Most of the time on this blog I focus on bursting bubbles. I deliver bad news about finding a spouse, choosing a career and earning money. But the thing that really keeps me going as a career adviser is the good news.

My career has saved me so many times that I think of career advice as a sort of trousseau that you draw on to make life more livable. Or, for those of us who are way past trousseau time, career advice is a way to gain equilibrium in our lives after we’ve completely given up on the preposterous idea of work-life balance.

Which is why I have collected a bunch of tidbits that make me happy and I think at least one of them will make you happy, too:

1. The top predictor of career success is how open your network is. This is great because it justifies doing all the non-work things that you feel guilty doing. An open network is full of people who are not in related fields and do not have similar skills. The more you fill your life with putting your head down and doing the work, the more likely it is that your network is closed. Closed networks lack ideas or opportunities. I’m sure this is related to the research about how successful leaders are also weird. Surely weird people have open networks.

2. Doodling makes you smarter. What do you do in all those meetings where you are banned from checking your email? Doodle, of course. I used to worry that I looked crazy when I doodle, but now there’s evidence that doodling helps people think more creatively. Bonus: people with Aspergers can stare while drawing and appear to have high creativity instead of low eye contact.

3. You don’t have to lie about how well you use Microsoft Office. Word is a great tool, if you are a ninja with formatting. Which I’m not. So everything I do looks the same. Like my dog did it. In fact, a few times I have not gotten paid as a freelancer because my invoice looked so not-invoicey. I wanted to believe that people don’t care about formatting, but they do. So now we can all go to hloom to find templates for all the forms we said we would make for ourselves but never did.

4. We don’t have information overload. Really. None of us. Because our brains can store incredible amounts of data, so really we are just having data recall problems. We need to know how to store information so that it is useful to us later, according to psychologist David Levitin (who explains this in his book that is way too long so it’s probably filled with information we don’t need to be able to recall.)

5. You can be a hipster entrepreneur without hipster instinct. Use the hipster name picker to come up with an impossibly cool sounding company name. Then get your business cards printed at And then when someone asks you how many people work at your impossibly hip company, you can talk about this article in the Harvard Business Review about how the highest performers struggle to fit in with teams.

6. Reading fiction is good for your career. Thank god. Because I get like 500 business books a month that authors and publishers want me to review, and they are generally mind-numbingly terrible. There are exceptions to the rule. Like, I’ve been saving this book on my shelf to remind myself to tell you about it: Art Inc: The Essential Guild For Building Your Career as an Artist. It’s good. But really I’d rather be reading fiction. I just finished Making Toast, about surviving a tragic loss by struggling to raise three kids. You should read that book. It’ll help your career. Because the New York Times reports that neuroscientists are able to prove that reading literary fiction gives us better social skills.

7. You can make a career out of pasta letters. Nothing calms me down like words. There is a word for feeling this way about words: Hyperlexia. I didn’t know this term existed until I was in my son’s Asperger’s preschool class. All the kids could read. Ten percent of kids with autism have hyperlexia. One of the signs is that a child is reading before age 5. I’m shocked, of course, because so many people in my family read before age 5, including me. But then, my family is full of people with Aspergers.

A side note about hyperlexia: The therapists in my son’s classroom discouraged reading in such young kids. It’s not good for their brains because the developing brain should be making other connections at that point, not reading—sort of like how walking so early that you skip crawling is not good for the brain. So maybe this paragraph is saving one kid from reading too early.

But what I want to tell you is that I love anything that is letters, so it warms my heart that Fire When Ready featured an artist who sorts pasta letters.

And she makes ceramic cups. Finding the right career for you is finding the intersection of what you love to do and what people want to pay you to do. It bodes well for all of us that someone is getting paid to sort pasta letters and squish them into words.

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27 replies
  1. D.
    D. says:

    I checked that art book out of the library the day before yesterday! Now I need to check out Making Toast. I love to come to your site and see that things my 16-year-old does on his own like reading everything he can get, during his unschooling time as well as the things I do all the time, like doodling, will help us in the long run. Thanks for the great post.

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    1) Hipster Name Generator is the best thing.

    2) I didn’t know about hyperlexia until I read this. Reading it, I sat back and said “Oh. Shit. This explains things.”

    Thank you equally for both things.

  3. Sunny
    Sunny says:

    Don’t let kids read …. EEEK. I grew up in a rural area and I would have died without the bookmobile. Only through books was I able to explore the world!

  4. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I used to doodle until I got my first smartphone five years ago. I never thought about it before, but my ability to remember stuff went to hell after that. There’s something about the doodling that helped me remember stuff. Now that I don’t doodle, I don’t remember as well.

    My mom moved out of the family home after 38 years last year and gave me this folder she found in my old room. In it were pages of doodles I made in high school 30+ years ago. I could remember just by looking at some of those doodles what class I was in when I made it and even a little bit about what the teacher was teaching at the time. Amazing!

  5. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Oh! And I was reading by age 3, almost entirely on my own. When I entered Kindergarten in 1972, I distinctly remember my teacher being most displeased that I could actually read the books on her shelf. I found that to be enormously confusing. I wanted to read more, and here she was discouraging me!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I vividly remember being in 2nd grade, roughly 7 years old. I went to public school.

      Our teacher had a system and got to decide who was ready to check out chapter books and who was not. I remember wanting so badly to be able to check out a chapter book and my teacher saying I couldn’t pointing to a chart of the whos who in class, who is ranked where based on reading skill. Only 2 kids in my class were able to check out the more challenging books. It was so incredibly discouraging for someone to be keeping me from what I felt I was ready to tackle. ((If I had more attentive parents, this might have been mitigated with home reading etc)) …


  6. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    When I go on interviews, which are more like dates, but people pretend it’s not, I notice how people get hanged up on whether or not I know how to use different calendars and if I can use Microsoft office and I’m just floored.

    I’m 27. Do the math. I grew up with nothing but computers. You can’t read my handwriting because penmanship is for decoration and for signatures. Im out of practice in writing because I type everything.

    And it’s not like if I don’t know all the secrets of formatting I can’t figure out how to put together a kickass presentation. I just invoice my projects with a template I downloaded. Because if I’m getting paid $25/hr every minute I spend formatting is way too expensive.

    Unless I can make money off it. Then I’ll invest some time learning how to format something.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I purposefully write things daily, even though they could be typed. (i.e. a diary, notes, etc)

      The brain processes writing and typing differently.

      • JaneB
        JaneB says:

        There’s some recent research about how college students learn much better if they take notes using pen and paper rather than a laptop…

        Amusingly, at work, one of our young, hip, superstars is going ON and ON about this AMAZING new smart-tablet-thing he has where he can write on the screen with a special stylus, and how it’s improved his ability to remember things from meetings and ‘capture his ideas visually’, and how much BETTER it is than typing on his special expensive embedded keyboard that he used to carry round everywhere… I think he just invented the notepad and the doodle…

  7. Absolutely Tara
    Absolutely Tara says:

    This IS a happy post! I am particularly drawn to the idea of having an open network. Maybe it’s the extrovert in me, but that’s always been so attractive to me, to have a HUGE and varied social network. It opens the mind and creates opportunities. Along with the added benefit of getting to know a ton of people. thanks for sharing such an uplifting read.


  8. Robert
    Robert says:

    Doodling can also be good for your memory. One of my self-actualization projects for last year was to adopt the practice of “Idea Mapping,” which is like doodling and mind-mapping at the same time. The mind mapping helps you organize your thoughts; the doodling helps you lock it into memory. I learned about it in a seminar taught by Jamie Nast, then I read her book. There you go, PT, one less book you have to review.

  9. Michelle Carden
    Michelle Carden says:

    I love this post. You’re right about keeping an open network – it’s so important to have a wide range of relationships in life. Thanks for the tip for hloom too – I’ll be giving that a try!

  10. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I was an extremely shy INTJ. I can attest to fiction teaching social skills. Thank you, Madeleine LEngle.

  11. Jessica Becker
    Jessica Becker says:

    I’ve been following Lisa Congdon’s trajectory and it is inspiring. Glad to hear her book is good.

  12. jenX67
    jenX67 says:

    Very fun post. I enjoyed the Hipster Name Generator, too. And, remembering my Generation X trousseau and that honeymoon to San Marcos, Texas because we couldn’t afford to stay in San Antonio. I hope you’re doing well with winter coming to a close. I think about you all the time. The line on that cup is from Kenny Rogers and the Gambler. I prefer Coward of the County:

    “Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done
    Walk away from trouble if you can.
    It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek
    I hope you’re old enough to understand,
    Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.” =) That was such a great made-for-TV movie.

  13. Ravit
    Ravit says:

    Love this post! Especially how doodling and writing something down makes me remember things to do much better than typing it out on my smartphone. And we all know how smart kids can be without us really paying attention. I often visit Giles Cadman’s blog for a little boost and tips on my business and daily life. Not to mention his great knowledge on wine. What do you think?

  14. Allen
    Allen says:

    Reading is absolutely the foundation of your education and a precursor to how successful you will be in your career. As an avid reader of fiction, I believe my mind has been conditioned to think creatively. As a result, I am able to innovate at work and bring new ideas to the table. I am fortunate to work at an organization that provides a forum where innovation is encouraged. Brainstorming on ways to improve the company is what makes working fun for me. And I believe it all started with my passion for reading fiction.

  15. Alta
    Alta says:


    Let me think which one is my take away

    1) Do what you want to do – It contradicts with yout 2009 article ….

    2) Respect your inner artist amnd make a career out of that. Interesting.

    3) Write an short fiction and that might be get a review by Penelope. Is it not an interestesting revelation ?

    Very good article


  16. Heather
    Heather says:

    Love this post. BTW, I started reading when I was 3 years old. I’d much rather read fiction than non-fiction. I will be checking out if that book is available on Kindle and my network is very open. My open network is how I arrived in my most recent role. I didn’t know it was available, a friend approached me and the hiring manager, we met and I love this job! I’m actually having fun!

  17. Vic
    Vic says:

    Thanks for the post and the links. Now I have support for my personal belief that I have learned more about working with people by being an avid fiction reader than any business book I haveread!

    “…….Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”

    “……individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

  18. Connor
    Connor says:

    I never heard that reading before the age of 5 could be a negative! Recently, I’ve been trying to teach my nephew how to read and write because he has a physical disability and thought it may make him proud to do some things other kids can’t, rather than vice-versa…

    Perhaps I will have to re-think that strategy and do a little more research into what you said.

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