Maybe it's time to set aside all those “know yourself” advice books, and try lying to yourself about who you are. You are a finance wiz. You are a sales guru. You are a genius writer.

Any successful careerist needs to be these things. But most of us are not really all of these things. The skills are too diverse even for the mind of an overachiever like you. But why not try telling yourself you are all these things and see what happens? After all, the first step to being great at something is to believe that you're great at it. Then you will attack the task at hand expecting yourself to succeed.

You can say you don't like selling. You can say you're above it. But you may never get the chance to know, because people who can't sell themselves can't get jobs. So, okay, you don't have to sell cars (though you should study the people who do — the best are incredible sales people and could sell anything to anyone.) But you do have to sell yourself to get a job, and you have to sell your ideas in order to keep your job interesting. (Singles, take note: Dating is, in fact, the most important sales game of your life.)

The hardest thing about sales is taking the time to understand what the person you're selling to cares about, and under which scenario that person is a good listener. People who say, “I'm bad at sales,” are people who, for the most part, refuse to take the time to understand people. How embarrassing. So even if you are bad at understanding people, don't announce it to the world by saying you can't sell. Call yourself a salesperson and practice all the time.

I first learned the importance of faking it when I had to present financials to my angel investors. I had to pretend that I did not score in the bottom 20% of the math section of the GRE. I had to say confidently, “Oh, I have everything explained in an Excel spreadsheet.” And then I had to hire someone to teach me to use Excel.

Today, I don't run numbers as fast as a real finance wiz, but I have confidence because I told my investors I knew what I was doing thereby forcing myself to learn. Thank goodness, because each of us needs to be a finance wiz.

You need to understand broad corporate financial goals in order to place your own projects in context. You need to understand how to manage a dynamic budget without tripping on the question, “How did you get to the number on line six?” Most CEOs did not move up the ladder via financial positions, but you never hear a CEO say he's bad at finance. In an ambitious career there is no room for financial weaknesses. So don't ever say you don't do numbers.

Here's a scenario: you write an e-mail that consists one, 25-line paragraph with no breaks. No one reads it. At best it looks unintelligible because it's too long a paragraph for email. At worst, it *is* unintelligible. But still, in this case you are a writer, you are just a terrible writer.

The list of scary scenarios is endless: If you send a disorganized report to your boss, she won't understand it; If you have typos in your resume you'll lose interviews. Everyone's career is dependent on their talent for communication. And in the age of email everyone's a writer.

So take responsibility for your own communications and function like you are a top-tier writer. This means outlining first so that you are organized, writing to the point, and proofreading. A few of you will need to take a grammar class. Some of you, who have made some of my past projects miserable, will need to take ten grammar classes.

So lie to yourself. Tell yourself you are great at sales, writing and finance, and you might not be great, but you will get a lot better. And even a small improvement in each of these skills will add up to a large improvement in your career trajectory.

Feeling stuck? Uninspired? As though your New Year's resolutions have no spark? Maybe it's time to start your own business. It’s likely you intuitively know if you're actually an entrepreneur stuffed in a corporate cubicle. The entrepreneurship bug isn’t something that hits in middle age. It’s something that's inside you from day one — a part of who you are. So don't be stifled by your age or lack of experience. Just make sure you have the right personality for success and the right attitude toward failure.

Get a good idea
Starting a business is very high-risk. Most entrepreneurs fail. So minimize your risk by honestly evaluating if your concept is valid and marketable. Remember, just because you like your idea doesn't mean there’s a market full of buyers for it, so do your research. Tip: your mom’s opinion doesn’t count because she’s biased, so find a small business mentor and ask her.

Assess your personality
You also need the right personality to run your own business. You must like people and people must like you — so you can get them to do what you want. You need to be able to make fast, confident decisions, and you need to be organized so that you can give clear direction to others. If your product launch flops, you are the one who has to tell everyone why the company is still on the road to success. If you can’t rally the troops, you need a business partner.

You also need boundless energy. When you own the company, you set the pace and the standards. Remember the day at the office last month when you were upset and tired from worrying about your personal life the night before, so you surfed the Internet all day? Relaxing, wasn’t it? You can’t do this when you own the company. Most small business owners work 80-hour weeks and wish they needed less sleep.

I have these traits. And I started a business. I raised funds and hired employees, and, surprise, the company was successful and I eventually cashed out. But I paid a high price. I worked almost every waking minute. When cash flow was poor, I worried not only about my own paycheck, but about the paychecks of my employees. When cash flow was good, deal flow was heavy and my workload doubled even though I was already maxed out. While I was negotiating the sale of my shares, my hair started falling out. I didn't know this happened to women, but apparently it does, usually from intense stress.
Fortunately, most small business owners are optimistic. And I am, too. I bought some Nioxin to make my hair grow back. And once I regained my former full mane, I started another business.

It failed. And I lost a lot of the money I made from the first business. There were many reasons for the failure: Bad timing, bad economy, and maybe, in hindsight, bad idea. If you think you have the personality to succeed as a small business owner, make sure you have the right approach to failure as well.

Minimize risk to your checkbook and your career
I invested only the money I could afford to lose. I had no kids and no mortgage. I lost my loot from my first company, but I didn't lose my shirt: I kept enough to live on for a while longer.” Think of starting a business as gambling: When you go to Vegas, never bet your plane fare home. Once my company closed, I enlisted a resume-writing service to help me frame my business flop as a career hop to the next level of management.

Fail quickly and move on
Most business leaders fail once or twice before hitting it big. Think of failure as a necessary career step and move through it quickly and assuredly — recognize when things are going poorly, fail fast, learn, and get another idea.

To those of you with the right personality, I say bring it on! You will be pleased that you turned tough economic times into an opportunity for fulfillment. And even if you fail, remember that statistics indicate you are most likely to succeed when you are doing something you love.

Thanksgiving. The start of the season of good cheer: Parties, shortened workweeks, year-end bonuses. For me, though, this season is also one of guilt — over what I actually give to the world. I know that if I flew to Somalia, I could keep a little girl from starving by personally feeding her each day. Likewise, if I spent every afternoon after school with an underprivileged nine-year-old on the brink of joining a gang, he would probably stick to his studies. I can do a lot of good in the world, but instead, I spend my time working at jobs that, let's face it, don’t save anyone.

I once tried to salve my guilt by way of my government surplus business. We planned to expand to a catalogue business, but the cost to organize the data was so astronomical that the idea didn’t make sense. But then someone mentioned India. “Data entry is cheap in India, and everyone speaks English,” he said.

I plugged Indian laborers into my P&L, and even when I accounted for a few U.S. managers, profitability for the catalog business was 85 percent. Too high, actually. I knew my board wouldn’t believe it. They would say my assumptions were wrong. So I spent evenings combing through the details of other catalog P&Ls searching for cost categories that I might have missed.

Then I read an article in Marie Claire magazine about sex slaves. Did you know that Indian cities are full of child sex slaves? They can be bought for $300 apiece. Here was my big chance to save a group of girls from a despicable existence. I added another 20 people to the P&L — they would be young girls — and then I included housing for them (above the rooms used for data-entry) and money for a school next to the cafeteria. I even increased staffing so that each data-entry clerk could spend an hour a day teaching the girls. One-on-one tutoring. Art classes. The Internet. My profit margins were 65 percent, the board's sweet spot.

I felt good going into the next board meeting. We brought up the India idea gingerly, focusing not on the Marie Claire article but on the cost savings and the shrewd worldview of operations. We presented charts and graphs outlining the economics of data entry in India. The board loved the idea. Before I could mention my save-the-world scheme, one board member gave me the name of a friend who had a company in India and and said the friend would do everything for me.

No flying to Mumbai. No rescue mission. No school. Instead I would be giving more business to the data-entry king of Mumbai who probably never thought about the sex trade in India.

So I gave money to AFESIP, the charity the Marie Claire article said rescues the girls. I gave a bunch of money because, at the time, I was earning a bunch of money. I told myself that making a lot of money working in corporate America and giving it to charity was better than actually working for a charity. My money, I reasoned, was worth more than my time would be if I were on the streets rescuing young girls from evildoers. I did some quick math in my head and figured that my earnings could pay for two or three rescuers, as opposed to me going to India myself.

I can't tell you that I gave a huge percentage of my income. I didn't. I kept some money to fund things like private yoga lessons and a new BMW. And I can't tell you that giving to charity made me feel 100% better.

But I live with a person who does, actually, get paid to save lives. (My husband implements programs promoting social justice.) And I can assure you that he never feels like he's doing enough, either. So I have a hunch that very few people walk through their workday guilt free.

But giving to charity does make you feel as though part of your workday, each day, contributes to helping someone who really needs help. Most people will not be able to turn a job selling widgets into a save-the-world gig, but you can feel like your job has more meaning if you give part of each paycheck to someone who needs it far more than you.

As the labor market slowly recovers from it's paycheck-killing slump, it's natural to hope for your next big break. But remember that when opportunity knocks you should open up cautiously. Beware of career opportunities that look like quick fixes because often they are really career derailments.

Figure out now what you want for your career so when opportunities pop up, you can judge them in the context of long-term goals you believe in. Managing a career is a difficult process — full of risks, disappointments, and feelings of hopelessness. People who stay on track are people who trust themselves to know what will make them happy and trust themselves to meet their goals.

Here are some examples of opportunities that derailed careers:

The family business derailment
Danny loved computers. He was an IT consultant for ten years and then he got a pink slip. He had never had to look for a job in a bad economy, so after he sent twenty resumes and heard back from no one, frustration and fear set in; Maybe he would never get a a job.

His dad, on the other hand, wanted to retire and sell his construction business. Danny saw a golden opportunity to avoid a prolonged job hunt, and he took over the family business. But Manny never wanted to run a construction company. He says he often finds himself fixing the company's computer network instead of building the company's client network. In hindsight, Danny says he could have suffered through a difficult job hunt and to remain in the IT. But at this point, he doesn't know if he has the heart to dump his dad's business.

The grad school derailment
As a college senior, my dad knew he wanted to be a history teacher, but he took the LSAT because his father wanted him to be a lawyer. My dad got a near-perfect score. So while he was applying to Harvard's graduate program in history, he filled out the application for law school, too. Harvard accepted him, but only for law. And my dad thought to himself, “Who passes up Harvard law?” So he went there, and he won a position at a top-tier law firm. But he never liked law and, frankly, he was never very good at it.

The gold rush derailment
Harry was an economic development wiz. He turned run-down cities into hipster destinations, and he had his eye on Los Angeles for his next big job. But then he saw people making millions of dollars on the Internet, and he wanted to make millions, too. So he dumped his government-pay-scale field for a dotcom. He hated his Internet company: Manic pace, pretentious twenty-somethings, and waffling management. He suffered though months and months with the hope of making millions, but the company went bankrupt. And then the economy tanked and most cities had some form of a hiring freeze. So the man who was a rising star in a field he loved became unemployed after spending a year doing something that made him miserable.

Each of these people knew what he wanted, but at a crucial point, diverged from the path he set out for himself. An opportunity is only as good as it's long-term effects on your life. Career focus will help you tell the difference between a good opportunity and a bad opportunity.

Career risks are good, but only in the context of career plans. So make a plan and then trust yourself to set goals and meet them. That way, when opportunity knocks, you won't budge for a quick fix or a big sellout — you'll focus on the path that is right for you.

It was one of those nights when my husband rolled over to my side of the bed. Usually this is the first step toward the grand maintenance of our fairly normal marriage. But this night was different. On this night I said, “I can't. It'll ruin my career.”

“Huh?” He was baffled and not quite stopped in his tracks.

“What about me hosting that TV show?” I said. “I can't be pregnant.”

And herein lies the reason that every girl should bring her career to bed with her: Pregnancy is not good for a career. A large belly is limiting; a kid even more so. But society's own perception of a mom vs. a career girl are the most limiting constraints of all.

I know because I planned my first pregnancy around my high-powered career. Everyone told me, “Don't rush. You have plenty of time.” So I didn't rush. I waited until I had made my way through two of my own companies, working long very parent-unfriendly hours. I waited until I could relocate my career across country to be in the same city as my husband. And then, just as my perfect plan reached its apex, the World Trade Center fell two blocks from my company, putting me out of a job. And all the work I did to build an impressive resume was undone when I showed up pregnant for job interviews.

I would like to tell you that employers don't care about pregnancy, but I would be lying. And I can’t fault them for having a negative viewpoint of pregnant job applicants: If two people are equally qualified for the same opening — a common occurrence in this market —the best hire is the one who isn’t five months pregnant- at least in the short term. It’s easy to be philosophical about the long term — how corporate America will only benefit from the systematic accommodation of pregnant women. But the long term is a hard sell to a hiring manager whose bonus isn’t tied to revolutionizing the workplace.

So back to the TV show. Officials with a production company had called to say they like my column and ask me whether I wanted to host a TV show about finance. Of course I was thrilled.

My husband, who’s always skeptical when skepticism isn’t warranted, said, “How can you host a TV show on finance when a company you started went bankrupt?”

“People learn from their mistakes,” I said. Then I said, “Shut up.”

The TV people wanted to interview me so I flew to LA. My husband, Mr. Pessimism, is also Mr. Hollywood (graduated from film school, dated an MTV producer, blah blah). He said, “You need someone to do hair and makeup,”

“They just want to talk to me,” I said.

He said, “They want to see how good you would look on TV.”

So I had someone do my hair and makeup, and I looked great that day. The executives told me they loved my column. They thought my wit and sensibility would come across well on TV. They talked about how the TV show would be structured and the training I would receive in on-air technique. Then they said, “Okay, we'll get back to you.”

My husband said, “That means you'll never hear from them. It's over.”

But if I listened to all my husband's pessimism, I'd have killed myself by now. So I’m still hoping.

Which brings me back to the bed. There we were, talking. We had planned another pregnancy for around this time. But I don't think I’d be hired as a TV host if I were pregnant. By the time we began taping, I'd be very pregnant. It's one thing for Catherine Zeta-Jones to show up really pregnant at the Oscars because the whole world knows she’s hot and she still looks a little hot, belly and all. But my TV audience wouldn’t know if the non-pregnant me was hot. There’s no way I could be pregnant for my TV debut (come to think of it, has anyone been pregnant for their debut as a TV show host?)

And I knew something else: You can't control everything, and there’s no perfect time to have a baby. But one time is better for women than others, and that’s sooner. When I learned the risks of waiting to have a baby, I was shocked. When a woman gets pregnant at 35, her baby has a 1 in 224 chance of being born with Down’s syndrome. There’s a 1 in 200 chance the test for Down’s syndrome will kill the baby. And the odds increase with every passing day. I didn’t hear this when I started a company at 32. Instead I heard, “You have time.”

So now I know I don't have time. And I know that if I put my next pregnancy on hold until I hear from the production company, something else is likely to come up to foil my plan of harmoniously integrating my pregnancy and my career.

We had sex that night. And we hoped for a baby. Because as a seasoned career girl, I know that even if postponing pregnancy would eventually have boosted my career, in the short term, the delay made it too high risk for my liking.

Here are some areas of your work that you should think about when deciding if it’s time to find another job. (Give yourself three points for an a, two points for a b, one point for a c.)

1. Your boss:
How often do you have lunch alone with your boss?
a. Every week at your favorite restaurant.
b. A few times a year at your boss’s favorite restaurant.
c. Once a year when your boss is apologizing for missing your performance review.

2. Future prospects at the company:
You get a big, very important assignment due in two weeks. You
a. Get unsolicited coaching from your boss because she wants to make sure you succeed at the project and get a promotion.
b. Put off the work until the last minute because you find it difficult to please your boss and you worry that you will fail.
c. Work very, very hard, but generally have no idea what you’re doing. In the end, the project is a colossal failure and your boss makes a point of taking no blame.

3. Sense of belonging:
The theme of your company party is dress as your favorite movie star. You
a. Tell your boss you resent stupidity at company parties. But you make the best of it and dress like James Dean so you can get a thrill from wearing jeans and a T-shirt to work.
b. Lobbied for a come-as-you-are party and lost. So you show up to the party but don’t dress up. You stick out like a sore thumb, or at least a sore loser, but your co-worker joins you, so good food can make things acceptable.
c. Avoid the party in full because last year the CEO drank too much and started making passes at people in your demographic.

4. The public’s perception:
Your phone rings fifteen times in one hour. Who’s on the phone?
a. Headhunters, because you are so high profile in your job that people are starting to talk about your future in the field.
b. Your friends because they know you make your evening plans in the afternoon, when work gets slow.
c. Your mom because you told her if you don’t get a new job soon you’re going to kill yourself.

5. Personnel policies:
You wake up with a throbbing boulder attached to your gum. You
a. Leave a message for your boss that you’ll be at the dentist. Receive an email from your boss the next day expressing genuine concern.
b. Call human resources to find out if you have a comp day left. When you find that you have none, declare that you’re working from home and then go to the dentist.
c. Go to work with blood dripping from your mouth. Wax nostalgic about the good old days when you had sick days at work and health insurance to pay for them.

6. Company stability:
Your company is in the newspaper today. The company just
a. Beat Wall St.’s revenue expectations.
b. Canned the CEO and hired a top turnaround specialist
c. Laid off 50% of the staff and sent a list of the jilted to the press

7. Office stress:
Your co-worker just got dumped by the guy she thought she would marry. Now she
a. Asks you if you have any friends who are available.
b. Cries all day, stopped doing her work and now you have to pick up the slack.
c. Informs you that she stole a bunch of electronics from her ex and is storing the stash in her cube. She adds, “If he comes by with a gun, don’t worry. He’d never use it.”

8. Office environment:
Your office space is:
a. Bright and sunny with nice carpet; you wish you could entertain your dates here instead of at your apartment.
b. A claustrophobic cube but at least it’s ergonomically correct.
c. Rotating. There’s one computer for two people and you use it when your co-worker goes to the bathroom.

9. Location, location, location
Your company is located
a. Three blocks from your dream house and you walk to work.
b. In a state you promised yourself you would not live in for more than five years.
c. A five-hour plane ride from the home where your three kids live.

10. The Starbucks factor:
How many Starbucks cafes are within walking distance from your office?
a. Five, because employees at your company are raking in the dough and everyone knows that where there are high salaries there are $4 cups of coffee.
b. One, but the cafe has big, cushy seats for falling asleep in the middle of the day.
c. None. To get through morning meetings you must resort to the No Doze pills of your college days.

11. Company perks.
At the end of your midday workout you:
a. Toss your sweaty clothes into the company’s health club laundry and your clothes are laundered and in your locker by tomorrow’s workout.
b. Go to the company cafeteria and load up on subsidized carbohydrates.
c. Hit the bars; work is so slow that there’s no reason to go back.

12. Salary
During your performance review, your boss
a. Gives you a map for the next five years that will rocket launch your career.
b. Informs you there is a salary freeze for everyone not related to the CEO.
c. Tells you that his own boss gave him a horrid performance review and asks if you would put in a good word for him.

13. During a business trip with the CEO
a. He uses the time to mentor you about the ways of deal making and then sits back and watches you close the deal of your life.
b. You book a flight on an obscure airline with two plane transfers to save money and find out the CEO is flying American, for twice the price, to get frequent flier miles.
c. The CEO invites you back to his hotel room at midnight, and when you decline, he says he’s insulted that you would think it was for anything but business.

14. You hold a team meeting in your office and
a. They surprise you with a birthday cake even though you didn’t tell them it’s your birthday.
b. Everyone shows up late except for the person you have been trying to fire for a year; she showed up a day early.
c. Your office is so small that the meeting has to be moved to a conference room, but there are none available because everyone’s office is too small so you cancel the meeting.

Scoring yourself:

10- 14 points
You are probably so upset about your job right now that you can’t even pull it together to launch a hunt for a new one. So instead, invest in a therapist. Try to figure out why you have stayed in this job as long as you have. Figure out why you put up with so much crap in your life. On some level, you probably enjoy it, which is why you got yourself into this mess in the first place.

You are probably bad at setting goals for yourself, because if you had any goals, you’d realize you’re not meeting them by staying in your current job. Make an honest assessment of what the two or three most important things in your life are. Figure out what you need to get them, and focus on that. Surely, part of your plan will entail getting rid of this current job.

It’s a bad economy, but for someone like you, that can’t matter. You still need to find a new job. Think about taking a step down in salary and responsibility in order to get into a better working environment. Many of the people who score very low in this test will say that they keep this job in order send their kids to camp, buy a flat screen television, etc. But your kids need a role model who is happy in their job more than they need camp. Besides, you can find a discount camp once you settle for a discount salary. And for those of you who justify your awful job in the name of wonderful electronics, remember that you spend more time at your job each day than you do in front of your television. So you get more mileage out of a job that makes you happy than a job that makes you able to buy a TV.

15-24 points
You are probably not the happiest worker in the world, but your job can be salvaged. You need goals and you need boundaries and once these are in place you will be able to put together a good job among mediocre opportunities.

Get a clear image of what you would need at this company in order to be very happy. For most people, feeling challenged and appreciated are the most important aspects of their job. So take a look at those areas first. Then examine your long-term goals and make sure that what you are doing at work now is setting you up to achieve your goals in the future. It’s a lot easier to put up with workplace BS if you know that your job meets your big- goals.

As long as you deliver a little beyond what your boss asks of you, you will be free to request additional projects that interest you and perks that enable you to continue high-level output. Let your boss know what parts of your job you like, and what parts are difficult for you — either because you hate them or because you need more coaching. Also, be sure to tell your boss how she can help you to succeed at work. She’ll appreciate this request since the better you perform the better she looks.

Reassess your situation in three or four months. If you score higher on this test next time you take it, then you are headed in the right direction. If your point spread stagnates, you need to start asking yourself some questions: Are you unable to create change because you are timid and unsure or because you are in a job that will never improve? If you think the truth lies in the latter then make a plan to jump ship. But remember that things are not so bad where you are, so look before you leap. There’s no point in jumping when there’s no other ship in sight.

24-30 points
You have a great job. The only problem you have is that you took the time to take this test. Did you not realize that you would score in the ranks of the happiest contingent? Do you not realize that you are in the worst economy in decades yet you have a great job at a great company?

Before you get yourself into trouble, learn to evaluate situations with a sharper eye. To continue your career path in the direction of success, you will have to trust your instinct. Right now, your instinct is not great — perhaps clouded by chronic self-doubt. For you, it’s important to be able to look optimistically at a situation that deserves optimism.

You are probably too unsure about your current position to have expressed proper gratitude to your boss and co-workers. When you have a good situation at work you should let people know you appreciate them. And, you should let happiness about your job shine though during the day. Your office is a nice place to be, in part, because the people are happy. You should contribute to this atmosphere by letting people know that you are happy, too.

Also, take time to learn from your boss, who seems to be very good at managing you. Few people get the chance to work for someone who cares about their career as much as your boss cares about yours. Watch what she does so that you can give people you manage the same level of support and respect.

Finally, make sure you have a clear vision of where you want to go next. You’re in a good position to get what you want out of your career, but first you have to know what you want. One of the keys to ensuring a successful career is to have a mentor. So talk to your human resources department (or your boss, if it’s a small company) about hooking you up with a mentor. It sounds like you work at the sort of company that would be happy to provide this service.

The kid competition starts early, with sleep. For the first six months of my son's life, someone would ask me every day, “How's his sleeping?” As if sleep practices are a window into a baby's genius. (And let me tell you something, if sleep is the SATs for babies, I am living with the village idiot.)

Then there are parents who say, “My son adores his books!” like he is the next Shakespeare. And there are the parents who say, “I bought puzzles for her age group but they were too easy for her!” Two words: Who cares?

I am not hoping for an early reader or a math genius. I am looking for my kid to be able to navigate adult life in a way that makes him happy. And since I do not have a trust fund to bequeath, my son will have to find happiness in a career. As a career columnist, I am pretty certain that there are things way more important than sleeping through the night:

1.Take risks
Many people write to me to say they want to change careers and they are too scared. It doesn't matter how gifted these people are: they are stuck because they can't take risks.

Parents are not natural teachers of risk because a parent is all about creating a stable home and keeping the kid from danger. (We have a joke in my family that if my mom is giving someone advice, it must be to do whatever has less risk.)

But if a kid is scared to take risks the kid will get into ruts. The kid will not see possibilities. Adults who take risks understand that failing is okay. Kids need to get practice failing.

2. Be passionate
Many adults cannot figure out what to do with themselves. They have never learned to look inside themselves. They have never developed their own, internal gauges. If you want your kid to figure out what career to go to when she's twenty-five, help her learn to figure out what she's passionate about when she's much younger.

School does not teach passion. In school, a teacher tells kids what to investigate. Whether the kid is a genius or just an average student, school is not teaching him to follow his own passions. (In fact, you could argue that at the end of eighteen years of school, the kid with straight A's had less time than the average student to figure out her own passions; those perfect students are too busy learning what they are supposed to learn.)

There will come a point for your kid when his world is not made of Scantron tests — but of wide-open, connected fields for the kid's dreams. The kid needs a working, internal compass to move in this world.

3. Work hard to attain goals
Gifted kids don't need to work hard to get A's. Pray that you have a normal kid so that schoolwork can be a lesson on working hard. For kids who can do things easily, teach a kid to work hard at something else.

Remember, though, that hard work is not an end in itself. I know too many people who worked hard in school, went on to Ivy League, and now have no idea what to do with themselves.

Hard work only matters in the context of passion and risk taking. Otherwise, you can only work hard at someone else's dreams. So lets all raise dreamers, adventurers and leaders. And don't bug me when I tell you my son never shuts his eyes, because sleep isn't the only place for dreams.

A very major publication just reviewed my friend's book. The reviewer loved the book and as I read the review, each laudatory sentence makes me more ill. I feel an overwhelming moment of self-doubt coming on. I get sweaty and my heart pounds and I feel like the world will end if I don't have sugar.

My moments of self-doubt always begin with the panic that I will not do anything important in my life. I panic that I will not even figure out what is important, let alone do it. Then I have flashbacks to all the teachers who wrote, “Penelope is bright, but she does not work up to her potential.”

Tonight I am so upset I can't even finish my stack of reading. I fear I will read somewhere in my pile that the Nobel Prize committee has decided to make 100 simultaneous awards and they are all to people I know and now everyone I ever talk to will have a Nobel Prize and I won't.

Tonight I am worrying that other people have greatness and there is a finite amount of greatness and it is slipping out of my hands. Also, it is embarrassing to admit to wanting greatness knowing that there is a risk that I will not achieve it.

To calm myself down I eat some Oreos and as the double-stuffness clears my mind, I remember the aspects of my friend's life that are so destroyed that not even an outstanding book review will help:

1. He has been married for fifteen years and cheated on his wife about fifteen times.
2. His mother is overbearing and controlling and spent his book advance on purchases that will not improve her life, or his.
3. His wife's friends hate him so much for his arrogance they do not talk to him.
4. His dog does not play well with others and you can't teach old dogs new tricks.

Okay. There. I am feeling better already.

So I sit down to do the only thing that can make things better: I do my job. I am sure that the best way to face self-doubt is to push through it.

I remind myself that this guy had writer's block for six months, and nearly lost his whole book contract because he wasn't meeting deadlines. He ran out of money three months before he delivered the book and he lived off credit cards, hoping that the book would sell so well that he would earn over and above the initial advance. He pushed himself in the face of failure and even bet on himself a second time.

I can do that. With a clear head I know that everyone who has wild success is someone who had to eat a box of Oreos. Everyone has her moments of huge self-doubt, often in the face of someone else's grand success. But there is not finite success in the world. There is just a finite amount of people who can stomach the pain of wanting success so much.

So tonight I stomach pain. I put the book review on my fridge to remind myself that my friend pushed through his own self-doubt and garnered laudatory reviews from his peers. I sit down to write another column, and eventually my self-doubt dissipates. It always does.

The major difference between a millionaire and a working stiff is that the worker uses his job as an excuse for why he’s not living his dreams and a millionaire doesn’t have that luxury. So if you want to feel like a millionaire, start asking yourself the million-dollar question: What would make me feel fulfilled?

In September, Microsoft will end the option grant program that made an estimated 10,000 employees millionaires. While this compensation change signals the end of an era of money, history should prove this time to be the beginning of an era of soul-searching.

Typically, Microsoft millionaires cashed out and bought some big-ticket items. But after a year of shopping and travel, most people grew bored and started looking for something else. Few people had planned to be so rich so early in their career. Most people planned to work their whole lives. Without the need to work they had to ask themselves, what now? What is my life about? What makes me tick?

In fact, what these millionaires had to do was figure out their priorities. What we can learn from this era of options is that everyone can have the life of a millionaire if you soul-search as seriously as the Microsofties did. Soul-searching is difficult, but it is free to those who can endure the challenges of honesty and self-knowledge.

So ask yourself, what would you do if you were a millionaire? Then figure out how to do it now, when you don’t have millions. Because it turns out that very few answers to that question really require you to stop working and live among piles of money.

I realized this truth when I cashed out of one company and started another and found myself making a salary larger than I ever imagined. To my surprise, not much changed besides my bank statement and the restaurants I went to.

Sure, I loved my career, but I would have done the same job for less than half the salary. Once I saw that money didn’t change my life, I felt a lot more freedom to make career choices that were financially risky. Later, when I left my corporate life in order to write, I did not create a financial windfall — in fact, you could say the change had the opposite effect. But I would write this column even if I were a millionaire.

So try thinking about your career as if money weren’t the goal. There are two kinds of jobs: fulfilling and enabling. If you have a fulfilling job, then you are doing exactly what you want to be doing and it doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or not. You are lucky. (Though not alone: Microsoft has a large contingency of millionaires –“volunteers” — who continue working even though they don’t need the money.)

An enabling job is what you do if your fulfillment comes from something that doesn’t pay. This kind of job takes the most discipline. If you work and work and never get to the exciting thing you’re going to do on the side, then the only thing you enable is shopping.

And don’t say you have no energy. If you had an appointment with the President of the United States after work, even if you hate him, you’d have enough energy to make it to the meeting. People who are too tired after work are people who don’t know what they want to do. It’s very tiring to not know what makes you feel fulfilled.

One Microsoft millionaire made a mission statement for himself. This is not a bad idea, especially if you cannot figure out what will make you fulfilled. Most of you will find that your mission statement is not about money. His, for example, was about “hard work,” “passion” and “leaving the world a better place than you found it.” Your own mission statement will help you to figure out what you should be doing with your days.

We might not all make millions from our job, but we are all equals in the effort to find a fulfilling life. So stop telling yourself that your life would be really different if you had a million dollars. For most of us, the only difference would be a bigger bank account.

Don’t wait until you bottom out. The worst thing about big change is not that it's so hard to adjust. The worst thing is that we usually have to bottom out before we make a big change; we wait until there is no other choice before we give in.

I bottomed out in the car, during my commute between San Diego and Los Angeles. When I took a position near San Diego, I was so excited to have a paycheck that a two-hour commute back to LA seemed fine. And for about three weeks, the commute was interesting. Then I got bored. I tried listening to books on tape, which only served to ruin the experience of reading. I tried talking on the phone, which caused me to miss exits constantly and nearly double my driving time.

But the job was so good that I persisted with the commute. I started leaving my apartment in LA at 4am. No traffic meant an abridged commute, but also an abridged social life because I had to be in bed at 8pm. After a few weeks, I fell asleep at the wheel and woke up to the blaring horn of a large trucker saving my life before I crashed.

So I went back to my two hours each way. But on rainy days it was 3 hours each way. And finally, on a day of torrential downpour, just a few miles away from Disneyland, I lost it. I pulled to the side of the road and threw pieces of the inside of my car into a ditch. Then I went to Denny's and ate three pieces of pie. Then I called each of my friends to tell them I was quitting.

“Finally!” was what they all said. That's the thing about big change. By the time we are ready to do it, the need for change has been apparent to everyone else for months. Maybe years. It's easy for everyone else to see someone else's need for change — they don't have to make it.

Later, reading the want ads at my kitchen table, I was excited to find another job, and I lamented all the hours I wasted in the car. In my apartment it was clear that the job was not worth the commute. But that's how it always is: I always wish I had made the change sooner.

So here’s what to do with that information: Cut yourself some slack if you’re in a bad situation and not getting out. But get out. Sure, research shows that people have a proclivity to stay in a bad situation, but you can be an overachiever. Get out before you have your own version of tears in front of the Magic Kingdom. Force yourself to change before things get ugly.

It's impossible to see your own life as clearly as others do, but it's a good goal to aim for. As soon as you hear other people say, “Why don't you do [insert change here]?” give the question serious thought. Put that thought on your to do list, so it's right there in front of you.

Still not moving? Close your eyes and imagine what life would be like if you made the big change: Maybe it's giving up some responsibility at work, or quitting, or switching careers. These are the sorts of changes we put off and put off, but once we do them we feel huge relief. These days I try to focus on that relief; I still wait too long to instigate change, but I'm hoping my days of being on the bottom are behind me.