a direct mail person to write the email for me.

A career writing personals no longer seemed fun or wise. I had to level with myself. What I really wanted was simply to tell dog lady her ad was terrible on her nickel. Instead, I wrote a column. That is my business now, and for this minute, at least, I am focused.

Here is my current list of things I hate. It's an on-going project that simmers week after week until it reaches boiling point and I have to spend a column venting.

1. People who are not coachable. They get good advice and don't take it because they think they know better. Everyone has blind spots that a little advice can shed light on. If you don't know how to take advice, people will stop giving it to you. And then you will stagnate. And the people who tried to help you will think to themselves, “Good. I was pissed that he wasted my time.”

2. Three-page resumes. Two pages are okay. Sometimes. Like, if you've been in the workforce twenty years, or if you don't know how to enlarge the margins in your word processor. But anything more than two pages is someone who has lost all perspective. There is not enough that is important about your career to fill three pages. You give away to all potential employers that you are mired in detail.

3. The high and mighty. The people who say, “I'd never work for someone I don't respect,” or, “I'd never play office politics to get ahead.” Get real. If you want to be able to put food on your table you will need to learn to work for someone else, to do things a way you don't agree with, to do some work that doesn't matter to you. If you can afford to lose your job constantly in order to stay on moral high ground, then you didn't need a job to begin with.

4. The 8pm meeting. I don't care if you don't have kids. I don't care if no one in your whole company has kids. Each of you still needs to get a life. Just because you have no one sitting in bed waiting for a kiss goodnight doesn't mean you should be at work. Go to the gym. Go to a movie. Participate in aspects of life that do not have a P&L. Well roundedness will make you a more interesting person, and even if you don't care if you're interesting, your co-workers will, so you will do better at work if you leave work.

5. The economically alienated. Don't blow off the company party because you have season tickets to the Opera that night. Don't complain about your butler to people who don't even know what a butler does. It's one thing to have a pay scale as if you are god and the people who work for you are morons. It's another thing to shove that in peoples' faces on a daily basis. Act like you're part of the team or you won't have a team to act for.

6. The people who won't change. Each week I get letters from people who say they hate their job but they can't change it because they have so much seniority. Or they want to stay home with their kids but they don't have enough money. Look, unless you are totally impoverished (and almost no one writes to me from this category except maybe recently divorced moms who have never worked) then you can do it. Sell your house. Move to Kansas. Stop sending kids to camp. If you want something enough, you will figure out how to live on less money. If you don't make the change then admit to yourself that you want money more than – a job you love/full days with your kids/you fill in the blank — and stop complaining.

7. People who don't make lists. Usually these are people who can't face everything they want to do. Or they don't know what they want to do. Either way, making lists can change your life. Start small: Distributing a list of items to cover in a meeting makes you look like a leader. Then get big: Maintaining a list of career goals keeps you focused at work. If you love to make lists, try branching out. Like, make a list of lists you could write. Or make a list of things you hate. It's such a big relief.

For most people, September 11 has come and gone, but the anniversary will always be important to me because I was a block away when the first building fell. The people I have met who were at the World Trade Center that day never stopped associating the event with their work, and I am no exception.

That day, I stepped outside my office to take a look at the spectacle. Before I knew what happened, I was blinded by debris and buried under a pile of people. I pulled myself out of the pile, but I couldn't see, had no idea where I was, and I couldn't breathe. I worried about my family until the lack of air became painful. Then I focused all my hopes on not having an extremely painful death.

There was complete quiet. No one could talk because no one could breathe. Then I heard cracked glass. I moved toward the noise until I saw a glow coming from a broken window. Somehow, I lifted myself into a broken window that was above my shoulders. I found air. And then I thought only of water. I found my way to a bathroom in that building and inside there were debris-covered men in ties drinking out of a toilet. I drank, too.

Days later, I went back to my software marketing job at my Wall-St based company, and though no one was really doing any work, I somehow continued to write my weekly column, furtively, from my desk. Soon, though, the company laid off almost all the employees, including me. I spent October in a daze. I spent November and December attending a group for people with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The way to deal with post-traumatic stress is to tell your story over and over again. The theory is that when you are in the moment of trauma, you have to turn off all your emotions to get yourself through it. After the fact, in order to stop having nightmares and panic attacks, you have to experience the emotions you missed.

So I told my story over and over again. And each time, the story was a little different. (I still tell the story, although to be honest, most people are sick of it. Even my brother said, “That just took 25 minutes. Maybe you need an abridged version.”)

When I began telling my story I saw myself as an imbecile — for staying at work after the first plane hit, for standing so close to the building, for not trying to help anyone but myself. Later, my story focused on how I was a lucky person to have come out alive. And I was a lucky person to have a moment where I thought I was going to die and saw exactly what I cared about in my life.

This is the process of reframing. How we frame our stories determines how we see ourselves. It's the glass half-empty/half-full thing: The trauma of 9/11 taught me to frame my life as half-full.

Today, when I tell my World Trade Center story, my focus is on career change. Today I am the woman who nearly died at the World Trade Center. I lost my job as a marketing executive. I faced an incredibly tough job hunt, which I wrote about in my column. In the process, I became a writer; turning in a column week after week made me realize that I was a writer who was calling herself an unemployed marketer.

I used to think career changes were planned and instigated and systematic. Now I know that some changes could never be planned, and some changes do not need instigating, they just need recognizing. Positive change comes to people who can frame their world in a positive light — even a world where everything is literally falling down.

If you could see a movie of your life before you lived it, would you want to live it? Probably not. The thrill of living is that you don't know what's coming. In other words, uncertainty is what makes our lives fun.

Sure, it's hard to see uncertainty in such a positive light when you are out of work, or when you feel like you're flailing. But uncertainty is really another word for opportunity, and you can't harness an opportunity until you recognize it's there.

My first experience with severe uncertainty was my senior year of college. Not knowing what I was going to do with my life was too much for me to bear. I stopped going to classes and failed intro to sociology, which turned out to be a graduation requirement.

So I stayed in school for the summer, and during that time I learned to cope with ambiguity. I realized that the only way to lead an interesting life is to encounter uncertainty and make a choice. Otherwise, your life is not your own — it is a path someone else has chosen. Moments of uncertainty are when you create your life, when you become who you are.

Uncertainty does not end with the job hunt, though. Every new role we take means another round of instability. Even fifteen years after college, when I start a new job I am nervous. But now I remind myself that I am lucky to be nervous — because big opportunity and nervousness go hand in hand.

Most of us already sense that uncertainty rescues us from boredom. We know, for instance, that when we go to a movie, someone will face a difficult situation and we will get to watch her muddle through it. And we pay for that. You would feel ripped off if you went to a movie with no ambiguity. We like watching it, but in our own lives we avoid it.

This doesn't have to be the case, though. Here are some new approaches to uncertainty:

Live through uncertainty: Some of you work for unstable companies. You do not need to create uncertainty; it is there every day that the company veers closer to layoffs. In this case, ambiguity is something to endure. If you can focus in the face of instability, you are more likely to be able to leverage opportunity.

A great example of people who live through uncertainty is politicians running for office. Right now, the democratic candidates are betting almost everything on themselves and campaigning full-steam ahead even though their success is totally uncertain. With so many candidates in the race, the odds of success are not good, but many of these candidates are able to be at the top of their game in the face of huge insecurity.

Use uncertainty to make yourself shine: For those of you who have no idea what to do next in your life, remember that uncertainty is what allows you to surprise yourself. If you could see each future step along the way, you'd never get the chance to be amazed at what you can do.

When I finally did graduate from college, I went on to play professional beach volleyball. At the time I worried that the decision was crazy, and that I wouldn't make the cut. But in the face of massive instability, beach volleyball seemed like a reasonable choice. Now that is one of the parts of my life I am most proud of.

Create uncertainty: Some of you are stuck in your career. The only way to get unstuck is to create instability. Say to yourself, “Maybe I can change my approach, maybe I can find a new specialty.” In the face of a mortgage or a waning 401K, creating instability seems absurd. But think of it another way: Uncertainty is really another word for opportunity, and each of us should take responsibility for creating our own opportunities.

Everyone stop working right now. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Does my boss like having one-on-one meetings with me?
2. Do my co-workers like going to lunch with me?

If you cannot answer yes to both these questions, then you are focusing on the wrong stuff at work. It doesn't matter how well you do your job. If you can't get along with the people at work, no one will want to work with you.

Larry works at a company where new employees are on a one-year probation while they do four rotations. Larry has had reviews after three of his four rotations. The third reviewer told him he is unprofessional. When Larry asked other reviewers why they had not told him this they said, “Management told us not to.”

Larry's interpersonal skills are so lacking that the company decided early on that they want him out after a year. Larry realized it was too late to save his job, but he thought there might be hope for his ego, so he went to a lawyer. The lawyer said it is not illegal to be a bad manager or to run a company poorly.

Larry's problem is that he cannot gauge how people expect him to act in a given situation. And he cannot adjust how he conducts himself depending on the circumstances.

For some people, this skill comes naturally — they are chameleons who can mirror other peoples' moods. Chameleons know what to say when their boss's pet gerbil dies and they know what to say when a co-worker suggests a date. Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer, for example, acts differently when he meets with Wall St. analysts than when he meets will Dell customer service reps.

Some people have one way of conducting themselves and have no idea how to change for a given situation. These are the people who make inappropriate jokes at a client meeting or are too stiff and formal at a company picnic. Chameleons generally disgust these people, but I've got news for you: chameleons don't get fired for being unprofessional.

Most people who hate office social dynamics think people have to change who they are to succeed. But good social skills at work are really a reflection of empathy for the people around you. Anyone who is being their best self — kind, considerate, expressive, interested in others — will instinctively do the right thing at the office.

If you are being your best self, it won't matter that there are difficult personalities at the office. So stop blaming the people you work with for being misfits and morons. People with good social skills can get along with almost anyone; I'm not saying you have to like everyone, I'm saying that you have to make them like you: Figure out what matters to them, what makes them tick, and then speak to that when you interact.

I think you will find, though, that once you get someone at work to like you, you will like them back. When the ugly guy asks you to dance, he is only ugly until he asks you and then his discerning taste makes him more attractive.

So back to Larry. He is young, so he asked his parents what to do. They said, “You can't change other people, but you can change yourself.” (If Larry's parents wrote a career advice column, I would read it. This is good advice for almost any interpersonal problem — at work, at home, anywhere.) So he is seeing a career coach to help him with interpersonal skills: Good idea.

Work is not only about “getting things done” but also getting people to like you. I applaud those of you are hard workers. But let's face it, most work is easily replaceable, especially when five hundred people would love to have your job. Your personality, however, is not so easily replaced. So get people to appreciate you for your interpersonal skills — and you will not only have job security; you'll probably have a spot on the fast track.

The kid competition starts early, with sleep. For the first six months of my son's life, someone would ask me every day, “How's his sleeping?” As if sleep practices are a window into a baby's genius. (And let me tell you something, if sleep is the SATs for babies, I am living with the village idiot.)

Then there are parents who say, “My son adores his books!” like he is the next Shakespeare. And there are the parents who say, “I bought puzzles for her age group but they were too easy for her!” Two words: Who cares?

I am not hoping for an early reader or a math genius. I am looking for my kid to be able to navigate adult life in a way that makes him happy. And since I do not have a trust fund to bequeath, my son will have to find happiness in a career. As a career columnist, I am pretty certain that there are things way more important than sleeping through the night:

1.Take risks
Many people write to me to say they want to change careers and they are too scared. It doesn't matter how gifted these people are: they are stuck because they can't take risks.

Parents are not natural teachers of risk because a parent is all about creating a stable home and keeping the kid from danger. (We have a joke in my family that if my mom is giving someone advice, it must be to do whatever has less risk.)

But if a kid is scared to take risks the kid will get into ruts. The kid will not see possibilities. Adults who take risks understand that failing is okay. Kids need to get practice failing.

2. Be passionate
Many adults cannot figure out what to do with themselves. They have never learned to look inside themselves. They have never developed their own, internal gauges. If you want your kid to figure out what career to go to when she's twenty-five, help her learn to figure out what she's passionate about when she's much younger.

School does not teach passion. In school, a teacher tells kids what to investigate. Whether the kid is a genius or just an average student, school is not teaching him to follow his own passions. (In fact, you could argue that at the end of eighteen years of school, the kid with straight A's had less time than the average student to figure out her own passions; those perfect students are too busy learning what they are supposed to learn.)

There will come a point for your kid when his world is not made of Scantron tests — but of wide-open, connected fields for the kid's dreams. The kid needs a working, internal compass to move in this world.

3. Work hard to attain goals
Gifted kids don't need to work hard to get A's. Pray that you have a normal kid so that schoolwork can be a lesson on working hard. For kids who can do things easily, teach a kid to work hard at something else.

Remember, though, that hard work is not an end in itself. I know too many people who worked hard in school, went on to Ivy League, and now have no idea what to do with themselves.

Hard work only matters in the context of passion and risk taking. Otherwise, you can only work hard at someone else's dreams. So lets all raise dreamers, adventurers and leaders. And don't bug me when I tell you my son never shuts his eyes, because sleep isn't the only place for dreams.