Why is anyone concerned that I tell you who is paying me when I write about something?

Every time I write about a person or a company it's a conflict of interest. Because I want to be on their radar. It's good for me. And the same is true for every other intelligent blogger because that inherent conflict of interest underlies why blogging is so valuable for someone's career.

The reality is that readers are not hurt by the conflict of interest. Readers are hurt by bad content. But only once. Because if readers hate the content, they leave. (I know this to be true because of all the people who leave comments on my blog that say “This post sucks. I'm unsubscribing.”)

Mainstream media is mostly about money, so they reveal every time they have a financial conflict of interest. But bloggers are more about influence than money. So they have conflict of interest all over their blog, with every post. For example, every time you link to someone, you are hoping for some sort of acknowledgment, or some sort of good karma. Do you need to acknowledge that so as to protect your readers? Of course not.

Here's how it really works: Guy Kawasaki keeps such close track of favors exchanged that I think he must have it on a spreadsheet. When I link to him, he definitely notices, and he definitely helps me in exchange. So, should I list the conflict of interest every time I link to him? And every time I say I love Alltop? Read more

I never watch American Idol, or other talent shows. I think I got my fill of them in the 1970s, watching year after year of the mind-numbing Miss American pageant. But there was too much hoop-la with Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, so I had to see what I was missing. I ended up watching her audition fifty times. Because every time I'm feeling slow or unmotivated or depressed, the clip cheers me up.

Last night she sang in the semi-finals, and what struck me most while watching her is how much we can learn about our own careers from watching Susan Boyle's. For example.

Everyone loves to be a shepherd of talent.

The act of finding a mentor is actually the act of showing someone you have talent and they can help you find it. It's very, very hard to land in the limelight on your own. So many studies of success — from Fortune 500 executives to startup entrepreneurs — all show that a key factor is finding people to help you navigate a system that requires many more skills than any one, single person could have.

If you ever wonder what you bring to someone who is mentoring you, look at the faces of the three judges when they realize (after four or five notes) that Susan is phenomenal. The joy on their faces is contagious. That's a big reason people like to watch that video clip: the moment when you see someone is very talented is so rewarding. It's a moment full of excitement and promise and you get to be a part of it because the person is asking you for help.

This is why mentoring is magical and electrifying to both sides. And seeing the moment on Britain's Got Talent reminds me that I should continuously seek out mentors and show them I perform well with the help they give me. Read more

Three years ago, I made a decision to move from New York City to Madison, WI based purely on research. I put economic development research together with positive psychology research. Then I combed the Internet for city statistics, and I moved. (If you want to read the research I used, I linked to it all in this post.)

I had never been to Madison in my life, and you know what? It was a good decision. Except for one thing: I ignored the data about schools. I didn’t believe that a city known for progressive social programs and university filled with genius faculty could have poorly performing public schools. But it ended up being true, and all economic development research says do not move to a place with crap schools—it’s a sign that lots of things in the city are not right.

So when you decide where to live, pay attention to the research. Ignore stuff like the geography of personality because it’s interesting, but there’s no data that says it correlates to what makes you happy. And pay attention to research that flies in the face of everything you know, like you can be a millionaire anywhere. But, then, you should probably not be looking at that research because being a millionaire won’t impact your happiness so it should not impact where you choose to live.

Here’s some research I’ve found recently that you should consider if you’re considering relocating:

Live by water.
People who live inland are not as happy as people who live near water, according to research coming out in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. And some scientists think this is because humans evolved by following the shorelines and living off water life. So, the Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that if you live in the Appalachian Mountains you are twice as likely to have mental illness than if you live in Hawaii. Read more

I love grammar. I can remember in sixth grade when we spent weeks parsing sentences. There was a moment of self-awareness when I thought to myself, “If I let anyone see how much I like this, I’ll never get invited to good parties.”

So I know I love grammar and I know it's not normal.

My first real corporate job came right after I went to graduate school for English. The job I landed was managing content for Ingram Micro‘s web site. The experience I had was HTML—I turned my master's thesis into HTML before anyone knew what HTML was.

So the head of copy writing had to teach me the AP Stylebook. I was the only person in the department who had gone to graduate school for English. I was the only person who had been published in literary journals. But when it came to grammar, there is a whole book of rules I had to learn so I could write in the Fortune 500.

An example (which, by the way, is e.g., not i.e.): Follow up is two words if it's a noun: “I'm doing a follow up.” But it's hyphenated if it's an adjective: “Follow-up meeting.” But when I say I love grammar, that is not what interests me. I’m interested in how we naturally know grammar because we naturally speak in sentences with good rhythm. I will spend an extra hour editing a blog post by reading it out loud and hearing in my cadence where a preposition is wrong.

This is all to tell you that I think we need to stop judging people by their grammar. Read more

My company is running out of money again. Well, really, it already happened. But it's happened so many times that I am sort of used to it. It’s a routine. You may recall that part of the routine is not paying my electric bill. But there is more.

1. Focus on something you can control.
You might have noticed that my blog posts are very frequent right now. It's a way to cope with the funding drama. I have so much control over my blog. And if I obsess over the traffic statistics then I have that crack-head feeling of immediate feedback, and it feels good, and even if half the people are telling me how much they hate me: Traffic is traffic.

Another part of the out-of-funding routine is fighting with Ryan. When I am totally focused on running the company, and I'm not worried about payroll, then things go smoothly and Ryan and I have great conversations about the future of social media and the future of resumes and where we fit.

When we run out of money, Ryan and I focus on our cycle of miscommunication: I say something rude that I don't know is rude. Ryan gets defensive because he isn't able to say, “That's rude. Please don't talk like that.” I have no idea why he is defensive, he just sounds like he's up in arms about nothing to me, because if I knew I had been rude in the first place, I would not have been, so of course I don't know. And when he is up in arms, I yell back. And then he says that I am impossible to deal with because I'm rude and I yell. Read more

One of the biggest mistakes you can make going into an interview is thinking you'll do well because you're perfect for the job.

Everyone who got an interview is a potential perfect fit for the job. That's how they got through the resume screen. The interview is about something else: how you think, how you solve problems, how you react under pressure. And you are never quite sure of the quality the interviewer will focus on until you get a few questions.

Until now. Now Glassdoor has launched an interview resource where you can report what sorts of questions you got from a given employer. This is a great moment in altruism, really, because you are helping other people to get a job without knowing how doing so will help you. So I like Glassdoor's new idea right away, because of that. Because the very being of this tool assumes that people want to help each other.

I've sifted through lots of the questions and the first thing I noticed was that 90% of them are the kind you can study for. That's because they are all versions of common questions, just like those I see in books that list the 200 most common interview questions (here’s one). And, as always, you might think your interview will be a special case but it won’t be. You can learn the right answer for each question and just tailor it to your own career. Read more

People always ask me why I have an editor for my blog posts. The big reason is that I don’t want my posts to suck. But what he does more than anything else, is make sure that my posts adhere to a set of five rules. And if the post does not adhere, he makes sure I have a good reason for it.

So here are the rules I use for writing a blog post. These will either help you to write better, or these rules will help you understand the specific reason you hate my posts on the days you hate them.

1. Start strong.
Most first drafts of writing function as a way for the writer to find the subject. This means that maybe first 20% of a first draft can usually be cut. Whenever I hear Weezer's Buddy Holly, it reminds me what a strong opening feels like. It's a boom, and it's confident. And it says, here's a good part, right now.

2. Be short.
Do you know why people love Seth Godin’s blog so much? Because he writes short. But watch out: you have nowhere to hide if you're writing short. If something is short, it must be good. And even if Seth doesn't soar every time, it's fun to know he's aiming so high — fun to be a part of that. Read more

Be careful who you take career advice from. Knowing who to take advice from is a really good skill for any aspect of your life, but especially in the field of work, because work is changing very fast right now. A lot of advice that was good ten years ago is not good now. And people who are using old language to talk about contemporary careers are thinking in terms that will pull you off track.

Here are three examples of topics your parents talk about all the time in their careers, but these topics will not be a part of new millennium careers. Watch out for these three terms — they probably come with outdated advice.

1. Career change
When Baby Boomers change careers, they stand on mountaintops. They announce that career change is a new trend, and they are doing it, of course, to save the world. The Baby Boomer specialty is saving the world by screaming from mountaintops, and then borrowing some more money to support that habit.

The other thing about Baby Boomers and career change is that they didn't really do it before now. I mean, they did, but it was cataclysmic and often seen as reckless. For example, it's what men did in their 40s after a midlife crises. Or what people did when they got to middle management and realized they were sub-par at their chosen career. (Note: It's very easy to delude yourself that you're competent until you get to your mid-30s. Around then, the less competent end up competing with people in their late 20s and losing.) Read more

Everyone thinks transparency and authenticity are great. But sometimes you need to rein them in. I've talked about how I do this with my blog, which is really an example of how I rein myself in at work. There are times we each have to do this at work, and in some cases, we need to lie. Here are three times:

1. Lie if you are a messy person.
People make a wide range of judgments based on your office, whether you like it or not. For example, a plant makes you look stable, and a candy dish makes you look like an extrovert, according to Sam Gosling, professor of psychology at University of Texas and the owner of the hottest head shot I have ever linked to on a university web site.

If you have a messy desk, people think you're incompetent. They think you are overwhelmed by your workload, that you are not conscientious, and that you are not thinking clearly. It doesn't really matter if you really are those things, since you are promoted and fired based on peoples' perceptions of you. You cannot control for what people base their perceptions on, but you can make changes in your life to change how people perceive you. So do that.

But before you say messiness should be acceptable, consider this report in the Economist, that shows people are nicer, and better versions of themselves, in an environment that is neat and clean. Read more

The best way to get control of your career and stability in your life is to be great at what you do. Superstars are not out of work right now. Really. Even in finance. If you have an amazing track record in your field of work, you'll have a job. And if you need to change jobs, or adjust what you're doing, you'll be able to do it if you're great at what you do.

Here are five steps to follow:

1. Aim to be great at something that matters in the world.
The process of being great is long and hard. It requires you to try a lot of stuff to figure out the intersection of your gifts and what the world will pay for.

It's hard to be great at something you have to stop doing. But that's the reality you face if you are going to be a star performer. It's about self-discipline. When I was in graduate school, my writing professor was reviewing my writing, and he announced to the class, “She writes the best sex scenes I have ever read. Week after week she surprises me with her wry, funny, salacious approach.”

I had to look up the word salacious to make sure it was good.

Then I had to stop writing about sex. Because it was clear to me that being great at writing literary sex is too narrow. The greatness is so small it doesn't matter. Greatness needs context that has value.

2. Expect that being great will entail many levels of disappointment.
So I got a job in a marketing department in a Fortune 100 company where we spent lots of time talking about whether HTML accommodates a proper em dash. Read more