Most career problems stem from the fact that we are terrible at picking jobs. We think we are picking a good job and then it turns out to be a bad job. It’s almost impossible to pick a good job on the first try, actually. So don’t think you’ll be the exception.

I’m not an exception either. When the reality TV people came to our farm , I expected that it would be fun for them and it would suck for me. In fact, though, my family had a really good time, and I couldn’t believe how difficult the work was for the film crew.

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During my twenties I played in beach volleyball tournaments with Olympic contenders all the time. You’d think this would mean that I love watching beach volleyball in the Olympics. But actually, watching makes me sad.

After college, I moved to Los Angeles, determined to play on the professional beach volleyball tour. People thought I had completely lost my mind. I gave up an invitation to study history in Yale’s graduate program. I gave up a job offer in New York City publishing. I gave up living in Chicago, where my whole family was.

Here’s what my day was like: I woke up at 7am and I walked to a bagel store. I ate four bagels because I had no money for food and I had to eat cheap calories that would hold me over until the end of  the day. Read more

It was a big decision whether we should do reality TV. Since mostly only people with crazy, falling-apart lives do reality TV, I realized that to feel good about doing the show, I’d have to think about it as a job. Otherwise I couldn’t justify spending so much time on it. So I evaluated the TV show as if it were a job opportunity.

1. Make sure it’ll be a psychologically positive experience.
In my mind, reality TV is letting someone else tell my story. But right now I make a living from me telling my story. So I need to be really careful letting other people do that. Also, the Farmer said no. Just plain no. He wanted nothing to do with it. He pointed out that he is the only one of the two of us who lets someone else tell his story, and he can tell me from experience that I won’t like it.

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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

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

The career passion myth and how it derails you

You do not need to have a life full of passion. What is that life, anyway?

You probably don’t even know what passion is. But if you really thought about what you were aiming for when you talk about passion and careers, eventually you’d get to the idea of engagement.

This is not a controversial thought: that you would want to be engaged in your work. Engagement is one of the most important aspects of your worklife. Almost every study about what makes people happy at work comes down to engagement. Read more

Sunday nights at our house are dinner with me, the kids, the Farmer and the Ex. They are always fun dinners, and I always feel very lucky for that.

My six-year-old talked about his new baby cousin, Eva (who is pictured, in utero, above). “She has a terrible name,” he said, “for Pig Latin. Its Vaeay. It doesn’t work.”

We all do the vowel arranging in our heads and agree, Eva is not a good Pig Latin name.

“Mom has a great name! It’s Enelopepay.”

The Farmer says, “It sounds like it could be the name of her next company.”

The Ex says, “Yeah, emphasis on the pay.”

The three adults laugh.

And then I get nervous. About what I’m going to do next. If you have had three companies, people assume you will have a fourth. So I assume that, too. Which makes me nervous. Read more

I confess that I don’t feel like I’m working to my potential. And it makes me feel sick. I know the signs. It starts with me not being able to cope with my to-do list. It all looks too overwhelming. So I scale things back: I take out everything that has to do with starting a company.

The next stage of not living up to my potential is that I can’t read anything. I tried to read the New York Times magazine cover story about fixing a marriage. I can’t open it, though. The woman who is the author wrote about her own experience. Fuck. I should have posted about that.

I should have written the post about how our couples therapist fired us because neither of us seems to be capable of getting past our horrible childhoods long enough to connect with someone in a real way. He fired us but then I used my amazing negotiating skills to convince him to take us back and then I had a screaming fit in the therapist’s office and said he’s incompetent and doesn’t give us clear direction. It was a good moment, actually. Because now that I fired him, instead of him firing me, I am fulfilled in my need to ruin relationships with people all around me and I now I have space to let the Farmer get close to me. Read more

We have a huge vegetable garden. While the Farmer was planting huge crops of corn and hay, I was planting twenty types of vegetables. I have not bought vegetables from the store since May, when the first lettuce was ripe.

This is a picture of me digging through our forty tomato plants.

When I was putting them in the ground, I never dreamed that forty would really grow. In the northern suburbs of Chicago, where I grew up, the vegetables we planted never came up. So I sort of planned for that. But instead, I have an incredible supply of tomatoes.

When I can find them. Because I didn’t stake the tomatoes. So every couple of days, I go out and hunt for them, in what has become a thick brush of tomato stems. Read more

 

The future of the Internet is design: from fine art galleries to the size of the box you type in name. So start figuring out how to rejigger things to make your career relevant.

Here’s how I know what’s coming:

First, a flurry of emails arrive in my in-box each day touting “free infographics.” After sniffing around, I discovered that infographics garner so many clicks that SEO mavens publish quick, cheesy infographics to hand out for free in exchange for links back to publisher sites. The infographics suck so much that I’m not even going to show you one, but there’s a lesson here: people love pictures. Read more