The way to keep a New Year’s resolution is to pick a good goal and then overhaul your life to in order to meet it. Duh.

But some of you are saying, hold it, my goal isn’t big enough to require an overhaul of my life. Maybe your goal is to, say, clean out your closet. But look, this is not material for a New Year’s resolution. This requires you to cross a day out on your calendar and tell yourself that’s your closet day. Done.

Do you know why most people don’t keep their New Years’ resolutions? Because the resolutions are terrible. The hardest part of a New Year’s resolution is choosing one, not keeping it.

Most resolutions are goals to change our behavior: Stop smoking, stop eating crap, stop being late. This is not a small change. This is a change that requires a massive overhaul of our daily life – hour by hour.

Most of you are saying that you can’t afford to overhaul your whole life to meet your goal. You have a job, you have kids, you have friends who would think you have lost your mind. But you know what? If the goals you set are not worth overhauling your life for, then ask yourself why not?

Pick only one
We can each meet one or two big goals a year. We can’t change a lot of bad behavior – the more resolutions we make the less likely we are to keep them, according to Roy Baumeister, psychologist at Florida State University. But we can change one. Pick the one that’ll mean the most to you. And, you will be pleasantly surprised to find out that changing one habit actually requires so many small changes in your day that you also end up being able to change other habits, because the patterns of your life change.

A goal is creative, not analytic
I think a lot of the time we don’t let ourselves see what we really want. Maybe because it seems too hard to get. Often we don’t let ourselves really see ourselves living the life we want, and I think this is a failure of imagination.

To that end, I love this art exhibit (not safe at work) by Alison Jackson because it is a bunch of photos of scenes I wanted to see but didn’t’ even realize I wanted to see until I saw them. Then I thought, oh, that is so fun to see. It made me realize how much work it is to be really conscious what I would really want. It takes a great imagination.

A worthy goal means you can imagine life after meeting the goal
Jim Fannin makes a living teaching people how to imagine themselves doing behavior they want. (My interview with him is one of my favorite lessons in goal setting, ever.) Fannin says it’s nearly impossible to meet a goal if you do not know what you’d look like meeting it.

He takes this to the extreme and has his clients (many major league baseball players) play movies of themselves in their heads – movies of them meeting their goals. It’s a good test for you. If you can’t imagine in your head the moment when your meet your goal, then it’s probably not a good goal.

If you can’t meet the goal, consider that it’s not you, it’s the goal
I spend a lot of times trying things out to help me find my core goals. I am a big fan of writing things down to understand oneself. After all, that’s probably why I am a blogger. Sometimes I write lists of things that bug me, and I learn from that. And one year I discovered that writing letters to odd people in my life revealed a core goal.

Even when I have my goal that I’m focused on, I check in with myself frequently to reaffirm that it’s the behavior in my life that is most important to me to change – like renewing one’s vows.

So think very hard before you make a New Year’s resolution. Because setting your goal is much harder than meeting it.

I just got fired from Yahoo Finance.

The long road to my quick termination started in the spring, when I grew friendly with one of the higher-ups in engineering at Yahoo. When he became my boss’s boss’s boss at Yahoo, he suggested that we meet if we were ever both in New York at the same time.

It turned out that we would both be there in December, so I asked him if he wanted to get together, and he said yes. His secretary said she’d email me the venue when the date was closer.

The week before, the venue turned out to be the Yahoo offices in New York. I thought that was weird for a casual meeting with a guy who did not even have his own office at that building. That is when I should have called to find out if we had a specific topic for the meeting.

When I got to the meeting my boss’s boss was there as well, so I knew there was a big topic. I told myself to never ever walk into another meeting in my life without knowing who is coming and why I am there. I told myself to stay calm and start looking for clues about our topic so I could mentally prepare.

They went on and on about some sort of technical problem that was happening that day. Of the three of us, two were nontechnical, so I realized this topic was selected due to nervous energy: A clue that this meeting would be really bad.

To his credit, the guy I thought I was friendly with got right down to the point: “We are not renewing your contract.”

The first thought I had was: When is my contract up?

And then I realized: Oh. Now.

The next thought I had was: Be poised. Do not break down right now.

I have been fired a lot. Sometimes it has not mattered, like when my grandma fired me from her bookstore because I kept reading on the job. Sometimes it has been a bad scene with me shaking because I was so scared – like when I was fired at Ingram Micro for using the computer for non-work-related stuff (Yes, people got fired for that in 1995.)

But I checked in with myself at Yahoo and realized that I was fine. I was not going to cry. I was actually in problem-solving mode.

So I asked why I was being fired.

Maybe you are thinking it’s because every week, 400 people leave comments on Yahoo saying how stupid I am. (And surely today’s final column at Yahoo Finance will break records for she-is-so-stupid comments.) But that’s not the reason my column was cancelled; Yahoo is about traffic, and according to Wikipedia, my column has some of the highest traffic on all of Yahoo.

It turns out that financial content gets a higher CPM (advertising rate) than career content. So while my column has a lot of traffic, Yahoo sells my career column to advertisers as part of the Yahoo Finance package, and I bring down the CPM of the whole package.

That’s a fair reason to cancel the column. And actually, if it were not resulting in a huge financial hit for me, it would be an interesting reason.

Here’s what a career advisor does when she is being fired: She tries to remember the advice she gives to everyone else when they are getting fired.

I asked if there’s another place I can write at Yahoo. This tactic is straight out of the book: Use your last moments to network, even if you are getting fired.

Here’s what my boss’s boss’s boss said: “You should write for Lifestyles. That is more women oriented.”

Immediately I was reminded of when my column was cancelled at Business 2.0 magazine. After I had recently announced that I was pregnant and said I did not plan to take any time off from writing the column.

My editor told me, as he was firing me, “Now that you’re going to be a mom you should try writing someplace like Working Mother.”

This advice from ex-bosses makes me question my own advice about getting help from people who are firing you. But still, discussions progressed at Yahoo to HotJobs, which is a Yahoo channel, and I could end up writing for them.

Also, a big trade publication called me last week to see if I want to write a column for them. The editor said that she sees me as such a huge risk taker, and she expects that the column will be a lot about that – how to take risks.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m a huge risk taker. I just choose the lifestyle I want first, before I choose my work. Lifestyle first means that I turned down entry-level bullshit jobs in favor of playing professional beach volleyball. Not because I was dying to have all my friends think I was a lunatic, but because I couldn’t believe people expect you to do mindless work after earning a college degree.

And the same is true now. I am a freelance writer because if I worked nine-to-five I wouldn’t see my kids. That’s my bottom line. There have been so many times when I’ve told myself that I can’t stand the instability of a freelancer’s life. But more than that, I can’t stand the idea that I would only see my kids on the weekends.

People ask me all the time how can they get this life that I have where I do something I love, get to make my own hours, and support a family. Seems great, right? But that life also comes with this: having no idea how I’ll get paid next. And it happens all the time.

Soon, I hope, I’ll be able to draw a salary from my startup. And my speaking career is going well enough that getting fired from Yahoo won’t kill me. But I am worried, and I think about not telling people that I feel worried because everyone who is negotiating with me now knows that money is super important to me, and I’m probably not going to walk away from an offer.

But more important than preserving an edge negotiating money is somehow documenting how hard it is to be true to yourself, how hard it is to be at risk all the time. It’s a tradeoff. Sometimes my life looks glamorous. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all the same life though.

The best part of blogging is the community. I have been a columnist for a long time, but I have only been a blogger for a year and a half. And I have to say that the conversation part of blogging is amazing, and it’s something you don’t get as a columnist.

So here’s a thank you to everyone who has been part of the conversation on this blog – either by reading or responding or both. You have taught me so much. And my own attempts at perfecting my intersection of work and life are much less lonely and difficult because I do it with a community like this one.

And, speaking of community, here are a few statistics about the blog, beginning with this list of posts that received the most comments this year. (This list is very skewed toward the end of the year, because the blog got more popular as the year progressed.)

Five Steps to Taming Materialism from an Accidental Expert (77 comments)

What Generation are You Part of, Really? Take this Test. (115 comments)

My Financial History, and Stop Whining about Your Job (69 comments)

Bad Career Advice: Do What You Love (72 comments)

Stop Worrying that Your Twentysomething is Lost (89 comments)

The End of Work as We Know It (74 comments)

Five Situations when You Shouldn’t Go to Graduate School (103 comments)

Five Workplace Practices that Should be Over. Now. (73 comments)

What if the Interviewer Never Calls You Back? (64 comments)

Five Things People Say About Christmas that Drive Me Nuts (230 comments)

Personal Favorites
A lot of people write to me to ask me if I really write all my own posts. And a lot of people ask me how I have time to write so much.

It’s true that most posts take tons of time – three or four hours when all is said and done. But really, the question is what would I do if I weren’t writing these posts? So often, the blog is a way for me to understand myself, and the people around me, and I have never had a job I love more than writing this blog.

These are five posts that meant a lot to me to write, even if they were not the most popular in the comments section.

My Name is Not Really Penelope

An Unexpected Lesson About Procrastination

My 9/11 Day. My Husband. The Meaning of My To-Do List.

Stop Thinking You’ll Get By on Your High I.Q.

Big Announcement: I’m Starting a Company!

Favorite on Google: Marriage Counseling
The first post about my marriage was a turning point in the blog – traffic went up significantly, and has stayed there. This might be because even though I have some of the worst search engine optimization in the blogosphere, my blog now comes up number eight from the top when you search marriage counseling on Google.

But the traffic surge also convinced me that the personal matters a lot in blogging. Information is a commodity on the Internet, and a good way to stand out is to infuse your posts with your personality.

It has been suggested (see comments) that I change my tagline to be “advice at the center of work and sex.” I can see how this would be popular, and I maybe would do it, if I could figure out how to ever have sex again. For now, I’m just having marriage trouble, and marriage-trouble traffic.

My First Day of Marriage Counseling (176 comments)

My Own Marriage and the Myth of the Stay-at-Home Dad (171 comments)

5 Communication Lessons Learned in Marriage Counseling (84 comments)

Favorite Among Haters: Yahoo Finance Column
Each week for the past year, I have heard from hundreds of people on Yahoo Finance complaining about the advice I give. Here is the Yahoo column that caused the most number of people to take the time to write a comment saying that I’m an idiot:

Ten New Etiquette Tips for the Workplace (2798 comments)

Top Twentysomething Columns
One of my favorite parts of the blog is the Twentysomething column. It was the way that I found a business partner, and it’s also a great way for me to learn because it always surprises me. The three most commented-on Twentysomething columns came from three different writers:

Ryan Healy, Be Responsible, Go Back Home after College

Jon Morrow, Why I Regret Getting Straight A’s in College

Rebecca Thorman, The Rising Rift Between Gen X and Gen Y

Thank you for a great year. I feel very lucky to be part of this community, and I’m looking forward to another year of conversation, controversy and fun.

Do you ever search 43 Things? I love going through it to see what goals people have for themselves. I like seeing where my own goals and accomplishments fit in with everyone else’s.

On 43 Things, 21 people want to learn to take criticism but 77,000 people want to get a promotion. You know what’s wrong with this? The way to get a promotion is to take criticism well, but most people don’t know they don’t do it well.

Everyone knows they are supposed to get a mentor. And in fact, getting a mentor is one of the best ways to get a promotion. But few people understand that the best way to get a mentor on your side is to take criticism well. This means not only hearing it, but acting on it immediately, and reporting back to the mentor that you have done that.

Which means that a key to finding people you can learn from is finding people you can take criticism from. There’s a great discussion on the blog Vineograph about how hard it is to find critics to trust. This is as true for wine recommendation as it is for career recommendations. The conclusion on this discussion is that you have to know a bunch about the person before you can decide if you trust their criticism. But before you trust someone, you have to start listening.

So I listen to tons of people, always looking for new, competent critics who I might be able to turn into mentors. People always ask me how I deal with so many negative comments on my Yahoo column. The answer is, I read them looking for good critics because you never know where you’ll find them.

Do not choose your critics because they are the best at constructive criticism. Your best critics may be totally undiplomatic; you need to find the people who best understand your best attributes. If they understand your strengths, then they understand when you’re not using them.

For this reason, I listen to Michael Kemelman who blogs at Recruiting Animal. He rips on me all the time in his blog. And he rips on people I publish, like Ryan Healy. But Michael is smart (and funny) and I have always known that he understands me even as he makes fun of me.

Last week he confirmed this. He sent me a list of four of his favorite posts, and the list means so much to me because they are posts that are only at the very edge of career advice, and they are my favorite kind to write.

So, here’s the list of favorite posts from one of the harshest critics I listen to:

The Fine Line Between Boasting on a Resume and Lying

Choosing Between a Kid and a Career

Happy Passover from my Blended Life

Confidence Boosters that Work for Me

What’s good timing for grad school? For some degrees, the best timing is probably never. The benefits of the degree will never outweigh the problems it creates. For some degrees, going fast is key, for others, taking your time can ward off common missteps. Here’s a primer on how to approach a looming graduate application:

Timing for an MBA: Fast
The value of an MBA goes down the longer you wait to get it. At the beginning of your career you can get a jump-start out of the gate with an MBA from a top school. Midcareer, you won’t get that jump-start, because you’ve already started. So at that point, the MBA is just a ticket to play; most large companies like to see an MBA before moving you to the top levels of management.

It used to be that business schools encouraged candidates to wait a few years before applying. But that timeline doesn’t make sense for women who want kids. Today, most young women who want kids want to have them before they’re 35. So if you wait three years to go to business school, and then get a job afterward, you will have very little time to work before you start having kids. And then many benefits of the graduate degree are lost.

In an effort to encourage women to apply to business school, admissions departments are becoming more willing to take candidates straight out of college. For young women, this is a very good option.

But only if you’re sure you need that degree. If you don’t know what you want to do with the MBA, then you probably don’t need it. For people with no clear plan after business school, the burden of school loans to pay for the degree is often more limiting than the number of doors the degree opens.

Timing for other professional degrees: Slow
The cost of going to graduate school when you have no clear plan for afterward is even higher outside of business school. If you get a job in, say, public policy, and then decide you don’t want to go into that field, that degree makes you look unfocused, at best. You might think that more degrees are just more qualifications, but in fact, when you spend years getting a degree in a field where there are no jobs that interest you, you put a red flag up to employers that either you don’t know what you want or you don’t want them.

If possible, you would do best to leave frivolous graduate degrees off your resume so you can look a bit more focused.

Take time to work in the field you’re considering, to make sure that’s what you want to do. Have patience with yourself to learn a bit about who you are. It’s nearly impossible to make a decision as a student about what you’d want to do when you’re not a student. That’s the value of taking time to work in between college and grad school.

Timing for an advanced degree in humanities: Never
Baby boomers have a lock on tenure-track teaching jobs, and those boomers aren’t going anywhere any time soon. My favorite statistic in the world is that you would have a better chance surviving the Titanic than getting a tenure track job in the humanities. Members of the Modern Language Association routinely discuss this problem at the annual meeting, and in trade publications.

So look, if you love French, take a long vacation in Tunisia. And if you love Dante, read him at night, after work. You don’t need a degree in the humanities to enjoy learning.

Timing for law school: Try marketing first
Did you get a great LSAT score? You know what that means? You’ll do a great job in law school. Unfortunately, that is no indicator of how well you’ll do in the real world.

In a law firm, there is no clear partner track anymore. You can be de-equitized at any time. And the determining factor for your worth is not how well you analyze a case, but how well you drum up business. Lawyers are part of the service industry, and service professionals differentiate themselves through marketing. So you’d better be great at marketing if you’re going to law school.

Thinking that you’ll do nonprofit law instead? Then you need rich parents or a rich spouse because someone’s gotta pay off those school loans and it’s not going to be the ACLU.

The bottom line for grad school? Try new things, meet lots of different people and use these experiences to help figure out what to do. Take time to get to know yourself, in the post-school world, in the work world.

You need to know who you are and what you want before you start signing those school loan papers. A degree only helps you if it’s getting you to a place you really want to go to.

Most people stay at a company less than seven years. Most young people stay at a company less than two. So why are companies still set up for people who stay 40 years and climb the ladder? It makes no sense, and frustrates nearly all workers.

Well, all workers who aren’t at the top of the ladder, anyway. Those at the top surely think keeping the ladder there is a good idea, because what was the point of their climb if no one is climbing up after them?

Fortunately, there are ways to circumvent this way of thinking. You can’t change corporate structures and procedures, but you can sidestep them in a way that gets you more interesting work and higher pay without having to trudge up an anachronistic ladder. Here are four:

1. Get on a team.

“Teamwork” is one of the big corporate buzzwords of the last two decades. This is because companies with effective teams do better than companies without them.

The problem is that baby boomers never learned to play on teams. They’re the consummate competitors, born into a demographic in which there were always too many candidates for every position. Boomers are thus keen competitors, measuring each other up for everything. So the data that showed the importance of teams was followed quickly by a round of consulting companies specializing in teaching people how to be in multidisciplinary, non-hierarchical teams.

Then came Generation Y, the best team players in history. They did book reports in teams, went shopping in groups — they’re so team-oriented they even went to the prom in packs.

Put these two groups in a room and tell them to be a team, and you know what happens? The young people run circles around the older ones. The older workers try to establish a hierarchy while the younger ones are oblivious because they’re busy tossing out ideas.

A messy scene, for sure, but this is the way to get heard, and this is the way to shine outside the hierarchy: Get on a team, speak your mind, and implement your ideas — all while the baby boomers are worrying about hierarchy.

2. Job hop.

The rules for when you can be promoted, when your salary can increase, and when you’re eligible for training are all strict and senseless and essentially a waste of your time. Why should you wait for these things when you’re not staying with the company more than a few years anyway?

If your learning curve is flattening because your company can’t promote you to another level, take things into your own hands and go to another company. That is a fast way to give yourself a promotion without having to endure the duress of a corporate structure.

Job-hopping used to be the sign of a disloyal employee, but today we know better. In today’s workplace, frequent job change is a way to stay engaged in your work, and job-hopping among positions you’re good at actually builds your skill set and network much faster than if you stay in one job for a long time. This is why job hopping is a great tool — it can actually provide your career path with a stable, upward slope.

3. Start your own business.

You don’t need a lot of money to start your own company, because most of the tools to open up shop online are free. And in most cases, marketing is cheap and easy if you can establish a viral networking effect among your friends. This is why, in the short time that Generation Y has been in the workforce, they’ve already made a mark as a generation of entrepreneurs.

In addition to being fast and easy to do, starting a company lets you do interesting work you can control without having to wait to get to the top of a corporate ladder. Some people quit their jobs to start a company while others run theirs on the weekend. Increasingly, however, people are running a company from their corporate cubicle.

4. Be nice.

You know who gets promoted the fastest? The person your boss likes the most. So why not spend your time making sure you’re that person? Don’t dish out any excuses about how you won’t kiss up — a kiss-up is someone who tries to be nice but is instead insipid. I’m not recommending that you be insipid.

What I am recommending is that you genuinely try to figure out what your boss needs from you and how to give it to him. Determine how to make extra time in your day to help your boss out, and figure out what she needs help with before she realizes it. And then be there.

Office politics is often a way to sidestep corporate hierarchy, and the great news is that if you’re nice this will be right up your alley. Because office politics is about being nice. And how can you resist training yourself to be nice at work?

The average daily commute in the U.S. is about 25 minutes. The shortest average daily commute is about 15 minutes for people living in Midwest cities like Witchita, Omaha, and Tulsa. New Yorkers have the longest commute — 38 minutes, which is six minutes longer than the average commute time in Chicago. The average commute is increasing across the board, including the number of people who have extreme commutes – 90 minutes or more.

A lot of people try to justify their outrageously long commute. I think this is delusional, and I would know, because I used to have one: Two hours each way between Los Angeles and San Diego. Two hours, that is, if I left home at 5 a.m. and went home at 8 p.m. I thought it would be okay because the money was so good, but actually, I nearly lost my mind.

So think twice about accepting an outrageous commute in order to make outrageous amounts of money. Especially if your extreme commute means that the time outside of work for family and friends is gone – to the car ride. Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London published research to show that if you are going to take a job where you will give up seeing family and friends on a regular basis, you would need to earn $133,000 just to make up for the lack of happiness you feel from being away from those people.

The idea that you move deep into the suburbs to get a huge house is pretty much over. Gen X and Y don’t believe in McMansions, which is why there’s a glut of them on the market right now. But Gen X and Y do believe in maintaining nimble, flexible careers, so it’s surprising that this trend isn’t the nail in the coffin of deep suburbia. Because Brendan, at The Where Blog, points out that the values we hold highest – marriage, community, and extra time with the family – are falling apart in the face of a long commute as we are in our cars commuting for so long and spending days far away from our communities during the day.

And, if the city is too far to justify driving in for a part-time job, then your commute limits the way you can structure your family. For example, polls show most mothers would rather work part-time than be at home full-time with their children, but Wendy Waters points out, in her blog All About Cities, that the possibilities for part-time work are severely limited if home is a long commute from the city. For both spouses.

But even if you are not killing your spouse’s career potential with your choices for a commute, the amount of stress a commute brings on is bigger than you could imagine and it’s uncontainable.

This is because a bad commute is bad in a different way every day, and you can’t predict it. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains (video) that the human mind is great at adapting to things that won’t change: we convince ourselves we will be fine, and then it becomes basically true that we will be. But if things change all the time, we cannot use that adaptive part of our brain. In this way, having a bad commute is worse than losing a limb.

So if you have a bad commute, you are probably not very happy. And you should know that a bad commute spills over into all aspects of your life. Raymond Novaco, a psychologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine, found that bad traffic on the way home makes for a bad mood in the evening. This is true regardless of age, gender, income, and job satisfaction.

A lot of managing your daily commute comes down to making compromises in terms of limiting where you can take a job, what kind of job you can take, and how big a yard your kids can have to run in. For most of us, a long commute is about getting a better job in exchange for less personal time. But the decision about how far to commute is like most career decision points in that you must consider that your biggest problems will not be solved by getting a better job or more money, they will be solved by spending more time with friends and family, or getting to know yourself better.

One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to “do what you love.”

Forget that. It’s absurd. I have been writing since before I even knew how to write – when I was a preschooler I dictated my writing to my dad. And you might not be in preschool, but if you are in touch with who you are, you are doing what you love, no matter what, because you love it.

So it’s preposterous that we need to get paid to do what we love because we do that stuff anyway. So you will say, “But look. Now you are getting paid to do what you love. You are so lucky.” But it’s not true. We are each multifaceted, multilayered, complicated people, and if you are reading this blog, you probably devote a large part of your life to learning about yourself and you know it’s a process. None of us loves just one thing.

I am a writer, but I love sex more than I love writing. And I am not getting paid for sex. In fact, as you might imagine, my sex life is really tanking right now. But I don’t sit up at night thinking, should I do writing or sex? Because career decisions are not decisions about “what do I love most?” Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?

So how could you possibly pick one thing you love to do? And what would be the point?

The world reveals to you all that you love by what you spend time on. Try stuff. If you like it, you’ll go back to it. I just tried Pilates last month. I didn’t want to try, but a friend said she loved the teacher, so I went. I loved it. I have taken it three times a week ever since. And it’s changed me. I stand up straighter. (I’d also have better sex, if I were having it. The Pilates world should advertise more that it improves your sex life: Totally untapped market.)

Often, the thing we should do for our career is something we would only do if we were getting a reward. If you tell yourself that your job has to be something you’d do even if you didn’t get paid, you’ll be looking for a long time. Maybe forever. So why set that standard? The reward for doing a job is contributing to something larger than you are, participating in society, and being valued in the form of money.

The pressure we feel to find a perfect career is insane. And, given that people are trying to find it before they are thirty, in order to avoid both a quarterlife crisis and a biological-clock crisis, the pressure is enough to push people over the edge. Which is why one of the highest risk times for depression in life is in one’s early twenties when people realize how totally impossible it is to simply “do what you love.”

Here’s some practical advice: Do not what you love; do what you are. It’s how I chose my career. I bought the book with that title – maybe my favorite career book of all time – and I took the quickie version of the Myers-Briggs test. The book gave me a list of my strengths, and a list of jobs where I would likely succeed based on those strengths.

Relationships make your life great, not jobs. But a job can ruin your life – make you feel out of control in terms of your time or your ability to accomplish goals – but no job will make your life complete. It’s a myth mostly propagated by people who tell you to do what you love. Doing what you love will make you feel fulfilled. But you don’t need to get paid for it.

A job can save your life, though. If you are lost, and lonely, and wondering how you’ll ever find your way in this world. Take a job. Any job. Because structure, and regular contact with regular people, and a method of contributing to a larger group are all things that help us recalibrate ourselves.

So if you are overwhelmed with the task of “doing what you love” you should recognize that you are totally normal, and maybe you should just forget it. Just do something that caters to your strengths. Do anything.

And if you are so overwhelmed that you feel depression coming on, consider that a job might save you. Take one. Doing work and being valued in the community is important. For better or worse, we value people with money. Earn some. Doing work you love is not so important. We value love in relationships. Make some.


This week is the one-year anniversary of the week that I became so overwhelmed with my workload that I started to act like a crazy person.

It happened slowly at first. I was taking care of my kids half-time and writing my syndicated column half-time.

Then I added my Boston Globe column, which required reporting. I had no idea how to be a reporter, so I did way more work that I needed to, trying to find my way.

Then I added my blog. I found that I could handle it by getting a little more honest with myself and cutting out all the time-wasters of my life, like phone calls I didn’t want, magazines that added no value, and household chores that we could pay someone to do.

Then my blog traffic doubled and I started publicity for my book and it was no longer an issue of time management. I was totally overwhelmed. That’s when I started to do a few crazy things:

1. I stopped sleeping. For some reason, I was able to go for about three months on three hours of sleep a night and tons of caffeine during the day.

2. I stopped changing clothes regularly. If you know you are not really going to sleep, you don’t bother putting on pajamas. And once you get up after so little sleep, you are too tired to think about a new outfit.

3. I stopped thinking about the future. I had clear plans outlined for my book publicity, but other than that, I had to churn out a column three times a week, and blog posts the other days of the week, and I was thinking only about sixteen hours ahead of myself at any given time.

I think I might have gone on like that for more than three months, but I realized I was not being a good parent. I didn’t sign up for indoor soccer in time. I didn’t know which babysitter was showing up when and often told the kids the wrong thing. And I had no patience for the kids when they did regular kid things, like fill their boots with snow.

So I went to bed. And I changed clothes. And I signed up for soccer. And I even drove my son there and watched him play.

I found the time I needed by deciding which parts of my job to stop doing.

I remember reading that the job of a CEO is to know what to blow off. That makes sense to me. I already had a sense of how to ignore details. I had been practicing that for a while, and though I sometimes got into trouble with it – like when I misquoted my brother -I am mostly good at it. But I had to take things farther.

Here are examples of essential things I ignored in the last year:

1. I ignored search engine optimization for my blog. I stopped looking at how many people came to my blog from Google searches because it’s a very low number and it upsets me.

2. I squandered an invitation from Guy Kawasaki. He offered me the opportunity to write a test on his blog about how to tell if you are a good job hunter. What a great opportunity, right? That was so nice of him. And he even gave me suggestions on how to do it. I never did it.

3. People asked to see videos of me speaking, but since I hadn’t actually launched a speaking career yet, I didn’t have a video. I didn’t make one.

Those three things could easily have been twenty. But what I want you to know is that it was okay. Nothing terrible happened. Maybe Guy Kawasaki would have been my best friend if I had pulled together a test, but he did write about me anyway. And maybe my speaking fee would be $25,000 per speech if I had gone to Hollywood and really outdid myself on a video. But really, I have tons of speaking gigs right now anyway. And my search engine optimization sucks. Still. But I finally have time to deal with SEO now.

I have spent a year learning what I can ignore and what I can’t. And I have learned that I when it comes to work, I can ignore just about anything.

Because what you ignore changes your job, but it doesn’t undermine your job. You define what your job by what you focus on. If we focus on everything, our job is nothing. I dumped things that are essential to some jobs. But just by virtue of the fact that I dumped a task, I declared it nonessential to my job. When you have too much on your plate, and everything seems essential, decide on a job change. Right there.

You don’t need to job hop in order to change jobs. You don’t need permission. You can just change the emphasis on your to do list, and thus decide what you want your job to be about. You will be surprised at how many things are on your list because you decided they were important, and not someone else. Which means, of course, that you can dump them.

And in this way, I redefine my job every day, by how I will spend my time. And I like that. Because I am sleeping well and eating well and being both the mom and the writer I want to be. For the most part. Which is probably all we can ask for.

We all know that we need to be good at delegating in order to have any traction in our careers. We need to be able to learn how to do something and then teach someone else how to do it, so that we can move on and learn how to do something new. This is as true for creative people as it is for management types.

Yet even though we know this, most of us have trouble actually doing it. Many people think they’re the exception to the rule — that delegating is important, but in their very unique, particular case, it’s impossible.

Newsflash: It’s never impossible to delegate — it’s all in the mind of the delegator. Here are seven ways to get started on the road to all-star delegation:

1. Get over your perfectionist streak.
The key to delegating is recognizing that your ability to do things perfectly isn’t as highly valued as you think it is. In fact, perfectionism isn’t valuable in 80 percent of the work we do.

If you think you’re the exception to this rule — which all perfectionists do — consider that perfectionism is so unhealthy that it’s a risk factor for depression. This should make delegating come easier.

2. Decide what’s most important.
In order to figure out what to delegate, you need to figure out what’s most important to your career. This means you need to know what your specialty is, what you’re known for in the office, and what your unique value is to the company. Anything that falls outside this isn’t that important to you.

Once you understand this, delegating most things will be easier. They’re nonessential to your career, so it’s OK if you don’t leave your particular mark on them.

3. Focus on helping people grow.
Your job is to help make people stars. Management is essentially an act of constant giving and constant patience. It entails giving people a little attention all the time instead of giving them lots of attention only when they mess up. In fact, if you’re managing people effectively they don’t mess up, because you play to their strengths and teach them how to move around their weaknesses.

Hands-off management isn’t respectful — it’s negligent. People want mentoring and guidance from their manager. If you give that in a way that helps them grow while also treating them with respect, they’ll love having you around. And when your direct reports love having you around, they do their best work for you out of loyalty. Even younger workers — those notorious job-hoppers — are loyal to respectful, hands-on managers.

4. Give away your most interesting work.
If you think you’re going to be able to dump your most mundane assignments onto the people who report to you, think again. After all, your job as a manager is to help people grow, so you’re not actually doing your job if you’re asking them to copy and collate all day long.

So consider keeping the grunt work for yourself sometimes. Your direct reports will appreciate it, and it’ll probably give you more empathy in general since you’ll have an idea of how soul-crushing mindless work can be.

The real upside to this, though, is that the people you delegate to stay more engaged in the work they’re doing. So if you pitch in on the small, stupid tasks, you get good results on the large, important ones.

5. Blame yourself if no one can do a task as well as you.

A lot of people don’t delegate because they’re the only person who can do a particular task. If that’s you, you’re probably deluding yourself.

First off, the task probably isn’t as difficult as you think it is; it’s just that no one would do it exactly the way you do, which is fine. But in addition to that, if no one can do the tasks you do, it’s because you’re hoarding knowledge and making things needlessly complicated.

The solution isn’t complicated, though: Share the knowledge and let someone else give the task a try. You don’t need to be the only person doing it in order to feel important.

6. Take a vacation.

If you’re really having trouble delegating, go on vacation for a couple of weeks. When you get back, find who did which parts of your job while you were gone. Then distribute those parts permanently.

If someone didn’t do a good job of it while you were away, it’s not evidence that you shouldn’t delegate. It’s evidence that you need to help the person grow into the job.

7. Practice at home.

The last time I moved, it was a big deal — I had to abandon all my stuff and was out of my mind with stress.

I’m typically good at delegating, but that time I went outside even my own comfort zone: I couldn’t deal with picking the color to paint the walls of my new house, so I told the painters to pick colors that would calm me down. They did. I wouldn’t have picked the shades of yellow they picked, but it was fine — I got used to the yellow. And if I hadn’t been able to delegate as much as I did, I would never have gotten through the move.

We can all get through the good times. The test of our skills is getting through the bad ones. So when you think about delegating, recognize that, done right, it can mean the difference between enduring the rough patches and making yourself crazy for no good reason.