My 34 Best Ideas

Source: Got Credict, Flickr. CC 2.0

I’m entering my 30th year hosting Work with Marty Nemko on an NPR station in San Francisco and for my membership drive show this coming week, I will offer the pieces of advice that my listeners, readers, and career and personal coaching clients have found of greatest value. I thought you might find them of value, so I give you an advance look here.

I am honored that many of them were included on the Inspirational Quotations website. That site has pages for the likes of Einstein, Lincoln, and Ben Franklin..and me?!

Choosing a career

Status is the enemy of contentment. So many people seek status that good high-status jobs are hard to land. And you get one, you may soon discover that status provides little lasting pleasure and imposes much opportunity cost: What you could have been doing if you focused more on what you’re good at and enjoy.

Consider under-the-radar careers.  It’s easier to land such jobs and they include many options that people find rewarding, for example, optometrist, program evaluator, neon sign maker, and forensic accountant.

Give not necessarily to the neediest but to whom it will likely make the biggest difference. As every battlefield medic knows, it’s usually wisest to give resources not necessarily to the weakest but those with the most potential to benefit.

Use your current life activities to pick a career:  How do you spend your discretionary time? What do you love to talk or read about?

Career training

Learn from Google. You’ll likely learn more of enduring value from an hour of wise googling than from any course.

It-Worked-for-Me-It’ll-Work-for-You books are often not helpful because typical readers are less intelligent and driven than are published-how-to-book authors.

Self-study + tutor is an underrated way to learn. Usually, better than a course is self-study plus a tutor to get you past your trouble spots.

Ever more people will decide that getting that degree isn’t the best use of time and money. The proliferation of degree-holders combined with the skyrocketing cost of degrees means that many more people would be wise to forgo State U in favor of You U: some combination of self-study, mentorship, professional conferences, and short courses, for example, on LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, or Udacity or university extensions.

Especially think twice before pursuing an art, music, film, or theatre degree.  While I respect people who are willing to risk poverty to be an artist, I think the cost-benefit of art and music colleges is dubious.

Landing a job

Career changers, rely on your network. Your best chance of landing a job in which you have little or no experience is to tap someone who knows and likes you. A stranger offering a good job would usually prefer someone with experience.

Career changers, write a white paper.  You boost chances of landing a job with no experience by writing a white paper that demonstrates current knowledge in the field to which you aspire. Append that to your applications.

Post-job-interview thank-you notes should say more than thank you.  Remind the interviewers of things that seemed to impress them in the interview, take a second shot at a question you flubbed, and perhaps suggest an idea that might impress them.


Tread the sweet spot of talking and listening. Talking too much is a career killer. Keep all utterances to less than 45 seconds and, in dialogue, speak 30 to 50 percent of  the time.

Keep a memo pad with you. A valuable way to spend a dollar? A memo pad. Keep it with you at all times. Think of ideas. Write them down. Implement them. Or take notes or make voice memos on your phone.

School success is an inadequate predictor of life success. School can give a false sense of confidence or of loserhood. Too often, school success inadequately predicts life success.

Yup, baby steps. When overwhelmed, after doing any needed planning, try to stay in the moment and just put one foot in front of the other.

Accomplishment can fuel motivation more than can recreation. Successful, productive people fuel themselves mainly with their work and accomplishment, less successful people try, often unsuccessfully, to recharge via recreation.

When facing a dreaded task, ask yourself, “What’s my next one-second task?” To avoid procrastination, ask yourself, “What’s my next one-second task?” It feels good to get even a tiny task done, make progress, and maybe learn something. A few one-second tasks may be enough to get you rolling: As they say, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Don’t discount individualism. Today, teamwork is deified. Don’t forget the pluses of individualism: results tend to be bolder, not subject to groups’ tendency to agree only on the lowest common denominator ideas, the person is more motivated knowing it’s all on him or her, there are fewer communication problems, time is saved. 

Is s/he a workaholic or heroic? It’s often inaccurate, not to mention rude, to pathologize hard workers as workaholics. Heroic is often more accurate.

Dealing with people

Value honesty over flattery. How feeble are we that many of us are swayed more by dubious flattery than by valid suggestions.

Don’t practice one-size-fits-all management. Just as different plants need different watering and sunlight, so do people. For example, some need more supervision, others less. 

Don’t overvalue physical appearance. Why do so many people prefer a silly, manipulative, games-playing, selfish hottie over an ugly, intense, honest, kind person?

Try counseling-out rather than terminating a weak employee. Before initiating formal termination procedures, try counseling-out a weak employee, even helping them find a better-suited job. That can avoid stressful, time-consuming, expensive employee lawsuits.

Find hope. Where ethically possible, we must give others hope. Without it, a person figuratively or even literally dies.

Beware the forced smile. If someone smiles at you with pursed lips, they’re generally forcing the smile–usually because they’re shy or don’t like you.

Is s/he good or just nice? Some people are nice as a way of compensating for not being good.

Just because you can prove someone wrong, doesn’t mean you should.

Weigh the cost-benefit of criticizing or suggesting. There’s cost and benefit each time you criticize or suggest. Sometimes, it’s worth the price. Make the choice consciously.

The life well-led

Be in the moment. Of course, there’s time for planning, but remember that far more of life’s pleasures are in the process than in the outcome. Be in the moment.

Make the opposing argument. Make the best case you can for a position you disagree with. You’ll be a wiser, more nuanced, person.

The desire to be right usually trumps the desire for truth.

Focus more on contribution than on happiness. Key to a well-led life is maximizing your contribution. Happiness, less central, is most likely found in simple pleasures.

In aging, balance grace with striving. Senescence is an inevitability. The best we can do is strive for balancing between gracious acceptance and, as Dylan Thomas famously wrote, raging against the dying light.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s