High performers work for free.  The difference between working for free because you’re a loser and working for free because you’re a high performer is what you get from the deal.

People often ask me how to become a writer. The answer is to write for free. You won’t get paid for years. I wrote for decades before I saw any money from my writing.

Here’s how to decide if working for free is a good idea for you:

1. Can you reach your goal without working for free?
If you are aiming to do something that people don’t really like doing, then there is no point working for free. Whoever is hiring is grateful to have you. Child protective services, for example. It’s an impossibly difficult job—low pay, high stakes, and your hands are tied, even in some of the most difficult cases.

But you know how you can tell when it’s a job no one else wants? It’s really easy to get. If you are having trouble doing the work you want to do then it’s a pretty good bet that it’s not easy work to get.

All other jobs—the jobs that people genuinely want to have—are candidates for free labor. Read more

We are in a drought. Not a metaphorical drought. That’s for city people. We are in a drought that is crop failure.

I’ve read a lot about the Dust Bowl during the Depression. My favorite book is a children’s book. And, let me just say that I mostly read children’s books. It makes sense, because I’ve been reading below grade level for my whole life.

I remember in fifth grade when I tested at the eighth grade reading level and I wanted to die every time I got pulled out for the gifted reading program because the reading was too difficult for me.

Now I know why. So much of literary fiction depends on the reader understanding the language of nonverbal communication. Like, in The Reader, I didn’t discover the protagonist was illiterate until the end. Too many of the clues were nonverbal.

So I have been comfortable reading below grade level forever. I’m a big fan of learning about history through children’s books. Here’s a totally great one about slavery. I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you have a 6-10 year old you should just buy the book. Read more

When I moved to the farmhouse, I first replaced myself with a new CEO for my company, and then started reading enough about interior design to get a degree in the subject, if I believed in graduate degrees. I became enthralled with Steampunk as a way to blend the rustic nature of my surroundings with my fascination with putting objects with an old purpose into homes for a new purpose.

Steampunk is the updated yet still-dated look of the Industrial Age. A recent Harvard Business Reivew has a timeline of business. I was surprised to remember that the Industrial Age was actually during the aftermath of the Civil War. The timeline also shows the Space Age, which, by the way, Restoration Hardware has interpreted in a genius way so as to be able to sell to interior design mavens with a fetish for mid-century modern.

Read more

Fortune magazine has started reporting about family in corporate life.

We all know corporate jobs are messed up. Fortune magazine is a monument to how messed up corporate life really is. In November, Fortune wrote that the company that Sheryl Sandberg, a working mom, runs, has employees “on lockdown” and their kids come to the office to say goodnight before bed.

In December Fortune reported that to get his almost-top spot at GE, John Krenicki relocated his family 11 times while the kids were growing up. Working at GE requires the same type of sacrifice from a family that the US expects from military officers. Read more

I’ve spent the last five years learning about farming. At first I couldn’t even tell the difference between a hay field and an oat field. Now I can tell when a planting is late. I have learned enough about cattle to sort them for breeding. I don’t do as good a job as the Farmer of course, but I won’t miss any that are really bad. I have learned how to milk a goat, even though I’m terrible at it.

Now it’s spring, and the farm is incredible. There are baby animals everywhere.

The farmer is letting the piglets slip out of their pen. The piglets run all over the farm like they’re free-range chickens, and because the mom is stuck in the pen, the piglets always come back. Read more

I love watching people lie. I know that I probably have the same feelings the liars do, the feeling of being stuck. I like to think about what I do when I have that feeling, how people cope with it, and how much pain we can handle before we become our worst selves.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about these lies and the feelings that provoke them:

1. The lie about expectations. 
Have you heard of Ashley Madison? It’s the site that caters to married people who want to cheat on their spouse. We could debate about the ethics of that business model (or this one), but I think Ashley Madison might have made up for their questionable ethics by using their data to provide one of the biggest insights to marriage problems that I’ve read in a while:

Guess which is the second most popular day of the year for women to sign up for Ashley Madison? Read more

Photo by Roz Joseph c. 1970

It used to be that the reason people hated me was because I offended them. Poor social skills. I’m sure you can imagine, but if you can’t, here’s the post about how I spoke at a women in business blogging event and I offended everyone by telling them that their blogs sucked and how to fix them.

Maybe I should set up a coaching business where I tell people how to fix their blogs, but really, most people don’t want to know. It’s like going to couples therapy. It’s a lot of work. And there’s always the hope that great sex can make up for everything else. People strive to write the blog equivalent of great sex.

1. Understand your personal style for bad behavior.
Anyway, the way I offend people today is different. Because I’m much more conscious of my lousy social skills, and I’m always trying hard to compensate for them. So my new way to offend people is to have terrible followthrough.

In case you are wondering how bad it is to have terrible followthrough, it’s one of the five most damaging deficits you can have in the workplace. Read more