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My Final Column

By Marty Nemko

Something just happened to me that, unfortunately, has happened to many of this section’s readers: I was terminated. The San Francisco Chronicle has decided to replace my column with much lower-cost nationally syndicated material.

So, I thought I’d end by giving you my Top-Six List: my six all-time favorite pieces of career advice.

#6. Don’t focus on finding a so-called dream career. Focus on getting your career non-negotiables met. It’s extraordinarily competitive to land a well-paying job in most so-called dream careers: for example, law, investment banking, acting, art, sports, nonprofit work, fashion, or TV. And once in, dream careers so often turn out to be disappointing. Because so many people want to be in those careers, bosses can demand absurd work hours, be unkind, etc.

Sure, if you’re brilliant, driven, are winsome, and/or are well connected, all options may be open to you. But let's say you’re a mere mortal. In a less competitive, lower-status career, you’re more likely to find the things that lead to true career contentment: a kind boss, nice coworkers, opportunity to keep learning, a reasonable commute, and a middle-class living. As long as the compensation is middle-class, your contentment won’t be impeded by a lack of income. Study after study shows that beyond a modest middle-class income, additional money doesn’t increase happiness. Yes, for a short while, you will be happier with that new suit or brand new car, but that happiness usually fades quickly. After that, you’ll seek another material fix and that too will soon wear off, whereupon you’ll need yet another fix. Dan Pink, author of A Whole New Mind calls this, “The Hedonic Treadmill.” Ultimately, contentment comes mainly from love and from good work such as the type I describe in this paragraph.

#5. Work hard. My clients, who had been lazy, found that working hard turned out to be their greatest anti-depressant. Even if you’re unemployed, you can and should work hard. Yes, work hard in looking for a job, but also fill your day to the rafters with constructive projects: volunteer to tutor someone, clean your cluttered apartment, help a friend or relative.

#4. Be aware of the moment of truth. There is a moment when you—usually unconsciously-- decide, “I’m going to do that task later.” Stay alert for that moment of truth, and each time, ask yourself, “Would I be wiser to procrastinate on this task or to do it now?” You’ll procrastinate less. Then break the task down to baby steps and, when stuck, get help.

#3 Be nice. Look for opportunities to brighten the day of every person you encounter, even if it’s just to flick a piece of lint off their jacket. If a coworker is less capable than you, repress your impatience and offer to help. If you’re a boss, be generous with deserved praise. Many people crave praise more than money—feeling worthy is a primal need. If you have hired someone, don’t ignore the unsuccessful applicants. Afford them the dignity of a kind rejection letter, if at all possible, a personal one mentioning their strengths.

#2 Integrity is all. My mouse pad is imprinted with the statement, “Integrity is Key.”. Yes, cheaters often win—in the material sense. Many, maybe even most deceptive salespeople, plagiarizing students, and cook-the-books accountants, get away with it, but they still lose. They lose in the bigger game of making their life meaningful. If you—especially when it’s to your selfish detriment—do the ethical thing, you will be loved and respected on this earth, and if there’s a hereafter, honored in that one. And you will go through life with your head high, knowing you are making the world a better, not a worse, place.

#1. Never look back. Always look forward. I learned that lesson from my dad. I asked him, a Holocaust survivor, why he never complained about having lost his teenage years and his entire family. He replied, “The Nazis took five years from my life. I won’t give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward.” We’ve all had bad things happen to us, but my most successful clients do not wallow. They always ask themselves, “What’s the next positive little step I can take.” I can offer you no better advice.

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