(A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece that did not fit in my upcoming book. That post was so well received that I decided to post another that didn’t make it into the book.)

We all want to save lives. The thing is that people get paid to save stock prices. We do not need to pay people to feel good about themselves. We need to pay people to say, “You have to come to the office on Sunday.”

During my startup days, I kept scheming to get around this conundrum by doing things like giving money to charity (or to friends who would qualify) or giving employees time off to see shrinks. But my biggest idea came while I was figuring out how to cut data entry costs.

We needed to organize a lot of data and the cost was astronomical. So astronomical that our venture capitalists were getting ready to force us to ditch that part of our business. Then our CFO suggested India. “Data entry is cheap and everyone speaks English,” he said.

I found a recruiter in India who gave me estimates for staffing costs. An experienced data entry person would cost less than $10 a day. “What about health insurance?” I asked. The recruiter said, “Oh, we do not do that here.” The recruiter heard my disappointed pause and said, “Okay. You can do that maybe for another fifty cents a day.”

I plugged Indian laborers into my cost analysis and even if I had added a few U.S. salaries for management, profitability for the data entry business was at 85%. Too high to be believable. Venture capitalists would say my assumptions were wrong. So I spent evenings that I should have been socializing with friends combing through the details of my friends’ business plans looking for costs I might have missed.

Then I read Marie Claire when the cause of the month was sex slaves. They go for $300 a piece in India. So I added to my cost of goods the purchase of twenty girls. I expanded square footage to include housing above the data entry rooms. I added money for a school next to the cafeteria and I increased staffing so that each day each data entry clerk could spend an hour teaching the girls. One-on-one tutoring. Art classes. The Internet. I put these costs in categories like office space and support staff. My profit margins were 65%, the venture capitalist sweet spot: high enough to quell resentment and low enough to quell questions.

Charts and graphs of the economics of India were the focus of our next board meeting. My partner brought up the India idea gingerly, focusing not on the girls but on the cost savings and the shrewd worldview of operations. The venture capitalists loved the idea. They were very familiar with this strategy; of course, it is their job to say that they are already very familiar with every idea.

Then three venture capitalists wrote names of their friends who had data entry companies in India that we could use. There would be no office space considerations. There would be no staffing considerations. I would not be saving the world. I would be calling rich friends of rich people so that the money stays with them. I would be ingratiating myself to all of them so that they give me money next time I need funding for a company. And I would be giving more money to charity to make myself feel better.

It’s a lot easier to give advice than to implement it. You can imagine how acutely aware of this I must be.

After I’ve given out the same piece of advice twenty times (for example, get a mentor), there comes a point when I can’t face myself if I don’t follow it. Sometimes I try to scare myself. I tell myself that my career will go nowhere and I am wasting my time and I will never get what I want without self-discipline. What I really want from that lecture-to-self, though, is courage to do what is difficult.

Part of having career success is finding the courage to implement what you know you should do. Here are three things I’ve come across recently that inspire courage:

1. Courage to start a new business
I have a friend who is studying artificial intelligence at a big university. He tells me that most of the graduate students are ostensibly working on the PhD’s, but they’re really waiting to find some cool company to go work for. I don’t think this is unique to the artificial intelligence geniuses. I think many, many people are waiting for a good idea.

But you can’t always tell it’s a great idea until you try it. When I asked Guy Kawasaki how you know to move forward with a business, he said, “Launch it.” Then he paused and said, “Don’t worry, be crappy.”

So really, you need to just get out and try the business. That’s hard, though. Instigator Blog inspires courage to start by listing five reasons why you should go ahead and say yes to a new business even if you fear it might fail:

You'll learn something. Even if the idea doesn't fly, you'll learn something valuable.

You'll get a rush of adrenaline when you jump in.

You'll realize the value of an idea.

You'll get a chance to connect with people.

You'll be inspired.

(Thanks, Emily)

2. Courage to make networking strategic and deliberate
Of course, networking is good, and you should do it. But it’s hard. And probably the hardest part is fearing that the person will not be receptive to your networking efforts.

But you still need to be strategic, even in the face of rejection. Ben Casnocha, who surely must be the recipient of hundreds of networking overtures, writes that someone recently tried a nifty networking move on him that he liked: “After we met he studied my blog and reached out to a couple of my friends. After they heard I met with him, they too took a meeting. After they met with the guy they emailed me and we shared our mutual impressions (positive!). Great strategy. The more entry points you have in a relationship with someone the stronger it is.”

This is good advice from Ben, but what really stands out to me is that Ben seems to truly appreciate having the chance to meet this guy. This should give you courage to make overtures of your own.

3. Courage to take control of your own time
All sorts of polls show that time away from the office is a top priority for Generations X and Y. But not everyone does a great job at drawing the boundaries that preserve a home life. In general, it’s hard to draw boundaries because it always seems that what we are involved in is so much more important that violating the boundaries this time is okay.

But Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook shows us that courage to protect his personal life knows no limits. The Wall St. Journal reports: “During one series of talks with Microsoft, Facebook executives told their Microsoft peers they couldn’t do an 8 a.m. conference call because the company’s 22-year-old founder and chief executive, Harvard dropout Mark Zuckerberg, wouldn’t be awake, says a person familiar with the talks. Microsoft executives were incredulous.”

While everyone was watching for the telecommuting trend to explode, something else exploded right next to it: The virtual company. The business with no office to telecommute from.

These companies give new opportunities to entrepreneurs to get started with no money down. But a virtual business also gives people the opportunity to create the personal life they want. “The future is likely to be the age of virtual businesses,” writes Anita Campbell, founder of Small Business Trends. “Forget three guys in a garage that was your father’s startup. Today it’s three people spread out across the country or even across continents, each in their home offices or back porches with laptops, mobile phones, and WiFi.”

Pamela Slim, who blogs at Escape From Cubicle Nation, says there is a “perfect storm” of factors converging to make virtual businesses more popular, and easier to start:

1. Workers will quit regular jobs to get control over their time.
Both men and women are increasingly willing to leave the work force to create personal time and family time, according to Jacqueline Luffman, a labor analyst for the government of Canada. In light of that, a virtual office ends up seeming like a compromise rather than an extreme solution.

2. Technology levels the playing field.
It has become so cheap and easy to use that someone who doesn’t have a lot of resources can create a web presence that looks established and professional.

3. Retail businesses can be virtual.
Of course, there’s always eBay. But you can also set up a shop with Amazon, where you create a storefront (which could even be a blog) and Amazon handles all inventory and fulfillment issues — and then sends you a check for the sales you make. Or you can work with a slew of smaller online wholesalers the same way.

4. The rise of telecommuting.
Established companies such as Sun Microsystems realize that telecommuters are happy, appreciative and cost-effective, so they encourage people to telecommute. Smart companies provide essential training and support so workers are productive at home from the start. The side effect is that location-based companies are training workers on how to set up their own virtual companies.

This trend means that it’s easier for you to have a work life that you can control – whether you’re working at your own virtual company or at someone else’s. The benefits are flexibility, efficiency and little overhead. The drawback is that time management is difficult, and not everyone can adapt.

Dennis Yang works at Techdirt, a virtual company that provides daily news and analysis to corporate clients. While Yang does not sit with co-workers, he is never lonely. He typically has about seven conversations going on at any one time on his computer screen, and he can work anywhere he wants — for example, his grandmother’s living room.

A typical day involves constant instant messaging, occasional emails with clients, and Skype for Internet-based phone calls, which are free – though Yang adds, “We don’t like to have phone conversations because it’s difficult to have more than one at a time.”

Techdirt’s 14 employees hang out in a virtual conference room, which is really a chat room, and when the once-a-week phone call happens, someone types in the chat room that it’s time to move to the conference call.

Not surprisingly, members of Generation Y populate many of the virtual companies. “The younger generation is very attracted by the virtual companies because they are used to it. Skype and IM are normal to them, and it is not weird to work with people you rarely see when most of your friends are people you rarely see.” says Chris Yeh, co-chair of the Founders Forum for entrepreneurs, and founder of his own company, Targetfirst.

But virtual companies have a lot to offer Generation X as well: “We want a career that gives us control over our schedule and our life,” says Yeh. “I want a work environment where I can also focus on my kids. Working from
home is not a panacea for everything because the kids take time and they are always calling for you, but at least there’s no commute time.”

The virtual business community is huge, so there’s room for everyone. In fact a whole economy has developed in which virtual companies do business with other virtual companies. Sharon Sarmiento, founder of Streamline Virtual Office Solutions, offers project-based, administrative assistance to companies that do not need a physical presence. So it is no surprise that a major client is Andy Wibbels, the king of promoting blog-based businesses.

For some people, such as Yang, virtual companies present a continual mix of work life and personal life where neither begins or ends. For others, such as Yeh and Sarmiento, a virtual company is a way to discover optimal methods for dividing a day.

Last week Sarmiento was experimenting with a four-hour workday. “I’m trying to be really productive,” she says, and then defines what she means by that in a blog post aimed at helping other virtual entrepreneurs manage their time. “You cannot work harder,” she advises, it’s more about prioritizing. “Just turn off the computer at the end of four hours. This experiment is almost entirely psychological.”

It might seem that in the land of virtual companies, in a virtual economy, there is virtually no work getting done. But Yang and Sarmiento both exemplify the work ethic that typifies virtual offices.

“In a small company where people know each other and are dedicated to a cause or a calling, you can count on everyone to be productive,” says Yeh. But even a technology cheerleader such as Yeh doesn’t foresee a workplace devoid of stupid meetings and wasteful schedules. “The virtual office can cut down on the BS,” he says, “but BS is part of human nature.”

Are you considering entrepreneurship? It’s all the rage right now because the bar at the start line has never been lower. Here are nine new ideas about entrepreneurship that will make you feel like you can do it, too. Right now:

1. You don’t need a venture capitalist, you are the venture capitalist.
Today, you can make something people want without spending money. Technology is simple enough to use that you don’t need to pay for high-end software to get a business off the ground. If you can figure out how to pay for food and lodging (hello, mom and dad) then you can fund your own startup.

2. For a killer marketing plan make a list of your friends.
“Businesses these days are built on word of mouth,” says Scott Fox, author of Internet Riches. You know 200 people. Send them an email telling them about your business. If it’s great, word of mouth will generate a customer base. If your business isn’t great, you’ll know right away.

This can be true offline as well. Daniela Corte started with an even smaller base than 200. She gave five friends custom-fitted pants. “I wanted this pair of pants to be their favorite pair,” she says. And it worked. After interviewing the friends about fit and texture preferences, Corte created pants that were buzz worthy, and she grew a multi-national business from those first five women raving about their pants.

3. Globalization is good for you.
As long as your needs are well defined, hiring a programmer in India is a great way to save money. When Katherine Lee wanted to create a database of yarns for her business Sweaterbabe.com, she paid an Indian programmer $250 — a significantly lower price than US developers would have charged.

But you have to know what you’re doing when you outsource to India. If you’re looking for someone to hold your hand and teach you about online design, forget it. But you can pay the online design maven her US rates and then send the design plan to the guy in India to execute.

4. You only need to master a small niche.
Google makes searching so effective that customers with a very specific interest can find businesses with a very specific interest — at such a high rate that niche businesses are more viable than ever before (like mobile game development). This is the premise of Chris Anderson‘s book, The Long Tail, which encourages entrepreneurs to focus on the small areas of the world that are neglected by big retailers because the market is not big enough.

And Fox points out that everyone knows a lot about something, so the best place in the long tail to start experimenting is where you have a good deal of specialized knowledge — which is likely to be a niche.

5. You don’t need a widget, you can sell yourself.
The idea of an Internet startup is to grow an audience first, and then figure out how to make money. So a logical place to turn to is yourself, because if you can build an audience, then you’re an expert in something.

At the sprightly age of 24, Ramit Sethi writes the very popular personal finance blog iwillteachyoutoberich.com. He has parlayed this success into a public speaking career (seriously — Fortune 500 companies are paying him to come talk to employees about finance) and a book-writing career (stay tuned for his advice on how to recruit hotshots like him to your company).

6. You don’t have to quit your day job.
Jessa Crispin did not set out to start a business. She was just writing books reviews and posting them on her web site, Bookslut. The reviews were so popular that eventually she was able to quit her job and make Bookslut her fulltime job. But she built the business while working at another job.

Of course, not everyone is a genius on the first try like Crispin. But Fox points out, “The feedback loop is short. So you can try several different things to see what works.” The trick is to recognize when your idea is going nowhere before you’ve sunk too much time into it.

7. Entrepreneurship is about choosing a lifestyle.
Most entrepreneurs don’t start a business to get rich, they start a business so they can live the life they want. Maybe they want to be creative, maybe they want to do what they’re passionate about, increasingly, they want to have flexibility to manage their own workday.

When Corte had a baby she realized that her current business model with daily fittings was too time-intensive. So she moved her retail business to online in order to continue to be able to offer her clothes direct to consumers but to regain time for her daughter.

8. You don’t need to wait to cash out.
The 1980s brought us real estate flipping; the new millennium brings us web site flipping. Not only are people auctioning their companies on eBay for denominations formerly reserved for successful garage sales, but there are more than 70 Internet locations where people are buying and selling web sites 24 hours a day.

Tom Kuegler, partner at New Concept Factory, runs an incubator that is starting eight Internet companies each quarter. He estimates that most of these companies he’ll “unload at a low price” and two out of twenty-four will grow into “super companies.” If this sounds pie-in-the-sky to you, consider that Kuegler is no neophyte. He’s been starting and selling Internet companies since 1994.

9. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, and you can change the world.
This idea comes from eighteen-year-old Ben Casnocha, who founded Comcate, a leading software company for governments, when he was twelve years old. Yep. That’s right. Twelve years old.

Casnocha says, “Entrepreneurship has a lot to do with business but it is a way of thinking about things that everyone can do: Seeing individuals as empowered as agents of change; Trying to figure out the status quo, the normal thing, and then thinking about what we can do differently. If more people thought like entrepreneurs the world could be a better place.”

Matt Rivers became an entrepreneur at age 17 when his favorite surf shop went out of business and he used his dishwashing money to buy it. “At first there was only one T-shirt rack and one shorts rack and when I sold a T-shirt I bought two more.” Today his Cape Cod-based business has one of the most recognized names in east coast surfing thanks to his sponsorship of the Pump House surf team. And of course, Rivers surfs every day.

It used to be that people started out in a large company, and after ten or fifteen years of little fulfillment, they tried entrepreneurship as a way to get out of a bad spot. Today many young people recognize right off the bat that corporate life will not be fulfilling, and according to the Entrepreneur's Organization, the most common age for starting a business has shifted from 35-45 to under 34.

A new view of entrepreneurship has swept through a generation that has seen their parents' loyalty rewarded with layoffs and their parents' pensions destroyed with impunity. The goals and values of today's younger workers make entrepreneurship look more appealing than ever as the bad rap of the twentieth century fades. Consider these comparisons:

Twentieth century: The hours of an entrepreneur are insane and you live at your office.
Millennial: Entrepreneurship provides flexibility necessary for a balanced life. Harris Interactive reports that men in their 20s and early 30s value making time for their family more than they value landing a powerful job. For women, the numbers seeking a career with flexibility are even higher.

Twentieth century: Entrepreneurs need a trust fund or an appetite for living on the edge.
Millennial: Working for yourself is not that risky. Dun & Bradstreet estimate that 76% of new businesses survive more than two years, which is hardly high-risk odds. Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, says, “You can make a nice living,” and besides, “there is no longer such thing as a stable, corporate job.”

Twentieth century: Entrepreneurs are self-aggrandizing. (Think: Colonel Sanders on all the buckets.)
Millennial: Starting a business provides a way to give back to the community. Ask Nate Wolfson, founder of Thrive Networks, what makes him most excited about this IT consulting firm and he says, “We're a two-time winner of the fifty best places to work in Boston.” Ask Rivers how many employees he has grown to and he says, “It's not like that. We're a family here. Each year the store grows, the surf team grows.”

Most of you under the age of 34 have contemplated, at one point or another, the idea of starting your own business. Rich Farrell, founder and CEO of Boston-based technology company FullArmor, says it's easier if you do it earlier. He started his business right out of school, when his parents' basement seemed like reasonable living quarters. “I couldn't do that now. My wife wouldn't live in the basement and my parents wouldn't live with my two-year old 24/7. If I were starting today I'd have to raise money from angels or VCs.”

Do you wonder if you have the entrepreneurial chops to forward? Andrew Zacharakis, professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, cites three traits that make successful entrepreneurs:

1. Strong knowledge base in the arena you want to enter. Rivers, for example, grew up working at the very store he purchased. On top of that, as an expert surfer he's able to build a surf team that garners national attention for the store.

2. An extensive network both inside and outside of your field. A strong network can give you leads to customers, suppliers, and partners. Networking is something you need to feel comfortable doing every day. Don't underestimate the value of a surf team, but don't overestimate the value of knowledge you cannot leverage at a cocktail party.

3. Commitment. As in Ramen noodles every night. Zacharakis' warns, “you need to be prepared for some lean years during which you draw little or no salary.” Wolfson adds, “When you're an entrepreneur you're never not working. You're always trying to think about what you can do next. I drive my fiancé crazy because I talk about it nonstop.”

Do you think you have what it takes? Not so fast. The first step, for everyone, is finding your passion. According to Zacharakis, “Passion is something you have to look for every day of your life. It’s likely to change over time, but finding your passion is good practice.” It’s the first step to finding a balanced life, and the first step on the path to a committed career.

For those of you about to start another year at school, here’s a list of things to keep in mind: Twenty things to do in college to set yourself up for a great job when you graduate.

1. Get out of the library.
“You can have a degree and a huge GPA and not be ready for the workplace. A student should plan that college is four years of experience rather than 120 credits,” says William Coplin, professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College. Many people recommend not hiring someone with a 4.0 because that student probably has little experience beyond schoolwork.

2. Start a business in your dorm room.
It’s relatively easy, and Google and Yahoo are dying to buy your business early, when it’s cheap. Besides, running a company in your room is better than washing dishes in the cafeteria. Note to those who play poker online until 4am: Gambling isn’t a business. It’s an addiction.

3. Don’t take on debt that is too limiting.
This is not a reference to online gambling, although it could be. This is about choosing a state school over a pricey private school. If that’s still too tough financially, then consider starting at a community college or look into online degrees vs traditional ones. Almost everyone agrees you can get a great education at an inexpensive school. So in many cases the debt from a private school is more career-limiting than the lack of brand name on your diploma.

4. Get involved on campus.
When it comes to career success, emotional intelligence — social skills to read and lead others —get you farther than knowledge or job competence, according to Tiziana Casciaro, professor at Harvard Business School. Julie Albert, a junior at Brandeis University, is the director of her a-cappella group and head of orientation this year. She hones her leadership skills outside the classroom, which is exactly the place to do it.

5. Avoid grad school in the humanities.
Survival rates in this field are very close to survival rates on the Titanic. One in five English PhD’s find stable university jobs, and the degree won’t help outside the university: “Schooling only gives you the capacity to stand behind a cash register,” says Thomas Benton, a columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Education (who has a degree in American Civilization from Harvard and a tenured teaching job.)

6. Skip the law-school track.
Lawyers are the most depressed of all professionals. Stress in itself does not make a job bad, says Alan Krueger, economist at Princeton University. Not having control over one’s work does make a bad job, though, and lawyers are always acting on behalf of someone else. Suicide is the leading cause of premature death among lawyers. (Evan Shaeffer has a great post on this topic.)

7. Play a sport in college.
People who play sports earn more money than couch potatoes, and women executives who played sports attribute much of their career success to their athletic experience, says Jennifer Cripsen, of Sweet Briar College. You don’t need to be great at sports, you just need to be part of a team.

8. Separate your expectations from those of your parents.
“Otherwise you wake up and realize you’re not living your own life,” says Alexandra Robbins, author of the popular new book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. (Note to parents: If you cringe as you read this list then you need to read this book.)

9. Try new things that you’re not good at.
“Ditch the superstar mentality that if you don’t reach the top, president, A+, editor in chief, then the efforts were worthless. It’s important to learn to enjoy things without getting recognition,” says Robbins.

10. Define success for yourself.
“Society defines success very narrowly. Rather than defining success as financial gain or accolades, define it in terms of individual interests and personal happiness,” says Robbins.

11. Make your job search a top priority.
A job does not fall in your lap, you have to chase it. Especially a good one. It’s a job to look for a job. Stay organized by using Excel spreadsheets or online tools to track your progress. And plan early. Goldman Sachs, for example, starts their information sessions in September.

12. Take a course in happiness.
Happiness studies is revolutionizing how we think of psychology, economics, and sociology. How to be happy is a science that 150 schools in the country teach. Preview: Learn to be more optimistic. This class will show you how.

13. Take an acting course.
The best actors are actually being their most authentic selves, says Lindy Amos, of communications coaching firm TAI Resources. Amos teaches executives to communicate authentically so that people will listen and feel connected. You need to learn to do this, too, and you may as well start in college.

14. Learn to give a compliment.
The best compliments are specific, so “good job” is not good, writes Lisa Laskow Lahey, psychologist at Harvard and co-author of How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work. Practice on your professors. If you give a good compliment the recipient will think you’re smarter: Big payoff in college, but bigger payoff in the work world.

15. Use the career center.
These people are experts at positioning you in the workforce and their only job is to get you a job. How can you not love this place? If you find yourself thinking the people at your college’s career center are idiots, it’s probably a sign that you really, really don’t know what you’re doing.

16. Develop a strong sense of self by dissing colleges that reject you.
Happy people have “a more durable sense of self and aren’t as buffeted by outside events,” writes Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California-Riverside. When bad things happen, don’t take it personally. This is how the most successful business people bounce back quickly from setback.

17. Apply to Harvard as a transfer student.
Sure people have wild success after going to an Ivy League school but this success is no more grand than that of the people who applied and got rejected. People who apply to Ivy League schools seem to have similar high-self-confidence and ambition, even if they don’t get in, according to research by Krueger.

18. Get rid of your perfectionist streak.
It is rewarded in college, but it leads to insane job stress, and an inability to feel satisfied with your work. And for all of you still stuck on #6 about ditching the law school applications: The Utah Bar Journal says that lawyers are disproportionately perfectionists.

19. Work your way through college.
Getting involved in student organizations counts, and so does feeding children in Sierra Leone or sweeping floors in the chemistry building. Each experience you have can grow into something bigger. Albert was an orientation leader last year, and she turned that experience into a full-time summer job that morphed into a position managing 130 orientation leaders. A great bullet on the resume for a junior in college.

20. Make to do lists.
You can’t achieve dreams if you don’t have a plan to get there.

The odds are that you will probably consider self-employment at some point: Eighty-nine percent of people in the United States who make more than $50,000 a year are self-employed, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

As with all decision points, the way to make the best choice is to know yourself. If you get bored easily, do a lot of different jobs. If you are a type-A hyperachiever, do one business really, really well. If you have a small tolerance for risk, keep a full-time job while you explore other options. All are great ways to make the shift to working for yourself.

One of the most interesting recipes for self-employment comes from self-employment evangelist Barbara Winter. Winter says that it’s easier to have five jobs that generate $10,000 a year than it is to have one job that generates $50,000 a year — the perfect scenario for opening an eBay business, renting out a room in your condo, writing press releases for your friend’s startup, etc.

This is, essentially, juggling five jobs, but Winter’s book describes ways of making it seem manageable: “The juggler walks out on the stage with ten sticks and ten plates, but doesn’t begin spinning them all at once. Methodically, the juggler positions the first plate on a stick and gets it into motion. Once done, the juggler moves on to the next, then the next, and so forth. Eventually, all ten of the plates are spinning away, each with its own momentum.” (This is how I feel about blogging — it’s like throwing another plate in the air for me.)

If you have spent some time in the workforce, consider becoming a consultant, which essentially is making a single, focused business out of yourself. “You should have at least five years of workplace experience before you go on your own,” says Laurie Young, founder of Flexible Resources, “because you are offering your experience.” Also, you need marketing skills to sell yourself. It takes a certain kind of talent “to show people you have skills they can use.”

Find a market niche that you can dominate. Otherwise there is no way to distinguish yourself from all the other consultants, no way to stand out. (Two good books on this: Small is the New Big, and The Long Tail.) Young did this herself, as a recruiter. She is a headhunter for people who want flexible jobs (she herself job shares the CEO position at Flexible Resources). If she were a more typical headhunter, she would not stand out above the crowd as well.

Alexandra Levit worked in public relations for Computer Associates and then struck out on her own, as a consultant in publicity and marketing communications. In terms of making the transition, Levit advises that you “try lining up a few jobs that you can have before you take the leap,” and be prepared to spend “about 30% of your time marketing yourself.”

Levit provides a snapshot of reality for all entrepreneurs when she says, “Don’t expect the drawbacks to be only financial. You need a lot of self-discipline to sit down in your home office and work without any external pressure. Working for yourself means you’re responsible for every aspect of the business,” and this means, ironically, even some of the annoying tasks you were trying to avoid by working for yourself.

There’s disconcerting news in CareerJournal today. They list the top ten professions, using generally the same criteria that Salary.com used to come up with its list of the ten best professions. And the only professions that are (only sort of) on both lists are: “analyst” and “social worker/psychologist”.

Analyst is such a broad term that it is almost useless, but it is conveniently something that requires almost the complete opposite skills as social worker/psychologist. So at least most personality types have an opportunity here.

Maybe the only really actionable advice on this topic comes from what has become one of my favorite sources for career advice, New York Magazine. Here’s a quote from a funny and informed lecture on happiness by Ben Mathis-Lilley:

“Don’t go to law school. Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to be depressed than members of other professions, and it’s not just because their jobs are more stressful. For most people, job stress has little effect on happiness unless it is accompanied by a lack of control (lawyers, of course, have clients to listen to) or involves taking something away from somebody else (a common feature of the legal system).”

That advice is not just for lawyers, it’s for everyone. Even if you can’t be an analyst or psychologist, at least get a job where you have control over your work.

What is control? For some people, it’ll mean working for yourself. But you can have control working for other people, too.

I asked David Blanchflower, professor at Dartmouth College who is known for slicing data to create happiness equations, “What does having control over one’s work really mean?”

He said that control goes beyond just workload and pace. “People don’t like to feel there’s a risk of being fired. They like control over what they wear, they want access to the heat control.”

Surprisingly, in study after study, women report more job satisfaction than men do. So maybe the biggest factor in whether or not you feel like you have control over your work is not whether you’re in a “best profession” but whether or not you’re a woman.

Recently, Aaron Karo performed stand-up comedy in a string of sold-out shows. He also bills himself as an author, a public speaker, and a sitcom actor. Karo has always juggled a few careers. After college, he went to work for an investment bank. But he was also writing a weekly newsletter that had tens of thousands of subscribers. And he wrote a book.

About ten years ago, British management guru Charles Handy predicted that people would replace the idea of one, full-time job, with several different part-time occupations. He called this the “portfolio career,” and Karo provides a good example of how this trend is taking shape.

A portfolio career is not the same thing as holding down three bad jobs and wishing you could figure out what to do with yourself. Rather, it is a scheme you pursue purposefully and positively, as a way to achieve financial or personal goals or a mixture of both. This new type of career choice can include several highly skilled, professional posts, often mixing employment with self-employment, and volunteer work or learning work with fee-based work.

While there has been scattered adoption of the portfolio career among baby boomers, the idea is gaining a lot of traction among younger workers, even though they never use the term. The Electronic Recruiting Exchange reports that as many as a third of new workers are looking for alternatives to full-time employment. For people in their twenties and early thirties, a portfolio career is a means of self-discovery, hedging one’s bets, and protecting their quality of life.

Most people have skills that cross into more than one profession. And if you take any one of the popular personality tests offered by web sites and career counselors you will find that peoples’ personalities do not fit neatly into one type of profession either.

So the idea of having to choose one single profession is frequently unappealing. Ezra Zuckerman, associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, told me, “A lot of people feel alienated when thy feel there is more to themselves that they have not shown [in their work].” Young people are particularly drawn to the idea of a career as a vehicle to fulfillment and self-actualization, so they are less apt than Handy’s generation to settle into one, narrow career.

The arguments for a portfolio career at the beginning of one’s adult life are clear. Professor of psychology at Harvard, Daniel Gilbert, told me that the best way to figure out what will make you happy is to try it. A portfolio career gives you the opportunity to try three or four types of work at the same time, and to keep switching out choices until you come up with a portfolio that you like.

Karo, for example, dropped the banking career when he stopped liking the daily suit-and-tie routine. And when I ask him when his next book is coming out, he hems and haws and it’s clear that the career as an author is not so appealing — at least right now.

The trick in all career decisions is to figure out the intersection of your skills and your passions. This is an ongoing process, not a final destination, so a portfolio of part-time careers is more conducive to this path of discovery than a single, eight-hours-every-day career. Andrew Zacharakis, professor at Babson College told me, “Passion is something you have to look for every day of your life. Your passion is likely to change over time but finding your passion is good practice. Part of the search for you passion should be a search to know what your skill set is. Ask parents, mentors, and friends. Try to mach skills you have with your passion.”

The problem with a portfolio career is that you run the risk being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none — a problem in terms of both money and fulfillment.

“The most secure portfolio careers are with people who have a fairly solid skill base that people will pay for,” says Ian Christie, career coach and author of the Bold Career blog. “You have to hang your hat on something. Either a functional skill, like accounting and you can be, say, a personal trainer at home. Or you need to find a market niche and provide a lot of services, such as training, development, outsource contracting, etcetera.

And you probably need a creative outlet in your portfolio. “When we are involved in creativity we feel that we are living more fully than in the rest of life,” says, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. Any work can include creative thinking, but, he told me, “if you want to be creative then you must learn to do something well,” To excel at something requires you to challenge yourself continually. Achieving high skill level at something is an important step toward fulfillment because, “most people want to think they have explored the limits of their potential.”

Karo says he receives a lot of email from people asking how they can follow their creative dreams. And his advice is, appropriately, the Instant-message-length version of Handy’s book-length theory: “You’ve gotta do it on the side. Diversify your revenue streams. Do what you’re passionate about.”

Can we all just stop talking about promotions like they matter? A promotion has meaning when someone is moving up the corporate ladder at such a slow pace that every small step is grounds for celebration.

But there are no more ladders because no one stays long enough at a company to get up the whole ladder. And even if someone did try to climb, they’d probably be laid-off outsourced or off-shored before they got to the top.

So what is the point of a promotion? Titles do not matter because they are accoutrements of hierarchy in a nonhierarchical workforce. And no one cares about getting MORE responsibly that implicitly comes with a promotion, they want the RIGHT kind of responsibility — which means interesting work and a chance to expand one’s skills set.

So all that’s left to justify continuing to talk about promotions is getting a raise, which is hardly a notable event. Here is a headline from Salary.com: “Raise Outlook Better than Employees Expected”. The article goes on to say that the average raise was something just above three percent. Let’s say four percent. This means if you were making $100,000 a year, you’ll get $4,000 a year more. SO WHAT? After cost of living and tax adjustments you are looking at a little over a thousand dollars. That will not change your life in any significant way, that’s for sure.

When someone tries to give you a promotion or insult you with a $1000 a year raise, tell them you want someone that really matters. Here are some suggestions:

1. Growth opportunities

Learning new skills is worth a lot more to you than some ridiculous 4% raise. Ask to get on a team that will teach you how to do something you think is important. Ask to work with the clients who are doing the most innovative projects. Request a training budget and send yourself to a bunch of seminars. The best way to learn is to role-play, which everyone hates to do, so go to a seminar where someone is forces you to do it.

2. Mentor opportunities

Ask to be matched with a mentor in the company. This is not a revolutionary request. Human resource executives have been studying this process for more than a decade and they know how to pick someone good for you. They just need to spend a little time doing it.

3. Flex-time opportunities

If you are so great at your job that you have earned a promotion, suggest that you keep your current job but do it from home or do it four days a week. After all, you’ve already shown you perform well. Heck, ask to work from Tahiti; you should be able to do the job however you want as long as you maintain that stellar level of performance.

4. Entrepreneurial opportunities

Just say no. To the promotion, that is. Now that you have a sense of how much time and energy your current job requires, now that you’ve mastered the scope, you can try something on the side. The safest way to experiment with running your own business is to do it while you still have a regular paycheck. Who cares if it doesn’t include that 4% raise? Think of that paycheck as a research grant for your ideas for a side business.

Instead of letting last century’s carrots dictate your workplace rewards, think about what is right for you, right now. What do you really need? You don’t need a promotion. It’s something else. Think about what would really make a difference in your life and then make it happen. While the rest of your organization is focusing on titles and money you can slip under the radar and get something truly meaningful.