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.

I had my baby last week. I'm tired. But not too tired to recognize management issues during labor. There were three management styles among the people who were in the delivery room:

1. The micromanager
That was me, ordering my husband around, even when the contractions were so strong that I couldn't stand up. I'm sure he wanted to tell me to shut up, but no sane man snaps at his wife when she's in labor.

One of the more harsh insurance company rules is that when you are in labor you have to call to get permission to go to the hospital. So my husband started dialing the phone. I said, “You are not going to be on the phone when I'm having the baby. Put down the phone.”

My husband said we wouldn't be covered and we would have the most expensive baby in New York City.

But no one at the insurance company was answering the phone, so I started troubleshooting: “Dial zero. Say you’re a doctor.”

My husband said, “I think I can handle calling the insurance company. You just worry about the baby.”

At some point I stopped harassing my husband, but not by choice, only because the contractions were too strong.

2. The coach
About half way through labor I asked for an epidural. At that point, I was in severe pain. For those of you who have not had an epidural, it is a totally magic infusion of drugs that numbs the body from the insane pain of pregnancy without knocking you out. The epidural is not small peanuts. It’s a shot into the spine. I had to sit very still, while coping with sharp pains, and I had to sign a form that acknowledged the risk of death.

Meanwhile, I was at a teaching hospital, so the attending physician (read: real doctor) was coaching the resident (read: still-learning-to-be-a-doctor doctor). Behind my back, literally, I heard the attending using the Socratic method: “How much are you going to use?” and “Why would you go up there when you already found a spot down here?” This coaching is not what you want to hear when it’s your spine, but I see how it’s preferable to say, me screaming at my husband about how to navigate a phone tree. And, frankly, the attending did a fine job because the pain ended.

3. The trusting, encouraging manager
When its time to actually push the baby out, the doctor finally comes in, ready to go. The doctor and nurse together were watching what looked to be about six machines simultaneously. And they were watching me, and the baby, whose head was visible by now. The doctor was definitely in charge, but she almost never gave orders. There was a clear and strong trust between the doctor and nurse that each person knew what the other was doing and that they were each doing a fine job. There was a calmness and efficiency that I wish I had throughout my life.

Which is what made me think, initially, about management. When I saw the doctor and nurse trusting each other, I trusted them. I didn’t trust the resident, but the attending was so respectful of the resident that I trusted that the attending would guide the resident to a good job.

And then there was me, micromanaging. In hindsight I see that managing someone so closely that they want to strangle you is in fact sign of weakness; because either you are meddling where you needn’t, or you are surrounded by incompetence. In either case, it’s a statement about yourself. Competent people are not surrounded by incompetence. Rather, incompetence attracts incompetence.

I think about that and I think of course my husband can function without me meddling. He is smart and capable. And this is how we should feel about people we work with, too. Or we should wonder why we are attracting incompetence. There is never one crazy person in a marriage and there’s never one crazy worker.

My excuse was that I was in labor. But you probably don’t have such a good excuse. So if you don’t trust the people you work with, ask yourself why. You need to either trust them to do their job, or trust them to improve with respectful coaching. If you can’t do either then adjust their job so that they will succeed. Or else you will not succeed.

Sidenote: It was a boy. We are thrilled.

My brother Erik told me, “When I read one of your headlines that isn’t about me, I don’t read the column.”

I usually think of Erik as a good example of my target audience: He loves the details of business, he’s excited about his career, and he wants to be a billionaire. So for one, stupidity-filled moment, I thought of following my brother’s advice. But you know what? I believe that every column applies to everyone who aspires to be a respected manager and effective leader.

Effective leaders need to understand what life is like for the people around them. And since you can’t live through everyone’s problems, reading about them is your best bet for gaining a broad understanding.

To be honest, I recommend you stop reading this column right now, and start reading the literary canon: Thackery, Hawthorne, Maugham; and throw in some women like Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Woolf; fiction is the best way to understand human nature. But most people don’t have time to work, do their daily life, and read 1000-page novels. On top of that, while you can read this column online, at work, Thackery would be more difficult in your cube.

So, since you depend on furtive, business reading in order to make yourself a better manager, you need to read broadly. That is, read about many different types of career problems in order to understand what your employees and co-workers face.

The best way to motivate people to do what you need them to do is to understand what they want, and approach the task from their perspective. Someone who only reads about their own issues will approach employees from a self-centered, and therefore ineffective perspective.

And don’t decide you can fake it because the only person you’ll be faking out is yourself: You cannot hide disinterest in other people. It shows because you are a bad listener, you have a narrow perspective, and you don’t engage people with your questions.

For those of you who are unemployed, this column applies to you as much as anyone else. You are not going to get your next job out of the want ads because, for the most part, there aren’t any. You are going to get a job from networking. And the best way to network is to learn how to understand people who are different than you so you can make small talk with them: Read broadly about business issues.

For those of you who see yourselves as corporate activists, (and are repulsed at all my advice about fitting in and sucking up,) the first step toward making the corporate world a better place is to understand the varied interests within the system. So read as carefully about the small business owner as you do about the oppressed worker. If you think fitting in and sucking up are the core of the problem, you need to have a very good understanding of the roots of that behavior. (So maybe you should cut out the columns you like the least and study them the most.)

For those of you who are like my brother Erik, congratulations on getting to the bottom of this column. It’s the first step toward a life of broad reading and broad knowledge, which will enable you to be the kind of leader who changes peoples’ lives.

First-time managers are generally nightmares to work for. They are people who got promoted by doing a non-management job well, and in fact they probably have little experience in management. Here are four of the mistakes that will undermine a new manager the fastest.

1. Focusing on tasks instead of people.
Before you were a manager, your number one job was to accomplish tasks. You were someone with skills to get something done. Maybe media buying, or programming, or selling. Now your number one job is to help other people to accomplish the tasks in an outstanding way.

Sure, you’ll have tasks, too. As a manager you’ll have weekly reports, budgets, planning. But your tasks are secondary to helping other people to do their tasks. Your job as manager is to get the best work from the people you manage. The measure of how well you’re doing as a manager is how well each individual on your team performs.

Ideally, you should be able to show each person you manage how to see themselves differently so that they are able to produce at a higher level than they ever imagined. For one person this will mean you need to teach organization skills. For another person, you will help her discover what she loves to do and then set her up doing it for you. Each person wants something, and you need to find out what that is. Then help them get it.

In return, your employees will do great work for you. This level of management is superior to task-management; helping people perform at their best impacts the quality of your team’s work as opposed to just getting the work done.

2. Being slow to transition.
Moving into any new position requires that you get rid of the stuff from your old position. This means delegating. It means getting over the idea that you were indispensable on any of your old teams. You can’t do you new job well if you’re still doing your old job.

Delegating your old job should take three days. You find people who are taking a step up when they accept pieces of your old job so that they are excited. You give them an explanation of how to do it and tell them where to go when they have questions.

You are going to tell me that one day is not enough, that you have a very complicated job. But think of it this way: If you died today, your job would be delegated in a couple of days.

Delegating is not enough, though. You have to stop caring. If you are no longer on a project because you got a promotion, then you have to stop obsessing about how the project is doing.
Remember how quickly the girl who dumped you hooked up with her next-door neighbor? You need to move that fast, too.

3. Forgetting to manage up.
Managing up means steering your team to hit goals that the people above you care about. Figure out what matters to your boss, and your boss’s boss, and make that stuff matter to you, too, because you can only impress your boss with your management skill if you are accomplishing things she cares about.

And be loud about your accomplishments. Set measurable goals for yourself and let people above you know that you’re meeting them.

Do this it right off the bat. People’s perceptions of you as a manager will be made during your very first actions. That saying, “People judge you in the first two minutes they meet you,” is true for management, too. So give people reason right away to think you’re doing a good job.

4. Talking more than listening.
My sister-in-law, Rachel, has been a manager for a while. But she just accepted a position where she is managing three times the number of people she had been managing. Her first step was to go on a sort of listening tour of the organization. She had lunch with people to find out what matters to them, she sat in on groups and even visited some people at home, all in the name of figuring out what matters to whom, and how she should set up goals for herself.

Consider your own listening tour as soon as you start in a new position. After all, there’s no way to figure out what people want without getting them talking. And the most annoying thing about any manager — new or seasoned — is when they just won’t shut up.

I am pregnant. Due on June 21.

The last time I had a baby was not a great moment in the history of gender discrimination in America. For one thing, as soon as I announced I was pregnant, my editor at a business magazine fired me and recommended that I “try writing for women's magazines.”

I also got laid off from my corporate job right before I got pregnant, so I found myself job hunting when I was five months along. No one mentioned the pregnancy in the interviews, (after all, it would be illegal,) but I gave new meaning to “the elephant in the room.” And why, really, would anyone hire a pregnant woman when there surely are other qualified people who would not take maternity leave?

What I learned from that pregnancy was that there is no good time in one's career to get pregnant because there are so many things you cannot control.

But there are some things you can control, and this pregnancy I have tried to do better planning. For one thing, I have set up my life so that I can work at my home while I eat ice cream, and wear maternity pants that look like pajamas. And I thought I was a genius during my book auction when I went from publisher to publisher hiding a three-month pregnancy under a very-hip poncho, selling myself as an author who could get the book written quickly: “By June 1st” I'd say. And the publishers always said, “Great.” No one said, “Why? Are you pregnant?”

I finally told my agent about the pregnancy right before I accepted the winning bid. “I want to make sure I'm not doing anything dishonest by hiding the pregnancy,” I told her.

Before I tell you what my agent said, let me just say that I would never advise anyone to tell a perspective employer about a pregnancy. You are under no legal obligation to disclose this information. And it can only hurt you, so employers are insane to think anyone would disclose until negotiations are done.

That said, more than one woman has written to me that she feels guilty hiding the information. And I have to admit that I had that guilt, too.

But my agent said, “By all means, don't tell anyone yet!” She said, “Congratulations!” and “You have a right to get pregnant and work too!” I loved my agent as much for her reaction to my pregnancy as I did for her selling my book.

Then reality set in. A TV agent wants to represent me, but he can't work with me until I'm not pregnant. He doesn't want to tell me this himself, so my agent tells me.
“In July?” I ask.
“No,” she says, “When you lose the weight.”

I've gained 40 pounds and I'm not even done. And yes, it's my own fault. I admit it. I have not counted a calorie since the second month. But here's my point. Pregnancy is always a problem in a career, no matter where you are, no matter how much you plan.

The best thing I did this time, though, was to get myself into a situation where I would not be fired for being pregnant (yes, it's illegal, but it happens all the time). I also set up my life so that I can take things as slowly as I want to after the pregnancy. (The cost, of course, is that my family is taking a huge financial hit. But at least we have our sanity.)

For those of you who are trying to plan, flexibility is important. The more flexibility you have the better. But it's the kind of thing you have to build into a career way before the day you conceive. Essentially, I have been planning my current pregnancy ever since I got pregnant the first time, three years ago, and saw that starting a plan in the first month is about two years too late.

Pregnancy planning for careerists should begin before you even have a partner, let alone conceive. But most of the women who contact me about pregnancy planning are already pregnant. And to you, I say, the worst thing I ever did was think I could job hunt while I was showing, and the best thing I ever did was buy a poncho.

In the olden days, ten years ago, when I was a dot-com upstart displacing workers twice my age, I could hear people grumble about the workplace behavior of Generation X: We demanded foosball tables, non-hierarchical structure, tons of authority and exciting projects. In exchange, we worked extremely hard and fast, played well in teams, and felt a huge sense of ownership.

There was a generational clash at the office, and I remember thinking, “So what? I am making more than my 50-year-old co-workers and I get to wear jeans to work.” I felt sorry for the people who couldn't teach themselves how to do HTML.

Now I'm getting a dose of my own smugness because a lot has changed in ten years. I am not always the slick up-and-comer in the room with a strikingly new perspective. Sometimes I am just the Gen-Xer bombarded with the extreme optimism and potential of the Millennials. (Another insult: These people used to be called Generation Y, but they don't like to be associated with Gen Xers, so they prefer the term “Millennials.”)

According to Neil Howe, one of the authors of the book, “Millennials Rising,” this newest generation — born from 1975 to 1988 — has never known a recession and has been coddled toward success by overly invested Yuppies and soccer moms. Gen Xers, on the other hand, were latchkey kids, famous for neglect, and left hanging after college in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.

One of my brothers is sixteen years younger than I am, and therefore solidly a Millennial. I used to think all his self-confidence was due to the fact that my mom loves him best. But now I think it also as a result of his generation. He expects to always have work, always have fun, always have success. He works as hard as a Gen Xer, but has none of the cynicism. I used to think the cynicism would come (after all, he *is* my brother), but now I see it's just not part of his makeup.

Here's another snapshot of a Millennial — one I mentor. He got a great job out of college (as did all of his friends.) Then he quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could follow his dream career — acting.

When I moved back in with my parents because I couldn't find a job in a hideous economy, it was so embarrassing that I basically stopped talking to my friends. And my parents, for that matter, since we couldn't get along. But this guy, like most kids of his generation, is happy to go back home. He gets along great with his parents, they want him to succeed at whatever he likes. It's a love fest.

This is what I've been thinking: It's not fair that the Millennials had better timing in history and now have more confidence in the workplace. They are hard to manage because they make me see myself as the Xer I am: Cynical, hedging and a little bit exhausted.

But once I admitted to myself that I was jealous of the Millennials, I was able to see things more clearly. I decided to just adopt their way of thinking. There’s nothing stopping me. I put myself back in the time when I was the lucky upstart. And what really bugged me about the Boomers who watched me take their jobs in the 90s was that I thought they could teach themselves the same stuff that I taught myself: Web programming, interface design, viral marketing. But many Boomers didn't teach themselves — they just lamented the decline of the worth of their skills, and complained about how quickly things moved in the Internet economy.

So I'm going to start thinking like a Millennial: Optimism and self-assurance; believing that I can do anything, can make a difference, can get what I want. I am not sure I can transform myself completely, but it's better to try than to just be jealous. Besides, learning HTML was not all that great because it turned out to be the slave labor of the new economy. So maybe I'll be happy being a Gen Xer with a bit of Millenial, but not all of it.

In the list of what’s hot and what’s not, blowing all your money on an overpriced apartment is out and sleeping on the twin bed at your parents’ house is in. Bobby Jackson is a senior at Williams College who will graduate this June. He will load up a moving container, head back to Washington, D.C. after graduation, and look for a public relations job from the comfort of his parents’ home. Jackson typifies the remarkable shift of inter-generational attitudes when he declares, “I love hanging out with my parents.”

According to market research company Twentysomething Inc., 65% of college seniors expect to live with their parents after graduation. The job web site MonsterTRAK reports that 50% of the class of 2003 continues to live at home. “Boomerangers” is what analysts call the twentysomethings moving back home, and the consensus among researchers (who grew up in an era when moving back was a sign of failure) is that being a boomeranger is a strategically sound way to head toward an independent life.

Neil Howe, author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation says that moving back with parents is a way to avoid wasting a lot of time. According to Howe, when it comes to careers, “Boomerangers want to get it right the first time.” If you don’t have to worry about paying rent, you have more flexibility to wait for the right job and to take a job that feels very right but pays very poorly. The rise of the prestigious but unpaid internship intersects perfectly with the rise of the boomeranger.

Today it’s almost impossible to become self-sufficient on an entry-level salary, especially in coastal cities like Boston, where rents are skyrocketing. Barbara Mitchell, professor of sociology at Simon Fraser University and author of the upcoming book, The Boomerang Age: Transition to Adulthood, says, “Most entry-level jobs won’t be permanent or stable,” so saving money is difficult. Twentysomethings have to manage the costs of rent, college loans and insurance premiums all of which are rising faster than wages.

With these economic factors, it’s hard for a boomeranger to leave again, and according to Mitchell, many underestimate the amount of time they’ll be staying. Jackson, for example, estimates that, “Most entry level jobs pay thirty thousand dollars, so I’ll stay at home for six months and save ten to fifteen thousand.” This plan would work only if he didn’t buy work clothes, go out with friends, or pay taxes — at least not with his own money.

And this is where the problems start. Boomerangers who think their time with mom and dad will last fewer than seven months are statistically delusional, and setting themselves up for emotional crisis. The typical stay is so long that researchers don’t even count someone as a boomeranger until they’ve been home four months.

Elina Furman knows this problem first hand: She ended up living with her family until she was twenty-nine, and she does not describe the time as a constant joy ride. In fact, she says, after the initial thrill of college graduation and the return of home-cooked meals, boomerangers find themselves in the midst of crisis — usually financial or relationship-oriented — and suffering from feelings of isolation and loss of self-esteem.

As a veteran of boomerang life, Furman supplies methods for success in her book, Boomerang Nation: How to Survive Living with Your Parents…the Second Time Around. She recommends making changes to your bedroom so it reflects who you are now. Otherwise, it becomes a “permanent purgatory” of high school trophies and reminders that you are not where you want to be. Also, “Do your own laundry and cook for yourself” because it’s more empowering than reverting to living like a seventeen-year-old. Chapters on financial planning and exit strategies belie other dangerous pitfalls of boomerang life.

And Furman warns, “The stigma is more than people realize.” (Which explains why the only people willing to be interviewed for this column are people who are just starting or have made it out of the house again.) Older generations are often stuck in outdated attitudes about the transition to adulthood, and they ask grating questions like, “You live where? At your age? What’s wrong with you?”

But in fact, moving back home is probably the first step in the post-boomer revolution of the workplace. Expectations for work are higher than ever — it should be fulfilling, fun, and accommodating to a substantial personal life. The logical way to meet such revolutionary expectations is to start out on a revolutionary path. So hold your head high as a boomeranger, but don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink.

Everyone should plan for a change in career. Statistically, you are likely to wish you could change. Financially, you are likely to be too scared to take action, unless you plan for change early, before you want to make a leap.

Today people start working when they are 22 and don't stop until they are 65 or older. It makes sense that the career you pick when you are a 22 will not be appropriate when you are 44. People change. Thank goodness, or else we would get bored being ourselves.

Many people are already aware of this problem: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of American workers don't like their jobs. One look at the Amazon.com business books bestsellers list reveals the biggest career problem — at least for people who buy business books: Fear of changing careers. People get to a certain point in their life, somewhere between 35 and 55, and they want to switch careers, but it's too scary.

No one is immune from the desire to change career — even people who love their job. Maybe your heath will dictate change, maybe relocating for a spouse will. If you're still feeling smug that you will never stop loving your job, remember that the divorce rate is 50% and those people felt love at first, too.

So part of everyone's planning should entail leaving doors open for career change. And the biggest barrier to career change is money.

When you have worked in one field for a while, you become an expert, and your salary reflects that. When you want to change careers, you will likely take a cut in salary. Fine for someone who is in their twenties. But for a 35-year-old, who has kids and a mortgage, almost any salary cut is terrifying.

You need to do something to ensure that you are not terrified. Otherwise, career change will be out of the question. For most people this preparation means living way below your earning power starting immediately.

Phyllis Moen, professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that one of the most common barriers to changing career paths is having to pay a hefty mortgage. She says, “The one thing that people seem to equate with adulthood is buying a house. This is true for single people, too. In the past – for Boomer generation especially — advice was to buy the best house you can afford. But now it's an albatross.”

Another career trap is a job that entails very bad conditions for what people tell you will be only a limited period of time — associates at law firms, medical residents, consultants who travel nonstop are all examples of this sort of position. Be careful planning for the future by telling yourself you're “paying dues” now for more fulfillment down the road. If you pay dues for too long then switching careers means, in a way, paying dues for nothing, which is a large psychic cost to come to terms with.

Many people in very lucrative fields say: “I am going to earn so much money that I can save enough to switch careers.” This may be true, if you don't want to switch careers too early, and if you are realistic about how much money you have to save. However this level of self-discipline is rare; Richard Easterlin, professor of Economics at University of Southern California finds in his research that people are hard-wired to always want more money. For most people, saying, “I could live on a lot less money and be fine,” is like saying, “I could stop drinking any time I want.” Theoretically it should be easy, but in practice, it's not. So start doing it immediately to make sure you can.

The Baby Boomers had midlife crises because they were so frequently trapped in careers that felt wrong. The next generation has a chance to be visionaries with their careers so as to not repeat the Boomers' mistakes. Hopefully, twenty years from now, the bestsellers list on Amazon.om will be filled with books about a new career problem — one we could not have foreseen.

My husband is probably about to be laid off. It's a touchy topic, though, and he is not very chatty about it, so I am left to guess. What he has told me is that that his company is out of money, but the CEO thinks she might be able to drum up more funds before the coffers run dry. May 31 is the big day.

He works at a nonprofit that receives money from the government to study prison reform. The more I hear that state governments are running dangerously high budget deficits, the more I think layoffs are certain.

But it's too depressing for the CEO to say, “There's nothing to do this month so everyone bring a book to work.” So she hands out busy work as if it is essential. My husband's task didn't even last a full week. So he used the Internet to dig up the 6,000-page state budget and he combs the pages for information about prison funding. Meanwhile, his coworker received the ironic task of researching how prisons keep inmates busy.

Between us, my husband and I have been laid off six times in four years. At this point, we have a lay off routine. First, we start saving. We get our credit card balances down to nothing and we each pick a few budget items that we can cut out. (For a start, I am cutting out yoga classes. He is cutting out lunches at Burger King.)

Then we go to doctor's appointments in preparation for the cheap (crappy) health insurance we will purchase when COBRA will be too expensive to maintain, (at one point in our lay off lives, our COBRA payments were about $1000 a month.)

There are workplace preparations, also. Cleaning out one's desk is important. My husband did not take home everything, but he left only as much at the office as he could carry home in one, smooth moment of departure. Other things, he took home earlier — like copies of all the stuff on the server that he might need for future reference.

When his boss is out on the office looking for funding, my husband works on his resume. When his boss is in the office, my husband makes sure to look busy. And motivated. Just because things are slow now doesn't mean they can't pick up. And if, by some miracle, the boss gets funding, my husband wants to be remembered as a person who stayed loyal to the company even in bad times. Working diligently in the face of cutbacks is a sign of loyalty.

Even if there are layoffs, looking loyal can only help. The boss will be a good reference, and she might even give my husband some ideas for other places to work. So my husband left some key items in his cube — a plant, a penholder, some CDs we don't listen to — things that scream I'm here to stay, even if he doesn't believe it. Layoffs are never so close that you can stop managing what other people think you.

I have stopped asking is there's any news about the layoff. Clearly, it's annoying to him to have to tell me no each evening. And I don't ask about job hunt news because I want him to see that I'm sympathetic to the fact that jobs are scarce right now. So we talk about non-career topics over budget-pasta suppers, and life goes on in our household, through another round of layoffs.

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