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.

Wouldn't it be nice if recruiters called you regularly to see if you're interested in interviewing for one of their jobs? Here are some steps you can take to make that fantasy come true:

1. Get a high profile in your industry.
Speak at conferences. You might not get paid in cash, but you'll be noticed. And because you won't get paid, landing a spot on a panel is actually not that difficult. Speakers get noticed not only by conference junkies, but also by the press (a fine line, really). And the best way to get your name in the news is by saying something intelligent and elucidating to someone who can quote you.

Also, if you can afford it, hire a public relations professional. I got the idea for this column from a press release (generated by a public relations specialist) sent to me in the form of an article by David Theobald, CEO of Netshare. Who knows if he really wrote it (I doubt it since writers are cheap and CEOs aren't.) But he does have good ideas. And look, it worked. Now you know his name and might check out his company.

2. Send a resume recruiters can use.
Become a specialist. I once met a recruiter for lunch. She spent the whole meal finding out about me, and then she said, “You need to say what you are up front. Generalists don't help recruiters.” I did not take her advice. At the time, I was scared to specialize — I thought I'd miss opportunities.

But research shows that after five or six years, you will move faster in your career if you establish yourself as a specialist. This makes sense, because a recruiter has to sell you to her client in one sentence, for example, General Motors guy who is a management star, or advertising genius who can take a brand to the top.

Also, create a keyword-friendly resume. No one wants to imagine that their career is dependent on some computer plucking them out of a black hole. But the reality is that recruiters manage large piles of quality resumes with keyword searches. So write a resume that includes the keywords you want to be identified by.

3. Say the right thing.
You never know where you are going to meet a recruiter. Maybe you'll sit next to one on an airplane, or maybe you'll get a phone call in the middle of your busiest day at work. You have to be ready to talk at any time.

So have a pitch about yourself ready to go, and focus on accomplishments. When a recruiter asks, “What have you been doing?” he is sniffing around for star performers, not just people who get their job done. So don't bore the recruiter by listing job duties. (Many people say they cannot do this because the recruiter needs background to understand the accomplishment. This is not true. Everyone understands raised revenues, saved time, and decreased costs. Lead with one of those phrases, and if the way you did the task is a little obscure, you'll still get your point across. Don't bother clarifying details that don't matter.)

Also, be prepared to talk about what you're looking for in your next step. If you can't answer that question, a recruiter can't determine if you're a good fit.

After all this, you're probably wondering what Mr. Theobald has to say. Here's an example: Have a good voice message. “You have only one opportunity to make a first impression, and everyone thinks that’s eyeball to eyeball, but it’s more likely to be on the phone. Be sure the tone and message on your answering machine is upbeat and professional.”

Here is my second annual list of things I hate. However, it seems to have morphed into a list of types of people I hate. But this seems fair; no one's animosity should be limited to inanimate objects.

1. Perfectionists.
These are people who have lost perspective and get nothing done.

Of course, you can guess that I am not a perfectionist. In fact, I am a person who painted my own walls and didn't paint near the windows because I didn't want to do the detail work. I am a person who accidentally addresses the envelope upside down and doesn't get a new envelope.

But there is good that comes out of a lack of perfection: I can set a lot of goals for myself because I get them done.

Let me just cut to the chase:
Perfectionists procrastinate because they are scared of not being perfect.
Perfectionists are hypercritical to the point that they cannot support people around them.
Perfectionists can’t finish a project because they can always think of a way to improve it.
Perfectionists are phony because no one is perfect but they can’t handle showing that in themselves.

2. People with messy desks.
I didn't used to hate people with messy desks. I used to just feel sorry for them. Now I have disdain, because after I wrote a column about the University of Texas study that showed that people with messy desks are not creative, all the messy desk people wrote to me. I realized, from the onslaught of mail, that people with messy desks don't think they have a problem. They are in denial. I wrote about a study. They argued with me. They did not do a study. They told me they are proof that the study is wrong. The emails were so disingenuous and defensive that they actually caused me to have less respect for people with messy desks.

3. People who complain their job is not creative.
It's not your job, it's you. Creative people bring creativity to everything they do, no matter what. It is inside them and no job can stifle it. Some people are driven to do art and will do it no matter what their job is: Think Kafka holding down a job as an insurance company drone. But creativity is not just art, it's also problem solving. If you are good at your job you are undoubtedly creative because any form of success requires some sort of creative problem solving.

4. People who think their problems are unique.
Women in finance who think they are the only ones who suffer sex discrimination. People in government who think they have a corner on bitching abut bureaucracy. Teachers who think they are the only people who have to be “on” all day long. If you have ever told people that your job is especially taxing for one reason or another, you are lame. Your job is not special; all jobs are hard for people who have a hard time doing a job. If you can't cope with sex discrimination in your job, you couldn't cope with it in someone else's job, either. If you can't cope with high standards in your job, you wouldn't meet anyone's high standards. Stop thinking your circumstances are unique. I can't think of one situation where that sort of thinking will help further your career.

5. Grammar mavens.
As a person who is not a sticklers for detail, I tire of people who call out a grammar error like they are a second-grade overachiever who will never get picked in kickball.

But, any list of hated things would not be honest unless the author admits that we only hate the things that somehow remind us of ourselves. So, now that I've admitted that, I will tell you my grammar pet peeve: You should not, ever, in any situation in the whole world, say, “and myself” in the workplace. Use “and me” or “and I” instead. The only way to correctly use “and myself” is if you are doing something directly to someone else and to yourself, so it is a grammatical construction that is basically appropriate for nothing except pornography.

I am on a campaign to make my husband a stay-at-home parent. I am convinced that this is a precondition for me having a huge career, but also, it's a precondition for the sanity of our family.

After a generation of two-income families, there is little anecdotal evidence to show that a family can survive with two spouses in high-powered, time demanding careers with children at home. Invariably, one spouse takes a slower career path in order to support the children and high-powered spouse in their endeavors.

Before I launch into the intricacies of my own family, here are some facts that will affect your family, too:

1. There is no equality in taking care of kids. Even if there is a full-time nanny, one parent feels the majority of the burden on sick days, parent-teacher conferences, Halloween and soccer games.

2. Among highly educated women with children, 43 percent have left the workforce voluntarily during their first eight years.

3. Most women at the very top of the corporate ladder are not the primary caretakers of children. The women either have no children or have a husband taking care of the kids.

4. Women who are parents are held to significantly higher standards at work than women and men who are childless and men who are parents.

5. Women and men have parity in pay until they have children. Then women who are parents earn less money for doing the same job that men who are parents do.

So look, I don't mean to be a buzz-kill on the feminist revolution, but more like a reality check: If you want kids, don't marry a lawyer who is going to work 16-hour days if you want to work 16 hours a day, too.

Lately, I have been experiencing these statistics first hand. I am the primary caretaker of our son, I handle all household things ranging from moving the 401K to buying nieces birthday presents, and on top of that, I earn as much as my husband does. When I tell him I'm doing too much, he says, “You're right. So stop doing so much.” And he proceeds to tell me why things that I see as essential — like getting a set of keys to the babysitter — do not need to be done.

So when my husband's job ended, I told him I didn't want him to get another office job. He was shocked. I explained to him, over about ten hours of heated discussion, that I couldn't keep doing everything without help from him at home. I tried to put it in terms he'd understand: Our bedroom heater had been off for more than half the winter because no one could stay home for a whole day to accommodate the parade of specialists who needed to come to our apartment to fix it.

Then I put it in harsher terms: I have very high earning power and which I cannot realize if he does not stay home to facilitate it. “You do not have high earning power,” I told him, as gently as I could, which surely was not. I spewed statistics to him, and I told him my conclusion that one person needs to be on the not-fast-track and I don't want it to be me.

So, okay, he's agreed, on some level, to give up the idea of a full-time job outside the home. It should be a victory for me, but it does not feel that way. My husband has the same problem that all people who stay home have: It's often boring, and always much harder than going to an office. And there are few rewarding job opportunities for people whose first job is to maintain a home.

Additionally, I have spoken to a few women who have a stay-at-home husband they say it is hell for the men socially. This news should not come as a surprise because most high-powered women who have men at home taking care of their kids will not talk about it on record in order to protect their husband's ego.

In fact, we have already experienced the social problems. When we tell people my husband is going to stay home, people say, “And do what? He can't just stay home.”

On the other hand, when I tell people that my husband has decided to stay home and I'll be the one working, people raise their eyebrows, and they talk to me differently. They take me more seriously. It shouldn't be that way, but since it is, I'm glad I found a husband who is willing to try staying home. I can't tell you that he's going to be happy. But I'm happy that we're giving it a try.

Career success depends on how you cope with failure. Whether it's a big failure or a small one — you must be able to bounce back. Much of the grand success in life comes from grand opportunity, and you don't find that opportunity unless you keep looking. People who are easily discouraged get fewer opportunities.

But how does one become good at failing? How do you bounce back quickly? Martha Stewart provides some good lessons in this area. Because whether or not you think she should have gone to prison, you have to admit that prison does not seem to have gotten her down. When it comes to scope of failure, most of us would have crumbled way before we got to prison. So take a look at the steps she took to ensure she would bounce back, and use them to create your own career resilience.

Of course, it's easier to have resilience when you have millions of dollars. But Martha made four tactical moves that you can do yourself, even on your relatively penurious budget.

Use your network as a safety net.
Networking isn't only for a job hunt. It's also for failure, which tends to make you feel alone, even if others fail with you. A circle of your own informal advisors and supporters can make you feel less isolated and help you to bounce back faster. You need a range of friends when you fail. Sometimes you need a lawyer, sometimes you need someone to hang out at a bar all night with you. When you are failing, and you think the damage is irrevocable, your network will help you get perspective.

And don't forget your family — the people who are usually last to abandon you when you do something stupid. During Martha's ordeal she was dependent on her daughter, Alexis. Alexis showed up for court every day, as is customary for families of the rich-and-famous-and-accused. But Alexis also visited Martha in prison and served as her mouthpiece to the media. (“Martha is fine. She is eating out of vending machines.”) Martha shows us that we are never too important to need family in our network.

Fail fast.
Once you see things spiraling downward, face reality quickly and get out. The faster you fail the faster you can move on to the next thing. Denial can derail you. Don't continue to try to fix the unfixable because you can't face the fact that you failed. Martha had the benefit of many paid advisors to help her out of denial. Though you will have to depend on unpaid friends who may not be experts, listen to them to gain some perspective on how deep a hole you're in. It's always easier to see someone else's trouble than your own.

Once you see recognize big trouble, focus on speed. Martha could have dragged the court battle out even longer. She could have stayed out of prison while she appealed. But for the public, the drama will be over when Martha leaves prison, so she went in quickly.

Don't hide.
Failure is loud. If it weren't no one would have to admit to failing. So once it's obvious, face the crowd and show that you can handle it. The most interesting failures are when people completely fall apart. If someone looks resilient, and not likely to fold, failure is not as interesting to watch. That's what you want: Such flair for failing that no one pays attention.

As soon as Martha left prison, she took steps to show the public that she was her same old Martha self- and maybe a little bit better. She took a chartered jet home wearing fashionable clothes. She strolled the grounds of her home feeding her horse and serving drinks to the media circus surrounding her home. She also took questions from reporters, which is brave thing to do in a situation when most people would be too embarrassed.

Frame failure for yourself.
Failure is subjective. You can frame failure as career killing, but you gain nothing from this outlook. A better decision is to frame failure as a learning opportunity. Martha announced that she's a better person after her time in prison. Most of us, in fact, are better people from our failures, but if you don't frame it that way to yourself, you lose the opportunity to consciously put the learning to use.

In general, I'm not a big fan of waiting. So here is advice on how to wait from someone who does it only rarely. But I have found that the art of waiting is to do it actively. The more action you can take the more you feel like you're in control of your life.

How to wait for a raise
Most companies have a designated time to dole out raises. So when you decide you deserve more money, you probably have to a wait for your big moment. In the meantime, constantly remind your boss about the good job you are doing, and subtly prepare her with all the supporting material she will need to justify your raise to her superiors. This means documenting as you go, with an email that is easy to add to your yearly review as evidence of outstanding performance. Also, do research about salaries in your field. If the raise comes in low, whip out these statistics to show your value in the market.

How to wait for a job you love
Many people know they are not happy but don't know what would make them happy. The only way to figure out your dream job is to try doing a lot of things. You don't have to change jobs to try something new — you can volunteer, travel, interview people who are in fields you think might make you happy. People who know themselves well can pinpoint the job that would make them happy. So give yourself opportunities to learn about yourself. And think of your career like a mate — you are better off actively looking that waiting for one to magically appear in front of you.

How to wait for an offer
Here's a common scenario: You just interviewed for a job, and you think everyone loved you, and you think you're a perfect fit. So you sit by your phone hoping for a call. This is not a good way to wait. A better way to wait is to step up the job hunting. If you can get another interview during your waiting time you will not be so desperate for the phone call. If you can drum up another job offer during your waiting time, be sure to tell everyone, because you will be more appealing to the employer you really want.

How to wait for a meeting
If you don't know the person you are meeting, assume each person who goes through the lobby is your person. Look occupied and thoughtful but not busy, and be ready to stand up and shake hands. This means, for example, that you cannot have a stack of waiting room magazines on your lap. One is fine. The same is true if it's a meeting with your co-workers and you're the first person there — try writing on a notepad, or checking your Blackberry. Don't stare into space. Not that staring into space isn't productive, but it's like sex, just because it is good for you doesn't mean you look good doing it.

How to wait for a better boss
Assume your boss is never leaving, and change your boss by changing yourself. Become better at managing up. Key factors in being good at this task are: understanding your boss' fears so that you don't play into them; understanding your boss's preferences so you can be easy to deal with; understanding your boss's goals so you can help her to meet them. Difficult bosses are usually scared and overwhelmed. Develop better people skills so you can sooth her worries where possible, and ignore her the rest of the time, so she doesn't derail your career.

How to wait for a better opportunity
Forget it. Create your own opportunities. You can only find opportunity behind a door if you knock. So, knock on a lot of doors — you have no time for waiting.

The majority of people who fail at their job will fail in the first 90 days. So take special care to make a good start. Here are areas you need to manage carefully.

1. Assume everything in the interview was wrong.

Don't come to work with a preconception of your job description. You'll be disappointed at best and annoying at worst.

During the interview process, a hiring manager tells you a job description that will make you want to take the job. The description is not likely to be an accurate summary of what your boss really wants you to do. After all, no one says in an interview, “You'll have to pick up pieces when my disorganization gets our team into trouble,” or “As a newcomer, you will take the projects no one else wants, which may or may not be relevant to your interests.”

Also, during your initial meeting, you probably asked your perspective boss about his management style. The answer he gave was really the management style he thinks she *should* be using.

People do not generally say what they want. (This is so true that focus groups have to be run in a way that consumers are not asked directly what they want because they say the wrong thing.) So watch your boss, read nonverbal cues, and understand what is motivating him. Once you really truly understand your boss you will be able to constantly adjust what you’re doing in order to meet his or her needs.

2. Get your goals in writing. And meet them.

Find out what your boss wants you to accomplish in the first 90 days. You need to know how you will be judged during this crucial time. Initiating this discussion shows that you are goal oriented and you want to be part of your boss's agenda. Ask for detailed descriptions and quantified expectations and get them in writing. Even if your boss does not create an official document, do it yourself, in an email — an informal summary of the conversation, but in your mind, treat this as a formal agreement.

Of courses, you must meet these goals, but forget about the phrase “hit the ground running” because you'll slip and fall. If you are running have no time to double check where they're going, and there's no time to make sure you are moving similarly to everyone else. Pace yourself for the first few months so you have a chance to learn how the company operates.

3. Manage your image.

Here are questions you'll hear every day for your first three months: Where were you before this company? How did you get into this business? Where are you from? These are general, fishing-for-information questions. It is an opportunity for you to package yourself to your coworkers.

So get your spiel ready. Only a few people interviewed you; most people in the company know very little about you. Have a short, snappy answer for general, tell-me-about-yourself questions. People are going to make judgments that stick, based on this seemingly casual conversation. So prepare in advance.

Everyone will make a snap judgment about you — this is how people operate. Even good people. We can't help it. If you're lucky, they'll ask you a question. But most people will just take a look. So you have no ramp-up time when it comes to image. You have to look right on the first day. Dress like the other people at your level in the company. Set up your desk to present a crisp, organized image from day one. This means not barren but nothing cutesy.

Your desk and clothes are an expression of your competence, not your personality. Express your true personality at home, with your friends who are not evaluating you during the next 90 days.

People should perceive you as a listener. Ask questions, observe carefully, and meet as many people as you can. Instead of spouting off about how great you are, which only serves to show people that you are insecure, try listening to people, which makes them feel important, and consequently they will like you more. And in those first 90 days, who likes you is what will matter the most.

In case you've never noticed, I rarely interview anyone for this column. Most of my sources are family and unsuspecting friends who complain that I make everyone look bad. But it is not true. It is true that they THINK I make them look bad, but in fact, I could rip them apart in my column, and I do not, in the spirit of being invited back for Thanksgiving and Birthdays.

Recently, I have taken up columnist tasks that require me to interview strangers. And, like the courtesy I give to my family, I do not trash the people I interview. But I am at my breaking point. Some people are so incredibly stupid about their career that I actually struggle to make them seem intelligent during the interview.

So here are two interviews from smart people who are career idiots. (But first, a caveat: I am making the people anonymous. Many readers generously send stories from the field. And really, I love to hear from readers. I learn a lot. So you should know that if I think you're an idiot and decide to write about it, I will at least disguise your identity.)

Career idiot number one: The Apprentice. Not all of them. Just the unlucky one I interviewed. He really did not have a career, which was, undoubtedly, the cause of his ridiculous antics on the TV show that eventually got him fired. But he decided to make a career out of getting fired by becoming a public speaker.

Here are things you need to become a public speaker:
1. Something to say. This guy had nothing. Except to tell me that he was available for speaking.
2. You need an ability to answer questions from the press so that your name gets in the paper and people recognize you and hire you as a speaker. He did not answer my questions, which were all softballs. And he even asked to see the notes I was writing so he could edit them. I laughed.

The lesson from this career idiot is that if you must be a poser, pose carefully. When you first start being something new, (for him, a public speaker) you need to pretend you are that person so people hire you as that person. But do some research before you start pretending. At least learn the basics of how to conduct yourself, and what people will ask of you.

Career idiot number two: The painter whose identity I probably don't even need to hide because you don't know him because he's never sold a painting.

He makes a lot of money as VP of Something Big at his tech company and he gave notice six months before his wife quit work to have a baby. He is starting a career as a painter. He has no idea how to get his art to the market, or how many pieces he'll have to sell to support his family. But he says he has to be true to himself, and painting is his dream.

He says he feels trapped at his current job. This is the picture he paints of trapped: He wanted to move across country, so his large and generous company let him set up remote office in his new home. He hates the long hours of his lucrative job, and his company would let him go part time, but he doesn't ask for that because he doesn't want to like his job. He fears that if he liked his job he wouldn't quit to do his art.

Here is the lesson from career idiot number two: Take a big-picture look at what you have. It might be a lot better than you realize. Remember the first time you woke up next to the love of your life, and up close, in the morning, their face looked splotched and scruffy and gross? Well jobs are like people; they never look great up close so you need to pay attention to the big picture. This guy's big picture is that he has a great job for supporting his new family and painting on the side, and if he's really an artistic genius then he can make a bundle painting and quit his job.

I hate to be a buzz kill here. I'm not saying that I don't like dreamers. I do. I like people who reach for careers that are fulfilling but difficult. But just because the odds of success are low doesn't mean you have to make them lower with poor planning.