It’s fun to be a superstar. You get a lot of accolades. But the real benefit to being a workplace superstar is that you have more control over your life. A superstar gets flextime. A superstar gets to take a five-month sabbatical and have their job held for them. Superstars are so top-flight that they’d be very hard to replace. Average performers don’t get those benefits. Aim to be a superstar so that you can have more options in your career for creating a life you want.

1. Have gaps in your resume
You want to be known as a good thinker, right? But good thinkers need time to think, and that’s what gaps in resumes are for. Sure, for the unemployable, the gaps are times of financial terror and emotional doom. But if you feel confident that you can get another job, then taking time off to think, get perspective, try something totally new — all these things actually make you more employable.

If you’re in the middle of a gap in your resume right now, and you think it might be the not-so-good kind of gap, and might make you unemployable, then start doing something exciting and rejuvenating with your time while you are job hunting. Then the gap will look intentional and exciting.

It’s all about spin, really, so take time to think and then hire a resume writer to help you turn your resume into the kind that tells the story of a great thinker.

2. Cut corners at work to make time for the gym
Most people who don’t get regular exercise say that job interferes with their exercise time. This is absurd reasoning, because people who don’t exercise do worse at work than people who do.

People who exercise perform better at work than people who don’t exercise. People who exercise think more clearly and are more even-tempered. And the self-discipline that it takes to exercise regularly spills over into other areas of life, making people who exercise more able to reach work goals than people who don’t exercise.

So cut corners at work to make time to exercise. Your work performance will go down a bit at first. But on balance, your performance will go up once you start reaping the benefits of exercise throughout your life.

3. Start a side business
One of the best ways to stand out in your career is to make sure you always have a lot of options. A great way to create options is to build your skill set so that you’re adaptable within your field and on the cutting edge of your specialty.

But there always comes a time when the opportunities all look bad. When that happens, you should know you can start something of your own. Entrepreneurship used to be starting a company in your garage and growing it to be big and take over the world. And most people failed, because not many people can take over the world.

But today, entrepreneurship is often about microbusinesses you can do at home, while you have a day job. And success is about creating a work life that accommodates your personal needs. Success is also about keeping your learning curve high, no matter how much money you make.

For all these reasons, starting a business while you work in a cube at someone else’s business is a smart way to go. It ensures that you’re never stuck. And it’s not actually that hard to do.

4. Turn down promotions
The raise you get when you get a promotion is absurd. It’s usually less than 10% of your salary, and it’s not going to change your life. Surely you can find something to ask for that is more meaningful than that.

Also, when a company offers a promotion, the company says, Here is the next step in our ladder, and we’d like you to climb it. But why would you follow a path laid out for you by someone else? You should customize you career according to your workplace strengths and your personal needs, Laying out a path for yourself is difficult, but necessary. You need to understand yourself, and then you can tell your boss what you really need. Think about mentoring, training, getting on a really interesting project, or asking for flexible hours. These are things that will make a long-term difference in your career.

Not convinced? The process of giving someone a promotion is usually watching them succeed in one type of work and then giving that person new responsibilities that they do not necessarily have talent for. And that is why a promotion is more stressful than a divorce. So ask for other rewards instead. Really.

5. Start a blog
Superstars distinguish themselves from everyone else by being known for their ideas. This doesn’t mean they sit in a room and think all day. Execution matters. But you need both. That’s why a blog is so great for putting you at the top of your field.

A good blog presents your opinions on a wide range of issues within your chosen specialty. If you can post regularly you show not only that you have the self-discipline to produce, but you can make a plan and execute it over time, and, most of all, you show everyone the way that you think about issues in your field.

One of the most exciting things about specializing is taking part in a high-level discussion about cutting edge topics. Someone needs to lead that discussion, and increasingly, it is the bloggers who are doing that.

So, here are some easy instructions for starting a blog.

As with many things in life, it’s harder to make the mental commitment to seeing yourself as a superstar than it is to take the steps to get there. The core of being a superstar is not about what you do in your work, it’s what you do in your head: Believe in yourself and your ability to stand out for your ideas and then focus on being that person in whatever you do.

Harvard just announced that it will change the timeline of business school enrollment as a way to attract “a wider range of applicants” Read: Women. Right now women start businesses at two times the rate of men and women do better in school than men do, but women make up less than one-third of the enrollment at top business schools.

There has been wide acknowledgement — in a hush-hush way — that the lag in business school is because the value of an MBA is different for each gender. Some of this difference has to do with personality, but a lot of it has to do with the biological clock.

Millennials have watched Generation X be the most fertility-stressed bunch of women ever. (I, for one, found myself scheduling my pregnancy around TV auditions. Absurd.) We now know that waiting until age 35 to begin having kids is not a good bet to make. If women want to have kids, they should put having a family ahead of having a career – because there is no negotiating with the biological clock.

Millennials know this. They make getting married and having babies by age thirty a priority, and one of the first things to go is business school.

Typically, business schools required a few years of work, then an application process, then two years out of the work force for school. At that point, women are in their mid to late twenties and they need to be focusing on finding a husband. Today’s generation is not stupid. They know that if they want to have kids, it makes no sense to play roulette with ovaries in order to get a few more years of work under their belt before trying to have kids. So business schools are not seeing enough female applicants.

People have been talking in hushed voices of creating faster ways to get through school in order to attract women. And people have been talking off the record about how top schools accept women at an earlier age than they accept men. But Harvard has made it official. In order to attract women into business school they are allowing women in after just two years of work. And they’re encouraging liberal arts students, as well. Sure, Harvard is saying anyone can take the school up on this offer. But surely Harvard does not have trouble getting highly qualified male applicants – these changes are not for those people.

This is a big moment because it’s the convergence of two big ideas in the workplace:

1. Women no longer put their career ahead of their biological clock. We tried it for a generation and it was a massive failure.

2. Business schools acknowledge that they have to change to accommodate women -women are sick of changing themselves to accommodate the old corporate life that is geared toward men.

This second point gives me a lot of hope. There is a movement going on right now to demand that work accommodate life. In general, work does not respond to this movement. Social responsibility does not push through institutional change. After all, you could argue that in business, the people at the top are the worst parents and least likely to accommodate parenting for other people. But finally, there is change: The impending and massive talent shortage that is going to push through a lot of accommodations, and I think Harvard’s shift in admissions is a harbinger of big things to come.

Most people who are overweight blame their job for their inability to eat right and get enough exercise. Too much work, too tired after work, too much travel. The list is endless. But losing weight is so important for you career that you should go so far as to cut back on your work-officially or furtively — in order to lose the weight.

Because beware: Heavier people do worse at work than everyone else, employers discriminate against overweight people, and it’s even legal to do. (via Management Line).

So stop putting your work before your weight. Miss deadlines, cut corners, and disappear if need be. Do whatever you require to lose the weight because no amount of workplace genius can overcome being overweight – people subconsciously underestimate the quality of work a fat person is doing.

Now I want to address all the people who are going to say that it’s not fair to pick on fat people, and that I’m obsessed with fat, etc.

It is true that I am obsessed with fat. It started freshman year of college when I was under lots of stress from being a straight-A student (it was a miracle because I’m not the school success type) and from going on the kind of dates where girls take their clothes off (yes, believe it or not, I didn’t do that in high school.)

It was too much for me. So I hung out at the buffet to calm myself down. And I am a smart girl; It didn’t take me long to realize that I could take refuge in the buffet for hours and hours as long as I threw up at the end.

I did that all of freshman year. And I became an evangelist. Yep. You can do that if you’re a girl in college. You can talk with your friends about how handy throwing up is. Some people said, “You are messed up.” Most people said, “Can you show me how to do it?”

Of course I had it down to a science. You have to drink something milky first, or eat something really mushy, like pudding, so that everything comes up easier. After all, I was throwing up to decrease stress, not increase it, and nothing made me more anxious than eating something I couldn’t throw up. So I learned really fast what won’t work. (I don’t want this to be a primer for the uninitiated, but I know you’re curious. So here’s one: Plain, uncooked bagel. Very difficult.)

Here’s what happened the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I had a Ford Foundation grant to research mass movements in colonial America. I kept skipping out on the voting records in Salem, Massachusetts archives in order to throw up in the Salem Witch museum (very private bathroom there) and my research was going to be late. Very late.

I went to my parents’ house to gear up for what was supposed to be a summer of catching up on research, and my first night there, I ate pretty much everything in the refrigerator. And threw it up, of course.

My mom woke up and said, “Where’s the bread?” and “Where’s the ice cream?”

I told her I threw it up. I told my parents I was throwing up about five times a day and I was dying to stop but I couldn’t. They checked me into a hospital – a mental ward masquerading as an eating disorder clinic. There were not many eating disorder clinics back then, but I grew up in a really rich community where eating disorders are fashionable, and the place was filled with anorexics and bulimics.

1. Understand that any weight problem is an emotional problem
I learned a lot in that clinic. I learned that people who throw up or starve themselves treat food the same way as people who are obese: Obsessive patterns of trying to calm oneself down with food. I had to learn coping skills that did not hurt my health.

But the first thing I did was worry that my research on mass movements wasn’t getting done. I told everyone in the hospital that the Ford Foundation would be after me and I’d lose all my money. I also panicked that my professor — who was holding a chapter in her book for my reports on seventeenth-century town records in Marblehead Massachusetts — would kill me. Or at least not recommend me for graduate programs in history.

I went on and on about how my life as an historian would be ruined if I didn’t get out of the mental ward and go back to Marblehead. And this is how I know that you should stop working in order to deal with overeating: Because my work improved once I better understood my relationship to food.

2. Take time off so you can change bad patterns
The mental ward turned out to be one of my favorite places ever. It was so peaceful. No kidding. I spent most of my time with spritely vixens seducing young doctors (Yes, I dated one. Trust me. It’s common.) The hospital was a haven from all the stuff we distracted ourselves with. I couldn’t focus on food (it was regulated) or my professor (she couldn’t reach me) so I focused on all that was left: Myself. And it worked. I started to understand why I was eating and how I could change my patterns.

And once I changed my patterns with food, other things that require self-discipline improved as well. This phenomena is supported by lots of research – we want to change a lot of things in our life. For example, I wanted to stop thinking about food all the time and I wanted to work faster on the grant. Trying to do everything at once was overwhelming. But changing how I dealt with food had a positive ripple effect throughout my life.

3. Don’t be a snob
To be sure, I was not the worst off in the mental ward. There was shock therapy. There was suicide watch. I was surely one of the highest functioning patients: I was writing up my research at a brisk pace, I stopped wanting to throw up, and I got day passes from my shrink to date one of my ex-doctors.

But I learned quickly that there is no point in being high and mighty. We each have problems, and the only way to solve them is to face them. You might be fifteen pounds overweight, or fifty, or ten pounds underweight, it’s all the same. It’s all about getting to know yourself so you can take care of yourself more effectively and you can start reaching your real dreams – the stuff that really matters to you.

4. Stop using your job as an excuse
I knew as early as my sophomore year that I needed to get serious help. I knew I wanted to stop throwing up but I wasn’t stopping myself. What I focused on was the idea that I needed to graduate on time. I couldn’t let people know I had a big problem or I’d never fit in. My teachers would dump me. I wanted the problem to go away.

But the truth is that I was not really fitting in anyway, because I had to hide so much of my eating life. And my professor did dump me eventually, but it wasn’t because I didn’t get the work done. I did. It was just late and on hospital letterhead. She dumped me because after I stopped focusing on food and focused on myself instead, we both realized that being a historian was not right for me.

Taking a big pause in my work in order to deal with my issues around food was crucial to getting to know myself and creating stability in my life. So I’m telling anyone with an eating problem – if you are overweight or underweight — work can wait. Stop kidding yourself that doing your work is more important. People are always worrying that they will mess up their career by stopping their work to fix themselves. But the worst job is the job that you use to avoid your personal life.

I loved listeing to this interview with Sallie Krawcheck so much. I have been following Sallie’s career for years, and I had no idea I was going to see her in person until I showed up for the Forbes Executive Women’s Forum for a speaking engagement, and there she was, speaking right before I did. She was mesmerizing: Funny, authentic, quick on her toes and gorgeous.

But I most love her for her honesty. Everyone does. Even the Citigroup board of directors. It’s how she got her job. The short history of Sallie is that she was an analyst on Wall Street and when the analysts started compromising ethics during the dotcom boom she was one of the most high-profile analysts who didn’t, so her career went into super-high gear during the dotcom fallout. Now she is CEO of Citigroup’s Global Wealth Management. She’s the highest ranking woman in finance.

[Editorial note: I didn’t conduct this interview – questions came from Forbes editor Elizabeth MacDonald and an audience of about sixty people. I edited the interview below, and changed questions. I was the audience member who asked the question about stay-at-home dads.]

What is a good first job for someone who wants to run their own company?
I tell all young people to become an analyst after school. You pull out bits of information and put together a picture. Sometimes it looks like a dog or sometimes a cake. Then you make decisions with imperfect information. And when you get another piece, you say oh it’s not a cake. So its practice making decision with imperfect information. This is what you do as a CEO every day.

Why aren’t women at the top of companies?
There is something about women getting tired. They get to be thirty and they get tired. Add up all the time that you are not with the kids and not working but you are doing hair and makeup while your husband sleeps. It’s two-and-a-half hours a week. It drags you down. Also, women are not able to express anger at work because it reflects negatively on women. This makes women tired, too.

I have a stay-at-home husband and it’s a train wreck. How do you work that out in your house?
I had a stay-at-home husband and he went back to work. My first husband could not get over it and I had to choose another husband. I would come home from a meeting and I’d say sorry I’m late and he’d roll his eyes. As soon as you get the eye roll you have a problem And in fact, he was having an affair. That was a waste of four good years, and I was cute then, too; I should have dated a lot more men than I did. I got a much better husband the second time around because I had had practice making decisions with imperfect information.

How do you handle leaving the kids when you travel?
The thing with the kids is to show no fear. If you show fear, they can smell it. Say, “I love you and I can’t wait to see you, but I love my work.” I cry when I close the door. I went to China for two weeks. The kids were okay; I bribed them. I waited to tell my daughter until I took her to the American Idol concert.

What’s your approach to work/life balance?
When women get up there and talk to you about work life balance, they are lying to you. I work all the time. I sent 220 emails last weekend. The last time I went out for drinks on a weekday like Sex in the City was when I was twenty-two. This is not a bitter comment. It’s a choice.

In a world where jobs no longer last forever, the only constant in your career is you. So instead of relying on the brand of your company to define who you are, you have to rely on your own brand.

That’s not easy, though. Think of all the brand managers who have had their hands onNike or Apple. The brands people adore and really connect with are brands that are consciously developed and well cared for every day, even in bad times.

Admit It — You’re Special

That’s how you have to treat yourself. It’s true that you’ll never be as big a brand as Nike or Apple, but your brand is much more important than theirs, because your brand is what will feed you and clothe you and keep your life stable. And just as specialized brands are always the most successful, specialists have the best careers.

Think about it: The people who get the most job offers are the ones known for doing something very well. They have an area of expertise and they have a reputation for being great at it. The stronger your specialty is, the more opportunities you’ll have for career moves; and the more opportunities you have, the less likely that the inevitable bumps in the road will throw you off course. That’s how branding creates stability.

The way to build a brand is to know what your strengths are, why they’re special, and what you like doing with them. If you’re unclear of what personal branding is, here’s a great definition from personal-branding blogger Dan Schawbel. And if you’re unsure of how to build your own brand, here are three steps to follow:

1. Know what you’re very good at.

This isn’t about what you like to do. We all like to do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean we stand out for them. You also don’t need to get paid for what you love to do most. After all, you may love food, but you probably don’t get paid to eat, right?

So pick something you love but that makes sense to get paid for, which means it should pay enough to support you and whoever depends on you. Also, pick something in an area you’ve done work in that people have told you is exceptional.

Each of us can only be fantastic at a few things. One of the big tricks to career success is to find what you do better than almost everyone else, and then let people know that that’s what you do. For most people, the search for what makes them special takes years and years, and includes a few wrong turns.

2. Know what people think of you.

This is hard to do. For example, most people think they’re more well-liked than they are. And most people think they’re more essential to a team than they are. A great way to get an assessment of how people think of you is to ask yourself if you have the five traits of a likable person.

Another approach is to think about traits that likable people have and work on those, because the traits you consciously focus on are ones you can generally improve. Branding blogger Adam Salamon writes that there are some things you should always want to convey, for example that you’re interested in other people and that you have a positive attitude. These are things everyone should think about.

But being likable is only part of brand building. You need to be not just liked, but known for what you’re good at. Do people know what you’re good at, or do they just know that you’re nice? You want both.

3. Meet the right people.

Not every brand is relevant to every person. Understand the kind of people who’ll connect best with you, and surround yourself with them, at least to get started. That way you can focus on presenting the parts of you that are most relevant to your brand.

This shouldn’t seem extreme. The younger the workforce gets, the more mainstream the idea of personal branding becomes. Travis, a blogging entrepreneur at Young Go Getter, describes his community as a place where people write about what they want to be known for and share ideas to connect with people who think like them.

You need a community like that. Because in the new workplace, no one can take care of you but you — not your boss, not your company, not the economy. It’s all up to you, and it’s hard to do alone, so figure out what you’re great at and then let people know. Start with a small community and let it get bigger and bigger. This is where true financial security and job safety come from.

Before I tell you about my company, I want to tell you that ever since I started spending eight hours a day on my blog – which was about two months after I started blogging – I have always thought of the blog as a business.

People would marvel that I could spend so much time on something that is making no money, but I always knew that I was building something bigger. I just didn’t know what it was. So while I’ve been blogging this whole time, I’ve been studying business models, and watching other people turn blogs into businesses and media conglomerates, and I’ve been thinking about what I can do with my blog.

In October I will officially launch the site Brazen Careerist, at the URL BUT WAIT! Don’t click there! Because I’m in arbitration with the guy who is squatting on it, and it’s already killing me how much money he’s making from running ads on the domain. Fortunately my lawyer swears to me that the URL is rightfully mine.

Brazen Careerist will be a network of bloggers talking about the intersection of work and life, and it will be a resource for young people who understand that they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to employment. What does being in the driver’s seat mean? It means first that you are responsible for your own career – your personal growth, your personal brand, and your personal fulfillment. But it also means that you understand that you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to employers; companies need to cater to employees if they want to get the good ones.

To get things rolling, the first thing I did was join forces with Employee Evolution. It’s a great community blog for young people talking about work, and their traffic is growing quickly. To create this partnership I had to negotiate with Ryan Healy, who has a guest column on this blog titled Twentysomething.

Background: I met Ryan online when he asked me to check out his blog, Employee Evolution. He had only posted twice, but I loved both posts, and I hated thinking that such great posts about my topic area were not on my blog, so I invited him to guest blog.

He has been doing that for about six months, instigating ire among many commenters. But I love his posts. Well, I love most of them. Some of them I have thought were sort of stupid, but I didn’t say anything, and often those turned out to be really popular. I liked that I could trust him to know what would be a good post.

One of his posts made me want to kill him. It was when he wrote that his Baby Boomer dad was talking with him about how companies need to teach Baby Boomers how to “pass the torch to Generation Y”. LIKE THERE ARE NO GEN-XERS IN CORPORATE AMERICA???!??!

But it is actually true that the Baby Boomers and Millennials think Gen-X does not exist. So I liked that Ryan is able to capture that situation; now I have somewhere to link to when I want to bitch about it.

I quickly realized that his posts were very popular and his blog was growing very quickly. I thought of paying him per post, but I didn’t think that would actually matter to him. I mean, Ryan had a good job at a brand-name company and his boss loved him. I remembered when I had a big job and I wrote weekly columns for Business 2.0 magazine; the money was so un-motivating to me that I often forgot to send an invoice. I thought about what did motivate me — personal growth, the excitement of learning about what I can do, and learning how publishing works.

I knew I had to do this for Ryan. And this is the ultimate question for corporate America. Right? How to retain Generation Y when their primary motivator is not money.

I focused on being a really good mentor to him and helping him open doors. But I couldn’t figure out what doors to help him open until I knew what he wanted. So I tried stuff. Like I told him I could help him get a book deal, and he said, “I don’t really see what doing a book will get me.” He had a point. I’m the first person to say don’t do a book unless you have a plan for leveraging it to do something else in your career.

After a while, I realized that he wanted to start a company. This was great news to me because I wanted to start a company too, but I needed to find the right people to do it with.

A lot of people come to me with company ideas – some want me to join them, some want to buy Brazen Careerist – lots of ideas, none of them right for me. After all, I’ve got two young kids. So I can’t relocate to New York City (yes, someone offered, just ten months after I left New York City) and I can’t keep crazy startup hours because I want to be with my kids.

Ryan and his partner, Ryan Paugh, seemed great for me. There is a reason that Silicon Valley is full of startups run by twentysomething guys. Sure, there is the technology issue – that more guys take computer science courses so more guys start technology companies. But it’s more than that. Guys in their twenties don’t have kids — they don’t even hear the tick of a biological clock – and they have the ability to focus almost solely on work. In fact, Ryan told me that he had a fling with a 26-year-old, but it made him uncomfortable because “every woman over 25 is just looking to get married.”

So Ryan and Ryan are moving to Madison to do the company, which should be very fun. But if you think generation Y’s sense of entitlement is bad at your office when you are trying to get work out of them, you should see what their sense of entitlement looks like when you’re negotiating equity.

Ryan Healy and I negotiated for two months. During that time he was in Business Week one week, the New York Times the next week. Once he put me on hold to take a call form 60 Minutes. It was crazy. He is twenty-three and had only been blogging six months, working less than a year, and he was quoted everywhere as an expert.

The final crushing blow was when the Wall Street Journal interviewed both of us about tips for young grads, and then quoted us both saying basically the same thing: Get a mentor. Hilarious, right? Since I started out as his mentor? But, like any good mentee, he started catching up to me very quickly.

So by the time I was negotiating equity with Ryan, he was asking for 50% of the company.

Every night we went back and forth about equity, and what things will look like, and what he will do, and we sort of had a sort of agreement.

And then he went back on stuff I thought we agreed on, and also stuff I thought was moronic to even question me on. So I said, “You know what? Go get some advice from an adult. Go ask someone with some experience, because this is totally ridiculous and I’m right. ”

I was so pissed off that I had to pull the car over to the side of the road in order to properly leverage my angry voice.

He said, “I can go ask someone now, but eventually you have to let me make my own decisions. We can’t work with each other if you don’t trust me to make my own decisions.”

It was a turning point. Because he was, in that moment, so much wiser than I was. I knew I was right about the business issue, but he was right about the interpersonal issue.

I have told very few people about the company because I wanted to know it was really going ahead before there was online chatter. The few friends I did tell are people who don’t read blogs. They would ask four or five times, “How old is he?!?” They were incredulous.

I tried to explain that my audience is young people so I need to go into business with young people.

I do not choose my friends for their knowledge of generational issues at work. So my discussion of the importance of working with people in other generations fell on deaf ears. Eventually each friend, trying to make sense of things, asked if Ryan and I are hooking up.

When I was in my twenties, I started a company with a guy who was much older than I was. Men asked him all the time if we were a couple. And, at the time, I thought it was an incredibly ridiculous assumption. But now that I’m the one who is older, and people are still asking the question, I am comforted by what appears to be nice gender equality when it comes to trashy assumptions about startups.

So now there’s a new company, and I’ll be blogging about it here. I’m not sure what it’ll be like, but I have an idea of what’s to come:

When I signed up for Facebook, and Recruiting Animal created my Facebook page, Ryan was the one who noticed that I had no idea how to actually use Facebook, so he gave me a tutorial.

He used his page as an example, and then, after I made sure that you can’t tell how many times someone looks at your Facebook page, I spent three nights checking out all 300 photos he had of himself and his friends. Finally, after I couldn’t take it anymore, I sent him an email about how he needs to take down some photos. I know: This after I published a post about how the photos don’t matter.

He said the photos are fine.

I said, “What about the one of you straddling that girl’s face?”

Ryan: That’s not me. It’s my friend.

Penelope: Well other people might think it’s you.

Ryan: They won’t. And no one cares.

Penelope: I cared.

Ryan: It’s because you’re so old. It’s not that big a deal. They have clothes on.

I told him he should take down the photo.

I don’t know if he did. And that’s the beauty of our relationship: I tell him my Gen -X perspective, he tells me his Gen-Y perspective, and then we each see what we can get away with.

By Ryan Healy – Safe for me is a cushy, decent job that pays well. Safe is making a steady paycheck that will cover my student loans, rent and living expenses with a small amount left over to put in the bank. Safe is having the spending money to eat out on Tuesday, go to happy hour on Thursday and buy a couple of rounds at the bar on Saturday.

Safe sounds really fun. So why do I find it so boring?

I have an intense desire to know what its like to scrounge for a month’s rent. I want to know what it’s like to say I can’t afford to eat out tonight, and really mean it. I truly do believe that living like this builds character, and everyone should probably experience it at some point.

But more importantly, I want to know that every action I take can result in my success or my failure. A safe job does not provide this dynamic. If you make a great presentation to a group of stakeholders for your company, you may receive a pat on the back and your boss might consider you for promotion. If you bomb the presentation, chances are you will still receive your paycheck every other Friday.

It sounds a hell of a lot more exciting to make a great sales pitch to a group of investors and convince them to fund your business for the next six months. Or you could bomb the pitch and be forced to get a part time bartending job just to pay rent. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

Many people my age feel the same way. They think safe is boring and they want to take a risk. The problem is, safe is comfortable and risk is scary. Not many people can handle dropping everything and starting a business with no immediate source of income. Many people don’t even want to run a business, but they still want some excitement from their jobs.

So I think there can be a compromise. Most young, single, ambitious people would probably do a little gambling with their salaries if the opportunity arose. It would be a lot of fun and incredibly motivating to wager $10,000 of my salary on whether or not I can bring the company an extra $50,000 in revenue through my actions. Systems would have to be set up to measure this sort of thing, but the increase in output could definitely cover the costs. Not to mention the massive savings from increased employee retention rates.

Maybe this option is a little too out there for most employers, but the bottom line is a safe, steady, paycheck leads to boredom for entry-level workers. Boredom leads to job hopping or uninspired work, both of which affect a company’s bottom line. If companies can figure out how to make a paycheck a little more interesting, and the job a little less “safe,” they will undoubtedly gain some more inspired, productive employees.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution

One of the biggest workplace changes that will take place in the next few years is the way people are hired. So how do you get ready for the changes? Be a good candidate for one thing. But also, be conscious of how employers will start shifting to meet the good candidates, because you want to be right there with them.

Here are four ways hiring practices will change:

1. Companies will make recruiting young employees the top priority.
There is a massive shortage of workers beyond what anyone predicted. Companies were ready for baby boomers to retire. Companies knew they would rely on Generation X and Generation Y to replace those boomers.

What companies could have never predicted is that there are other factors exacerbating this shortage. Gen X is downshifting to spend more time with their kids. So they are working fewer hours. And Gen Y is flocking to entrepreneurship and self-employment. Even those interviewing at companies are finding that travel and moving in with parents is more appealing than the jobs being offered.

This means that the workers replacing baby boomers come from a much smaller pool than anticipated. And one of the most popular topics on the management consulting circuit is recruiting and retaining Gen Y workers. Companies have little idea how to do it, but they know if they don’t figure it out, they will not be able to maintain their growth. (Note: Some companies do get it – Business Week lists some big ones.)

2. Candidates will drive the hiring process rather than employers.
The conundrum of the new workforce is that they are always looking for a job, but furtively. Like, at a party for their girlfriend’s start-up, or while commenting on their father’s best friend’s blog.

There is a growing trend among young people who have honed their skills, and are good at marketing themselves, and have a clear sense of what makes a good job: They don’t need more job offers.

Street Attack is a company that attracts this type of candidate. The company is cool – it markets cool brands in innovative ways to young hipsters. And the opportunities for employees encourage personal growth. So someone like Jennifer Coe, a Street Attack account manager, is part of a large class of employees who is always looking for a job, but always performing very well in her current job and does not need someone to bring opportunities to her. She knows how to make them come her way. This is the kind of candidate everyone wants but cannot recruit.

3. Companies will stop writing stupid ads.
The custom of writing insanely uninformative job descriptions to attract applicants is not working because decent applicants don’t apply.

Companies routinely write vague offers like “salary dependent on experience” when the salary actually does not go above entry level. Or the company asks for impossible skill sets like “five years of design experience and good knowledge of accounting practices.” Companies also say things like “great opportunity” when it is actually a dead end, and “fun office environment” when the office is actually full of people biding time until they can get the hell out and retire to North Carolina.

JobFox is an employment matching site that presents a model for creating better job descriptions. An extensive set of questions – based on industry-specific research – helps companies write the kind of job descriptions that actually inform people about what is being offered. JobFox knows the pitfalls of the job specifications, and the transparency and honesty of the JobFox-generated description could become an industry standard.

4. The quality match will take center stage.
Companies are forced to invest so much in hiring candidates they can’t afford to make mistakes. And candidates have so many choices that they can afford to demand a great match. This means the matching process between company and employee is going to become personalized.

One form this might take is hiring people via their blogs. Blogging lets candidates show their ideas and their personality, and their work habits, which are all the things that matter to an employer. A blog is like a living, breathing resume and network rolled into one, which makes it a very practical job hunting tool for candidates and employers.

Young people are loyal to brands, so another form of personalized job matching could come with companies interacting with people in ways that allow the candidate to know the company. This is a way that a company like Street Attack can attract candidates. But larger companies do this as well, for example Pepsi has edgy videos on MySpace.

And companies like JobFox will continue to develop tools that help employers and employees hone their presentation skills to the point that they can tell each other exactly what matters so that they can create a genuine match.

5. The workplace will get great.
That’s right. The current gulf between what employees want and what employers are offering will have to close, out of financial necessity for both parties. And we’ll see a super-motivated workforce raising productivity levels to record highs while moving from job to job, to gather skills, contacts, and growth opportunities.

Office politics is good for you. That is, it makes your life better — not just your work life, but your whole life.

Office politics is a commitment to quality — in your relationships and in your projects. So you need to see it as the glorious underpinning of a transparent workplace in which everyone helps one another.

To that end, being good at office politics improves your ability to meet goals while also adhering to your core values. Here are five reasons why.

1. Office politics reward people who are genuinely kind.

The people who think office politics is about kissing up are the ones who don’t understand being nice.

Being nice is taking the time to figure out what’s important to someone and helping him or her get what they want. This requires empathy, compassion, and an intention to do good. Who can argue that this isn’t positive stuff?

People who try to do favors without taking the time to understand what others actually want are brownnosers. It’s empty favors and vapid praise that give office politics a bad name. But there’s justice in this world: People who attempt office politics without the empathy and compassion it requires actually do very poorly at them.

2. Office politics reward good time-managers.

To be good at office politics, you need to take the time to understand other peoples’ work so you can give them help when you can (after getting your own work done first, of course).

You shouldn’t expect others to take time to teach you what they do. Part of doing a good deed is not requiring extra work from someone in order to perform the good deed for them.

So only good time-managers succeed at office politics, because only the highly productive can feel comfortable enough with their own workload to take on tasks that require lots of mental energy but aren’t on their to-do list per se.

That said, if you think you can be good at your job without making time for office politics, you’re wrong. The hardest workers aren’t the ones who get promoted. It’s the people who are most liked at the office who get promoted.

3. Office politics is the answer to burnout.

It’s very fashionable to complain about feeling burned-out at work. Fortunately, office politics is a way to solve the burnout problem.

Burnout doesn’t come from too much work — it comes from doing the wrong kind of work. So you can solve your burnout problems by figuring out who has the power to give you rewarding work. Figure out how you can help that person, and once you’ve made their life better ask them for help making your life better. People like to help others who’ve helped them.

You might argue that it’s better to do good deeds without expecting anything in return, and that’s true. So go do some. But you can be both altruistic and political at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive — doing both just requires more time and energy.

4. Office politics is a road to self-knowledge.

Some people are easy to read. You see your boss’ weakness, say, and jump in to help overcome that weakness. Or you see when a co-worker is scared and offer support at just the right time.

But some people are baffling. One or two will always misinterpret what you say, or always think you’re annoying, or always exclude you from office activity. These are the people you can learn the most from, because you have to examine your own weaknesses to see why you can’t connect with them. And you have to challenge yourself and stretch your strengths to meet them on their own terms.

Don’t tell me some people are too difficult — being good at office politics means being able to get along with anyone. Aim to be that kind of person and you’ll be more likable and more capable in work and life.

5. Office politics is about honesty.

Why are you at work? To grow, to learn, to support yourself, and to have fun. How do you meet these goals? By carefully setting yourself up to get what you want from the people you spend your day with.

It’s absurd to think that you go to work only to meet company goals. That’s not enough, because you won’t stay with the company forever. Be loyal, sure, but be loyal to the idea of doing good work for whoever employs you. And be loyal to your own goals — to the idea that you owe it to yourself to find paths to grow.

Office politics is the process of meeting these goals — for yourself and for the company you work for. Those who are most dedicated to productive, honest, and meaningful work are also most dedicated to the art of office politics.

One of the first major religious decisions that young, Jewish professionals make is whether or not to go into the office on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Most Jewish holidays start at sundown, a safe time to leave the office. However, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are all-day affairs, and this year Rosh Hashannah starts tonight — right in the middle of the week. Rabbi David Lerner, says the first time you decide whether or not you are going to work is “a big decision.”

”I can’t think of another event like this in Jewish life,” he says.

Sarah Maltzman is typical of those twentysomethings deciding how to prioritize work and religion. She does not go to synagogue regularly but grew up in a family where people skipped work on the high holy days. Now, as a teacher, she, too, will take time off. But she will work one of the two days of Rosh Hashana, because she says she doesn’t want her students to have too many days in a row with substitute teachers. ”If I were in a 9-to-5 job I would feel more comfortable taking time off,” she says.

There is no law granting the right to take off work for religious holidays, but according to Linda Saiger, executive director of Chicago’s Council on Jewish Workplace Issues, most people are able to get the days off if they want them.

The question is: What do people want?

There is a lot of peer pressure to stay home and observe the holidays. By some estimates, more than 95 percent of the families affiliated with a synagogue show up on Yom Kippur for a day of fasting and self-reflection. In fact, such a large percentage of the Jewish population stays home, that some schools close, some stores close, and towns with large Jewish populations seem to completely shut down.

However, there is also a lot of pressure to go to work. In some industries, like investment banking, people rarely take time off for anything, doing what it takes to get the job done and make a good impression.

Jessie Bodzin is managing editor of Heeb, a magazine for hipster Jews. She says that one of her friends had a new job with a heavy workload, so she went to work and fasted to allay some of her guilt. But Bodzin doesn’t recommend this tactic.

”This is the worst of both worlds, because she got a headache from fasting without the benefit of self-reflection,” Bodzin said. Another friend of Bodzin’s went to synagogue in the morning, then to work, then back to synagogue. For him, maybe the guilt of going to work was abated because Bodzin said he ended up spending more time in synagogue than he would have had he not gone to work.

Some of the most complicated decisions arise when a twentysomething relocates for work far away from family. Many feel compelled to take the day off, but have nowhere to go.

Leah Furman, author of Single Jewish Female: A Modern Guide to Sex and Dating, says that some people don’t go into work because that would be breaking tradition, but they don’t necessarily go to synagogue all day.

”For some people, it’s a time to get together with Jewish friends,” she says. ”Maybe they go to synagogue for a little while and then they go with friends out to lunch.”

For those on looking for meaning, Lerner reminds them that the core issue is not about missed deadlines at work or used up vacation days: ”There is a lot that people can do to have impact on a broken world,” he says, ”and the high holy days call to us, motivate us to do this.”

For those who forgo the pursuit of synagogue tickets, Esther Kustanowitz, author of My Urban Kvetch, points out an enticing alternative: That’s two full days out of the work week for Rosh Hashana, and if you take three more vacation days you can go away on a trip for nine days.