Your to do list is dragging you down. Why do tasks that do not inherently enhance the quality of your life when you could pay someone $10 and hour to do them? I learned this when my boss and I had our new computers set up at our homes. I stayed at home all day waiting for the technical person to arrive and then worked the weekend to catch up. My boss had his assistant wait at home and he got more done than I did without even having to work the weekend. Day after day I watched my boss get twice as much done as I did until I hired my own personal assistant — and after that, I looked at the tasks of daily life in a different light.

We each have big goals in our life and all big goals take time: Growing a successful career, being a good spouse, and climbing Mt. McKinley. None of these grand goals requires you to pick up the dry cleaning yourself.

Each time you do a mindless task yourself you make a statement about the value of your time. If you had an extra hour with your kids, would it be worth $10? If you had an extra hour at the office could you increase the value of your output to make up for the $10 (think: raise down the line). If you're spending a significant part of your day doing tasks that are not integral to your life goals, then you're wasting your time.

Your first thought should always be, “Do I need to do this myself?” How does a CEO create value that's bigger than herself? She has other people doing the work so she can think about big picture issues. (And in fact, you are probably a person doing this CEOs work. More incentive for you to act like the CEO of your life and pass off the slough.) If you want to create something big you need to hire people to help you.

So why doesn't everyone have a personal assistant that they hired from the local university? Heck, a fourteen year old could do half the tasks on most lists. (In fact, the first university student I hired used to sub-contract my tasks to his fraternity brothers, which I accepted as evidence of how little training it took to do my tasks.)

Some people overestimate the difficulty of tasks and underestimate the frustration impact. They say, “Training the person would take longer than doing it myself.” HEL-LO!?!?! Did anyone train you to call the insurance company to complain about a bill? No. It's trial and error. So your assistant can learn himself. Even five calls would only cost you less than $10. But if you did the five calls to the insurance company yourself you'd be angry and frustrated for the next two hours.

Some people overestimate the importance of a task. They say, “The person would never do it how I want.” But so what? You're not giving the core of your life to the assistant. You're not saying, for example, “Can you climb Mt. McKinely for me?” You're asking for something like food shopping. So let's say the assistant buys the wrong bread and forgets pasta. Is having the right food in the house integral to your life goals? The answer is probably No. You can eat pancakes instead of pasta. It's a small price to pay to have enough time to meet your life goals.

A time optimist does not use an assistant because she says, “It'll take me more time to ask the assistant to do the task than to do the task myself.” This person misunderstands time. Buying movie tickets, for example takes ten minutes on the phone, but it takes only one minute to ask an assistant to do it. If you make the choice to spend the 10 minutes doing it yourself seven times a day, you've wasted an hour of your time.

If you are currently employed don't tell me you don't have enough money. Think of yourself as a small business, and follow the basic rules of running a business: You have to reinvest profits (your salary) back into the business (your career) if you want to see growth (your promotion). No matter how much you earn, as long as you can cover basic life necessities (food, clothes, housing — not sailing lessons) a portion of your profits should go back into your business.

Learning to use an assistant effectively is not easy — it takes practice. But using an assistant now, for your personal tasks, your will train yourself to effectively leverage the personal assistant you get from your employer when you get promotion after promotion from being so intently focused on your goals.

My husband recently changed careers. Well, not really recently — actually two years ago. But for those of you who have never endured a career change, two years is nothing. It still feels like the beginning because salary-wise, you *are* at the beginning.

For the most part, his switch has been going well. He went from management positions in the entertainment industry to field research in a social justice think tank. Basically, he spends his days in prisons, trying to get the government to implement new programs.

He made the change exactly the way a career advisor would recommend — not surprising since he has to eat dinner with one every night. For those of you considering a change, here is the plan he followed:

Step 1. Soul search. Consider all aspect of change including, lifestyle, pay and any education you’ll need. Be realistic about what you value in life and work.

Step 2.Downsize. Get rid of huge car payments, huge mortgage payments, and huge expectations for dinners, vacations and clothes.

Step 3. Network. Headhunters and help wanted ads are geared toward people who have skills in a certain area. People who change jobs do not have skills in the new area, so networking is the best way to get someone to give you a chance.

Step 4. Try it out. You'll never know if you fit into the career environment until you try it. A baby step, like volunteering, or taking a part-time job will allow you to go back to your originally career if need be.

After step four, there is nothing but taking the leap. So my husband did. His mentor at his new job is ten years younger than he is. His boss makes 25% less than what my husband's paycheck used to be. The people below my husband in pecking order are college interns. And this is two years after he made the switch. Not that any of this is a surprise. Of course, this is what happens when you change careers.

By all measures, my husband is flourishing in his new career. He is at a top non-profit agency, he is writing significant papers, he is working with geniuses. But he is making no money. I keep telling myself that this is what we knew would happen. That we traded money for career happiness. I assure myself that my husband will make more money later, when his is not swimming in the ranks of college interns.

But there is so much pressure to be happy. Pressure from me, that is, on my husband. Every night I check in with him — look for signs that he is elated with his new career choice. And, big surprise, with a new career and a young child, most nights he is exhausted, not elated. Which makes me say, “Why are we making all these financial sacrifices if you're not happy?!!?!”

My husband doesn't answer. It's hard when he doesn't answer. But I know it's because he feels guilty because he really, really, really, doesn't want to go back to the entertainment industry. And I can't stop thinking, “If you're unhappy in both careers, why not be unhappy in the one that pays more?”

I know you're thinking, “Gosh, Penelope, can you be a little more supportive?” But don't say that until you've had a spouse throw away a lucrative career. And anyway, I'm trying; I see there is one more step on the career change checklist that we probably should have done:

Step 5: Set spousal expectations. I should have gone through the process with my husband. I should have evaluated with him what sacrifices I can make, what lifestyle expectations I had, even how happy I expected him to be. I was so determined to let him make his own decisions that I'm finding now that I'm the one who is floundering.

You think, at some point, that you know for sure a career change was good. But that's not true for everyone. Or, maybe it's true for everyone, but not in the first few years. Yes, you can be sure that the new job is more fun or more rewarding than the old job, but how much more fun do you need to be having in order to justify the financial sacrifice?

I'm not sure. So we keep going on the career change path, hoping to find the answer buried beneath the indignities.

When the Oscars run (probably overtime) on Sunday, I'll be rooting for “Lost in Translation” for best picture. Not that I have seen the other competitors, but I loved this particular movie. In fact, I was so impressed that I read up on Sofia Coppola. In the process, I learned more about career management by how she managed hers.

Of course, Sofia has had more advantages than most fledgling directors. Her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, provided her with a stunning apprenticeship, including giving her a part in “The Godfather: Part III,” screenwriter lessons and producing “Lost in Translation” for her.

But before I launch into a celebration of Sofia Coppola, I need to say that the U.S. is not a meritocracy: Rich people are better connected, so they get better jobs. And rich people who are not well connected tend to get better jobs because they have an easier time envisioning themselves in a successful career than poorer people. An example: My younger brother, now 21, did almost no homework in high school, and he recently landed a job most college graduates would covet — investment banking in Europe.

He used connections and a lofty vision of himself to get it. He started on his career path in high school by getting a management job at a Blockbuster store? This was easy in the wealthy community where we were raised because no adults there wanted (or needed) this type of job. That left the entry-level management jobs to high school students. At my local Blockbuster store in sort-of-rough-and-tumble Brooklyn, the managers are in their thirties. So the first moment of inequality is that rich kids can get great jobs in high school.

Since he had been an actual manager before, I was able to give him a management job in my own company during the summer after his freshman year of college. And I concede he did an outstanding job. But only a sister would give a 18-year-old a management job in a software company.

The next year, my cousin, a high ranking guy at a big ad agency, gave my brother a summer internship even though my brother missed the deadline for applying and wasn’t in business school like all the other interns. And to be honest, my brother did a great job of mending fences with a basically estranged cousin. He also had a stellar resume written by yours truly.

So by the time my brother graduated from college, he had a great experience on his resume that helped him land his new job in Europe. I don’t begrudge him that. And I admit that with a lot of effort and even more luck, a poor kid could land the same positions as my brother. But it’s clear he had a million advantages that poor kids don't have, so he didn’t need as much luck.

Speaking of people who don't need luck, let's get back to Sofia. Tracing the career of a person who had every advantage in the book can make one a little peevish. So how do people act when they have every advantage? That’s the relevant question, because probably we should all act the same way.

People like my brother, who have relatively few advantages compared to someone like Sofia, ask for everything — just to see if they'll get it. He asked my parents to pay for him to attend an expensive college even though he didn’t do a lick of homework in high school. Even though he knew he wasn’t qualified, he asked my cousin for an internship. He could do this because he could envision himself getting it. Poor kids have to stretch to imagine having food on the table every night.

In Sofia’s world, though, you don't just ask for something — you operate as though you’ll definitely get it. The difference is that my brother and others like him still need to make contingency plans, whereas really well connected people don't. Thinking this way is what helps them to succeed.

So Sofia Coppola wrote “Lost in Translation” for Bill Murray before he said he'd make a movie with her. Once she finished the script it took her months to finally get it to him. Then she left messages on his 800-number for five months before he responded to the script.

We should all believe in ourselves so much. How many of us would spend months on a project that might not happen? It's her belief in herself that impresses me. It doesn't matter if your last name is Coppola; if your screenplay is terrible, Bill Murray won’t do it. In that sense, Sofia did, in fact, take a gamble, even though she wasn’t in danger of starving like some screenwriters are. And with the biggest risks come the biggest rewards.

Maybe rich people can afford to take more risks. But my point is that by believing in yourself, as Sofia Coppola did, you may be able to leap career hurdles you once thought were impossible. How can you not root for her on Sunday?

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.

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.

On my first date with my would-be-husband I said, “You didn't tell me we're getting dinner.”

“I'm hungry,” he said.

So we went to dinner. He ordered a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. I ordered water.

Months later, when it looked like the relationship was serious, I told my would-be-husband, “You were a sociopath for not offering to pay for me that night.”

He said, “You didn't ask.”

“Ask?!?! Are you kidding me? I just left graduate school because I ran out of money and you just got promoted to a video game producer! You should pay!” I was screaming.

He didn't scream back. And he couldn't understand why I didn't ask for what I wanted at dinner. Those were two reasons that I stayed with him. Another reason was that he was doing video art that was shown in New York art museums. I was a grad school dork. He was an art-crowd hipster. I felt like my ship had come in.

I got a job writing for a large company and after watching Tano project manage, I convinced my company that I could do that, too. After a few years together, our finances were on par and we found ourselves applying to similar jobs.

One week, we both applied for the same job at GeoCities. The company was hot at the time, and a little unreasonable given the fact that employees were harder to come by than jobs (ahh, those were the days). In order to get through the interview process, I put up with a lot of corporate bullshit. No only did Tano refuse to put up with it, but he wrote a letter to GeoCities explaining that they asked for so much information from perspective employees that he should get paid to go through the interview process.

That was the turning point in our careers. I started making more money than him. I got funding for my own company. He got laid off and spent his unemployment money funding a new video project.

He became more and more successful as a video artist (read: no money, exciting parties), and I became more successful as an executive (read: lots of money, boring parties). The income disparity became larger and larger until it was clear that I would be supporting us long term.

We started planning our future so that my husband would stay home with our kids and his video editing equipment, and I would continue working as a software executive.

Then Sept. 11 hit us. I was a block away from the World Trade Center when it fell, and weeks later, my company went bankrupt. My husband's way to deal with the trauma was to volunteer at human rights organizations (read: Save the world). My way to deal was to get pregnant (read: Save my eggs).

I never planned to stay home with the baby. It just happened. First there were no jobs in the software industry. Then my husband landed his dream job at a non-profit. And then I fell in love with being a mom.

So we took a huge risk: We decided to give up my large earning potential as corporate climber, cut back our expenses drastically, and live off his entry-level non-profit salary.

My friends said, “He's finally making more than you. Doesn't it feel good?” My mom said, “When will he get a raise?” As usual, I ignored the comments.

But I got bored. I wanted to be in business again. So I took a small freelance writing job I had and got a babysitter for a few hours a day so I could grow my freelance writing. After a few months, I was making more money than my husband, again.

Now I understand that I am inherently good at making money and he is not. When I first met him, I needed money, and he had enough for a hamburger, which made him a good guy for me to date. Now that I have confidence in the workforce, I need the things money can't buy; my husband is interesting, kind and a great dad, and I feel lucky to have him. Sure, we all wish we could marry a millionaire, but you can't have everything in a spouse, so I made sure to get the important things.

You can keep your career on track by going to the gym; The same attributes that drive someone to succeed at the gym are the attributes that drive someone to succeed at the office. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment. Here are some places to start:

People who work out at the gym regularly earn more money than couch potatoes. One reason this is true is that the gym is training ground for ladder climbing in corporate America. The skills required to get oneself to the gym on a regular basis are the same skills required to impress upper management on a regular basis. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment.

You can keep your career on track by going to the gym. The same attributes that drive someone to succeed at the gym are the attributes that drive someone to succeed at the office. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment. Here are some examples to inspire your gym dedication:

Self-discipline
The hardest part about starting a workout regimen is getting yourself to the health club. It's always easier to go home after work and eat pizza in front of the TV. Even the unemployed, with seemingly endless days, find a way to make it difficult to make time for the gym.

By the same token, if you can't get your work done at the office, you'll never be able to move up the chain of command. And the same nagging voice that says, “I'll never find energy for the health club” nags at work, “I'll never write the report as well as my boss wants me to.” Self-discipline is what forces you to overcome the negative voices and take action.

Setting goals
If you go to the gym without a plan, you'll accomplish nothing and then stop going. People who workout regularly set goals. Some people aim to lose weight, some people train for a marathon. Whatever your goal is, it will keep you focused so that each day you go to the gym you know exactly what you're there to do.

You need goals for your career, too. If your goal is to become a managing director, then you can map out the steps you need to get there, and you have focus for each of your days. Whereas gym goals may look like number of laps or amount of weight, work goals will look like projects finished or skills learned.

Bouncing back
Everyone skips a day at the gym sometimes. Even Andre took time off tennis training to see Steffi give birth to their son. The important thing is not to get discouraged. People who workout regularly think of themselves as people who workout even when they are ditching the gym and eating ice cream.

The career-equivalent is losing a job. People who get laid off can still see themselves as successful, innovative employees. Maintaining this vision of yourself will make you much more effective in your job hunt. You can practice seeing yourself as a person who bounces back by forcing yourself to go to the gym even when you had ten beers the night before.

Doing something that's fun
If swimming doesn't rock your world, don't bother trying to convince yourself to do it three times a week. Find something you like — it'll make for much easier motivation when the pizza beckons. The more fun you have in your chosen activity, the more likely you will be to keep a regular workout schedule. In fact, if you really love what you're doing, you might workout more passionately than you ever expected.

The same goes for your chosen career. Pick something you love, and you'll do it with passion. You know that complete energy drain you feel when its time to go to an aerobics class but you hate aerobics? That's the same energy drain you feel when your alarm goes off and you hate your work. Find a career you love and you're likely to love the money that follows.

So get yourself to the gym today. For those of you lucky enough to have a job in this economy, you probably won't see a huge raise after two weeks of the Stairmaster, but you will notice, over the course of months, that people treat you differently when you run your life differently. For those of you who are unemployed, the gym will make your days feel more productive; When people say, “How's your career going?” you can say, “I'm taking steps to improve my earning power.”

It's the Penelope Trunk Q&A column. I like to think my columns answer the questions that people don't ask but should. But today I'll answer the questions that people really ask.

Most popular question: How can I switch jobs and not take a cut in pay? Of course, the answer is that you can't. But people never ask the question like that. Instead they write six paragraphs about their situation at work, their spouse, their 401K, and then they ask me how they can avoid suffering.

Switching careers is hard. Only rarely do fifteen years in your earlier career count for anything. Usually, you start a new career on the bottom rung because your knowledge is not worth much. So you must weigh the terribleness of eight hours a day in a career you don't like vs. having to tighten your budget strings. Here's an idea, though: In your new job, where you know nothing, spend your time at home learning about the new profession so that you don't have time to go out and spend money you don't have.

Second most popular question: How do I become a freelance writer? It's a riff on the first question, really, but hey, it's a bad economy and lots of people are unemployed in their current field.

Here's how I became a writer. I started writing when I was six and wrote nonstop, about things no one cared about. Then I thought, I like to write, I should get paid for this.

So I went to graduate school for writing and the first day, the teacher said, “If any of you can imagine yourselves doing anything but writing, you should do that. Writing is hard, and lonely and full of rejection and you'll never make any money.”

I stayed in school (I had a fellowship — who can give up free money?) but after school I got a job in marketing at a Fortune 500 company. And I made a lot of money.

But I kept writing. For ten more years. I wrote after work and when my jobs were slow, I wrote at work. I used my vacation time to send writing to publishers who rejected me. But then they stopped rejecting me. And slowly, I realized that I could support my family with my writing. So I took the leap. (And, note, a huge salary cut.)

If you think you want to be a writer, first pay heed to my teacher's advice. If you still want to write, remember that most writers spend years and years writing before they get published. So keep your day job until you're sure you won't starve.

Third most popular question: How can you say that people with messy desks are ineffective at work? (This mail is in response to a column.) The answer to this question is that in the column I reported on a study that showed that co-workers perceive that people with messy desks are unorganized. The point of the column is that you can say you work fine with a messy desk, but studies show that your co-workers will never be convinced.

You'd think people would read this and clean their desks. But instead of cleaning their desks, they write to me, to tell me the study is wrong.

The defensive mail about messiness and the scared mail about career changes all reminds me of how difficult it is to be honest with ourselves. Most people get stuck (under piles of papers, under the weight of a lucrative career) because they are scared of seeing what is really best for them. It's easier to see fear of change in other people than it is to see it in ourselves. But seeing it in readers makes me more determined to face it head on in my own life. So, thanks again for all your mail. Please keep writing, even if you just want to yell at me.

When you lose your job, or even if you’re worried about it, the most important thing you can do for your career is aggressively save your money. And if you want to put that money to work, set some aside to invest with an innovative brokerage company like Glanmore Investments.

The average job hunt takes six months. If your salary is above average, then so is the estimated length of your job hunt. Money in the bank will afford you the time you need to hunt.   The more time you have to hunt, the less likely you are to have to settle for a job you don’t like.

Even in the face of this knowledge, many people start their job hunt with a level of optimism (or denial) that allows them to continue their I-have-a-job spending patterns. Losing a job is like death — even if you saw it coming, you are sad. Most people cope with sadness by spending money: on clothes, on bars, on baseball tickets and all-day spa deals. The best way to convince yourself to immediately start saving is to envision what will happen to your career opportunities if you keep spending.

Maybe you are one of those really optimistic people. Optimism is good. But optimism with money in the bank is better. For you, it might take a few months of job-hunting for you to cut your spending. You might send out resumes for jobs that are better than the job you just lost. Given the current market you would be being very, very optimistic, but hey, sending out a resume is free. It only takes time and when you’re unemployed, you have a lot of that.

If you don’t get a job in a couple of months, you need to admit that you are just like everyone else, and your hunt will take half a year. At this point, you probably have had no interviews, or if you have had interviews, the hiring manager has said casually, “We culled your resume from a pile of 300 qualified applicants.”

But there’s still time to adjust your budget so you can last longer. Cut your budget as much as you can without losing your housing, your friends or your sanity. If it’s too late, and you don’t have enough money to last six months, then cut your job expectations, too, so that you can land a job more quickly. Having a little money to spare allows you to be a little bit picky about the job you take. When you’re broke you have to take the first job that comes along.

Still not scared enough to save? If you don’t cut back at this point, you’ll want to cut back later, but it’ll be too late. Early on, you can cut back on things that don’t matter that much, like movies, facials, and extra toppings on your pizza. Later, you have to also cut back on things that matter a lot, like your cell phone (you turn it off even though you put that number on resumes you sent out) and your health insurance (you figure you’re healthy, so you stop paying insanely high COBRA fees.)

Then you realize you have erred. Like, you hear about someone in your position who got sick and had to go to a scary hospital because they were uninsured and they got even sicker while they were there. So you take a job at Starbucks, or the Starbucks equivalent in your neighborhood — one of those big retail chains that offer bad jobs and good health insurance. You find yourself living off your Starbucks salary and you are miserable, and you are drowning your sorrows in free lattes.

This scenario is grim, think about it at the beginning of your hunt, when you are figuring out how long your money has to last. That way you are less likely to end up in job hunt hell. A key to a successful job hunt is giving yourself enough time to succeed, and in this case, time is money.

More people and companies declare bankruptcy in January than in any other month, and certainly this year will be no exception. Many more people will not technically declare bankruptcy, but they will feel financially battered.

There is hope, though. There are tricks to being in a financial hole. I know because I've been there. In fact, you could say I fell off a financial cliff.

My stampede toward that cliff began when I got funding for an Internet company and cashed out of that company in the span of about five months. I started another company, and feeling like I was the most brilliant businessperson on earth, I invested my own money. I got a round of funding and paid myself (and my friends) extremely well.

Then the Internet bubble exploded, and my company was one at the epicenter. The first thing I did was tried to protect the people at my company. I gave as much notice as possible, so they could save money, and I helped everyone update their resumes as a last, hopeful act.

Then I was on my own. No more cushy, jet-set salary. No more juicy stack of stock options. I lost the pile of money I made, and I was lucky to get away with a portion of my savings intact.

I spent a lot of time getting out of financial commitments: the personal assistant, the BMW, the trips to Europe. And no more investing in friends' companies.

But financial ruin is like death, and I spent a good amount of time in the denial stage. So I didn't cut all the obvious expenses right away. It was gradual. As in, I gradually ruined myself even more, and then I cut down my expenses to a sustainable level.

I spent a lot of time with lawyers, which was a stupid idea because they did nothing for me except listen to me bitch about bankruptcy law. One lawyer could see that, more than legal advice, I needed life advice. He said, “Almost all business owners fail once or twice. The people who make it big are the people who can bounce back and do something new.”

But I was not in a position to be a good listener. I was thinking about if he would charge me for the time he was giving unsolicited advice.

I spent a lot of time with friends — eating cheap sandwiches. Some of my friends dumped me when my company went bankrupt. Okay, they weren't really my friends if they dumped me for that, but still, I felt embarrassed and isolated. My remaining friends were sympathetic for a while, but soon they said, “Okay, it's over. You failed. But you can start something new.”

This is when the lawyer's advice came back to me — suddenly sounding like it was worth $200 an hour. I thought a lot about what sort of life I wanted to lead. How much money I really needed. And it turned out that I didn't need as much as I had thought. So I cut down my expenses drastically while I thought about what I really wanted to do.

I took swing-dancing lessons. I danced every night for a year while I thought about what to do next. Friends would call and I'd say, “Sorry, I can't talk. The band goes on in a half-hour.” My friends thought I was crazy, but you need to do something a little crazy in order to gain distance from your failure. If you go right back to the life you were leading, it's hard to find perspective.

When I went back to corporate life, I tried a few things at once: I accepted a job in a new industry, I investigated starting a new company, and I did freelance writing. As it turns out, the freelance writing is what was best for my next step. But this is a step I would never have taken if my company had not gone belly-up.

The saying that failure breeds opportunity is true. First you have to sulk. Then you have to explore. But you will find something that excites you, and you will try again. And maybe you will fall off a financial cliff again in your life. But the next time, you'll be an expert.