The market crash is going to mean a new era of banking, but it is also bringing along with it a few new ideas about how to manage one’s career. This is not the first sector to experience catastrophe, but it might be the wealthiest one. And we can all learn a little about managing our careers from watching what happens with the super-rich.

1. Use the downturn to figure out where you stand.
Wall Street ticks with rainmakers and math geniuses. Usually these guys (almost always guys) are tough to come by. Everyone wants them, everyone knows where they are and where they are going, and they are so powerful that they usually come and go in teams. So you can probably guess that recruiting this talent is extremely difficult.

I have a friend who specializes in headhunting finance talent, and he reports that it is unprecedented that these guys would all be fired, flailing individually, and available to the next taker. So in this downswing, where investment banking layoffs are fast and furious, the management at the places that can still hire finance talent (true banks, and other corporations that have so much money that they could be a bank, like GE or Harvard University) are finally enjoying a buyer’s market.

My friend’s phone is ringing all day with hiring managers scared that they’re missing out on a shopping binge, all of them simmering in a sick feeling that their competitors might be getting a good deal this week.

There’s a saying on the trading floor that up or down doesn’t matter, because as long as there is volatility, you can make money. And it turns out that this is true of recruiting, too.

So, if your sector is tanking, test your star power. There will be a feeding frenzy for top-talent. Learn where you stand by calling a headhunter. If he or she will work with you, you have star power, or at least you’re at the top of your game.

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Okay. Look. I wasn’t going to tell you what I think of Sarah Palin, but so many people are asking, so fine. Here it is. She is nuts. And the Republicans are nuts for putting her on a ticket. She has a five-month-old kid with Down’s Syndrome.

Why is no one writing about this? I have a special needs kid. I have two. Here’s what happens when you have a special needs kid. You are in shock. You love the kid. I loved my first one so much that even though there was something like an 80% chance of having another kid with autism, I had a second kid.

And guess what? The second kid had a different disability than the first. Amazing. Statistically phenomenal, really. But my point here is that I’m very qualified to tell you what it’s like to be a breadwinner mom of a five-month-old special needs kid. And, it’s not just from my perspective. I am a magnet for breadwinner moms. They constantly write to me. And when I write about this topic—being the breadwinner and having a special needs kid—women come out of the woodwork. They all say exactly what I’m telling you now: it’s insane. It’s insanely hard.

Here’s what’s insanely hard. You go through a mourning period. Don’t tell me about love and how everyone is different. Because everyone is the same about their kids: They love their kids no matter what, and they didn’t plan on having a special needs kid, no matter what. So you need adjusting time.

And here’s more I know from both statistics and first-hand experience: It’s nearly impossible to keep a marriage together with a special needs kid. And it’s nearly impossible to keep a marriage together when the husband quits his job to take care of the kids (which Palin’s husband just did). And Sarah needs her marriage to stay together pretty badly right now.

And who will take care of the newest member of the family? Certainly not the 17-year-old daughter who is pregnant with the newest kid. So the dad now has three teens at home and soon two kids under one year old at home and one has special needs. This is not a reasonable job. For anyone.

I know that I’m going to be reminded me that I have a nanny, a house manager, and a cleaning woman (who actually shows up every day). But I also have a job that allows me to leave at 2:30. It’s a compromise for me. Because every parent in the world has had to compromise, and it’s fair to judge public figures on the choices they make.

It’s really hard to know where to compromise. Here’s what I was doing when my kid was five months old: I was at home. Hating it. Telling myself that I was not cut out to be at home. I was sort of a columnist and sort of a mom and sort of a psychopath. Because having a five-month-old with special needs is very very hard. Not just learning to take care of the baby, but mentally coping.

Why is no one talking about this? The Republicans should dump Palin. She’s got too much responsibility at home.

Don’t tell me that this is not fair to women. Because you know what? People should have railed against John Edwards running for President when he had two young kids at home and a wife fighting cancer. Fine if she wants him to run for office while she fights the cancer. I get it. But I don’t get how the President of the United States was going to have time to console two school age kids about their mom’s death while leading the country. It’s irresponsible.

I know it’s not cool to tell people how to parent. I know it’s not cool because every day someone asks me how I run my company when I have two young kids and what they are really saying is “you suck as a parent.” It’s hard to hear every day, so I have empathy for the idea that everyone should shut up about how other people parent.

But it’s absurd how extreme these presidential-wanna-be cases are. I don’t want someone in the White House who has kids at home who desperately need them. I don’t want to watch that scenario unfold on national TV. So at some point, it must be okay to speak up. At some point we have to say that we have standards for parenting and we want the community to uphold them.

How ironic that right after I post about dangers of Mommy Porn, the New York Times exacerbates this problem to include men. Take a look at the insipid photo that illustrates the article about shared care by Lisa Belkin.

But first, a disclaimer: I know Lisa, she’s super nice and fun, and she talked with me about how I could be the person in the article who is the train wreck example of shared care.

A second disclaimer is that Amy and Marc, featured there as the poster children for shared care, are also people I've helped—about how to pitch themselves to the media so they could get some articles written about themselves and get a book deal. And they, too, were nice.

So it’s ironic that I am going to bitch about them now. Specifically, I’m going to tell you why I wanted to rip all their heads off when I read that piece about shared care.

1. Shared care shields people from the reality that their careers are not great.
It’s rare that shared care works long-term for someone who is very good in the business world. Some people are great at management, some people are born leaders. These are people who catapult up to the top of the business world, in whatever sector they are in. And they love their work.

These are not the people who do shared care. It is simply not appealing in the long run to the best workplace leaders. The people who think they want to try this usually end up frustrated after downsizing their career for shared care. Read closely and you'll see examples of this in the article. In fact, there is not an example of someone who is competing at the very top of their field who ended up enjoying shared care.

2. You need a lot of money to do shared care.
With one stay at home parent, you only need one parent to pull in a ton of money. With shared care parenting, you need two people who can make miracles happen in their chosen profession; two people who are so clever and specialized that they can figure out what to do for work that is part-time.

Already, this is a big feat since the Washington Post reports that most women who stay at home full-time would rather work part-time but they can’t find the jobs. But you also need people who have salaries high enough so that if you made both the salaries part-time, the family could still not only survive, but actually grow and still be financially okay.

Look, I know that usually when the topic is money and people are saying they don’t have enough to do what they want with their lives, I am a hard-ass and I tell them to move to a place with a lower cost of living. But I can’t help noticing that most people who make shared care work have their families helping them, which means they have to stay in the vicinity of family and do not have the ability to move to more economical locations.

3. Shared care kills two careers.
I am about to support this claim with very sloppy research from people I have met. But this seems okay because the New York Times is announcing a major trend based on interviews with what appears to be about ten couples.

So based on my own research of about ten couples who did shared care and hated it, everyone’s career takes a huge hit.

Dylan Tweney, editor at Wired.com, told me that his career definitely took a hit from doing shared care with his wife and daughter for two years. He freelanced, and he points out that you cannot grow a business if you are working four hours a day. You have to always be earning money, so you can’t afford to take time to expand your markets.

4. Shared care requires an unlikely match of personalities in a marriage.
Newsflash: Not everyone has the personality to stay home with kids. There are some people who get their energy from leading. Those people need a team to lead. There are some people who are caregivers. They are energized by meeting peoples’ personal needs.

In fact, pairing those two types makes great couples. Corporate life is designed up for leaders to thrive, and leaders—yes, proven—do better when they have a caregiver type at home, taking care of their personal life.

Here’s some more news: It’s unlikely that two caretakers would marry each other. They just don’t. They are not attracted to each other. I have not much to prove this except that I am conscious in the world. And so are you, so you know this intuitively. And this means that marriages are not generally optimized to work for two people who both want to stay home with their kids.

5. Shared care caters only to detail-oriented types.
Shared care might actually be the most inefficient division of labor in the history of humanity. With one stay-at-home parent, he or she maintains a schedule, checks in with no one, and announces to the work-at-the-office parent what will be happening at home.

With shared care, the schedules are insane. When Tweney talks about the intricate schedules he and his wife had—that actually required the help of neighbors because they didn’t have family near—he says, “It’s definitely more efficient to have one person in charge. There is a lot of overhead to managing shared care.” And this is a theme even with the people in Belkin's article who love shared care.

For some people—visionaries, big-picture thinkers, leaders—managing the details of a shared care schedule would be mind-numbing and soul-crushing.

The fundamental problem with Belkin declaring a revolution in parenthood today is that the revolution is in a demographic she is not a part of. It’s like the New York Times covering the blogosphere. They don’t get it, so they focus on the craziness instead of the mainstream.

But the real trend that we really have here is that Generation X puts parenting before anything else—even men. Gen X is horrified by the self-centered parenting that they received. And Gen X is an inherently revolutionary generation. We have little to lose: We are the first generation in American history to earn less than our parents. We are a generation largely berated and misunderstood by the media, so we have no great image to protect, and we have been handed nothing on a silver platter, so we have nothing to squander.

The history of the revolutions—French, American, Russian—is the history of people with nothing to lose recognizing the need for change. Generation X is that group today. And shared care is just one, small way that Gen X is expressing their revolutionary nature: with their parenting.

When I was growing up, there was lots of chatter in the media about how models gave girls bad role models. Today that’s old news. What we should talk about now is how the media portrays moms.

Take a look at the spread in People magazine of Jennifer Lopez and her one-month-old twins. The photos are so elegant that at first I thought it was a parody. But in fact, it is mommy porn: the visual fantasy of what being a working mom could be. And it really could be that, if it weren’t that someone like Jennifer Lopez must have a household full of helpers in order to keep her career on track while she has kids: a cook, a trainer, two or three nannies, a cleaner, an assistant, a stylist. And others I’m sure I can’t even imagine.

Here’s another example of mommy porn: Angelina Jolie, and her fifty kids. She has a rule that the nannies (plural, yes, each kid has their own) cannot be photographed holding the kids, because it’s bad for Angelina’s image as a mom. But this is the problem: It looks like these very successful women have it all, even though they don’t.

Here’s what happens: Some reporter interviews someone about their big job. And then the person ends up talking about the mythic work-life-balance topic. And they say something like, “Throughout my career I did [insert something that is supposed to be wonderful for children] for my kids.” And now, of course, we must assume that the kids are doing fine. But why do we believe that? Why do we even ask? We have no hope of learning the truth. After all, there are very few people in the world who are in a position to say that their career is, as they speak, harming their kids.

So journalists writing about moms being moms are not reporting the truth. It is propaganda. It is parents saying that they lived their lives in a way that was good for their kids. But really, who knows? The reporter has little ability to check. So all we’re left with is the parents giving their subjective and hugely biased opinion that their kids are turning out fine.

I’m not saying that every kid is messed up from their parents’ careers. I’m saying that I’m sick of learning about how famous families want us to think they are doing by looking at what is really only mommy porn, what is really just parenting propaganda.

So look, in the interest of truth-telling, I’m telling you this: people are not being honest about what it’s like to be with kids. People are scared to admit that they would rather be at work than with their kids, because work is easier than parenting. (Notable exception: Sally Krawcheck.) If I have to read about how much someone loves their kids one more time, I’m gonna puke. Because we all know that parents love their kids. It’s not interesting. It’s not helpful. It’s not even very relevant. For anyone.

What’s interesting is the part where parents love their kids but don’t love being with them on a daily basis. It’s very scary to write. But I’m telling you, if the feeling weren’t ubiquitous then there would be no one to be in middle management working 9-5 because they’d all be home with their kids, doing freelance work after bedtime.

People are choosing to go to work rather than stay with their kids all day. But no one talks about making this choice because they are scared their kids will read it. I’m not sure what the right answer is. I just know that somehow there has to be a more honest discussion of parenting in this world.

So with all the mommy porn, the media does a lot to make us think that work life balance is possible, in the same way anorexic bodies without treatment for anorexia is possible.

So there’s real damage from mommy porn. Everyone begins thinking that every woman should be parenting gracefully while working full time. This gives people the temerity to ask me, nearly every day: Who takes care of your kids?

That’s right. The genesis of this rant is that I was meeting with an investor — a guy in his early 40s — and we were talking about my travel schedule and he asked, “Who takes care of your kids?”

I told this to one of my board members and he said, “What??? Why did you answer that question?”

I said I answer it because I get the question every single day. Literally. And I don’t think twice about it anymore. But in fact, it’s a totally offensive question. Here’s how I’m so sure: I tried it out on Mr. Sales Guy. And even though Mr. Sales Guy and I work the same number of hours, he said something to the effect of, “I’m not really sure what goes on with the kids all day, you have to ask my wife.” He answered the question as if we were doing girl talk. As if I had asked him, “What brand of tampon does your wife use?”

So I want to tell you something: Women earn more than men in most major cities today. And in corporate America, up and down the ladder, women and men are on equal footing in the workplace in terms of who gets paid what, as long as neither party has kids. But the level of expectations people have for parenting is absolutely insane. The mommy porn feeds this problem. Everyone is drawn to the ideal of Angelina Jolie as the perfect combination of careerist and mother like the Pied Piper’s tune, and these attitudes are more exhausting to me than any amount of actual parenting ever is.

I have never let anyone guest post anonymously on this blog before, but today is an exception, and you’ll see why if you keep reading.

Every time I write about stay-at-home dads, tons of them write to me. They always want me to tell their story. The only emails I get that say “contact me if you want to interview me about my life” are from stay-at-home dads.

Not much ever comes of this, but there’s one exception: a guy I’ve been corresponding with for the last year about what life’s like as a stay-at-home dad. Today’s guest post is actually a bunch of his emails that I’ve edited, with his permission. I like this guy because he is more honest with me about his life than any other stay-at-home dad I know.

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When a person asks “What kind of marriage works today?” they learn that there are so many more options available than there were even 25 years ago. My mother and grandmother never would have been able to ask that question because there was only one type of marriage in the past. My wife and I have pretty much taken the old template and switched genders.

But it’s hard on me having a similar education and background to my wife and yet having her be the big success in her field while I’m not in it at all. There are many times when my wife accomplishes something and I say to myself that I never could have done that. And as my wife spends less time with our family and more time with work people, my focus and my social circle is different from hers.

So let me give you two of the positives about being in my position as a stay-at-home husband.

First, it is so great that my wife has a kick-ass job, makes good money, and provides so well for our family. She rocks. And it’s great for the kids.

Second, she’s really good at letting me do what I do. Not a lot of second guessing or interference. She’s never ever complained about anything I’ve spent or what I do. Not that I’m irresponsible or frivolous, but it’s just nice knowing that I can pretty much do what I want to do. I wouldn’t be staying home at all if not for her income.

Yes, there is a power imbalance, but I’ve gotten used to it. If I thought about it a lot, it would probably drive me crazy. But that imbalance comes with some of the perks that I embrace. Being able to commit and make this huge leap of faith is something that I’m very proud of myself for doing. And I know that my wife very much appreciates it. It’s certainly made me more vulnerable, but it’s added strength to our relationship.

But I’ve also been amazed as to how many propositions I’ve received since becoming a househusband. I have a pretty good sense of myself, so take my word that I’m not Brad Pitt but I’m not The Elephant Man either. But until I started staying home, I was never the object of this kind of attention.

Especially one winter, tagging along with her at a business conference.

On the first day I met a woman who really had her act together, single, about 50, and from Boston. A real flirt too. I flirted back. Same thing the next day. Each time we talked, she would talk about the seminars and other BS she’d attended (which my wife never does), and basically roll her eyes while giving the company-line on all the “interesting” things that she had learned. It was pretty funny.

On the second to last night, she said that, finally, tomorrow afternoon, she was actually looking forward to a meeting. I asked her what it was about. I’ll never forget what she said: “The two of us. I’m leaving the morning meeting early. Come to my room and we can have lunch and the afternoon together.”

The next morning, slinking around and probably acting like a burglar, I knocked, went in, and we spent three really great hours together. And that was it. At the last cocktail party, we bantered again.We’ve emailed a few times since them, but never gotten together.

At times I can’t believe the course my life has taken and I doubt that my wife has a huge amount of respect for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a chauvinist and always had a condescending view of women who stayed home, who live very pampered lives. Well, now I’m one of them. But I have to say that I’m really no different than a lot of women who are married to power husbands and play a supporting role. I just do what they do, with a masculine twist.

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ADDENDUM: YIKES!!! The comments below (there are now about 40) ask the same question over and over again: What is the point of this post? So here are some questions that I think the post brings up:

Is being a stay-at-home dad any different than the life that Betty Friedan and Sylvia Plath worked so hard to get away from?

Is the world really ready for stay-at-home dads? Will the world ever be ready? We have done a more successful job, I think, integrating women into the work world than men into the domestic world. Are women crossing these boundaries more validated than the men who cross the boundaries?

Why is the world not talking about the downside of being a stay-at-home dad? Moms complain about this lifestyle all the time –when they are doing it — but men don’t.

Do women respect their stay-at-home husbands? I wonder if women might have to work very very hard to respect their husbands who stay at home. Perhaps gratitude comes easily, but respect takes a huge effort and a lot of mental tricks.

Why do women hit on stay-at-home dads?

I just hired someone to take care of my house for $50,000 a year: A house manager. This is in addition to the full-time nanny I have. And the cleaning service. And the assistant I have at work.

I know the first thing going through your mind is that I’m loaded and I’m lucky. But I’m not either: for instance, the house I live in is so small that I sleep in the kids’ room. I chose a house like this because I think having money to pay people to help me maintain a sane household is more important than having tons of space for tons of possessions. Having to make choices like that is what makes this topic worth writing about.

But I wasn’t sure if I was going to write at all about hiring a house manager, so I tried telling someone in person first, my friend Jason Warner, who is a director at Google. He said that that every high-level woman he’s ever worked with—at Microsoft, Starbucks, and Google—has had to pay for tons of help at home or had a stay-at-home husband or has been literally falling apart at work.

For the past year, at least, I have been in the last category—falling apart. It’s clear to me now that to be a woman competing at high levels in corporate life, you have to have people helping you. Serious help. Most men who make a lot of money and have kids also have a stay-at-home wife. She holds their world together while he focuses on work.

So I want you to know what it’s really like to be a woman competing with the men who have stay-at-home wives: Expensive. There are jokes about the hyperbole of the annual study that says that housewives are worth six-figures. I think it is not hyperbole. Those men are getting not just a house manager, but someone who adores his kids, is there all the time, and someone who is willing to have some sort of regular sex life. For all that, the estimate of $100,000 a year seems very low.

My new house manager’s specialty is families with moms who have very time-consuming jobs. I told the house manager that I’m worried that she will not be able to deal with how eccentric our family is. She says she has only dealt with eccentric families. She said the last family used to have birthday parties at breakfast instead of dinner because the mom couldn’t get home for dinner.

I told the house manager that I am always home for dinner. And violin lessons. When I’m not traveling. I felt smug. For a minute. But really, I don’t think there is an honest mom in the world who works full-time and feels smug.

I am hiring a house manager because I don’t think there is any way I can compete in my profession if I have to do things like clean up gummy bears for an hour a night, or make a toy-store run in the middle of the day for a last-minute birthday party after school.

Jason was telling me that his wife went out of town for five days. She told him he had to take time off from work. He said he didn’t want to use up vacation. He said he’d be fine.

But by the second day, he was going nuts. He said, “Penelope, it’s unbelievable. I am telling the kids I’ll be there in a minute and then I send an email. And I instant message chat while I’m driving. And I take phone calls when the kids are in the other room waiting for me. This is crazy. It’s so hard.”

But I have been doing this every day for years. That’s really what convinced me to hire the house manager. Because Jason was doing my life for four days and he thought it was crazy. And Jason is the type of guy I’m competing with in business. He has a housewife. They are a good team.

When Jason was writing guest posts on my blog I was talking with him all the time. He asked about the time stamps on my emails, he asked me when I slept (for about six months, when I started blogging, I basically stopped sleeping), and he asked me when I relaxed. Mostly I was jealous that he had someone at home taking care of so much stuff.

So now I’m not jealous. But, I have to confess something. I’m jealous of all the guys who kept a family together while they built up their career. I wish I could have done that.

So here’s my advice to women who want a big career and a stable family: You need to earn a lot of money to make that happen. I don’t know a stay-at-home dad who is seriously taking care of kids full-time, over the course of five-to-seven years, without a lot of money in the bank. And I don’t know a woman who has a huge career without money to support a bunch of people to take care of things at home.

For women, the difference between success and failure at the top of the ladder is, I think, a house manager.

One of the hardest parts of managing your career is getting clear on what’s most important to you in the work you do. And it’s ironic that the true-but-cliched exclamation from new parents — “the kids force me to see what is really important in my life” — comes after we have navigated a big chunk of our careers. So a great strategy to find out what you should be doing in your career is to look at research about how you are likely to parent.

To this end, I am happy to report on the first few studies I’ve seen about what Generation Y is like as parents. The best part about generational research is that you can see yourself from a different perspective, and in a larger context. Your generation is never a perfect mirror of you, but it’s usually fairly accurate. Otherwise people wouldn’t continue to pay for the research, right?

Parenting styles reveal one’s true values, so reading this research is like giving yourself a jump-start on self-knowledge that usually comes after you’ve slogged through your twenties. Based on research about values that guide new millennium parenting, here are three things to seek out in new millennium work.

1. Look for good flow of information.
Generation Y sees information as a personal differentiator. As parents, Gen Y does not hesitate to give advice, and they feel confident that they have the right information at hand to make the right decisions for their kids.

And as employees, having access to premium information in their field, and being able to share it in a productive way, is very important to feeling fulfilled.

This is a hard nut to crack in the workplace because other generations conspire against you. For example, it is much more important to Gen Y than Gen X to be perceived as someone who gives good advice. Gen X is skeptical of all expert advice. And Baby Boomers think good advice comes only with age.

So stay away from offices that have hierarchy as a way to make people feel useful and important—it will mean a constipated flow of information. Companies that are truly good at creating team environments will probably provide rich information environments because not only do these companies encourage sharing ideas, but they value the flow of information enough to have shifted away from the focus on individualism of earlier generations.

2. Make sure you can customize your environment.
While Generation X is largely cynical about consumerism, Generation Y is known for fitting in by standing out and using consumer products as a means of self-expression. This generation has been choosing the color and style of their phones forever, and they have been customizing the colors on their Nikes.

Gen Y brings these values to their kids in the form of products like Webkinz. These infinitely customizable toys allow Gen Y’s kids to express themselves through kid-friendly consumerism. And the studies about Gen Y found that “Moms admitted to logging onto their children’s Webkinz accounts after their kids went to bed to help them earn more virtual currency and give them more fuel to further customize their virtual pets’ rooms.”

In the workplace, customization is a must in order to feel like you are being recognized for your authentic self by co-workers. The most common request in this arena is flexible hours, but you should also look for a company that focuses on playing to your individual strengths.

For example, ask someone to match you with the perfect mentor, or to help figure out what training you need and find you the right coach to do it. You won’t feel like you are making an authentic connection with your workplace if the workplace does not make an effort to address what is different about you.

3. Surround yourself with people who have faith in the future.
Members of Gen Y are optimistic parents. They worry much less about the future than their Gen X counterparts; Gen Y deals with the uncertainty of the future by living more in the present.

For example, while Gen Y has less tolerance for debt than other generations, they are saving less for college and retirement, figuring that the money will take care of itself. Another example is that Gen X parents care a lot about what their kids eat on a daily basis in order to establish good eating habits in the future. But Gen Y parents figure that the eating habits will work themselves out later on, and they don’t pay as much attention to daily food choices.

Gen Y also have more trust in kids’ abilities to learn all the time than other parents. For example, when it comes to media, Gen Xers want everything to be labeled officially “educational,” but Gen Y believes more in “invisible learning” — the idea that kids can learn from any media they use (with a caveat for violence).

In the workplace, these values play out in the quest for lifelong learning. Paying dues is out because the reliance on the certainty of pay-off in the future does not make sense in today’s workplace. Instead, focus on finding work that has payoff on a daily basis since you can never know what will come next in your work life.

Make each day one where you learn and have fun because putting that off for some maybe-payoff (like making partner at a law firm, or getting a fat paycheck) will make you feel like you’re not being true to yourself. Also, don’t be derailed by the cynicism of older generations. There is no rule that says they see the world more clearly than you do.

It’s a myth that time away from the workforce will undermine your career. This myth is based on outdated ideas of the workplace. And it’s an important myth to bust, because in today’s post-feminist workplace, the majority of women say that given a choice, they would not choose full-time work when their kids are young.

Here are some reasons why it’s safe to interrupt your career to have children. And, in fact, most of this data is relevant to interrupting a career for any reason — not just kids.

1. Demographic trends make women ages 30-50 valuable at work.
We all know that as baby-boomers retire, Generation X is not big enough to replace them, and Generation Y does not have the experience to replace them. But demographic trends have created a much bigger labor shortage than anyone anticipated.

There is a labor shortage in Generation X that no one predicted, and it’s because of increased fertility, according to James Vere, author of the paper, “Having It All No Longer: Fertility, Female Labor Supply, and the New Life Choices of Generation X.” He says, “The women of Generation X are not only having more children than the baby boom generation, but also supply fewer hours to the labor market,” and this makes women who do go back to work more valuable than people could have anticipated.

The other contributing factor to the Gen X labor shortage is that Gen X men do not work the long hours that baby-boomer men worked. Instead, those aged 18 to 37 are more likely to view family as an equal or higher priority than work, according to the Families and Work Institute. And the majority of those men are willing to sacrifice pay to spend more time with their kids, according to the Radcliffe Public Policy Center.

So it is no surprise that McKinsey Consulting reports that, “Finding talented people is likely to be the single most important managerial preoccupation for the rest of this decade.” (via 2020resumes)

2. Women adapt to job changes better than men do.
Companies might be better off hiring a woman who has taken time off from the workplace than a man who is switching companies.

Why? Because high-performing women do better at leaving a company and finding a new one than high-performing men do–in general, women keep up their high performance and men don’t. This study is based on the finance industry but the findings (published in this month’s Harvard Business Review) apply to most knowledge workers.

And even though women typically have a more difficult time than men navigating in-house politics and finding mentors, these women respond by being better at cultivating relationships outside of the company. Which means that they are in a better position than men to make a switch to another company.

According to the study, women start a new job stronger because they are more strategic when planning their careers (due to lacking the boys-club connection). “Women took greater care and analyzed a wider range of factors than men before deciding to uproot themselves.”

So ironically, all the worrying that women do about how to reenter the workforce after having kids probably pays off.

3. Social networking makes on-ramping much easier.
Ten years ago, the work it took to maintain a network during extended maternity leave was prohibitive. Dealing with a three-month-old during the day, and showing up to conferences and events at night, for instance, is a route for only the most intrepid of new moms. But social networking tools have brought the moms out of hiding.

Generally, the people using social networking tools are outgoing, value-oriented, high performers who were well connected to begin with. The tools are easy to use from home and the strengths of the mommy-blogging network are testament to the popularity of social networking tools among women taking time off from the workforce.

In case you’re wondering about the power of blogging in one’s career, take a look at Carol Wapshere. She took time off to care for family members and then relocated to Switzerland for her husband’s career. She started a blog in order to raise her profile in her industry before going back, and it worked and landed her a consulting job , and then a speaking gig at Microsoft’s TechDays conference.

This is not an isolated case. I get emails from women like Carol all the time.

4. The new idea of career means retrieving yours is not all that hard.
Most of the literature written about the duress of the on-ramp is by baby boomers who can’t stop obsessing about the glass ceiling. Most of the women taking time off to have kids today have no ambitions of breaking that glass ceiling because what’s above it is so absurd. That makes taking time off to have kids not as big a risk to them.

Look, if you want to shoot straight up the corporate ladder to the CEO position, don’t have kids. Corporate life is not changing as fast as corporate press releases would like you to believe. CEOs do not take care of their kids. Someone else does. And the difference between a father’s ability to get to the top versus a mother’s is night and day. Men are more likely than women to cope with extreme delegating of parenting. This is not a judgment; it’s a fact that is sitting right in front of us.

But most potential parents today are much less consumed with money and prestige, and more concerned with personal growth and flexibility. So taking a position below the last one is not as upsetting as it used to be. People do not think of a career as a straight shoot up the corporate ladder. It’s a winding path, and there’s lots of room for children.

My son’s I.Q. is in the top .05% of all preschoolers, but he attended preschool in a special education classroom. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism typified by a distinctly high I.Q. and a notable lack of emotional intelligence. Asperger’s is thought to be genetic, and it is surging among kids in places like Silicon Valley, that attract math and tech geniuses who often have sub-par social skills.

We know one boy with Asperger’s who taught himself to read books when he was two years old. Scientists surmise that learning to read books so fast consumes the part of his brain that should be learning to read social cues.

My son’s special education classroom was full of kids like that one — who used to pass through the education system labeled eccentric geniuses, only to graduate having never learned social skills and consequently falter in adulthood.

Today, educators take a child’s lack of social skills seriously. Parents should also. For educators, any nonverbal learning disability (like not being able to tell if someone cares about what you are talking about) is treated as significantly as a verbal learning disability (like not being able to speak.) Yet I am stunned by how many parents brush aside recommendations from educators to get help for their children by saying to themselves, “My child is so smart.”

Smart is not an endgame. Even in a toddler.

To understand why, look to the workplace. After where you go to school, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail. I link to this research all the time, but frankly, if you need research to understand that the people who are best at office politics succeed at the office, then you are missing basic social cues already.

But here’s more evidence: Nine out of ten business schools consider communication and interpersonal skills “highly underrated as a differentiating factor for students,” according to CareerJournal. And Jeff Puzas at PRTM echos a cacophony of workplace voices when he says, “Most of what I do every day as a management consultant has to do with interpersonal skills, not my I.Q.”

And when you think about someone finding his way to success in the real world, consider the Wall St. Journal’s list of the traits that recruiters look for in business school candidates:

Communication and interpersonal skills

Original and visionary thinking

Leadership potential

Ability to work well within a team

Analytical and problem-solving skills

Notice that most of these skills are independent of intelligence. Smart is even less of an endgame for adults than children-and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than prior generations.

So, it’s time for us to stop making excuses for poor social skills and start taking the problem as seriously as educators do. It’s painful for both children and adults who cannot navigate social settings. Kids sit on the sidelines on the playground; adults can’t maintain close relationships. It’s a limited life and it’s limited in the area where people have an inherent need to thrive.

I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger’s – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.

Parents: Stop pretending that your child’s I.Q. matters more than their social skills. Get treatment for your child as soon as a professional recommends it. Respect that the risk of not being able to transition to the work world is significant, and so is the risk of waiting to see if your child will fail despite being brilliant.

Human beings learn social skills best at a very young age, when their brain is still forming. So celebrate that the government provides free training for children lacking social skills by using it. Start studying the playground. Respect what often seems insignificant to parents with small children-diagnoses of speech delay or disorder, and diagnoses of sensory integration, for example. Those issues threaten future development of social skills.

As an adult, one of the hardest parts of having low emotional intelligence is that you don’t realize it. People who are missing the cues have no idea they are missing them. So the most unable often have the least understanding of where they fall in the spectrum.

I’m going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it’s probably because of poor social skills. People who don’t know what they want to do with themselves but have good social skills don’t feel stuck, they feel unsure. People who are lacking social skills feel like they have nowhere to go.

Lost people feel possibilities. Stuck people do not feel possibilities. Ask yourself which you are. And if you feel suck, stop looking outside yourself to solve the problem. You need to change how you interact with people.

Another idea for how to figure out where you fall in the social skills spectrum is to take a self-diagnostic test. Here is one at Wired magazine about Aperger’s, and here is one about emotional intelligence. Or give a test to the people you work with – a 360-degree review will tell you in no uncertain terms if you are being held back because people don’t like you.

Hold it. Did you just say, “If people don’t like me maybe it’s their fault!” Forget it. People with good social skills can get along with just about everyone.

So help your kids to form intimate relationships with peers, and help yourself, too. In fact, as an adult you can learn how to compensate for lack of social skills by watching how schools are teaching the kids to do it.

Pay attention. Because when it comes to our job – no matter what our job is – it’s the relationships that make us happy, not the work. That’s why I.Q. doesn’t matter.

Here is an open letter to all the parents, aunts and uncles who write to me asking for advice about the twentysomething in their life who is an incorrigible underachiever:

Lighten up! No one should be labeled an underachiever in their twenties! The first thing you should ask yourself is whose standards are you using? This is not the same workplace that existed ten years ago. There are new rules, and you need to stop applying the old rules to someone who has no need for them.

The people who know exactly what they want to do when they are 22 are called, in the land of sociology, “fast starters.” And today that is only 12% of the workforce. In general, these people are conservative, taking paths their parents took, and do not ask a lot of questions. The majority of twentysomethings today move back home with their parents , job hop every 18 months, and refuse to pay their dues.

And you know what? These are all good decisions. To you, these decisions might look like decisions that losers make, but the world is different. Do you know what a loser is today? A loser is someone who doesn’t take the time to get to know herself. A loser is someone who saw his parents earn a lot of money and not get happiness from it and still deludes himself that money will make him happy. A loser is someone who looks for fame or prestige. A loser is someone who lets someone else tell them what success looks like.

Today success is personal. It’s about using the years of emerging adulthood to figure out what works for you. This is time to experiment – try things and quit them and try other things. This is a time to have gaps in resumes, red in bank accounts, and a suitcase packed, ready to go at a moment’s notice. These are symptoms of someone who is learning a lot and growing a lot.

Personal growth looks a lot like being lost. Lost is okay. Who wouldn’t be with twenty years of schooling and no preparation for adult life? People grow more when they are lost then when they are on a straight path with a clear view of where they are going.

Don’t tell me that your kid is a bartender and will never grow up. Bar tenders have some of the best social skills in the workforce, and social skills are what matters. Bar tenders are not underachievers. Also, did you ever stop to ask your bar-tender kid what he does during the day when he’s not pouring drinks? He’s probably doing something fun and cool and a little risky that you didn’t have the guts to try til you had a midlife crisis.

And don’t tell me about your kid who isn’t finishing college. No one said college has to happen right away. No one has research to show that if you do college right after high school you will be a happier person. But people do have research to show that if you take time to find yourself during your twenties then you will avoid a quarterlife crisis. So maybe it’s okay that your niece is taking a year off of college to travel in Thailand. Or knit sweaters.

Stop judging the twentysomethings. Instead, look at yourself. Why is it so important for your twentysomething to make choices that you like? In fact, the most successful people in today’s workplace are making choices that would have seemed absurd ten years ago. And things that are true today were not true ten years ago.

And have a heart. It’s not easy to be a twentysomething today. These young people grew up with tons of structure, tons of adults watching over them, tons of accolades. It’s a hard adjustment to go into the adult world where there is none of this. The most successful transitions happen when the person making the change receives time to adjust, space to grow, and support for tough decisions.

Have some patience. Most people find what they want to do with their life by the time they are 30. Really. And they are already putting so much pressure on themselves to find a good life. They don’t need more pressure from you.