Here is a message for people who say they can't stomach office politics: You will die a slow, painful career death. This is because there's no getting around office politics, and mastering them is essential to being able to steer your own career. Don't take that as bad news, though, because mastering office politics is good for your soul. Really.
Office politics is inescapable because it's about dealing with the people. When there is a group of people — anywhere, even on the playground — there is politics.

Let’s say you pack up your bags and go work in a national park, with trees and rivers and no cubicles. There will be politics about who has to take care of hikers when it’s raining and who gets to stay dry, and if you are bad at politics, you will be wet every time.

Politics is part of society. And my guess is that you want to participate in society (at least) so that you can support yourself. But people who are good at politics are generally empathetic (they understand who needs what) and they have good self-discipline (they can moderate themselves so they are pleasant to be with.)

Most people who hate politics think they have to change who they are to succeed. Really, though, anyone who is being their best self — kind, considerate, expressive, interested in others — will do fine in office politics.
So get to know yourself. Saying you just can’t do politics is giving up on being your best self.

And wait, there's more good news about office politics. If you really take a look at what's going on over there at the water cooler, people are not jockeying for power, they are hobnobing for projects. That's right. For most people in today's workplace, office politics is about getting the best opportunities to learn and grow; the best projects, the best training, the assignments that build skills the market values.

Office chatter with the vapid goal of getting power over other people is, frankly, a little offensive. But it is hard to fault people for wanting to grow and learn. In fact, I find more fault with people who care so little about personal growth that they won't spend the extra energy politiking to get themselves on good projects.

Maybe you are convinced, but you are feeling at a loss to get started. Here are relatively simple things that people who are good at office politics do:

1. Make time for it — both in terms of face time, and time alone to analyze the face time.
2. Listen. How can you learn anything when you're talking about what you already know?

Here are realtively difficult things that people who are good at office politics do:

1. Have genuine interest in other people. Each person is interesting if you are interseted enough to ask the right question.
2. Feel empathy. This means putting yourself in other peoples'shoes all the time. And not judging them.

Maybe you're still thinking of being the person at the office who abstains from office politics. Realize that you won't last long — in the office, that is. Putting your head down and doing your work is a good way to ensure that you don't connect with anyone. This situation is deadly in a world where people are hired for what they know and fired for who they are. People need to get to know you in order to like you.

The act of making yourself likeable is office politiking. You shouldn't have to be fake if you are a geniuinely nice and interested person. If office politics requires you to do soething that feels fake, consider that you were not likeable in the first place. For you, office politics is training ground to teach yourself to be likeable, and, as a side benefit, you will save your job. For others, office politics is the time at work when you get to be your best, true, self in search of more learning opportunities and more human connections.

Periodically, a college student sends an email to me asking if he or she can interview me for a term paper. I always say yes, and I always learn something about my work by answering student questions about my career.

Invariably, within the list of questions, there's a stumper. This week, the stumper was, “How do you spend a typical day as a journalist?”

I started to answer the question. But every time I started to write an answer, what I wrote sounded terrible. The truth is that I never set out to be a journalist, so I have never been particularly organized about my typical day.

I was a marketing executive who happened to have landed a column. The pay for the column was paltry compared to my corporate salary, and consequently, I devoted a paltry amount of time to the column —writing it during a sales meeting, on my way to an office picnic, or at my in-laws' home in between shopping and dinner.

Part of the reason for my cavalier attitude toward making time for the column is that initially I did not understand that having a nationally distributed column is a big deal; I was in a business where a big deal equaled a big paycheck. But after I left corporate life for a writer's life, I started to understand how lucky I was. So you'd think, after three years of writing full-time I'd have developed good work habits as a writer, but I haven't.

This is surprising to me because in my corporate life I had very good work habits. As I was climbing the corporate ladder, it became clear that you can only move up as fast as you can adjust your work habits to the next rung. For example, the move into management means you have to learn to finish your own work in a way that leaves room for you to help other people with their work. You have to restructure your workday to make other people a priority.

There were times when I distinctly remember changing my workday in order to accommodate a new position. For example, my boss told me that if I could offload all of my responsibilities as a marketing and software production manager, then I could take seed money from the company and start my own company. I realized that the faster I could reorganize my workload and delegate, the faster I could move on with my career. So I did that. Within weeks, and astounded even my boss with my speed.

Achieving long-term goals and tactical plans all depends on work habits. You need to devote time to getting short-term projects done, to managing long-term projects, and to thinking both strategically and creatively.

Each time I've wanted to make headway in my career the fastest path has been by changing how I spend my days; if nothing else, how you organize your days is one of the few things most people can really control.

Which brings me back to explaining to the college student about my work habits. It was untenable to have to confess to her how I was working. I was such a bad role model because in terms of organizing my day, I still treated my writing career like it's a sideshow.

I could accomplish so much more if I would get more organized. So I worked backwards. I said to myself, what kind of answer would I expect from a successful career columnist as to how she manages her days to make her career bloom?

I think it would look like time slots:
Writing email
Working on projects with deadlines
Thinking about long-term projects
Publicity
Networking

Once I started having days like this, there was immediate change — I accomplished more than usual and the work was higher quality because my days were organized around particular long and short-term goals.

I ended up confessing to the student that I started with sloppy work habits. But I told her that I was reforming myself. I told her about my carefully scheduled days and strategically organized weeks. Then I sat down to write this column, which I now have a special time each week to write. And I was just a little bit more calm than usual because having a detailed work plan in hand makes me feel like I really am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

I am not featured in my high school yearbook as person most likely to be giving career advice. In fact, people were probably thinking, as they signed my yearbook, that I was the person most likely to never even find a career. This is because I have had bouts with mental illness since I was a teenager.

So I am enraged at Tom Cruise's crusade against effective treatments for depression. Depression is serious: Fifteen percent of clinically depressed people die by suicide. If you are depressed you need to get medical help immediately.

The World Health Organization ranks depression as the fourth most common disease (after lower respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, and conditions arising in the perinatal period.) Research from Yale University showed that 70% of people who saw a doctor for depression were successfully treated.

Unfortunately, most people who are depressed do not seek help. Probably because the world is full of lunatics like Tom Cruise who belittle the illness and its treatments.

Statistically speaking, depression is a workplace issue: One in five working women suffers from depression. It is twice as common in women than in men, and among women, high intelligence is a risk factor for depression. So I am probably not the only woman you know who has been depressed.

Depression at work feels like depression anywhere else: A wave of hopelessness overcomes you and you have no idea why it's there or what to do to get rid of it. But if you are working, it's more likely to happen at your desk. If you have a door on your office, you lock it. If you have an opportunity to “work from home”, you announce you're taking it. These are tactics I have used. But believe me, they don't work for very long.

I never realized how optimistic getting out of bed was until I had depression. Getting out of bed is an act of hope — that there is something to look forward to in life. When depression came, hope and faith left. For no apparent reason.

Depression was immobilizing, and when I was depressed I spent most of my time at work covering up my inability to get anything done. For a while, people assumed I was taking care of things because I was a person who always took care of things.

But it's hard to hide depression at work. I started looking weird. People noticed, for example, that I couldn't have a conversation about anything because conversation requires interest and depression made me uninterested in everything. Everyone has an off day during an important lunch. But you can't have too many of those.

If career success is about building a strong, competent image of yourself over the course of time, then depression is the antithesis — it destroys your image relatively fast. People started to wonder who I really was. And so did I. I couldn't make decisions, I couldn't keep a schedule, I was not reliable and no one knew why.

Depression made me hide. I was not a mom or a wife when I was depressed, so hiding was relatively easy. The only people who needed me on a day-to-day basis were my teammates at work. So the office was my barometer for how much I was falling apart. I went to a psychiatrist because I didn't want to lose my job. In my depressed mind, I felt that if I destroyed my career, the feelings of hopelessness would kill me.

When friends ask me, “How can you write a career column? How can you care THAT much about work?” I remind them how my work saved me. Work has been a mirror reflecting myself back to me, and my career has been the thing I ultimately sought to save by getting medical help for mental illness.

So for goodness sake, don't listen to Tom Cruise: Listen to yourself. Depression is a common, treatable illness. If you think you might have it, get medical help now.

And keep an eye on your coworkers. Someone in your office is depressed. He or she might be hiding from friends and family, but it's much harder to hide from work. Don't be afraid to recommend that person gets help — stepping up at work to say what you see just might save a life.

I had my baby last week. I'm tired. But not too tired to recognize management issues during labor. There were three management styles among the people who were in the delivery room:

1. The micromanager
That was me, ordering my husband around, even when the contractions were so strong that I couldn't stand up. I'm sure he wanted to tell me to shut up, but no sane man snaps at his wife when she's in labor.

One of the more harsh insurance company rules is that when you are in labor you have to call to get permission to go to the hospital. So my husband started dialing the phone. I said, “You are not going to be on the phone when I'm having the baby. Put down the phone.”

My husband said we wouldn't be covered and we would have the most expensive baby in New York City.

But no one at the insurance company was answering the phone, so I started troubleshooting: “Dial zero. Say you’re a doctor.”

My husband said, “I think I can handle calling the insurance company. You just worry about the baby.”

At some point I stopped harassing my husband, but not by choice, only because the contractions were too strong.

2. The coach
About half way through labor I asked for an epidural. At that point, I was in severe pain. For those of you who have not had an epidural, it is a totally magic infusion of drugs that numbs the body from the insane pain of pregnancy without knocking you out. The epidural is not small peanuts. It’s a shot into the spine. I had to sit very still, while coping with sharp pains, and I had to sign a form that acknowledged the risk of death.

Meanwhile, I was at a teaching hospital, so the attending physician (read: real doctor) was coaching the resident (read: still-learning-to-be-a-doctor doctor). Behind my back, literally, I heard the attending using the Socratic method: “How much are you going to use?” and “Why would you go up there when you already found a spot down here?” This coaching is not what you want to hear when it’s your spine, but I see how it’s preferable to say, me screaming at my husband about how to navigate a phone tree. And, frankly, the attending did a fine job because the pain ended.

3. The trusting, encouraging manager
When its time to actually push the baby out, the doctor finally comes in, ready to go. The doctor and nurse together were watching what looked to be about six machines simultaneously. And they were watching me, and the baby, whose head was visible by now. The doctor was definitely in charge, but she almost never gave orders. There was a clear and strong trust between the doctor and nurse that each person knew what the other was doing and that they were each doing a fine job. There was a calmness and efficiency that I wish I had throughout my life.

Which is what made me think, initially, about management. When I saw the doctor and nurse trusting each other, I trusted them. I didn’t trust the resident, but the attending was so respectful of the resident that I trusted that the attending would guide the resident to a good job.

And then there was me, micromanaging. In hindsight I see that managing someone so closely that they want to strangle you is in fact sign of weakness; because either you are meddling where you needn’t, or you are surrounded by incompetence. In either case, it’s a statement about yourself. Competent people are not surrounded by incompetence. Rather, incompetence attracts incompetence.

I think about that and I think of course my husband can function without me meddling. He is smart and capable. And this is how we should feel about people we work with, too. Or we should wonder why we are attracting incompetence. There is never one crazy person in a marriage and there’s never one crazy worker.

My excuse was that I was in labor. But you probably don’t have such a good excuse. So if you don’t trust the people you work with, ask yourself why. You need to either trust them to do their job, or trust them to improve with respectful coaching. If you can’t do either then adjust their job so that they will succeed. Or else you will not succeed.

Sidenote: It was a boy. We are thrilled.

In the olden days, ten years ago, when I was a dot-com upstart displacing workers twice my age, I could hear people grumble about the workplace behavior of Generation X: We demanded foosball tables, non-hierarchical structure, tons of authority and exciting projects. In exchange, we worked extremely hard and fast, played well in teams, and felt a huge sense of ownership.

There was a generational clash at the office, and I remember thinking, “So what? I am making more than my 50-year-old co-workers and I get to wear jeans to work.” I felt sorry for the people who couldn't teach themselves how to do HTML.

Now I'm getting a dose of my own smugness because a lot has changed in ten years. I am not always the slick up-and-comer in the room with a strikingly new perspective. Sometimes I am just the Gen-Xer bombarded with the extreme optimism and potential of the Millennials. (Another insult: These people used to be called Generation Y, but they don't like to be associated with Gen Xers, so they prefer the term “Millennials.”)

According to Neil Howe, one of the authors of the book, “Millennials Rising,” this newest generation — born from 1975 to 1988 — has never known a recession and has been coddled toward success by overly invested Yuppies and soccer moms. Gen Xers, on the other hand, were latchkey kids, famous for neglect, and left hanging after college in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.

One of my brothers is sixteen years younger than I am, and therefore solidly a Millennial. I used to think all his self-confidence was due to the fact that my mom loves him best. But now I think it also as a result of his generation. He expects to always have work, always have fun, always have success. He works as hard as a Gen Xer, but has none of the cynicism. I used to think the cynicism would come (after all, he *is* my brother), but now I see it's just not part of his makeup.

Here's another snapshot of a Millennial — one I mentor. He got a great job out of college (as did all of his friends.) Then he quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could follow his dream career — acting.

When I moved back in with my parents because I couldn't find a job in a hideous economy, it was so embarrassing that I basically stopped talking to my friends. And my parents, for that matter, since we couldn't get along. But this guy, like most kids of his generation, is happy to go back home. He gets along great with his parents, they want him to succeed at whatever he likes. It's a love fest.

This is what I've been thinking: It's not fair that the Millennials had better timing in history and now have more confidence in the workplace. They are hard to manage because they make me see myself as the Xer I am: Cynical, hedging and a little bit exhausted.

But once I admitted to myself that I was jealous of the Millennials, I was able to see things more clearly. I decided to just adopt their way of thinking. There’s nothing stopping me. I put myself back in the time when I was the lucky upstart. And what really bugged me about the Boomers who watched me take their jobs in the 90s was that I thought they could teach themselves the same stuff that I taught myself: Web programming, interface design, viral marketing. But many Boomers didn't teach themselves — they just lamented the decline of the worth of their skills, and complained about how quickly things moved in the Internet economy.

So I'm going to start thinking like a Millennial: Optimism and self-assurance; believing that I can do anything, can make a difference, can get what I want. I am not sure I can transform myself completely, but it's better to try than to just be jealous. Besides, learning HTML was not all that great because it turned out to be the slave labor of the new economy. So maybe I'll be happy being a Gen Xer with a bit of Millenial, but not all of it.

Everyone should plan for a change in career. Statistically, you are likely to wish you could change. Financially, you are likely to be too scared to take action, unless you plan for change early, before you want to make a leap.

Today people start working when they are 22 and don't stop until they are 65 or older. It makes sense that the career you pick when you are a 22 will not be appropriate when you are 44. People change. Thank goodness, or else we would get bored being ourselves.

Many people are already aware of this problem: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67% of American workers don't like their jobs. One look at the Amazon.com business books bestsellers list reveals the biggest career problem — at least for people who buy business books: Fear of changing careers. People get to a certain point in their life, somewhere between 35 and 55, and they want to switch careers, but it's too scary.

No one is immune from the desire to change career — even people who love their job. Maybe your heath will dictate change, maybe relocating for a spouse will. If you're still feeling smug that you will never stop loving your job, remember that the divorce rate is 50% and those people felt love at first, too.

So part of everyone's planning should entail leaving doors open for career change. And the biggest barrier to career change is money.

When you have worked in one field for a while, you become an expert, and your salary reflects that. When you want to change careers, you will likely take a cut in salary. Fine for someone who is in their twenties. But for a 35-year-old, who has kids and a mortgage, almost any salary cut is terrifying.

You need to do something to ensure that you are not terrified. Otherwise, career change will be out of the question. For most people this preparation means living way below your earning power starting immediately.

Phyllis Moen, professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, says that one of the most common barriers to changing career paths is having to pay a hefty mortgage. She says, “The one thing that people seem to equate with adulthood is buying a house. This is true for single people, too. In the past – for Boomer generation especially — advice was to buy the best house you can afford. But now it's an albatross.”

Another career trap is a job that entails very bad conditions for what people tell you will be only a limited period of time — associates at law firms, medical residents, consultants who travel nonstop are all examples of this sort of position. Be careful planning for the future by telling yourself you're “paying dues” now for more fulfillment down the road. If you pay dues for too long then switching careers means, in a way, paying dues for nothing, which is a large psychic cost to come to terms with.

Many people in very lucrative fields say: “I am going to earn so much money that I can save enough to switch careers.” This may be true, if you don't want to switch careers too early, and if you are realistic about how much money you have to save. However this level of self-discipline is rare; Richard Easterlin, professor of Economics at University of Southern California finds in his research that people are hard-wired to always want more money. For most people, saying, “I could live on a lot less money and be fine,” is like saying, “I could stop drinking any time I want.” Theoretically it should be easy, but in practice, it's not. So start doing it immediately to make sure you can.

The Baby Boomers had midlife crises because they were so frequently trapped in careers that felt wrong. The next generation has a chance to be visionaries with their careers so as to not repeat the Boomers' mistakes. Hopefully, twenty years from now, the bestsellers list on Amazon.om will be filled with books about a new career problem — one we could not have foreseen.

Hunting for a job is almost always difficult. So it's unfortunate that the truism that good things happen to optimistic people cannot be overstated when it comes to job hunting.

Of course, I've had my share of announcing to the world there were no jobs for me and sleeping until mid-afternoon. But experience with misery breeds experience with how to beat it, and here is a list of things I have found helpful to do when the job hunt starts feeling desperate:

1. Check your attitude.
Write a list of things that are going well in your life. You are not your job, and you are not your savings account. There are many facets to yourself and some remain unscathed, even during a terrible job hunt. Don't just think the list. Writing is a powerful tool, because whatever you take the time to write will feel more important to you than if you just thought about it. In fact, you should write a list of your personality traits that you like, too.

2. Check your focus.
Decide if you are looking for the right kind of job. If you are applying to tons of jobs and not getting them, think about if your resume stands out enough to get a job in this field. Be honest. After applying to 200 jobs and not getting one interview, it's safe to say that you need to change what you're doing. Ask for outside advice to figure out if you need a new resume or a new field. Start with friends and colleagues. If no one gives you new insight, hire a professional. Resume consultants are everywhere, and good ones end up giving career advice when a resume is obviously going nowhere.

3. Check your pace.
If you have a strong network, set a goal of three networking opportunities each week. They can be a lunch, a conference, even a coffee break as long as you're meeting someone who might be able to help. If you are not particularly good at networking, you'll have to rely on your resume. So send it out as often as you can. One resume a day would be a reasonable goal. If you can't find a job to apply to, send a resume, cold, to the CEO of a company you like. You never know what will happen from a shot in the dark like that, but if you send nothing, then you do know what will happen: Nothing.

4. Check your personal life.
Don't forget to see your friends. Don't forget to kiss your boyfriend. It's always easier to retreat into misery when you're in the midst of a job hunt. But you need a home base, so stay connected to the people who provide one. These are people who love you even when you are living off your retirement savings.

5. Check your spending.
You can get a lot more time for your hunt if you keep your spending down. The faster you run out of money the faster your hunt is over — and you don't want to be in a bind where you have to take the only position you can find, and it entails flipping burgers. Also, if you can keep your spending down permanently, you open yourself up to opportunities that are a good next step for your career but require a cut in pay.

6. Turn off the TV and read.
One of the hardest parts of unemployment is the lack of intellectual stimulation. Spending a lot of the time in front of a TV reinforces your feelings of doing nothing. Networking is a pain, rewriting your resume to fit each job opening is monotonous. Read books that have new ideas. Try something that stretches you; gaining new knowledge is one of the best antidotes to feeling stuck.

Happiness in your career is not as elusive as it might seem. In fact, there is plenty of research to tell you exactly how to find happiness, yet most people ignore the advice. Most people think they are the exception to the rule, but the truth is, you are no different than everyone else, and the research does apply to you.

Here is a short list of things people should do to find happiness in a career, which people generally do not do. This advice is backed by years of research and it is not particularly controversial among the researchers.

1. Observe people. Find the people who look happy to you and do what they do. Don't ask people if they are happy in their career. Most people will tell you they are happy because they have a vested interest in validating their own choices. So decide for yourself who is happy. This means getting to know a bunch of people. Interview them about what their life is like. Watch them at work. Trust your instinct.

2. Put passion before money. Research shows that once you can feed yourself and keep your electricity turned on, more money will not make your happier; no matter how much money someone makes they think they need 20% more to be happy. On top of that, research shows that people who choose careers they are passionate about make more money than people who choose a career for money. So stay away from jobs that won't pay enough for you to eat. But beyond that, choosing a career based on how much money you'll earn is one of the worst decisions you can make.

3. Go to the gym. You will do better in your career if you workout. It's a fact. Maybe it's that working out clears your head for thinking. Maybe it's that if you workout you look better and good looking people make more money. Or maybe it's that people who work out have a lot of self-discipline and that is what it takes to succeed at work, also. Whatever the reason, you are better off spending the last hour of your day at the gym than the office.

4. Have consistent sex. When it comes to happiness, personal relationships have significantly more impact than your job does. The best way to measure if you are maximizing your happiness from social relationships is by looking at your sex life. Research shows that sex once a week with a regular, committed partner will increase your happiness. Consider this research when deciding to move 500 miles away from your partner for a high paying job.

These four pieces of advice are not particularly difficult to follow. You don't have to be a genius. You don't need to live in a particular city. You don't need to have a good body or a good track record. So why are people so unhappy in their jobs? Because they don't follow the advice. Everyone thinks they are special, the exception to the rule, the complicated one for whom statistical research does not apply.

This is where Daniel Gilbert's research becomes important. He is a psychology professor at Harvard who studies happiness and he's noticed that no one takes the advice that research supports. He found that the reason people do not take steps that will make them happy is that they think they do not fit the mold. But he is adamant that people are not exceptional. When it comes to research about how to find happiness, humans are basically the same.

First, it's a logical impossibility that most people are the exception to the rule, yet most people believe they are. Ninety percent of drivers think they are better than average. Most football players think they are better than average. Most people believe they are worse at juggling than the average person. Statistically speaking, almost all these people have to be wrong.

Our perception of peoples' differences is exaggerated because we spend our lives finding differences between people to choose teachers, band mates and spouses. Gilbert recommends you think of grapes: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you, but really a grape is a grape.”

So, the truth is, the odds are overwhelming that you are average, and the things that set you apart are negligible when it comes to research about career happiness. So start running your life according to what people have already discovered works for the average person. Otherwise, the real barrier to your career happiness is you.

I am on a campaign to make my husband a stay-at-home parent. I am convinced that this is a precondition for me having a huge career, but also, it's a precondition for the sanity of our family.

After a generation of two-income families, there is little anecdotal evidence to show that a family can survive with two spouses in high-powered, time demanding careers with children at home. Invariably, one spouse takes a slower career path in order to support the children and high-powered spouse in their endeavors.

Before I launch into the intricacies of my own family, here are some facts that will affect your family, too:

1. There is no equality in taking care of kids. Even if there is a full-time nanny, one parent feels the majority of the burden on sick days, parent-teacher conferences, Halloween and soccer games.

2. Among highly educated women with children, 43 percent have left the workforce voluntarily during their first eight years.

3. Most women at the very top of the corporate ladder are not the primary caretakers of children. The women either have no children or have a husband taking care of the kids.

4. Women who are parents are held to significantly higher standards at work than women and men who are childless and men who are parents.

5. Women and men have parity in pay until they have children. Then women who are parents earn less money for doing the same job that men who are parents do.

So look, I don't mean to be a buzz-kill on the feminist revolution, but more like a reality check: If you want kids, don't marry a lawyer who is going to work 16-hour days if you want to work 16 hours a day, too.

Lately, I have been experiencing these statistics first hand. I am the primary caretaker of our son, I handle all household things ranging from moving the 401K to buying nieces birthday presents, and on top of that, I earn as much as my husband does. When I tell him I'm doing too much, he says, “You're right. So stop doing so much.” And he proceeds to tell me why things that I see as essential — like getting a set of keys to the babysitter — do not need to be done.

So when my husband's job ended, I told him I didn't want him to get another office job. He was shocked. I explained to him, over about ten hours of heated discussion, that I couldn't keep doing everything without help from him at home. I tried to put it in terms he'd understand: Our bedroom heater had been off for more than half the winter because no one could stay home for a whole day to accommodate the parade of specialists who needed to come to our apartment to fix it.

Then I put it in harsher terms: I have very high earning power and which I cannot realize if he does not stay home to facilitate it. “You do not have high earning power,” I told him, as gently as I could, which surely was not. I spewed statistics to him, and I told him my conclusion that one person needs to be on the not-fast-track and I don't want it to be me.

So, okay, he's agreed, on some level, to give up the idea of a full-time job outside the home. It should be a victory for me, but it does not feel that way. My husband has the same problem that all people who stay home have: It's often boring, and always much harder than going to an office. And there are few rewarding job opportunities for people whose first job is to maintain a home.

Additionally, I have spoken to a few women who have a stay-at-home husband they say it is hell for the men socially. This news should not come as a surprise because most high-powered women who have men at home taking care of their kids will not talk about it on record in order to protect their husband's ego.

In fact, we have already experienced the social problems. When we tell people my husband is going to stay home, people say, “And do what? He can't just stay home.”

On the other hand, when I tell people that my husband has decided to stay home and I'll be the one working, people raise their eyebrows, and they talk to me differently. They take me more seriously. It shouldn't be that way, but since it is, I'm glad I found a husband who is willing to try staying home. I can't tell you that he's going to be happy. But I'm happy that we're giving it a try.

In case you've never noticed, I rarely interview anyone for this column. Most of my sources are family and unsuspecting friends who complain that I make everyone look bad. But it is not true. It is true that they THINK I make them look bad, but in fact, I could rip them apart in my column, and I do not, in the spirit of being invited back for Thanksgiving and Birthdays.

Recently, I have taken up columnist tasks that require me to interview strangers. And, like the courtesy I give to my family, I do not trash the people I interview. But I am at my breaking point. Some people are so incredibly stupid about their career that I actually struggle to make them seem intelligent during the interview.

So here are two interviews from smart people who are career idiots. (But first, a caveat: I am making the people anonymous. Many readers generously send stories from the field. And really, I love to hear from readers. I learn a lot. So you should know that if I think you're an idiot and decide to write about it, I will at least disguise your identity.)

Career idiot number one: The Apprentice. Not all of them. Just the unlucky one I interviewed. He really did not have a career, which was, undoubtedly, the cause of his ridiculous antics on the TV show that eventually got him fired. But he decided to make a career out of getting fired by becoming a public speaker.

Here are things you need to become a public speaker:
1. Something to say. This guy had nothing. Except to tell me that he was available for speaking.
2. You need an ability to answer questions from the press so that your name gets in the paper and people recognize you and hire you as a speaker. He did not answer my questions, which were all softballs. And he even asked to see the notes I was writing so he could edit them. I laughed.

The lesson from this career idiot is that if you must be a poser, pose carefully. When you first start being something new, (for him, a public speaker) you need to pretend you are that person so people hire you as that person. But do some research before you start pretending. At least learn the basics of how to conduct yourself, and what people will ask of you.

Career idiot number two: The painter whose identity I probably don't even need to hide because you don't know him because he's never sold a painting.

He makes a lot of money as VP of Something Big at his tech company and he gave notice six months before his wife quit work to have a baby. He is starting a career as a painter. He has no idea how to get his art to the market, or how many pieces he'll have to sell to support his family. But he says he has to be true to himself, and painting is his dream.

He says he feels trapped at his current job. This is the picture he paints of trapped: He wanted to move across country, so his large and generous company let him set up remote office in his new home. He hates the long hours of his lucrative job, and his company would let him go part time, but he doesn't ask for that because he doesn't want to like his job. He fears that if he liked his job he wouldn't quit to do his art.

Here is the lesson from career idiot number two: Take a big-picture look at what you have. It might be a lot better than you realize. Remember the first time you woke up next to the love of your life, and up close, in the morning, their face looked splotched and scruffy and gross? Well jobs are like people; they never look great up close so you need to pay attention to the big picture. This guy's big picture is that he has a great job for supporting his new family and painting on the side, and if he's really an artistic genius then he can make a bundle painting and quit his job.

I hate to be a buzz kill here. I'm not saying that I don't like dreamers. I do. I like people who reach for careers that are fulfilling but difficult. But just because the odds of success are low doesn't mean you have to make them lower with poor planning.