Recently I read about a company which has three full-timers whose only job is to make employee life fun. They plan outings, parties, raffles, all reportedly in an effort to “stave off headhunters” and to keep engineers working “12- 15 hours days.” Here is a little note to the hundreds of employees at this company:

HELLO OUT THERE? Are you people morons? Why are you at a company that consumes all your free time with work and then, as a bonus, sucks up the only hours you have left to sleep and shower? This is not an office with perks. This is serfdom. This is paternalism. This is the organization man of the new millennium.

If you're at a company like this one, you need to get a life. The only people who are willing to work at this kind of place have no life outside of work. If you have friends who are not at the company, they are probably no longer your friends. If you have a family and you work at a company like this, you will get what you deserve: Kids who have no relationship with you.

And do not, I repeat, do not tell me that you have to work at a place like this because of the incredible projects you get to work on. People who are truly talented do not have to suffer draconian hours and insulting “perks” in order to get on good projects. In fact, you can bet that the people who are amazing at their job, are smart enough to live a life outside of their job.

So check this out: You are surrounded by sub-par workers when you work at a place that does not respect employees' personal lives because only sub-par workers put up with that.

Here's another thing some of you will tell me: You have to “pay dues” in your profession. But you know what? That's an excuse you use for having someone else take care of your career path. Sure, you can play the law firm or consulting firm game, and put in huge number of hours just because the rule is that you put in huge number of hours to get to the next level. But you don't need to do that.

You can make your own path, which is not so far fetched if you are good at what you do. You can freelance, you can work at a small firm, you can intern for someone who will mentor you, or you can become an entrepreneur. The demographic starting businesses at the fastest rate is 18-34. Now you know why.

My brother, Erik, is at an investment banking firm at the grunt level. He has been working twenty-hour days without anyone batting an eye. When he looks above himself in the ranks, it doesn't seem to get better. People don't have a lot of control over their workloads, or the timing of their work, and people don't seem particularly happy. So he's leaving the bank for a smaller firm where people have lives.

And this is why: Because the smartest people in the world are in a position where they have control over their work and room to grow a personal life. It's a fact. You might say, “But they paid their dues.” To this I say, Who cares? It's a new world out there, and there's no reason for you to have to pay dues just because the generations before you were not creative or independent enough when they thought about their careers.

And wait. Everyone who is about to send mail to me about how “young people need to learn to work hard” think about this: There are many ways to work hard. Thinking rigorously, and putting one's heart into a job are different than working long hours. In fact, I'd say of those three ways to work hard, long hours is the biggest cop-out.

So work with your heart and your mind, and make sure you have time to use both of those in your personal life, too.

Here is a message for people who say they can't stomach office politics: You will die a slow, painful career death. This is because there's no getting around office politics, and mastering them is essential to being able to steer your own career. Don't take that as bad news, though, because mastering office politics is good for your soul. Really.
Office politics is inescapable because it's about dealing with the people. When there is a group of people — anywhere, even on the playground — there is politics.

Let’s say you pack up your bags and go work in a national park, with trees and rivers and no cubicles. There will be politics about who has to take care of hikers when it’s raining and who gets to stay dry, and if you are bad at politics, you will be wet every time.

Politics is part of society. And my guess is that you want to participate in society (at least) so that you can support yourself. But people who are good at politics are generally empathetic (they understand who needs what) and they have good self-discipline (they can moderate themselves so they are pleasant to be with.)

Most people who hate politics think they have to change who they are to succeed. Really, though, anyone who is being their best self — kind, considerate, expressive, interested in others — will do fine in office politics.
So get to know yourself. Saying you just can’t do politics is giving up on being your best self.

And wait, there's more good news about office politics. If you really take a look at what's going on over there at the water cooler, people are not jockeying for power, they are hobnobing for projects. That's right. For most people in today's workplace, office politics is about getting the best opportunities to learn and grow; the best projects, the best training, the assignments that build skills the market values.

Office chatter with the vapid goal of getting power over other people is, frankly, a little offensive. But it is hard to fault people for wanting to grow and learn. In fact, I find more fault with people who care so little about personal growth that they won't spend the extra energy politiking to get themselves on good projects.

Maybe you are convinced, but you are feeling at a loss to get started. Here are relatively simple things that people who are good at office politics do:

1. Make time for it — both in terms of face time, and time alone to analyze the face time.
2. Listen. How can you learn anything when you're talking about what you already know?

Here are realtively difficult things that people who are good at office politics do:

1. Have genuine interest in other people. Each person is interesting if you are interseted enough to ask the right question.
2. Feel empathy. This means putting yourself in other peoples'shoes all the time. And not judging them.

Maybe you're still thinking of being the person at the office who abstains from office politics. Realize that you won't last long — in the office, that is. Putting your head down and doing your work is a good way to ensure that you don't connect with anyone. This situation is deadly in a world where people are hired for what they know and fired for who they are. People need to get to know you in order to like you.

The act of making yourself likeable is office politiking. You shouldn't have to be fake if you are a geniuinely nice and interested person. If office politics requires you to do soething that feels fake, consider that you were not likeable in the first place. For you, office politics is training ground to teach yourself to be likeable, and, as a side benefit, you will save your job. For others, office politics is the time at work when you get to be your best, true, self in search of more learning opportunities and more human connections.

Periodically, a college student sends an email to me asking if he or she can interview me for a term paper. I always say yes, and I always learn something about my work by answering student questions about my career.

Invariably, within the list of questions, there's a stumper. This week, the stumper was, “How do you spend a typical day as a journalist?”

I started to answer the question. But every time I started to write an answer, what I wrote sounded terrible. The truth is that I never set out to be a journalist, so I have never been particularly organized about my typical day.

I was a marketing executive who happened to have landed a column. The pay for the column was paltry compared to my corporate salary, and consequently, I devoted a paltry amount of time to the column —writing it during a sales meeting, on my way to an office picnic, or at my in-laws' home in between shopping and dinner.

Part of the reason for my cavalier attitude toward making time for the column is that initially I did not understand that having a nationally distributed column is a big deal; I was in a business where a big deal equaled a big paycheck. But after I left corporate life for a writer's life, I started to understand how lucky I was. So you'd think, after three years of writing full-time I'd have developed good work habits as a writer, but I haven't.

This is surprising to me because in my corporate life I had very good work habits. As I was climbing the corporate ladder, it became clear that you can only move up as fast as you can adjust your work habits to the next rung. For example, the move into management means you have to learn to finish your own work in a way that leaves room for you to help other people with their work. You have to restructure your workday to make other people a priority.

There were times when I distinctly remember changing my workday in order to accommodate a new position. For example, my boss told me that if I could offload all of my responsibilities as a marketing and software production manager, then I could take seed money from the company and start my own company. I realized that the faster I could reorganize my workload and delegate, the faster I could move on with my career. So I did that. Within weeks, and astounded even my boss with my speed.

Achieving long-term goals and tactical plans all depends on work habits. You need to devote time to getting short-term projects done, to managing long-term projects, and to thinking both strategically and creatively.

Each time I've wanted to make headway in my career the fastest path has been by changing how I spend my days; if nothing else, how you organize your days is one of the few things most people can really control.

Which brings me back to explaining to the college student about my work habits. It was untenable to have to confess to her how I was working. I was such a bad role model because in terms of organizing my day, I still treated my writing career like it's a sideshow.

I could accomplish so much more if I would get more organized. So I worked backwards. I said to myself, what kind of answer would I expect from a successful career columnist as to how she manages her days to make her career bloom?

I think it would look like time slots:
Writing email
Working on projects with deadlines
Thinking about long-term projects

Once I started having days like this, there was immediate change — I accomplished more than usual and the work was higher quality because my days were organized around particular long and short-term goals.

I ended up confessing to the student that I started with sloppy work habits. But I told her that I was reforming myself. I told her about my carefully scheduled days and strategically organized weeks. Then I sat down to write this column, which I now have a special time each week to write. And I was just a little bit more calm than usual because having a detailed work plan in hand makes me feel like I really am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

I am not featured in my high school yearbook as person most likely to be giving career advice. In fact, people were probably thinking, as they signed my yearbook, that I was the person most likely to never even find a career. This is because I have had bouts with mental illness since I was a teenager.

So I am enraged at Tom Cruise's crusade against effective treatments for depression. Depression is serious: Fifteen percent of clinically depressed people die by suicide. If you are depressed you need to get medical help immediately.

The World Health Organization ranks depression as the fourth most common disease (after lower respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and conditions arising in the perinatal period.) Research from Yale University showed that 70% of people who saw a doctor for depression were successfully treated.

Unfortunately, most people who are depressed do not seek help. Probably because the world is full of lunatics like Tom Cruise who belittle the illness and its treatments.

Statistically speaking, depression is a workplace issue: One in five working women suffers from depression. It is twice as common in women than in men, and among women, high intelligence is a risk factor for depression. So I am probably not the only woman you know who has been depressed.

Depression at work feels like depression anywhere else: A wave of hopelessness overcomes you and you have no idea why it's there or what to do to get rid of it. But if you are working, it's more likely to happen at your desk. If you have a door on your office, you lock it. If you have an opportunity to “work from home”, you announce you're taking it. These are tactics I have used. But believe me, they don't work for very long.

I never realized how optimistic getting out of bed was until I had depression. Getting out of bed is an act of hope — that there is something to look forward to in life. When depression came, hope and faith left. For no apparent reason.

Depression was immobilizing, and when I was depressed I spent most of my time at work covering up my inability to get anything done. For a while, people assumed I was taking care of things because I was a person who always took care of things.

But it's hard to hide depression at work. I started looking weird. People noticed, for example, that I couldn't have a conversation about anything because conversation requires interest and depression made me uninterested in everything. Everyone has an off day during an important lunch. But you can't have too many of those.

If career success is about building a strong, competent image of yourself over the course of time, then depression is the antithesis — it destroys your image relatively fast. People started to wonder who I really was. And so did I. I couldn't make decisions, I couldn't keep a schedule, I was not reliable and no one knew why.

Depression made me hide. I was not a mom or a wife when I was depressed, so hiding was relatively easy. The only people who needed me on a day-to-day basis were my teammates at work. So the office was my barometer for how much I was falling apart. I went to a psychiatrist because I didn't want to lose my job. In my depressed mind, I felt that if I destroyed my career, the feelings of hopelessness would kill me.

When friends ask me, “How can you write a career column? How can you care THAT much about work?” I remind them how my work saved me. Work has been a mirror reflecting myself back to me, and my career has been the thing I ultimately sought to save by getting medical help for mental illness.

So for goodness sake, don't listen to Tom Cruise: Listen to yourself. Depression is a common, treatable illness. If you think you might have it, get medical help now.

And keep an eye on your coworkers. Someone in your office is depressed. He or she might be hiding from friends and family, but it's much harder to hide from work. Don't be afraid to recommend that person gets help — stepping up at work to say what you see just might save a life.