The Blog

If you’re looking to change careers, you don’t necessarily have to go back to school. But if you want to get better at anything I can’t think of anything better than taking a class.

No, wait. I can. Do an internship.

A class is usually easier, though, to layer into what I bet is an already overcrowded schedule. It’s especially helpful, I’ve found, when you’re trying to decide whether to invest the time in an internship.

When I was changing careers I took a class on advertising copywriting, and within about ten minutes I realized advertising copywriting is writing by committee. No, thanks.

When I got serious about freelance writing, I took a class that led to an internship.

When my life fell apart, I longed for a class on how to make a life transition -- and I found one.

I interned as a way into the programming side of radio.

Now I’m taking another class as I cobble together the next addition to my combo platter career, and Darrell thinks it’s “cute” how into it I am. I show up early, I bring a lot of energy to the group, and I do my homework. Every night you’ll find me hard at work on that, as eager to do a good job as I used to be about getting kudos from an elementary school teacher.

This isn’t even really a class, by the way. It’s more like a club of people working on the same thing I’m trying to improve. I have no plans for permanent membership. I’ve signed up for four months, I know what I want from them, and I’m going after that with abandon.

It feels scary to be a beginner. It feels good to up my game. It feels great to remember all over again I didn’t get to a point in my life where I thought, “This is it. This is all I’m ever going to be.”

It’s not -- and it doesn’t have to be for you, either.

Have fun, and learn a lot.

That’s your assignment, isn’t it?

In school, and in that other great big classroom called life.

“Sing me a song.”

That’s the request surprisologist -- yes, that’s a job title -- Tania Luna surprised me with on the show recently.

Now keep in mind, I’m so loathe to sing I won’t even mouth the words to the national anthem before a game in an auditorium full of basketball fans.

I surprised both Tania and Darrell when I bit.

I set up that bit by saying I’d done this once before. I’d belted out the words to a song Dave Barry wrote about resumes. “Belted out,” on second thought, is a little strong. Let’s go with “sang.” I sang to Dick Bolles not long after I’d met him while participating in his What Color Is Your Parachute? workshop in Bend, Oregon: “Got a great big load of resumes from recent graduators. Got to take dem off de barge, and throw dem in de incinerator.”

I know, I know.

But that’s how safe Dick makes you feel. Tania and Darrell, too, for that matter.

Who makes you feel safe?

Katie with Seamus

One of the most hilarious reports to come out of NYU was an observation Katie overheard in a dining hall, where two guys were talking about another one: “He’s a frickin’ genius. He writes for the Huffington Post.”

Isn’t that funny?

But it reminded me how often I’ve been asked how to get that gig. I put the question to a senior blog editor, Seamus McKiernan, when I had him on the show recently.

Here’s his answer.

You’re welcome.

Thanks, Seamus!

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photo of Katie Anderson with Seamus McKiernan courtesy of Katie Anderson

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”

So says Maya Angelou, who goes on to say: “And believe them the first time!”

I’ve wasted a lot of time campaigning for slack from people who were never going to give it to me. When I’ve traced the history I realize I’d been put on notice immediately: “You are not my cup of tea.”

You know what? Scratch the word “wasted.”

Because -- in another nod to Maya Angelou -- when you know better, you do better. Apparently self respect is a slow build, and it took me a long time to care as much about what I thought about people as whatever I imagined they thought about me.

Now as I get to know someone, I pay attention to things I used to pretend I didn’t see. How willing he is to lie. How eager she is to trash someone. As if I won’t be the target of that one day.

And sure, that compels me to be ever more truthful -- and ever more determined to discuss a problem with the person who’s involved and nobody else.

It’s an evolution. And it’s a heck of an excuse, I think, for the reflection I build into every day.

Oh. One more thing. Just because you have your suspicions about someone -- just because you’re fairly sure you don’t have a future together, business or otherwise -- doesn’t mean she has to know. Some relationships fade into the background without fanfare.

Some relationships require more formal endings. In that case? You won’t regret the care you take during that “coming to Jesus” talk. Put it off until you’re sure you can be as kind as you are clear. You might want to follow investor Warren Buffett’s advice: “You can always tell a man to go to hell tomorrow.”

If your reasons are sound, they’ll keep.

Ask almost any author. She’ll tell you how much two things help her write a book. One is a deadline. The other is a limit on the number of words. It’s like framing a playpen. Here are the parameters. Go!

If you tell someone to write a book -- or choose a career or a breakfast cereal -- but you don’t put any limits on it, the person’s likely to freeze up.

Too many choices.

Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were good at everything and loved doing everything? How could you possibly decide how to spend your time on the planet?

Limits are freeing.

I used to rail against the repetitive nature of much of my day. Then I realized how soothing it can be, if I let it. There are pockets of creativity -- and everything from making the bed to working out gets me ready for those.

“Be regular and orderly in your life,” the novelist Gustave Flaubert suggests, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

A career consultant once told me successful people know how they want their lives to look.

It’s only logical, I suppose. How do you expect to reach your destination if you don’t know what that is?

PJ Jonas knew.

PJ and her brood are making soap and mischief and magic at Goat Milk Stuff, where the homeschooled children alternately break into song -- a tune from My Fair Lady, for example -- and fight over the just-arrived issue of Discover magazine.

“We had a definite picture for what we wanted our family to look like,” PJ says.

And?

“This is it.”

I hope you take care when deciding on your destination. I hope it sounds like so much fun it brings tears to your eyes. It’ll make getting there -- and being there -- a treat.

When you’re deciding how much it will cost you to go on vacation, I hope you’ll consider how much you’ll get in return. There are weeks and even months of anticipation, after all. And when you get home? Memories that might, indeed, last a lifetime.

The opposite is also true. When you put something on your schedule you dread, the time between now and then isn’t as much fun -- and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend some of the time that follows the event shaking it off.
 
Charles Dickens once said, “The mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day.” That’s according to “Creative People Say No” -- which is from Kevin Ashton’s upcoming book No Genius Necessary: How We Create, Invent, and Discover.

I’ve seen Kevin’s piece cited so many times I bet it’s helping a lot of people write or paint or teach ballet -- instead of meeting a so-called friend for the obligatory coffee.

A friend once told me she’d never met anyone better than me at saying no. That felt good! Because when I commit to something, I really commit. You can’t say yes with all your heart, corny as that sounds, if you haven’t made room.

It’s just math.

I did it! I found something good about impending doom. I've seen its beady little eyes often enough around here I was able to identify a pattern.

Which is, it forces me squarely into the present moment. This one. Not that moment in the future -- which is, as I mentioned, too scary to process. I run backward to a moment I can deal with, the one right in front of me.

What else can you do?

Here’s what else. You can make the most of where you are now.

Your fear will energize you, if you let it. Watch it marshal forces and summon resources you couldn't have anticipated.

Impending doom? Averted!

What was it you were worried about?