In the ongoing development of me as a brazen careerist, my weak point has been networking. I know it's my weak point because I meet a lot of powerful people who could do a lot for me and instead of leveraging the relationship, I end up losing touch with them.

Where I fail is that I don't know how to maintain regular contact once I have established a base relationship. There is an art form to the act of the “just checking in to see what you're up to” email that is lost on me.

I try to pay close attention when I get one from someone else. Here's what I've noticed: That I always appreciate the email, no matter how long it's been since I heard from the person. So probably other people would appreciate an email from me. But still, I put off sending these emails because I fear I have nothing to say that the person cares about.

If I were giving advice to myself I'd say, “Just a short, simple email. Nothing huge. To remind the person you are thinking about them and also to tell them what you've been up to.” But I always feel like I need some sort of excuse to email. If I were a guy, I'd send an email about sports, like, “Rah rah my team beat yours. Rah rah.” Or, “I thought of you sitting in my court-side seats.” My instinct, as a woman, I'm sorry to say, is to send stuff about kids. Like, “Congratulations on your son's first birthday. I remember seeing the photo last year and he was so cute.” But the kid emails have not gone over that well in the world, and, right or wrong, I never get the kid emails from men, so I stopped sending them to men.

I had this idea to buy into a service that scans newspapers every day for names of people I know. Then I could say, “I saw your name in the paper. Congratulations on blah blah blah,” I would look like I'm really on top of the industry news, and that I'm concerned about the person. But the services were all really expensive. And, let's face it, if I were a millionaire, my networking could be, “Hi. How are you? I'd love to chat with you again. Do you want to fly on my jet to my island next week?”

But recently I noticed that Google has a new service, in Beta right now, called Google Alerts. This is how the company web site describe the service: “Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic.”

It seemed too good to be true, but I tried it. I set up an alert for a former boss of mine who was really supportive of me, and then about a year after I left his company I stopped contacting him because I couldn't think of anything to say. (Insane, really. A complete violation of any networking rulebook. And just writing about it here makes me realize how absurd it is that I can't figure out how to write a “just saying hi” email. After all, I'm a writer!)

I thought I'd redeem myself by contacting him next time his name is in the press. But after a few days of hearing nothing from Google, I realized I didn't even know if the service worked.

So I set up a Google alert for my sister-in-law, who just landed a job big enough that she's popping up in newspapers all over the country almost every day lately. And sure enough, her name landed in my email box today: The Google alerts worked. My sister-in-law didn't know she was in a Seattle newspaper today until I told her.

Tonight, I created Google alerts for twenty of the people I most wish I would be good at staying in touch with. I feel like I'm on the cusp of making amazing headway in the networking department. God bless

The idea that someone will stay at one company for a whole career went out the window more than a decade ago. Now most people will have more than eight jobs between the time they're 18 and 32 years old. To Baby Boomers, this is a shift in thinking, but for those of us who came after them, it's business as usual.

In keeping with my fellow Gen-Xers, I changed jobs ten times in the ten years just after college. And I adapted well to the Internet economy where star players switched jobs every year or so to gain those (now incredible) 25% raises. But at this point, I have to confess that I feel a little worn out.

At first, the free-agent no-one-owns-me attitude seemed great with all that flexibility, room to move up, the brand of you rah-rah. But the reality of a free-agent nation is hard. Friendships made at work are generally short term because the jobs are short term. Frequent insurance changes mean frequent changes in doctors. And there are too many times when the gaps between full-time jobs for free agent hunters are too big for a savings account to bear.

At this point, the free agent nation feels alienating, unstable, and financially risky. I long for a company that I can stay at for the next fifteen or twenty years even though I know the odds of that happening are slim.

It won't happen because most companies that have jobs that last forever take forever to make any other changes also: Slow and boring. Gen-Xers and Ys expect more from careers than any workforce in history. Fun, flexible jobs with new challenges around each bend are the typical goal, and like my peers, I am prepared to give up stability in exchange for that.

But I feel like maybe things need to be more calibrated. I have lived through layoffs, dot-com bankruptcies, and terrible economies. And I have lost jobs because of my own stupidity, too; pushing too hard on a good boss for more flexibility than was reasonable. All these situations have added up to constant, low-grade worry that I have no idea where I'll be five years from now.

I spend a lot of time figuring out how to keep this worry from overpowering me.

I have a five-year and ten-year plan for my personal life and my career. That helps a little because even though my career is not predictable, I have a steady vision for where I'm aiming to be, so I can adjust my tactics to accommodate both unexpected opportunities and unexpected setbacks.

But the thing that really has helped me succeed in the free agent universe is that I am always working on two or three ways to reach my career goals. I have found that putting all my eggs in one basket is too much pressure — I become too scared to take action on anything, because I start feeling like every phone call, every meeting, means so much.

Keeping a few eggs in my basket is like job insurance. I am never sure what will work out, but something always seems to go well when I have a few options. For example, when I was running my own software company I wrote articles on the side. And I also taught college courses. I didn't know what would come of any of that. As it turns out, the teaching never amounted to much. But the writing took off after 9/11 when my software market fell apart.

Now most of my income comes from a book contract. But I continue with lots of freelance projects because I never know what avenue I'll end up taking to get to my long-term goals. I admit that I also peruse help wanted ads. I don't think I'd take a corporate job now, but in a free agent nation, I wouldn't rule anything out.

Having a long-term vision for my career gets me excited about the possibilities in my life, but having a backup plan keeps me from going nuts over the lack of stability in the workforce of the new millennium.

Hunting for a job is almost always difficult. So it's unfortunate that the truism that good things happen to optimistic people cannot be overstated when it comes to job hunting.

Of course, I've had my share of announcing to the world there were no jobs for me and sleeping until mid-afternoon. But experience with misery breeds experience with how to beat it, and here is a list of things I have found helpful to do when the job hunt starts feeling desperate:

1. Check your attitude.
Write a list of things that are going well in your life. You are not your job, and you are not your savings account. There are many facets to yourself and some remain unscathed, even during a terrible job hunt. Don't just think the list. Writing is a powerful tool, because whatever you take the time to write will feel more important to you than if you just thought about it. In fact, you should write a list of your personality traits that you like, too.

2. Check your focus.
Decide if you are looking for the right kind of job. If you are applying to tons of jobs and not getting them, think about if your resume stands out enough to get a job in this field. Be honest. After applying to 200 jobs and not getting one interview, it's safe to say that you need to change what you're doing. Ask for outside advice to figure out if you need a new resume or a new field. Start with friends and colleagues. If no one gives you new insight, hire a professional. Resume consultants are everywhere, and good ones end up giving career advice when a resume is obviously going nowhere.

3. Check your pace.
If you have a strong network, set a goal of three networking opportunities each week. They can be a lunch, a conference, even a coffee break as long as you're meeting someone who might be able to help. If you are not particularly good at networking, you'll have to rely on your resume. So send it out as often as you can. One resume a day would be a reasonable goal. If you can't find a job to apply to, send a resume, cold, to the CEO of a company you like. You never know what will happen from a shot in the dark like that, but if you send nothing, then you do know what will happen: Nothing.

4. Check your personal life.
Don't forget to see your friends. Don't forget to kiss your boyfriend. It's always easier to retreat into misery when you're in the midst of a job hunt. But you need a home base, so stay connected to the people who provide one. These are people who love you even when you are living off your retirement savings.

5. Check your spending.
You can get a lot more time for your hunt if you keep your spending down. The faster you run out of money the faster your hunt is over — and you don't want to be in a bind where you have to take the only position you can find, and it entails flipping burgers. Also, if you can keep your spending down permanently, you open yourself up to opportunities that are a good next step for your career but require a cut in pay.

6. Turn off the TV and read.
One of the hardest parts of unemployment is the lack of intellectual stimulation. Spending a lot of the time in front of a TV reinforces your feelings of doing nothing. Networking is a pain, rewriting your resume to fit each job opening is monotonous. Read books that have new ideas. Try something that stretches you; gaining new knowledge is one of the best antidotes to feeling stuck.

Happiness in your career is not as elusive as it might seem. In fact, there is plenty of research to tell you exactly how to find happiness, yet most people ignore the advice. Most people think they are the exception to the rule, but the truth is, you are no different than everyone else, and the research does apply to you.

Here is a short list of things people should do to find happiness in a career, which people generally do not do. This advice is backed by years of research and it is not particularly controversial among the researchers.

1. Observe people. Find the people who look happy to you and do what they do. Don't ask people if they are happy in their career. Most people will tell you they are happy because they have a vested interest in validating their own choices. So decide for yourself who is happy. This means getting to know a bunch of people. Interview them about what their life is like. Watch them at work. Trust your instinct.

2. Put passion before money. Research shows that once you can feed yourself and keep your electricity turned on, more money will not make your happier; no matter how much money someone makes they think they need 20% more to be happy. On top of that, research shows that people who choose careers they are passionate about make more money than people who choose a career for money. So stay away from jobs that won't pay enough for you to eat. But beyond that, choosing a career based on how much money you'll earn is one of the worst decisions you can make.

3. Go to the gym. You will do better in your career if you workout. It's a fact. Maybe it's that working out clears your head for thinking. Maybe it's that if you workout you look better and good looking people make more money. Or maybe it's that people who work out have a lot of self-discipline and that is what it takes to succeed at work, also. Whatever the reason, you are better off spending the last hour of your day at the gym than the office.

4. Have consistent sex. When it comes to happiness, personal relationships have significantly more impact than your job does. The best way to measure if you are maximizing your happiness from social relationships is by looking at your sex life. Research shows that sex once a week with a regular, committed partner will increase your happiness. Consider this research when deciding to move 500 miles away from your partner for a high paying job.

These four pieces of advice are not particularly difficult to follow. You don't have to be a genius. You don't need to live in a particular city. You don't need to have a good body or a good track record. So why are people so unhappy in their jobs? Because they don't follow the advice. Everyone thinks they are special, the exception to the rule, the complicated one for whom statistical research does not apply.

This is where Daniel Gilbert's research becomes important. He is a psychology professor at Harvard who studies happiness and he's noticed that no one takes the advice that research supports. He found that the reason people do not take steps that will make them happy is that they think they do not fit the mold. But he is adamant that people are not exceptional. When it comes to research about how to find happiness, humans are basically the same.

First, it's a logical impossibility that most people are the exception to the rule, yet most people believe they are. Ninety percent of drivers think they are better than average. Most football players think they are better than average. Most people believe they are worse at juggling than the average person. Statistically speaking, almost all these people have to be wrong.

Our perception of peoples' differences is exaggerated because we spend our lives finding differences between people to choose teachers, band mates and spouses. Gilbert recommends you think of grapes: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you, but really a grape is a grape.”

So, the truth is, the odds are overwhelming that you are average, and the things that set you apart are negligible when it comes to research about career happiness. So start running your life according to what people have already discovered works for the average person. Otherwise, the real barrier to your career happiness is you.