Peggy Klaus flits around the crowded room of 40 women like a fairy. She wields a silver-plated backscratcher and strokes the unsuspecting — on a wrist, a neck — cooing, “Doesn’t that feel good?”

This is how Peggy warms up the party to get everyone to start bragging. My friend Liz is horrified. Liz can’t believe I dragged her to a party where everyone is supposed to brag. She can’t believe the chief bragger is also a scratcher.

Peggy is a communications coach who is going to teach this group how to talk about career achievements in a way that captivates other people. One of Peggy’s favorite phrases is, “Brag is not a four-letter word.” Another favorite phrase is “Buy my book,” which she is hawking at brag parties all over the country. Brag! is a good book, which is why I wanted to see her in action.

According to Peggy, hard work and humility might be rewarded in heaven, but not in the work place. Promotions come to those who tout their own achievements. In order to get noticed in this world, you need a spunky four or five sentence answer to the question: What do you do? In fact, you need to be selling yourself at all times, because if you don’t then no one is.

Peggy drops her scratcher by her side and approaches Liz, who has been hovering in a corner ever since I broke the final piece of news to her: That there will be role playing.

Peggy asks Liz the question that reveals all to a brag coach: “What do you do?”

Liz looks down and says, “I’m a psychologist.” That’s it. No sales job. No passion. Barely a full sentence. I cringe.

Peggy says, “You will hate tonight’s party, but you will learn a lot.” Then she gathers everyone into a room and starts her coaching.

Peggy coaches men and women, but tonight’s party is women only. Peggy tells us that women are not as good as men when it comes to selling themselves. For one thing, men job-hop more than women, (hard to take a day off for a sick kid if it’s your third month on the job). So men interview frequently and get practice talking about their greatness, while women are better at talking about their kids and pets and other objects of nurture.

Peggy says the most successful components of a brag are excitement and a good story. If you have those, everyone will want to listen to you.

She says that most fears of bragging stem from parenting factors. She confesses that her father told her, “Don’t toot your own horn. If you do a good job people will notice you.”

So Klaus didn’t vote for herself for class president. (Don’t worry, she won anyway.) This monologue opens floodgates: Liz’s parents were handicapped so she never wanted anyone to notice her.

Another woman says her Mexican immigrant family told her to blend in. Someone says, “I’m from Canada, and for us it’s not a parenting issue, it’s a national issue.” Then Klaus says, “What about Catholics, do I have any Catholics in the room?” Hands shoot in the air. Everyone wants to talk about how Catholic school squelches the instinct to speak up about one’s achievements.

According to Peggy, good communication is much more than just good jokes or good body language.

This is good news for Liz, who is definitely not funny and has the body language of someone who is going to vomit. Liz did not realize she would have to be excited.

Peggy has everyone find a partner who we don’t know. We have 30 seconds to tell each other about ourselves. Then Peggy announces that we did a bad job.

“There is no excitement in the room,” she says. “If you are not excited about what you’re saying then no one else will be either.”

She teaches us how to be excited about the hors d’oeuvres we just ate (and believe me, they were not exciting.) Then she pairs us up again to talk about ourselves and she reminds us that if we can be excited about pigs in a blanket then we can be excited about our careers.

Once we get our excitement level up, she tells us that a successful bragger tells a story. When you want to impress someone, a story is more memorable than a list of achievements. When you want to establish a connection with someone, a story provides social glue.

We each work on the 30-second story of our career, and then we tell it to a new partner, with our new, excited voices. After an hour of Peggy’s coaching, everyone realizes that a good bragger is actually a pleasure to listen to.

Even Liz has made improvement: She has glimmers of excitement when she talks about her career, and she has a much more interesting answer to the question, “What do you do?”

But the art of bragging is not easy, and old habits die hard. I tell Liz I am going to write about her brag because it’s so impressive and she says, “Oh god. Don’t write about my career. I don’t want anyone to know.”

A very major publication just reviewed my friend's book. The reviewer loved the book and as I read the review, each laudatory sentence makes me more ill. I feel an overwhelming moment of self-doubt coming on. I get sweaty and my heart pounds and I feel like the world will end if I don't have sugar.

My moments of self-doubt always begin with the panic that I will not do anything important in my life. I panic that I will not even figure out what is important, let alone do it. Then I have flashbacks to all the teachers who wrote, “Penelope is bright, but she does not work up to her potential.”

Tonight I am so upset I can't even finish my stack of reading. I fear I will read somewhere in my pile that the Nobel Prize committee has decided to make 100 simultaneous awards and they are all to people I know and now everyone I ever talk to will have a Nobel Prize and I won't.

Tonight I am worrying that other people have greatness and there is a finite amount of greatness and it is slipping out of my hands. Also, it is embarrassing to admit to wanting greatness knowing that there is a risk that I will not achieve it.

To calm myself down I eat some Oreos and as the double-stuffness clears my mind, I remember the aspects of my friend's life that are so destroyed that not even an outstanding book review will help:

1. He has been married for fifteen years and cheated on his wife about fifteen times.
2. His mother is overbearing and controlling and spent his book advance on purchases that will not improve her life, or his.
3. His wife's friends hate him so much for his arrogance they do not talk to him.
4. His dog does not play well with others and you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

Okay. There. I am feeling better already.

So I sit down to do the only thing that can make things better: I do my job. I am sure that the best way to face self-doubt is to push through it.

I remind myself that this guy had writer's block for six months, and nearly lost his whole book contract because he wasn't meeting deadlines. He ran out of money three months before he delivered the book and he lived off credit cards, hoping that the book would sell so well that he would earn over and above the initial advance. He pushed himself in the face of failure and even bet on himself a second time.

I can do that. With a clear head I know that everyone who has wild success is someone who had to eat a box of Oreos. Everyone has her moments of huge self-doubt, often in the face of someone else's grand success. But there is not finite success in the world. There is just a finite amount of people who can stomach the pain of wanting success so much.

So tonight I stomach pain. I put the book review on my fridge to remind myself that my friend pushed through his own self-doubt and garnered laudatory reviews from his peers. I sit down to write another column, and eventually my self-doubt dissipates. It always does.

The major difference between a millionaire and a working stiff is that the worker uses his job as an excuse for why he’s not living his dreams and a millionaire doesn’t have that luxury. So if you want to feel like a millionaire, start asking yourself the million-dollar question: What would make me feel fulfilled?

In September, Microsoft will end the option grant program that made an estimated 10,000 employees millionaires. While this compensation change signals the end of an era of money, history should prove this time to be the beginning of an era of soul-searching.

Typically, Microsoft millionaires cashed out and bought some big-ticket items. But after a year of shopping and travel, most people grew bored and started looking for something else. Few people had planned to be so rich so early in their career. Most people planned to work their whole lives. Without the need to work they had to ask themselves, what now? What is my life about? What makes me tick?

In fact, what these millionaires had to do was figure out their priorities. What we can learn from this era of options is that everyone can have the life of a millionaire if you soul-search as seriously as the Microsofties did. Soul-searching is difficult, but it is free to those who can endure the challenges of honesty and self-knowledge.

So ask yourself, what would you do if you were a millionaire? Then figure out how to do it now, when you don’t have millions. Because it turns out that very few answers to that question really require you to stop working and live among piles of money.

I realized this truth when I cashed out of one company and started another and found myself making a salary larger than I ever imagined. To my surprise, not much changed besides my bank statement and the restaurants I went to.

Sure, I loved my career, but I would have done the same job for less than half the salary. Once I saw that money didn’t change my life, I felt a lot more freedom to make career choices that were financially risky. Later, when I left my corporate life in order to write, I did not create a financial windfall — in fact, you could say the change had the opposite effect. But I would write this column even if I were a millionaire.

So try thinking about your career as if money weren’t the goal. There are two kinds of jobs: fulfilling and enabling. If you have a fulfilling job, then you are doing exactly what you want to be doing and it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or not. You are lucky. (Though not alone: Microsoft has a large contingency of millionaires –“volunteers” — who continue working even though they don’t need the money.)

An enabling job is what you do if your fulfillment comes from something that doesn’t pay. This kind of job takes the most discipline. If you work and work and never get to the exciting thing you’re going to do on the side, then the only thing you enable is shopping.

And don’t say you have no energy. If you had an appointment with the President of the United States after work, even if you hate him, you’d have enough energy to make it to the meeting. People who are too tired after work are people who don’t know what they want to do. It’s very tiring to not know what makes you feel fulfilled.

One Microsoft millionaire made a mission statement for himself. This is not a bad idea, especially if you cannot figure out what will make you fulfilled. Most of you will find that your mission statement is not about money. His, for example, was about “hard work,” “passion” and “leaving the world a better place than you found it.” Your own mission statement will help you to figure out what you should be doing with your days.

We might not all make millions from our job, but we are all equals in the effort to find a fulfilling life. So stop telling yourself that your life would be really different if you had a million dollars. For most of us, the only difference would be a bigger bank account.

Once someone's been unemployed for a while, employment is a mixed blessing. Of course, the jobless are anxious about finances and worried about the growing hole in their resume. But the long, flexible hours of unemployment suck you in and make you think that maybe, just maybe, you do not have the time or the constitution for a full-time job. This situation makes transitioning out of unemployment more difficult than people realize.

After a layoff, my friend Jenny got used to unemployment pretty quickly. She'd job-hunt for a few hours (which is, in fact, a lot to do every day without driving yourself insane). And then she'd have about twelve hours left in the day.

She started using that time to do loathsome tasks that one cannot possibly get done when one has a job: Chase down insurance claims, wait all day for a plumber, hand-write letters to aunts with no email.

Then she started making plans to see friends in the middle of the day. Then, in addition to the band she plays with at night, she joined an all-girl band that practices in the afternoon.

When Jenny finally landed an offer she said to me, “I can't take a job. I don't have time.”

I understood the feeling because I've had it myself. People fill whatever time is open. After all, the alternative to filling time is to stare at the wall, and unless you're clinically depressed, wall starring will not satisfy you.

So, while Jenny was grateful to have a job she was also nervous: Just as being laid off is a huge change in lifestyle, so is going back to work. “If nothing else,” she pointed out, “There will be no one to stay home to wait for the plumber next time the toilet overflows.”

Here are some things that make the transition easier:

Practice waking up. During unemployment, your body clock reverted to its most comfortable pattern, which probably included a late morning and frequent naps. Take a week to get used to working hours so you don't oversleep in the morning or pass out at your desk in the afternoon.

Embrace the commute. After a few days of a new commute, this is the line of thinking that usually happens: “I commute forty minutes each way, five days a week. That's 346 hours a year – 14 full days. Equal to a trip to Hawaii. Hey! I could go to Hawaii if I didn't have a commute!” But you can't do anything with that extra time if you are starving because you don't get yourself to work.

Look, if you really were not meant to commute then when you were job hunting online you'd have answered one of those “Make money working from home” spams. So turn up the radio, or open a good book, and find ways to love your commute.

Stop philosophizing. A common pitfall for those transitioning is to obsessively evaluate the virtue of the workplace. Yes, there are more virtuous things to do than your job. There is stopping war in the Middle East and sex trafficking in the Far East. Did you do any of those things when you were unemployed? Probably not. If you're so worried about saving the world now, you can give part of your new paycheck to charity each month.

Reevaluate your friends. People with jobs cannot party with six different friends every night of the week. You will have to get rid of the ancillary, party-all-the-timers. Keep the friends who understand about budgeting time.

Take solace in the memory of feeling crushed when you got laid off. You had that feeling for a reason. You liked going to work every day. You liked being part of something bigger than you and being valued by your community. Trust that when you go back to work, you will love work again, and that somehow, the toilet will get fixed, even if you can't stay home all day.

You need to make sure your resume shows you in your best light; give shape to the truth so that it works for you. But be careful, because a well-written resume to one person is a pack of lies to another. Make sure yours falls somewhere in between, which is no small feat. We all know there is such a thing as stretching the truth too much. But there is also such a thing as being too honest.

My 21-year-old brother, Erik, worked summers at Blockbuster Video where, predictably, none of the mostly-teenaged employees followed company rules. In a fit of productivity my brother rearranged the end caps to be in line with the standards sent from company headquarters. At the same time, store sales increased 10%. So (as the family resume writer) I wrote on his resume, “Assumed responsibility for in-store marketing and increased sales 10%.”

At a family dinner, we passed around Erik's resume (yes, we do this in our family). My 34-year-old brother, Mike, said, “Are you kidding me? This is such crap. No one will believe this.”

Erik kept that line in his resume, and he explained it well when challenged in interviews, most recently where he landed a job at an investment bank.

And anyway, what is Erik going to put on his resume? “Spent workdays watching movies and complaining about Blockbuster's no-porn policies?” It would be honest, but Erik would sound like a lunatic.

Someone who is too honest sounds like a lunatic because they seem to have no understanding of how the world works. Here's an example: When my family was in US Customs after a trip to Greece, the Customs guy said, “Any fruit, vegetables or live animals?” And my dad said, “Yes.” And everyone else in the family thought, “What? We have no food.” And then my dad pulled seashells we found. “There could be live animals,” he said. The customs guy immediately went on high alert the way customs guys are trained to do when they are dealing with a crazy person. Customs searched every inch of every one of our suitcases.

Some lies, though, are not in the gray area that seashells are. Some lies are just plain lies. And if you have a big lie on your resume, you need to clean it up. For example, maybe you say on your resume that you worked at IBM for two years, but really you only worked there for one and spent a year job hunting and making web pages for you mom's bridge group. In this case, you need to tell the truth about IBM: one year.

But you don't have to leave a yearlong gap. Be creative. Call yourself a project manager for the year you had no job. You can learn about yourself as you rework your resume — maybe you didn't think of yourself as a project manager, but actually, you were.

We can also learn about ourselves from the lies we tell. I know at least one of you writes on your resume that you played varsity football when really you just went to pep rallies. Not only do you need to delete that line in your resume, you need to see a shrink about your obsession with football.

My dad was visiting my apartment one day, rifling through my papers, as parents will do. And he said, “What's this on your resume about a master's thesis on electronic media? You can't say this. You never finished grad school.”

I said, “It's not a lie. I did write the master's thesis. I just never took the last class I needed to graduate.”

My dad was not swayed. And I'm sure he shudders to think he raised a kid who would sneak shells past customs. But at least I know my own limits.

When it comes to massaging the truth, no two people have the same limits. But you need to be very clear on your own limits so you can stay within them. In the mean time, make sure that your own resume is not so honest that you look like a loser and not so dishonest that you're going to be fired.


Tucked into the back of last week's sports pages was news that the Bush administration will refrain from killing Title IX. Other administrations have hailed Title IX as a boon to gender equality in the United States. But for the Bush administration, it was a close call, and this should scare everyone.

Title IX mandates that schools that receive federal funding provide an equal number of sports opportunities for men and women. This law is responsible for a huge increase in women who play sports, and women who play sports are better able to succeed in the workplace than women who don't.

In 1973, when Title IX came into being, few girls or women played organized sports. Today 96% of women who have children say they would offer a daughter either more or the same encouragement to play sports as they would offer a son. According to Jane Gottesman, editor of Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like, “The stigma attached to girls’ participation in sports is gone. Helped along by Title IX, there is a clear understanding that the benefits of athletic participation accrue equally to men and women.”

According to Sports File, “Women executives who participated in organized sports after grade school were less likely to feel like sports alienated women in the workplace.” These women said sports helped them to be more disciplined, function better as part of a team, and develop leadership skills that contributed to their professional success. Sports also helped women deal with failure.

So why was the usefulness of Title IX challenged? In order to comply with the law, universities have had to cut male teams in order to keep parity between men's and women's teams. The opponents of the law are organized, vocal, angry and almost all male. They complained that the tactics of compliance are unfair because they didn't want their teams cut. (Wrestling coaches, for example, were prominent complainers because so many lost their jobs; wrestling teams are usually one of the first to get cut from the budget since there is no female counterpart.)

The truth, though, is that the reason there is no room for these small men's teams is not that women are taking up their space, it's that university football teams destroy athletic programs. The football teams in Division I frequently carry more than 100 players (more than some professional teams). There is no women's Divison I football, so women reach parity with gymnastics, cross country, fencing — literally hundreds of sports opportunities. Men suffer because all the sports slots for them are taken up by football. Cut that football program and you could save the wrestling team, the gymnastics team and even start a men's badminton team.

But instead of going after football teams, jilted men went after Title IX. Their idea for solving the male sports problem was to trash the provision to protect women's teams. Opponents of Title IX said that women were gaining unfair advantages, which is especially ironic since women make up more than 50% of university students yet even Title IX mandates only 50% of the organized sports opportunities.

Pay attention to Title IX: Intense lobbying from women's organizations thwarted the recent assault on the law, but we should all recognize that on the whole, men are in favor of promoting equality for women until men start to suffer.

Of course, men won't have to worry for a while, because Catalyst reports that a scant 11.9 percent of corporate officers at America's leading companies are women. So men can afford to encourage equality in the workplace. If Title IX is any indicator, as soon as women start approaching equality in the workplace, men will realize that their favored position is at risk, and they will attack the corporate controls that helped women get to parity.

Meanwhile, take Title IX seriously. Sports make a difference in women's lives. If you are in college, join a team immediately — it will help you in your career much more than that accounting class will. If you have a daughter, encourage her to play sports. She doesn't have to play soccer: archery counts, figure skating counts. Every little girl can find a sport if someone is committed to helping her.

Some of you working women think you have no time for sports. Think of athletics like you'd think of career development programs: Imperative to keeping your career in the fast lane. Of the top female executives who played sports, a majority said it gave them a competitive edge at the workplace. Given the current percentages of women in senior management, it's clear that you need that edge.

For better or worse, we live in a society that bestows benefits on those with athletic experience. Celebrate the rescue of Title IX by getting more women into sports: It is never too early or too late.

Success in the workplace depends on being a good time manager, because it doesn't matter how good you are at your job if you never have time to do it. Here are the four most important steps you can take to end that feeling that you “can't get everything done”.

Prioritize ruthlessly
Most people who are too busy to get everything done are not really too busy: they are procrastinators. Everyone has time to do the most important thing on their to-do list each day. Most people have time to do the top five things. Problems arise when people do the number eight thing first because it's easy.

Instead of doing the easy things, do the things that will have the most impact. Many days, for me, that means doing one very difficult thing that has the potential for big, long-term reward. The problem is that this one thing probably has a lot at stake; if it goes poorly, then no long-term reward. So I get nervous about doing it. The number-eight task has little impact, so doing it poorly doesn't scare me as much.

In the worst case, this sort of prioritization goes on all day. If you choose to do the easy things first then at the end of the day, when there's no time, you make yourself crazy trying to get the top of your to-do list done. Whereas if number eight is not done, you can go home anyway.

Stop doing research
One of the biggest black holes on a to-do list is research. “I need to read this book before I start writing,” or “I need to have three more numbers before I start the project.” In most cases, you can start without all the research.

My friend Mary just fired someone who procrastinated so much she was frozen at her desk. This person's job was to write client work proposals, but in each case, she would say she needed more information in order to write the proposal. Mary would tell her to make up assumptions for the information she didn't know, and fix it later. But this employee could not do it; she was so scared to get started on the proposals that she could always think of another number she needed from the client.

Sort immediately
Another form of procrastination is pile-making. To read a piece of paper briefly and then put it in a pile to be read again is to double your work. In most cases, though, a pile maker does not want to make a decision about that piece of paper until it is an emergency. If you forced yourself to deal with every piece of paper as soon as you touch it, you will find that you deal with papers in 50% less time.

Barnes & Noble is so convinced of this theory that the company has made touch-it-once company policy. When Barnes & Noble opens a new store, hundreds of workers unpack boxes of books. Some books are easy to shelve and some are difficult. Rather than shelving the easy ones right away and making a pile of difficult ones, employees touch a book only once: you cannot put it down until you know where it goes.

Call a spade a spade
This morning I sat down at my computer to write a column. But first I checked email. (I have four accounts. I checked them all.) Then I rechecked because I thought I should have received a more interesting batch of mail the first time around.

Then I told myself I could surf for just a little. I came a cross a study from the University of Carleton that said cyber-slacking is the new form of procrastination, and it's killing peoples' productivity. I saw myself in that study.

So I took my computer to a local cafe where I cannot connect to the Internet. The Internet is useful, yes, but in most cases, it’s a way to take a break from doing the hard stuff.

It seems that most of time management is being honest with yourself: At each moment, ask if you’re doing the most important thing or the easiest thing. The more honest you are with yourself, the more time you’ll find in your day.

The flair with which you grow and prune your reading pile directly affects your career trajectory. Sure, you can learn from enlisting mentors and taking on new projects, but you can learn with the most focus and speed by reading on your own.

But don't be swayed by the business book bestseller list. Instead, devise a reading plan for yourself that encourages major shifts in thinking; Leaps in your thinking encourage leaps in your career. Here are some guidelines for your summer reading:

Make summer a time for big questions.
All-day beach trips are great for long books. Blow up rafts promote uninterrupted thinking. Don't waste these precious chunks of time on John Grisham.

Instead, think of a big question, the kind that has no right answer but lots of angles, and dive into the relevant reading. One summer, when I was looking for the meaning of my nine-to-five life, I asked the question: “What makes a career feel satisfying?” Another question that has ruled my summer reading is, “What sort of human-computer interaction is fun?”

Sometimes, the answer to the question isn't nearly as revealing as just discovering what question really piques your interest.

Think like you're studying for a mid-term.
For most of us, rigorous thinking ended in college. But the organized, complex, thinking that gets you through upper-level philosophy courses also makes you sharp at the office. So keep on your toes by reading about Supreme Court decisions: They twist and turn the Constitution in ways that will give anyone an intellectual workout; they're not as dry as Kant and not as brain numbing as Martha Stewart's lawsuit.

(Bonus: reality TV can't hold a flame to some of those cases. For example, a guy kills a cop, and gets shot back — blind in one eye and paralyzed from the neck down. Another cop follows the guy to the hospital, and interrogates him. The injured man screams, “I'm about to die! Leave me alone!” Then he spews self-incriminating information. Legal gathering of evidence, yes or no?)

Read to understand people.
Your career is dependent as much on people skills as it is on how well you do your work. So I recommend An Na's novel, “A Step from Heaven” (Front Street, 2001), which I love. It's a kids book. (For those of you who don't read kids books, you should. They'll remind you of that terrible time of life that is junior high school, and then you'll appreciate where you are in life now, no matter where you are.)

“A Step from Heaven” is about a Korean immigrants, and it does a great job of showing the barriers to success that people of American-born parents do not face. Think of these barriers when you manage someone who didn't have all the advantages in life that you had. Remember that topics like patience and compassion are as important to your reading pile as leadership and finance.

Don't read to stroke your ego.
Just because you have already accumulated a summer reading pile tall enough to last fifteen summers doesn't mean that you have to read those books.

Our tendency is to be attracted to topics we already know a lot about. For a while, I was reading too many books about time management. I am a good time manager, so each book's recommendations would allow me to say, “Great, I'm already doing that. I'm great.” When I forced myself read about sales, because I was uncomfortable in that area, my reading became much more productive.

Force yourself to read in areas that are unfamiliar to you. Read about your weaknesses. Read about people who annoy you and topics that bore you. The best antidote to disdain is a deeper understanding.

On my first date with my would-be-husband I said, “You didn't tell me we're getting dinner.”

“I'm hungry,” he said.

So we went to dinner. He ordered a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. I ordered water.

Months later, when it looked like the relationship was serious, I told my would-be-husband, “You were a sociopath for not offering to pay for me that night.”

He said, “You didn't ask.”

“Ask?!?! Are you kidding me? I just left graduate school because I ran out of money and you just got promoted to a video game producer! You should pay!” I was screaming.

He didn't scream back. And he couldn't understand why I didn't ask for what I wanted at dinner. Those were two reasons that I stayed with him. Another reason was that he was doing video art that was shown in New York art museums. I was a grad school dork. He was an art-crowd hipster. I felt like my ship had come in.

I got a job writing for a large company and after watching Tano project manage, I convinced my company that I could do that, too. After a few years together, our finances were on par and we found ourselves applying to similar jobs.

One week, we both applied for the same job at GeoCities. The company was hot at the time, and a little unreasonable given the fact that employees were harder to come by than jobs (ahh, those were the days). In order to get through the interview process, I put up with a lot of corporate bullshit. No only did Tano refuse to put up with it, but he wrote a letter to GeoCities explaining that they asked for so much information from perspective employees that he should get paid to go through the interview process.

That was the turning point in our careers. I started making more money than him. I got funding for my own company. He got laid off and spent his unemployment money funding a new video project.

He became more and more successful as a video artist (read: no money, exciting parties), and I became more successful as an executive (read: lots of money, boring parties). The income disparity became larger and larger until it was clear that I would be supporting us long term.

We started planning our future so that my husband would stay home with our kids and his video editing equipment, and I would continue working as a software executive.

Then Sept. 11 hit us. I was a block away from the World Trade Center when it fell, and weeks later, my company went bankrupt. My husband's way to deal with the trauma was to volunteer at human rights organizations (read: Save the world). My way to deal was to get pregnant (read: Save my eggs).

I never planned to stay home with the baby. It just happened. First there were no jobs in the software industry. Then my husband landed his dream job at a non-profit. And then I fell in love with being a mom.

So we took a huge risk: We decided to give up my large earning potential as corporate climber, cut back our expenses drastically, and live off his entry-level non-profit salary.

My friends said, “He's finally making more than you. Doesn't it feel good?” My mom said, “When will he get a raise?” As usual, I ignored the comments.

But I got bored. I wanted to be in business again. So I took a small freelance writing job I had and got a babysitter for a few hours a day so I could grow my freelance writing. After a few months, I was making more money than my husband, again.

Now I understand that I am inherently good at making money and he is not. When I first met him, I needed money, and he had enough for a hamburger, which made him a good guy for me to date. Now that I have confidence in the workforce, I need the things money can't buy; my husband is interesting, kind and a great dad, and I feel lucky to have him. Sure, we all wish we could marry a millionaire, but you can't have everything in a spouse, so I made sure to get the important things.

Most of us have personal problems we hide from our business associates. In fact, most of us have been hiding problems since we were kids. Often, though, these guarded secrets provide a hidden stash of strength at the workplace.

My problems started at tap dance lessons. As an eight-year-old, I didn't know what to do when the teacher said, “Turn left,” but I pretended to know what I was doing. The teacher said to my mom, “Penelope's always a beat behind.”

In high school, I was in advanced English, advanced history, and advanced French. I waited until no one was looking to slip into my remedial math class. My teacher told me, “When you grow up, don't go into business.”

In college, I took a car trip from Chicago to Detroit and went up the wrong side of Lake Michigan. It's a big lake. And Michigan's a big state. So I shocked even myself when I missed the state completely and ended up in Wisconsin. It was around that time that I realized I was dyslexic.

Once I understood my problem, I was able to keep track of recurring problem situations and find ways to avoid them: For example, I became an ace with Excel so I didn't have to do math in my head. And I quit tap dance and took up swing dancing because the lack of structure in swing means that turning the wrong direction looks creative, not brain-dead.

Contrary to many predictions, I flourished in corporate America. Today I don't worry that the dyslexia will hold me back professionally. Now the dyslexia is just sort of interesting to me. I like watching how my brain works, and I like having a better understanding of why I did what I did when I was younger.

But I hide the dyslexia when it comes up at work. It's easy: Frequently someone says, “The bathroom is at the end of the hall on the right,” and then the person sees me turn left. The person doesn't say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” The person just says, “No, turn right.” And I know what to do. It never occurs to anyone that an adult doesn't know her left and right. So dyslexia is a secret I can keep.

In the perfect world, we would all list our secret disabilities on our resumes. These are the pieces of our lives that make us able to overcome adversity at work. Mental illness, physical limitations, family disasters, these are also secrets people keep from co-workers. Of course, if you bring this stuff up in interviews the hiring manager will think you are insanely needy (or just insane) and you won't get the job.

But keep an active stock of your secret difficulties, because these are what make you strong. In the face of these secrets, a screaming client, incompetent boss, or plummeting stock price all seem manageable.

Admittedly, dyslexia is not as earth shattering a secret as it could be; today dyslexia is fashionable among businesspeople and was the cover story of a recent issue of Fortune magazine. Heck, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, is dyslexic. Everyone should be so lucky to have a brain so similar to his.

But as CEO secrets start to slip out, take a look at your own secrets. Recognize them for what they are: Huge difficulties that you have overcome to get where you are. And maybe, one day, we will add them to our resumes — in the education section.