We live in a culture obsessed with being perfect and efficient and productive.
And a culture based on an industrial production model, aka laissez-faire capitalism, doesn’t really allow for much humanity, the times we’re slowed by grief or panic or confusion.
We can’t all operate at 100 percent all the time, even if some people expect it.
We get sick, with an acute illness, or a chronic illness or, worst, a terminal illness.
We nurse loved ones with these afflictions.
I see so many people flagellating themselves for not producing more (why not producing better?) or not meeting others’ (unreasonable) expectations or failing to keep up with others who may have the advantage of tremendous tailwinds we’ll never see or know exist.
We could all use a little break, no?
A common phrase among fiction writers is their WIP, their work in progress, i.e. a book or poem or essay they’re plugging away on, whether with a contract and a publisher or just a lot of hope and faith.
We’re all a work in progress, really.
Getting older (I have a birthday soon!) is a great way to slow down long enough to reflect on the progress we’ve already made, not just scrambling every single day to do it all faster and better.
It’s so easy to feel inadequate when deluged daily by a Niagara of shiny, happy, successful images on social media.
As if those were the (full) true story.
But everyone has a wound and a dark place and a weak spot, likely several, and they often remain well hidden, sometimes from ourselves and sometimes for decades.
The traditional view of mentoring is that of a wise(r), old(er) person with the time, skills, expertise, insights and contacts to help a younger person enter, or climb the ladder of, their chosen profession.
You might find a mentor in a family friend, a neighbor, teacher or professor, a coworker or fellow freelancer.
But here’s the thing.
I think mentoring is no longer, as many people see it, a one-way street, with the person arguably with all the power and connections helping the person with none, or many fewer.
The economy has changed.
Entire industries have shifted, shrunk or simply died and disappeared.
Many people my age — I’m in my 50s — are scrambling hard now to earn a good living freelance; even if we wanted a full-time job with benefits, at the salary we enjoyed a few years ago, it’s quite likely out of reach.
So while we have decades of experience and skill we can and do share, we’re also now working for, and with, people half our age or younger who are the new gatekeepers.
A few others have been, frankly, shockingly ungrateful and entitled, delighted to use me in whatever ways they thought most expedient and then...buh-bye!
Not cool, kids. Not cool at all.
I recently applied for a part-time editing position, one in which I’d be working closely with — i.e. managing — several young staffers. I needed proof of my ability to do so, and asked several Millennial friends, (i.e. mentees), to write me a LinkedIn recommendation.
Fortunately, several came through for me, and their words have been both touching and just what I needed. One blew me off with two snotty little sentences. That was…instructive.
Mentoring 3.0 is no longer the CEO in his or her corporate corner office pontificating.
Not everyone who can be helpful to you now has a Big Fancy Job.
They might not even have a “job” anymore!
Nor is everyone who can be helpful to you de facto eager to have you — (and never ever use this hideous phrase!)— pick their brain. Just because you need help doesn’t mean everyone has the time or energy to help you.
Before you clutch someone’s ankles, insisting you desperately need their help and advice, show us what you’ve already tried to do.
Even if you’ve failed, at least you thoughtfully and sincerely tried. Effort is huge.
We need to know you’re listening and will actually do some of what we suggest; nothing is more annoying than making time to really listen carefully and offer our best advice, contacts or insights — and you fail to follow through.
Oh, and yes, a thank-you, (even on real paper with a stamp), is very welcome!
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a mentor who’s flexible, savvy and able to pivot whenever and wherever necessary. Treat them, and their valuable time, with the respect it deserves.
No one owes you this!
And if they turn back to you — and ask you for some help in return — don’t shrug and ghost.
I was flying home from Paris to New York on a wide-body 777.
The turbulence wasn’t, objectively, that bad at all and, really, could have been much worse. But I really dislike turbulence, especially at the start of a 7.5 hour trans-oceanic flight with Godknowshowmuch more of it ahead.
Even while mortified by my babyishness, I cried. Not a lot and not loudly.
A man sitting in the seat in front of me, an Indian man in his 60s or beyond, was gentle and kind.
“It’s all right. We’re all here with you,” he said.
His very simple words meant a lot to me, as someone who’s been through way too much emotional turbulence in my past life, which I sometimes think is why physical turbulence undoes me somehow. Nor did I grow up in family who did a lot of comforting or cuddling if/when I was scared. That was my job.
I was so touched by his words and later wanted to thank him, but he was too quickly gone.
Maybe he’s just that kind to everyone.
I’m forever amazed at the things we say to one another, whether strangers on an airplane or teacher to student (or vice versa), that can leave such a positive effect on us, years, even decades later.
Sometimes it’s like a stone whose initial plunk into the water ripples outward in many circles, having a much deeper and profound effect on you than the person speaking could possibly know or understand.
It seems such a little thing…
Maybe not everyone is as open or susceptible to these things as I seem to be, but I try to say nice things whenever and wherever I can; readers of this blog know I can be very tough indeed. I’m no Pollyanna, but it’s been so powerful in my life when someone has offered a nugget of passing wisdom.
Like the woman I met socially just as my now-husband and I had started dating. We were serious about one another from the start, but we argued a lot and were stubborn and hot-headed. Not a pretty combination.
“You can give this man his happiest years or his worst years,” she said. I knew her very briefly and maybe saw her once or twice after that.
That made clear to me what my wisest choice would be and, 15 years later, we are happily married.
I didn’t come from a family filled with cute, cosy homilies, so I learned to find much of my wisdom and comfort from people beyond that circle.
In my mid-20s, on a journalism fellowship in Paris, a perceptive friend about 15 years my senior noticed my obsession with antiques, one that continues today.
“You don’t have to buy other people’s histories,” she said.
That same year, back in the days before (yes, really!) the Internet and the cloud, I was shooting a lot of film and slides, and had hundreds of them, going back years and much global travel, in a big black portfolio I used to show editors to win work.
It was stolen and I was devastated. How could I possibly persuade people to trust me and invest their time and money in my skills?
“Nope,” said a fellow fellow, a woman a bit older than me, also from Toronto, said firmly. “Everything inside that portfolio is already inside you. You don’t need it.”
She was right.
What has someone said to you that changed your life for the better?
“When people are self-employed, you absolutely need to think of how you’re spending your time,” says executive coach Mike Woodward. “That said, charging for the occasional mentoring service is a slippery slope. It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.”
But call the concept “consulting” and all of a sudden it makes sense to charge.
‘It’s one thing to brand yourself as a consultant if that’s what you want to do, but monetizing mentoring could become a distraction from your own career goals.’
– Mike Woodward
The eponymous creator of Anne Chertoff Media, a boutique marketing agency that caters to the wedding industry, found a similar niche.
“I honestly got annoyed with people taking me to lunch and thinking that the cost of a meal could equal my contacts, expertise and advice, so I created a service called ‘Pick My Brain’ on my website. For $500, I give 90 or so minutes of whatever advice the customer needs,” she explains.
We’ve got two competing impulses — the urge to be generous and helpful to others, which reflects our better nature and realizes that other have done this for us, likely, along our own path.
But in an era of $4.05 (yes, here in NY) gallon gasoline, when my weekly grocery bill has literally doubled in the past few years — and when my industry is offering pennies on the dollar for the most skilled among us, what’s the upside?
Time is money! You take up my time, without payment in any form, you’ve cost me income.
And some skills take decades to hone and sharpen. Anyone who thinks that “picking my brain” will vault them into The New York Times is dreaming; I’ve helped one fellow writer get there because she deserved it.
So I bill my time at $150/hour for consultations and individual counseling. I’m going to raise it in 2015 to $200 an hour.
But…didn’t a lot of people help me? Frankly, not really. A few, yes.
I have mentored many other writers and am, very selectively, still happy to do so.
But when and where and to whom is my choice. In my younger and more idealistic days, I assumed that my generosity would be reciprocated, even thanked. Wrong!
Now I’m too busy funding my own basic needs, and a retirement. I can’t afford to give away hours of my time. It is what it is.
The people I choose to mentor are: bright, highly motivated, say thank you, follow through quickly, and don’t argue endlessly with my advice, (they can ignore it, but arguing feels rude to me.) They do whatever they can in return and, I trust, will share their good fortune with others as well.
Every day someone new, usually another highly-educated white HNW woman, is exhorting us to lean in, or lean out, or duck and cover or…something.
Mostly, I just want a martini and a nap.
I hate this barrage of “self-help” books telling other women to lean in, (i.e. work your ass off for a corporate employer and climb that ladder stat!) — or to lean out (bake brownies and say Om!).
Or, even better — from a millionaire who gets writers to fill her website free — on how to thrive.
Maybe because I grew up in the 1970s, in the era of second-wave feminism, in Toronto. We thought — really, we did! — it would be a hell of of lot better than this by now.
Ms. magazine had just launched and my late step-mother used to dance around the living room singing along to Helen Reddy’s 1972 anthem of female empowerment: I Am Woman:
“I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore…”
In the year that Gloria Steinem‘s Ms. magazine was launched in the US and Cleo in Australia, the song quickly captured the imagination of the burgeoning women’s movement. National Organization for Women founder Betty Friedan was later to write that in 1973, a gala entertainment night in Washington DC at the NOW annual convention closed with the playing of “I Am Woman”. “Suddenly,” she said, “women got out of their seats and started dancing around the hotel ballroom and joining hands in a circle that got larger and larger until maybe a thousand of us were dancing and singing, ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.’ It was a spontaneous, beautiful expression of the exhilaration we all felt in those years, women really moving as women.”
So we all rocketed out into the world, excited and determined it would all be different now.
(Insert bitter, knowing laugh.)
Then we grew up.
So I’m weary of this latest panoply of corporate-suck-up advice and endless set of prescriptions — all of it coming from wealthy, educated, powerful and connected women — on how we should live.
I intentionally lean out of my career. A lot. I do this because there are only 24 hours in a day, and when I ask myself, “If I died tomorrow, what would I want people to remember me for?” it isn’t anything I’ve published, any TV appearance I’ve made, or anything like that.
I’d like my son to remember that, almost every morning, I snuggled with him for 15 minutes before we finally got up together. I’d like him to remember that I had the door open and a hug ready for him when he ran home from the school bus, almost every day. I’d like him to remember that I took up the clarinet, and started lessons with him with his teacher, so we could play duets together and so that he could be my secondary teacher. I’d like him to remember all the after-school walks we took to the river. I’d like him to remember how happy I was when he had a snow day and could stay home with me.
I’d like my mate to remember all that, and to remember that I became a gardener, reluctantly at first, and that I did so because he loves planting but hates to weed. I’d like him to remember all the dinner parties with friends I arranged for us. I’d like him to remember the house concerts, like the one last night.
And I fully agree that we need to carefully consider the real economic costs of when to chase (more) income instead of enjoying a less-frenzied private life, non-stop careerism versus time lavished on family, friends or just…sitting still.
The real problem?
This is such a privileged conversation.
You can only “lean out” if you have:
savings; if you and your partner and/or your dependents remain in good health and if your housing costs are free or fixed, (i.e. rent controlled or stabilized or you have a fixed-rate mortgage, all of which rely on luck or a steady income from somewhere. Which is…?)
If you lean out, away from well-paid work, you also need someone else with a reliable, decent income to subsidize or wholly support your reduced paid workload — because fuel, food, medicine, insurance, education, clothing, and specialized skills like dentists, all cost real money.
Not everyone can live in a hut or barter for everything.
And too many women are just worn thin, millions of them working in crappy, dangerous, depressing and exhausting low-wage jobs with no hope of raises or promotions or benefits.
They aren’t wearing Prada and angling for a corner office — but something as simple and unachievable as a steady schedule that actually allows them to plan doctor visits or meet their kids’ teacher(s) or take a class that might propel them out of that enervating low-wage ghetto.
I see little communal concern (Hello, Occupy Wall Street?!), and no shared outrage at massive corporate profits/stagnant hiring/excessive C-suite compensation, and the lowest union membership — 7 percent private, 11 percent public — since the Great Depression.
I don’t think unions are the only solution.
But focusing relentlessly only on our individual needs isn’t going to do much either. Too many workers, too many women, are still getting screwed economically and politically.
There are so many people eager to tell us how to do it.
But how many of them are right?
I recently recently reviewed a terrific new book, by a fellow New York writer, Helaine Olen, called “Pound Foolish: The Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry” for The New York Times;here’s my full review.
She’s largely scathing of the Big Names who make a shitload of money telling us what to do with our own — (my finger slipped and typed “yelling.” That, too!)
People like Jim Cramer, Suze Orman and Robert Kiyosaki.
In 2012, I wrote a personal finance column for five months, every week, aimed at Canadian readers. I learned that every personal finance author seems to have a different opinion:
Love ETFs! Hate ETFs! Bank six months’ savings! No, three! Mutual funds are great! No, never!
Personal finance is deeply personal, affected by family, culture, education, understanding, (two very different things!), greed, fear, hope, comfort, wishful thinking. And the larger economy. In the 1980s, I earned 18 percent on my Canada Savings Bonds. Not today!
At 19, I was handling my money alone. Like every other, it’s a skill best acquired through practice. I was living alone, earning income as a freelance writer and photographer, putting myself through university and living on a stipend of $350/month in Toronto, where my rent, for a tiny studio apartment in a lousy neighborhood, was $160 a month. That left me $190/month — or $2,280 for the year for everything else: dentist, haircuts, clothing/shoes, laundry, food, phone, answering service.
Oh, and tuition and books; University of Toronto then (mid-1970s) cost $660 a year.
My parents never helped me out financially — beyond the cost of my small, cheap first wedding. And no chance to go home and live free or cheaply for a while after the age of 19.
Here are some of the many factors affecting our ability to earn, save and invest, in bold:
One reason we’ve been able to save a decent sum for retirement is having no children, an estimated annual cost, per child, of $10,000.
I chose a profession, journalism and publishing, that often pays crap. I did expect to have a steady income, and a staff job making $60-80-100,000 a year throughout my 30s, 40s and beyond. But my first New York magazine job, in 1990, paid $40,000 — $5,000 less than I’d earned at a Montreal newspaper in 1988.
(Thank God for my pre-nuptial agreement, and alimony, both of which gave me time to get back on my feet and find a well-paid staff job.)
Yet three recessions since 1989 — with 24,000 journalists fired in 2008 — and ongoing upheaval in my industry have put paid to any notion of a steady, high income.
Once you’re earning beyond your basic needs, (and learn to keep your overhead low,) save like crazy andinvest thoughtfully to keep your nest egg growing, no matter how slowly or how small.
Luckily, Jose’s staff newspaper job is steady, union-protected and a kind of work that does not damage his health or strength. Unlike many Americans, we’re extremely lucky he has a company pension to look forward to. He has also been responsible enough to make a will and designate me the beneficiary of all savings to protect me financially if he dies before I do. (I did this for him as well.) If you have assets, and dependents, protect them!
Do you play the CPW game? Cost per wearing? Better quality clothes and shoes, even pre-owned and repaired, typically last longer than cheap crap you have to keep replacing. (And earning more money to pay for!)
I bought an apartment in June 1989, a one-bedroom. I’m still here. I certainly didn’t plan that, and fear I’ll never live in a house. I’d kill for a fireplace and backyard! But that real estate decision, (a long term mortgage with a decent rate, and low maintenance costs) allowed me to do good work I enjoy, even freelance, living alone, and allowed me to save 15-20 percent of my income every year, even when it was laughably low.
Read this life-changing book, and decide what is truly worth most to you — owning even more/bigger/newer stuff or enjoying free time. You can’t ever buy more time!
We drive a used, paid-off car, with no plans to replace it any time soon. (See: low overhead.)
Managing your money intelligently and attentively is a wearying life-long game of Whack-a-Mole. Just when you think things are going smoothly, boom! The car or house needs a costly repair or your kid needs braces or you lose your job — or all three happen at once.
Here are a few tradeoffs that work for me:
I don’t write a lot of checks to charity — but donate my time and skills to several volunteer boards and organizations instead.
I chose not to continue my formal education beyond a B.A. — but I attended Canada’s top university and, ongoing, read widely, attend conferences and network assiduously to stay current in my industry. Until or unless I know the ROI on an advanced degree, I won’t assume any educational debt.
We drive a battered old car — but it takes us safely, affordably and comfortably 10 hours north to Canada to visit family and friends.
We live in a smaller space than I’d prefer, with no second bedroom for my office or a bed for guests — but it allows us the extra cash to travel, save and entertain.
Managing your money means making choices, every single day. It means determining what matters most to you, and examining — truthfully — why that choice matters right now more than anything. (Designer labels, a trip to Paris, a new pair of skis, a second bedroom, a fourth child, grad school….)
As Broadside has grown — now almost 3,000 readers worldwide — it turns out that many of you are in your 20s, even teens.
Oh, the 20s!
I loved mine and have so many great memories of that heady, dizzying decade. Dated a ton of guys, from the bad-boy Serb with the black leather trousers to the blue-eyed Welsh engineer working in Khartoum I met on an airplane to the Actor who dragged me off on a three-day canoe trip from hell. I began writing for national publications right after my college graduation until 1982 when I won a fellowship to go to Paris for eight months and travel Europe on someone else’s franc.
I shrieked with joy when that letter arrived, desperate to flee Toronto, a stale relationship and the hamster wheel of freelance work.
At 26, back in Toronto (that boyfriend now history), I was hired as a staff writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s best newspaper, having never studied journalism or any newspaper experience anywhere. But by 28, I was bored and restless and at 29 moved to Montreal to work for the Gazette. I needed to lift my foot off the gas pedal of workworkworkworkwork. I wanted a husband, (and found one there, a tall, clarinet-playing American medical student at McGill.)
My 20s were a heady mix of insatiable professional ambition, dating, taking five dance classes a week, ballet and jazz. I traveled alone to Kenya, Tanzania, Ireland, France and England for pleasure — in addition to traveling to places like Copenhagen, Istanbul and Sicily for my fellowship. For work, I met Queen Elizabeth, spent eight days crossing Europe in a truck with a French truck driver and danced in the ballet Sleeping Beauty at Lincoln Center (as an extra). I had a small black terrier named Petra.
So, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, for those of you hoping to get it all figured out (hah!) by 30, some advice:
Date a few people who aren’t your “type.” You’ll learn something about them, yourself and the world. I once dated a man named Bob from a small town in Saskatchewan, who drove a Beemer and worked at IBM and wore white shirts and blue suits. In the middle of a dinner party with my writer friends, he said, “You’re a bunch of limousine liberals.” He was right.
Become financially literate. Understand, if you live in the U.S., what a 401(k) is and why you need to pay into it, right away and every year. Especially If you’re self-employed, put away 10 to 20 percent of every check you earn and be thoughtful about how you invest it. Read widely and deeply on personal finance so no one can bamboozle you. I suggest the books by three funny, down-to-earth, plain-spoken personal finance writers I’ve interviewed: Americans Manisha Thakor, Carmen Wong Ulrich and Canadian Alison Griffiths.
Learn the meaning of the acronyms RRSP, REIT, ETF, APR. Learn your FICO score and how to improve it.
Have two credit cards. That’s it. And one of them is only for emergencies. Make sure they have a low APR, preferably 10 percent or lower.
Needs beat wants. You want a $600 handbag/new car/bigger TV. You need: food, water, safe housing, health, savings, a decent education and good friends.
Conduct yourself professionally! Use proper grammar, diction and spelling in every business communication; dress appropriately for the occasion or job; look people in the eye and shake their hand as if you mean it. Show genuine and sustained interest in their skills and experience. (Thanks to social media there is no excuse for not preparing adequately for a meeting. conference or job interview.)
Read and listen widely. Don’t limit your consumption of “news” to Facebook or Twitter or outlets whose political values comfortingly echo your own. Continue to choose intellectually challenging material after you have left the halls of academe — or be prepared to have your lunch eaten by those who do.
Buy and stock a toolbox. Know how to use an Allen wrench, cordless drill, hammer, screwdriver. Self-sufficiency is sexy in both genders.
Read the business pages every day.Everything starts with economics.
Figure out what you want sexually. It might be abstaining until marriage, or for a while, or forever. Get to know your own body and what pleases you most. Learn to clearly express what you want — and do not. No means no!If you’re sexually active, consistently use a highly efficient form of birth control; know what the morning-after pill is and how to get one quickly. Know how and why you must avoid HIV, HPV, chlamydia and the rest of the STDs. If all you want from a sexual encounter is some quick amusement, try not to break someone’s heart.
Travel as often and as far away and for as long as you can possibly afford. The best way to find out how much in common we all have with one another — yet how differently we interpret religion, culture, ethics and public policy. Even a road trip within your own province or state can teach you something (and be a lot of fun.)
Always pursue personal projects unrelated to your job. It’s tempting to meld your identity with your job and title and company and paycheck. You’re a person with multiple interests, not just a worker. If you get laid off (which is likely these days), you’ll have other passions and skills.
Unplug regularly. Get away from everything that beeps and buzzes, every day. Silence, and solitude, is deeply restorative.
Find a community where you feel deeply loved and valued, no matter how much you weigh or earn or who you sleep with (or if you sleep alone) or whether you even have a job. When times get tough, and they will, you need a solid posse.
Spend an hour every day in nature. Walk to work. Find a park bench and stare at the sky. Invest in clothes to keep you warm and dry so you can be safely and comfortably outdoors even in rain and snow. For a super-icy or snowy walk, Yaktrax rule!
Find doctors you like and trust. Ask lots of questions. If they won’t listen to you or answer you, find those who will. Take your good health seriously and protect it through eating well, exercise, sufficient rest. Right now, you’re taking it for granted. In 20 years, you won’t.
Invest in some really beautiful personal stationery and/or business cards. Use them, often. Write real thank you notes, promptly. They leave a powerful and lasting impression.
Find at least three forms of physical activity you love so you don’t have to go to the gym: softball, volleyball, cycling, hiking, skiing. Invest in some decent equipment so you’ve got no excuse not to get out and stay active.
Cultivate a compassionate heart. Don’t forget others whose lives are still much tougher than yours. Mentor a kid. Be a Big Sister or Big Brother. Volunteer. Set aside some cash for charitable donations or offer your time and skills to a cause you passionately believe in. By the time you’re partnered and/or a parent and/or super-busy with your career, it’s easy to forget how many people helped you achieve your dreams.
Learn to cook. Healthy, cheap, sociable and fun. One of my favorite cookbooks is Bistro Cooking, with yummy easy stuff like clafouti and vichyssoise.
Don’t take everything personally! Some people are just mean. Some are deeply distracted by a personal sorrow you cannot begin to imagine. Or they have a headache. It’s not all about you.
Fail. Don’t just keep picking the safest and easiest path. Take a (calculated) risk and live with the consequences. (That’s where resilience comes from.) The most successful people are not those who avoid risk, but know how to live with it and bounce back from it.
Drink less. A shocking number of young women and men routinely drink to excess. Empty calories, hangovers, (and the sexual risk of being drunk around people you don’t know well), and alcoholism are really unattractive. Step away from the margarita!
Find a few old fogies you like and trust who are not related to you. Spend time with them. Listen to them. They have wisdom to offer.
If someone is unkind to you, flee. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to figure out why they’re a dick. Just go.
Remember that everyone comes with some emotional baggage. But it’s not your job to carry it.
If you’re utterly miserable all the time, tell a good friend and find a therapist. Honor what your heart is trying to tell you. Don’t hide your sorrows. They are lightened when shared.
Seriously, kids, this is what I recently read on the side of my toothpaste:
For best results, squeeze from the bottom of the tube and flatten as you go.
A few thoughts on this:
Someone earned a handsome wage for conceiving of/overseeing/commissioning/writing and editing that sentence.
As opposed to? The sides? The top?
Who, truly among us, does not know how to squeeze a freaking tube of toothpaste?
But then I thought some more…Wouldn’t it be awesome if life came with similarly clear and gently helpful instructions?
I began imagining a stream of them that might well have given me so much better results, had I only heard them in time…
For best results:
— That cute boyfriend who speaks Russian, with the alluringly thick mustache? Not a great choice. Although extremely skilled on the horizontal, he’s actually gay.
— That other cute boyfriend, the soulful one who became a photographer, ditto.
— When you decide to describe someone, (entirely accurately), as “a total bitch”, best to recall that your new friend has been friends with her since childhood.
— If, as you start to walk down the aisle to get married, and your final whisper to your maid of honor is “Just be my friend if this doesn’t work out”, perhaps the wiser choice is to turn around and head for the bar instead. Say, in Bolivia.
— Before taking that cool new job in another province, the one (guess!) with insane-o tax rates, best to call an accountant there to see how much of that raise you’ll actually get to keep. Before you rent an expensive apartment and up-end your entire life.
— If you’re marrying someone who makes you a little nervous, spend a few bucks on a divorce attorney to see what you’d get if he bails. Nothing, you say? Pre-nup, stat!
— Small-town life looks so alluring: flannel, boots, long walks with the dog. Complete lack of friends/family/income/sources of income? Not so much.
— If it looks like a liar, sounds like a liar yet is utterly charming, stay with your first impression. A private detective is a wonderful thing, but not someone you want on speed-dial.
— If your boss routinely stands thisclose and shouts abuse at you, that anemic fuck-you fund, if fatter, would allow you to quit with dignity, not pop another Xanax to keep the bills paid.
What words of advice, if heard ahead of time, might have saved you some excess drama?
But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.
One venture capitalist tells how, when he met Mr. Zuckerberg in 2005, the young man wanted more than the V.C.’s money. He wanted an introduction to Mr. Gates. (He eventually got one, on his own. Today, Mr. Gates regularly advises him on philanthropy and management issues.)
“What’s most interesting about Mark is how he developed himself as a leader,” says Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, who has known Mr. Zuckerberg for years. “Not only did he have an incredible vision for the industry, but he had an incredible vision for himself.”
To make life really interesting a friendship group would have at least one of everything including a doctor, global wanderer, nutritionist, entrepreneur, writer, stripper, drug dealer, dentist, restaurateur, stock broker, accountant, recruiter, masseuse, farmer, banker, bum, blogger, athlete, celebrity, venture capitalist, monk, artist, politician, Chinese doctor, arms dealer, people smuggler, politician, and rock star – you get the idea. This mix would make for a hell of a dinner party and some great conversation!
Whatever you choose to call it — brain trust or friendship group or board of directors — everyone with a shred of ambition needs one. This can start as early as high school if you seek out and cultivate a few wise mentors.
No matter what you know or have studied formally, there’s always going to be a pile of stuff you don’t know, and may actually need to learn (let alone use or publicly discuss or present persuasively) within a few hours or days.
Then you need access people who know this stuff who will help you.
Unlike Florida, though, I don’t just turn to people I know socially. I’m completely fine paying people for their expertise and usually turn to those with excellent references from my posse; I write off their fees as a cost of running my business.
Until or unless you’ve amassed a ton of social capital, do whatever you need to get the smart advice you have to have. In my 30+ years working as an author and journalist, here are some of those I’ve assembled:
I’ve been through seven. ‘Nuff said.
Useful for scaring the shit out of greedy lying publishers and others who’ve tried to stiff me out of fees they owed for work I completed under contract — and they reneged. It works. Also useful for reviewing the work of your agent(s.)
I was about to go on the Diane Rehm radio show, with 2 million listeners — live for an hour, with call-ins. No pressure! I spent two hours the day before with a speaking coach. Helped a lot. Here’s the transcript of that show. Here’s my coach, Christine Clapp. A lively and lovely young woman, she works in D.C. but can work with anyone anywhere via Skype. She’s great.
Whenever I or my husband feel like we’re hitting a wall, we give her a call.
I’ve done a lot of public speaking, teaching and TV. I also live and work in New York, where appearance matters a great deal. A reliable and affordable hair salon (I have two) is a must.
When my newest book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” came out last April I was catapulted from home-in-sweats-world to being photographed for national media and being well-paid to speak at conferences and events all over the country. I needed a professional wardrobe, stat! I did something I’d never done before and it was wise indeed — I went to an upscale retailer, Neiman-Marcus, and threw myself (not literally) into the capable hands of the department manager. I felt fat, horrible, insecure. With calm, cool competence, he brought into the dressing room three dresses, two pairs of jeans and two sweaters. I bought everything! And when Marie Claire magazine asked me, with two days’ notice, to speak to their advertising staff — talk about fashionable women! — I felt completely confident and ready to rock.
Even New York dogs have therapists. If you can afford the help and need it, go! Nothing wastes more time and life energy than wallowing in misery and repeating self-destructive behavior patterns.
Book publishing PR experts
I have two dear friends who both work in publicity for major commercial houses. I’ve learned a lot from them that helps me position and sell my books.
After four (!) orthopedic surgeries since January 2000: both knees, right shoulder and left hip replacement this past February, I know a lot about PT. I like and trust my PTs and they’ve taught me a great deal about my body. I even wrote about them in The New York Times. You can do a lot of good for an aging/weak/injured body before and after surgery. You can even prevent it.
If we’re lucky, at some point in our lives, we’ll feel the touch of fire — time spent with someone so inspiring, accomplished and genuinely interested in us and our talents, however latent — that brands us forever.
It’s happened to me twice (so far) in my life, both when I was in my mid-20s. The first was on my fellowship in Paris, founded and run by a charismatic, bossy, imperious, charming legend named Philippe Viannay. The man, even then in his 60s, dressed elegantly, laughed often and had created more social value in his lifetime than almost anyone I’ve had the privilege to meet since: he was a Resistance hero; co-founded a major newspaper; founded a home for wayward boys; founded a sailing school; ran a journalism school and, (whew) founded and ran Journalists in Europe, the program that chose me and changed my life and worldview forever.
We had an immediate rapport, and he introduced me to everyone as “le terrible Caitlin!” I was deeply offended until I realized it meant terrific. The fellowship changed everything for me: how I felt about myself as a person, as a writer, showed me I could thrive in another language and culture. I’m honored to have known him, and that he shared some of his time with me.
When I returned to my native Toronto, and got my dream job as a writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, I briefly met Jill Krementz, a photographer whose work is well-known to Americans, and the widow of writer Kurt Vonnegut. She came to Toronto for a day-long photo shoot for a book called A Day in the Life of Canada and, as a reporter, I shadowed her throughout the entire day.
I’d started my career eager to become a photographer and then — in the mid 1980s — there were relatively few women working at her level in that field. The notion of meeting her, let alone spending an entire day with one of my idols? Swoon!
It was amazing to me, (even with parents working in film and television), that people of this stature would make time to talk to me, get to know me a bit, share some of their wisdom and insight. At the end of the day, back when shooters used film, Krementz sat cross-legged on her hotel bed as she counted film canisters, and I pelted her with questions about her career and how she’d achieved what she had. She was tough as nails. Is that what it would take?
I have a young friend in Tucson, far from the bright lights and easy professional contacts of a New York, Los Angeles, London or Paris. Roxana is quiet, pretty, soft-spoken, Hispanic, not a culture that necessarily “gets” a young woman eager to sell her news photos for a living. In her social circles, the odds of meeting a world-famous, globe-trotting star of her industry is slim-to-none.
But she did, and her meeting with Chris Hondros — killed April 20, 2011 in Misrata, Libya while on assignment– touched her deeply. They spoke, emailed, stayed in touch.
With her permission, I include her account of this amazing and life-changing experience:
In 2007, my first semester in journalism, I took an ethics course. One day we were viewing one of Chris Hondros’ famous pictures, the one with a little girl covered in blood where all you can see next to her are the boots of a soldier. Powerful, powerful image and story.
We were discussing in class about how it should be published. My opinion was front page and in color — people need to know. For the course I decided to write my report on war photography and focus on Hondros’ work. One day, I friended him on Facebook just in case. Maybe I would be able to ask him some questions personally instead of citing a book.
Five minutes later, he messaged me back. He wrote, “Perfect timing.” He was going to be in Tucson a few days working on an economy piece for Getty Images. I was so excited, I jumped from my chair, smiling ear to ear.
Minutes later we were talking on the phone and I was helping him with information about Tucson, while another of my friends, also a great photojournalist, James Gregg, teamed up to help Hondros find what he was looking for. When he arrived it was like meeting a celebrity. He was in Tucson for four days. I went out photographing with him one afternoon and felt so lucky. I kept blushing and was nervous.
But Hondros was so down-to-earth. Every time I asked him about his work he gave short answers, very to the point. He was more interested in talking about my work.
The last night he was in town we had coffee and I brought my work for him to see it. It was my first real news portfolio, mostly pictures taken for my college paper. I was very nervous. He glanced at them very quickly closed the book and kept talking about something else — before we left I asked him about my work. “It’s a first portfolio. Mine was bad when I started.” We laughed.
But he told me that I was very passionate and he believed that I would become better. We walked to his hotel, he gave me a huge hug and told if I was ever in New York City to look him up.
I don’t have a picture of me and him, and I wish I did. I felt too embarrassed to ask.
I never knew that I wouldn’t see him again.
After that visit I was in constant contact with him through Facebook, email, sometimes Skype. We chatted online when he was sent to Baghdad, or Afghanistan on assignment and I was always picking his brains.
The last portfolio I sent him to see, he said it looked good and sharp. He once told me that when I was ready he would take me to Getty Images. I was honest with him and shared my frustrations with journalism and finding a place to publish me. He would tell me not to give up on photography because I was good at it.
The day he died was so tough for me. I had never had anyone close to me die so suddenly. I turned on CNN and there it was Tim Hetherington, confirmed dead, but Chris was still in critical condition. At the same time I was chatting online with a photographer from Kosovo living in France. He knew Chris too, and had helped him in Kosovo.
This community of war photographers and foreign journalist is small. Most know each other, and I’m so glad to be linked to them.
I prayed for Chris all morning and I didn’t leave my house. The hardest moment was seeing the woman on CNN say, “We have confirmed that Chris Hondros has died.” My mom held me tight.
I had spoken to him a couple of weeks earlier when he was in Cairo covering the revolution. All I could think of was our last chat. I didn’t think that he would leave so soon. I miss him so much. I still feel that he’s still out there photographing the world.
He is my drive and inspiration.
Have you been touched along the way by someone like this?