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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO LIFE: Advice I'd Give My Adult Child

By Marty Nemko

Over the past four years, I’ve been keeping a list of all the things I’d want to teach my adult child about life’s biggies: Career, relationships, looks, money, school, and health, including mental health, and getting what you want from people. Many of these tips usually stay within the family: what a mom or dad tells their adult child. But I want to share them with you because I think they can be really helpful.

I wish my parents had taught me these things when I was just starting out, but I think you’ll find at least some of them useful whether you’re 20 or 60.

I hope you’ll keep this little pamphlet in a safe place to be called on as needed—your little personal advisor, your virtual mentor.


It is absurd that high schools and colleges find time to teach quadratic equations, the Peloponnesian Wars, and the halide series of chemical elements, but let their students graduate without knowing how to manage money.

In just two pages, here is all you need to know about managing your money.

Rule #1: Be thrifty with just two items--housing and cars--and you’ll have a more rewarding life.

I know a lot of people who fit this description. They own a big house in an upscale neighborhood with a mortgage to match. They buy a new $30,000 or $40,000 car ever few years. To pay for such a lifestyle, they invested $100,000 and years getting a law degree or MBA and work 60+ hours a week for Corporate America or for a law firm representing Corporate America. After the long workdays, they collapse on the sofa, and often sit their with their second drink (or something stronger), staring at their expensive living room wondering, “Is that all there is?”

If I were starting over, I’d major in some field I’d find fun such as theater. Then, I’d move to an attractive, low-crime, but not expensive area near a university town, such as Corvallis, Oregon. I’d buy a Toyota that’s a few years old—they can last 10 more years, easy. I’d hold out for a job I’d like such as journalist or drama teacher. As soon as I could afford it, I’d buy a modest home or condo in a decent neighborhood. Because I wasn’t working 60-hour quota-packed weeks, I’d have the energy to do something fun on the side such as gardening, acting in a local community theater production and/or being a talk-show host on the local Public Access TV station. I would never have been able to do those life-enriching activities had I bought a house and cars like the people above do.

Rule #2: Consider dividing all your investments among two or three Vanguard funds.

I know a lot of people who invest like this. They started investing by opening an account at some full-price brokerage such as Merrill Lynch or Smith Barney. Their broker would have them buy some stocks or high-fee mutual funds, and convince them to replace those stocks frequently, generating more commissions and usually more losses.

Along the way, these people got greedy and invested in some “opportunity.” I did that once: a dear friend said we could get 15 percent interest by providing a second mortgage on Beverly Hills property. How could I go wrong? Easy. The guy used a fraudulent appraisal to get more in loan than the property was worth and then walked away from the property. I lost 100% of my money. Another time, I heard of a financial planner whose clients had been averaging 20% gain every year for the last five years. I heard his sales pitch, but somehow felt funny about investing with him. I was right. One day, the financial advisor left town with everyone’s money, never to be found again.

Having been burned, these people now diversify their investments, putting a little here, a little there, and every month they’re bombarded with mountains of statements and at the end of the year, mountains of tax reporting.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d put all my money in the Vanguard Group, the world’s largest financial services company. It is among the only large firms never to be even accused of wrongdoing. It offers a full range of investment options and has among the lowest fees of any company. I’d achieve diversification by investing in a few Vanguard funds. Vanguard’s website offers a free interactive questionnaire to find the right funds based on your time horizon and risk tolerance.

By putting all my money within the Vanguard family of investments, I’d get only one statement a month, and I’d sleep well knowing I was invested wisely within one of the world’s premier financial services firms. And dear reader, I swear, I have no affiliation with Vanguard nor receive a dime from them. My recommendation comes from a lifetime of having explored the full range of investment options.

You might ask about real estate. Yes, looking back, real estate has done extremely well. And I’m not averse to your buying a home, but to put additional investments into real estate not only puts too many eggs into the real estate basket, but there is reason to believe that the real estate bubble is about to burst. I do not believe we can sustain housing prices in which the average home costs much more than the average two-working person professional couple can afford.

Many financial experts try to make things complicated—to make you feel like you need them. But, investing based simply on Vanguard’s interactive questionnaire will put you ahead of 90+% of investors.

Rule #2a: As soon as you have additional money to invest, don’t try to time the market. Invest it in your Vanguard Funds.

Do not wait on the sidelines trying to time the market. The world’s most sophisticated investors have been unable to. You’ll do best if you put your money to work for you as soon as possible.

The Conservative Option. Thanks to, you can find the nation’s highest rates on bank certificates of deposit (CDs.) Usually these are more than double the rate of inflation, so even, after taxes, you stay ahead. For example, right now, you can get a 3-year CD that pays 4 percent and the inflation rate is under 2 percent. And with CDs, there’s no risk. They’re insured up to $100,000 per account by the federal government. You could do far worse than, every time, you have an extra $5,000 or $10,000 to invest, you simply invest it in the highest yielding CD with a one- to three-year maturity date.

Don’t Get Manipulated

People want things from you: Your boss may want you to work harder; your supervisee may want you to let him slide; a salesperson definitely wants you to buy; your special someone wants all sorts of things.

And sometimes you want to say yes, but other times, you say yes because the person manipulated you. You can keep that from happening to you by staying alert to these ploys:

The Preying-on-the-Wimpy Ploy. Audacious people ask favors knowing we may be too wimpy to say no. Before saying yes, for example, to a supervisee pitching for a plum assignment, ask yourself, “In saying yes, am I choosing the best person or merely rewarding audacity?”

The Feigned Friendship Ploy. Ever meet people who, as soon as you meet them, seem very interested in you? They ask you lots of questions about you. As you answer, they look fascinated. They make a point of adding your name to statements, for example, “That’s a good point, Joe.” Of course, they may like you, but if they soon ask for something, be sure you say yes because of the request’s merits, not their feigned interest in you.

The Feigned Humility Ploy. When someone precedes a request with a twitter such as, “This may be a stupid idea but (insert idea), it’s natural to want to make the person feel good, so you reassure: “That’s not a stupid idea,”--and he’s halfway home to getting your buy-in. Another example: “I know you’re probably too busy to do this but (insert time-demanding request). Embarrassed to be too busy for a humble wretch’s request, you’re more likely to make time for that manipulator than for a straightforward person’s request such as “Could you do X for me?”

The Mirroring Ploy. Salespeople, negotiators, and other professional persuaders are taught to mirror their mark: If he or she slouches, do the same, speaks quickly and only in brief bursts, do the same; mainly talks facts, do the same; mainly talks feelings, do the same. Even breathe in unison! Mimic, mimic, mimic. Why? People like and therefore do things for people who are like themselves.

The Foot-in-the-Door Ploy. If your boss asked if you had time for an additional 20-hour project, you might well say no. But what if she asked if you would sit in on one meeting on the project so you could provide input? You’d more likely agree. Providing input invests you in the project. If after that, your boss said how impressed she was with your suggestions, wouldn’t you be more likely to take on the extra 20 hours of work? The manipulative boss got a foot in the door by getting her patsy to first make a small commitment.

Salespeople use the foot-in-the-door ploy all the time. With a new customer, they start by pitching for a small sale, and only afterwards, hit them up for a biggie. This is true not just of products but of services. For example, workshop peddlers such as Tony Robbins and the Landmark Forum start by pitching a free or low-cost event. Only at the end of that event, do they try to sell you the thousand-dollar multi-day workshop.

Even nonprofits, especially colleges and universities, aren’t averse to such tactics. College fundraisers always start by asking for a small commitment, such as buying a discount ticket to some on-campus event. If you say yes to that, you can bet they’ll keep going after you for ever bigger commitments until you say no or they achieve their ultimate goal—to get you to put the college in your will. (I believe that colleges and universities are among the worst places to donate your money but that’s another column.)

The Freebie Ploy. A car salesman writes up a customer’s offer for $20,000 and says he needs to ask his manager to okay that “great deal.” Offhandedly he adds, “By the way, I’m going to buy myself a Coke. Want me to get you one?” You can’t help but feel, “He’s a nice guy.” When he comes back saying, “The very best she can do is $21,000,” you’re more likely to say yes because you unconsciously were softened up by that 50-cent Coke.

Freebies also can invoke guilt. When a coworker bakes brownies and later asks for a favor, it’s harder to say no. When your boss let you go home an hour early, it’s much harder to say no when he later asks you to take work home the next weekend.

Freebies are sometimes given out of true generosity, but when you get one, ask yourself whether the motivation is likely pure or manipulative.

The Bandwagon Ploy. Perpetrators of the Bandwagon Ploy play on the fact that most of us like to be insiders, not the odd one out. So to get you to say yes, they might, for example, say, “Joe and Sally are already on board. Can I count on you?” You should make decisions based on the merits, not because someone else does. Fortune 500 CEOs, indeed, US presidents, make bad decisions all the time. Make your own mind up.

The Sexuality Ploy. Many people use their attractiveness to get what they want. They may not necessarily sleep with their target but can often derive big payoff from such mild flirtations as a brief touch on the shoulder, standing just six inches closer than normal, or even just by using the right tone in asking, “How are you doing, Joe?”

How you know you’re at risk of being manipulated: It’s often simple: When you’re being asked for something, if you like the asker, beware. Your objectivity in making the decision is being colored. And whenever you’re unsure of your objectivity, take a day before saying yes. Time dissipates manipulation’s effects.

Should we be angry at manipulators?

We all use these techniques at times, but it’s usually unconscious, so we shouldn’t be too hard on the perpetrators. But that doesn’t diminish those ploys’ effectiveness in making us do what we don’t want to. Keep your ploy antennae out.


I consider psychotherapy risky. Yes, some people have found it well worth the time and money, but many others seem to not to have been helped, and often actually made worse. Here’s one way that can come about. Too many psychotherapists, consciously or unconsciously, create client dependency—after all, shrinks make more money the longer the client keeps coming. They usually do this subtly. By empathizing with the clients’s complaints about their past and present life and encouraging them to express their feelings, clients are encouraged to wallow, even be narcissistic. It also externalizes blame— So many therapists say things like, “It’s understandable that you haven’t succeeded. It’s your (choose one: father’s, mother’s, brother’s, sister’s, husband’s, wife’s, abuser’s) fault.” It feels good to feel support for complaining, so people often stay in therapy, not because they’re getting better, but because it feels good. Or they gain insight into themselves, but their life is no better.

If you’re unhappy, before trying a shrink, I’d try any of the following: journaling, talking to a well-adjusted, smart friend, and most important, stop looking back at your problems. My father was in a Nazi concentration camp and lost virtually his entire family to the Nazis. One day I asked, “Dad, how come you never seem bitter?” He answered, “The Nazis killed my family took five years of my life.” I’m not going to give them one minute more. Never look back, always look forward.” He was a well-adjusted and successful person and never had a moment of therapy. I believe you are far more likely to heal yourself if you simply remember, “Never look back; always look forward.”

If you insist on seeing a therapist, the most effective ones use a short-term approach called “cognitive/behavioral” or “rational emotive.” Seek out that kind of therapist.

Seven Keys to Making the Most of Your Job

1. Tailor your job description. If necessary, try to get your job description changed to accentuate your strengths and skirt your weaknesses. The best time to do this is when you’ve been offered the job but haven’t yet accepted it, but it can be done later. I know a lawyer who used to hate being at trial but loved the research and writing. She traded roles with another lawyer in her office who was the opposite.

2. The first days on a job are crucial. As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Start by meeting with peers, boss, and supervisee individually, and asking for their advice on how to succeed in your job. Ask lots of questions. Especially, in the beginning, that will be seen as a sign of enthusiasm and humility—a great combination.

3. Adopt the C-SPAN demeanor. C-SPAN is a veritable parade of successful people: US congresspeople and the nation’s most prominent people, for example, Fortune 500 CEOs, testifying before them. Even if they are talking about the dangers of terrorist attacks on the US, their tone is almost always measured--concerned yes, but never showing much emotion beyond a modest smile or modest concern. They rarely fidget or raise their voice. Their posture is straight but relaxed. Their voices are firm and controlled. Look what happened when Howard Dean gave his famous “War-whoop” speech. That single moment killed his candidacy.

Of course, in some jobs, a dynamic personality is usually a plus: teacher, talk show host, motivational speaker, and perhaps salesperson, for example. But fact is, in most parts of the US, to succeed in most people-centric jobs—even low-level ones—it helps if you can master the C-SPAN demeanor.

4. Key to job success is managing your time. Treat it as though it were your most valuable commodity. It is.

First, establish priorities. Start by creating a personal mission statement. For example, “To use my salesmanship and listening skills to sell as many good quality products as possible without ethical compromise and while leaving plenty of time for my family.” When deciding what tasks to spend the most time on, focus on those tasks that are consistent with your personal mission.

Another key to time management is to have a little voice always whispering in your ear, “Is this the best use of my time?” Sometimes, you can delegate a task, for example, to an intern. Other times you can choose do the task less thoroughly or by taking fewer side paths. Other times, you may decide the task isn’t worth doing at all.

5.Even if your job title is not “manager,” you will be managing people. Here are the most important principles for managing people:

All of us can be better and worse performers depending on how we’re treated. I’ve found that by expecting the best from people and not micromanaging, they usually live up to my expectations. If a person seriously disappoints me a couple of times, I cut them out of my life or at least minimize my interaction with them. Or I have them do tasks that use their strengths. I do not try to fundamentally change people—I’ve found that’s extremely difficult to do. Even shrinks have a hard time changing people.

People will like you more if you really listen to them and ask about them. I believe in the traffic light rule of conversation. During the first 30 seconds of your utterance, your light is green. Chances are, the person is paying attention. During the next 30 seconds, your light is yellow. He may be starting to space out or think of you as longwinded. After 60 seconds, your light is red. Yes, there are times to run a red light, but usually, it’s a bad idea.

Self-esteem is fragile. Do what you can to make people feel good about themselves. That means never brag and always look for opportunities to legitimately praise a person. If you must criticize, try to blame yourself a bit; for example, “Maybe I’m oversensitive, but I don’t want your career to suffer, so I figure I’d take the risk because I like you. I’ve noticed that your writing tends to be wordy. When proofing, you might, with each sentence, ask yourself, ‘Could I make this sentence shorter or even eliminate it?’”

If you’re in a position to fire employees, and find that after a modest amount of effort to improve your employee, there’s insufficient improvement, you must fire them, and quickly. Good managers spend their time working with their strong, not their weak performers.

6. Hire Wisely. To prevent having to fire, you must hire very carefully:

A. Cast a wide net so you have plenty of people to choose from. Tell everyone in and outside your workplace that you’re looking. A candidate recommended by someone you know will probably be a better employee than one who responds to an ad.

B. If your network doesn’t generate sufficient candidates, then yes, advertise, and advertise widely, so you can find someone, who on paper looks great.

C. But people can look great on paper, interview well, and even have great recommendations, but turn out to be terrible employees. Be sure your interview consists mainly of simulations of difficult situations that would be found in the job.

D.Instead of perfunctorily calling references, try this. Most references will not say anything bad about a candidate. So ask the finalist candidate for ten, yes ten, references. Phone all ten during the evening. Leave this message: “I’m considering (insert name of candidate) for a very important position as (insert main job responsibilities.) If from your experience with him, you believe he would be outstanding, please call back. If not, there’s no need to call back. My phone number is (insert number).” If at least seven of the 10 references call back, you probably have a winner.

In sum, great managers hire smart and fire fast.

7. Procrastination is career cancer. You may have first acquired the habit of procrastinating in school. You waited until the last minute to do an assignment or study for a test, the adrenaline rush motivated you, and lo and behold, you got a good grade. Soon, you became dependent on the adrenaline to get you through an assignment. But there’s no grade inflation in the real world. Procrastination is career cancer. If you must do a task, please get started on it as soon as it’s assigned. If you say you’ll start it later, chances are you won’t, until the last minute, at which point, you probably won’t have time to do a quality job. And when you reach a hard part, struggle for no more than 15 seconds. The odds are that additional struggling won't help. At the 15-second mark, decide to get help, to come back to it later, or that there’s a way to complete the task without doing the hard part. People tend to procrastinate hard tasks because they know they’ll be struggling with the hard part forever—that’s painful. The 15-second struggle technique will make tough tasks less odious.

Choosing a Career

Do What You Love and You’ll Probably Starve

We’ve been sold a bill of goods when we’re told to unhesitatingly “Follow your passion, “ or “Do what you love and the money will follow.” The fact is, if you do what you love, you well may starve.

Yes, some people do what they love and the money follows. Others make less money but still are happy, but millions of people have followed their passion and still haven’t earned enough money to even pay back their student loans, let alone make a middle-class living doing what they’re passionate about.

The problem is that too many people crave the same few careers, for example, the arts, the media, and non-profit work. Because employers in these fields get hundreds of applications for each job, you have to be a superstar or extremely well connected to get the job. In other cases, the salaries tend to be low or non-existent. Do what you love and volunteer jobs will probably follow.

The irony is that the small percentage of people who do make a living in these “do-what-you-love,” “follow-your-passion” careers, are no happier, on average, than people in less sexy jobs.

Here’s why. Not only do salaries in “cool” careers tend to be low, employers in these fields know they needn’t treat their employees with kid gloves because zillions of other capable people are panting for the opportunity to work 60 hours a week for $27,521 (with no benefits) for the good feeling of knowing they’re playing an infinitesimal role in saving the spotted owl or whatever, even though they may never get closer to a spotted owl than a pile of accounts receivable statements.

So there are plenty of unhappy people in so-called cool careers. That’s true even in unarguably cool careers. Think of how many stars have big-time problems with drugs or depression. Kurt Cobain, John Belushi, and Janis Joplin loved their cool career so much they killed themselves.

Other people’s passion is status. So, for example, they endure years of boring law school and accumulate boatloads of student debt for the privilege of slaving under a 2,200-hour billable hour quota for the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe, with a futon in their office for when they try to sneak in a couple hours of zzzs in the middle of their all-nighters they keep so they can increase their chances of another attorney’s corporate client to give money to their corporate client.

Other status seekers prostitute themselves to climb the corporate ladder. They kiss up to their bosses and work 60+-hour workweeks, smilingly willing to uproot themselves and their families for a few years in Dubuque, Tuscaloosa, or any goddamn place the Company wants to dump them. They endure years of theoretical crap in an MBA program so they can put those three letters, MBA, on their resume. And for what? So they can get a title of vice president, and after their 12-hour cover-their-butt workday, collapse on their sofa, get blitzed, and stare at their oversized living room in their oversized neighborhood wondering, “Is that all there is?”

In contrast, if your job is mundane, for example, marketing manager for the Ace Soybean Processing Company, the employer knows there aren’t hundreds of competent people champing at the bit for your job. So, to keep you, the employer is more likely to offer decent working conditions, reasonable work hours, treat you kindly, offer you opportunities for learning, and pay you well. Those are the things that are more likely to lead to career contentment than saying you’re in a cool career.

You say you want status? Unless you’re a true superstar (brilliant, driven, great personality, or have great connections), give it up. Status is often the enemy of success. You’re more likely to find career contentment in a not-high-status career. In my mind, someone who’s an honorable assistant manager for the Ace Soybean Processing Co. is more worthy of respect than many lawyers, investment bankers, and business development VPs I know. If someone thinks less of you because you’re job isn’t high-status, they don’t deserve to be your friend.

If you want to be well employed, go far from the madding crowd. Here are some areas where the job market is not hypercompetitive: Court reporting, car finance & insurance, accounting, insurance, sales, health care, health care administration, fundraising, financial services, anything serving Latinos (entertainment, schools, hospitals, criminal justice system, anti-terrorism, and biotech (BA level).

Landing a Job

It’s unfair but true that in landing a good job, it usually matters as much who you know as what you know.

If you’re a superstar, say a Harvard grad with a great, assertive personality, and/or expertise in an in-demand field, you needn’t bother with building a network. But if you’re a mere mortal, you better make networking an essential part of your life from today until forever.

The good news is that it needn’t be drudgery. It means making friends with and doing favors for everyone who might be able to help your career. How do meet such people? Get active in organizations that have a lot of influential people: alumni associations, non-profit boards, a church in an upscale neighborhood. If possible live in a neighborhood populated with such people, even if you must live in one of the area’s most modest apartments.

Do not hit people up for job assistance early. If you ask for something without first having established the proper relationship, it will not be given to you. You must build the relationship first, basing it on listening to them, discussing non-work things, doing favors for them, etc. It’s like when a farmer wants a fruit. The farmer must first plant the seed, water it, and fertilize it for months or years before it bears fruit.

If you need a job NOW, there’s no time for networking to work. The quickest route to a non-menial job is the One-Week Job Search:

1. Identify 25 employers you’d like to work for.

2. Visit their website and apply for any on-target jobs.

3. Write a brief, informal note to each organization’s CEO. It need be no more complex than, “I’m a good manager who’s just been part of a downsizing at the BigWhup Widget Corp. I’m attracted to your company because I live five minutes away and have experience in your industry. I am writing to you because I’ve been told that writing to HR is usually a waste of time. If you have any advice for me or would like me to talk with one of your managers, I’d really appreciate it. Sincerely.”

4. If you haven’t heard from the CEO or designee within a week, call to follow up. Don’t hesitate to leave voice mail. Say something like, “I’m the manager at the BigWhup Widget Company who was just part of a downsizing. I’m assuming that not having heard from you, I’m assuming you’re too busy to respond. I can understand. But I know that sometimes, things can fall between the cracks, so I’m taking the liberty of calling to follow up. If you or one of your managers is interested in talking with me or have any advice as to where I should turn, I’d appreciate a call. My phone number is (insert number.) Thank you.”

Of course if you make 25 contacts, probably 23 or 24 will blow you off, but you will likely get at least one bite. Often it’s an employer who has been thinking about hiring but hasn’t really started the laborious process yet. Sometimes, they find it easier to just vet you and be done with it.

Know when to give up. Unlimited persistence while vaunted, is stupid. The definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. My rule: give your pitch to 25 employers. If they all ignore you or say no, cut your losses and pick a different type of job target, and pitch that to 25 employers.

Cindy, who had been a project manager wanted a similar job. She had tried for two years with no success. I said, “The world is telling you it has changed or that the world doesn’t want you in that job. Let’s change focus.” She started looking for a job as a manager in the field of corporate security and landed a job in a month.

Do the above four-step process in one week and you’ve maximized the chances that within a month or two, you’ll get multiple job offers. Then you can choose the one that seems to offer the best combination of those desirable job attributes listed above. Using the one-week job search is a more likely approach to finding career contentment than going after a so-called cool career.


If you work for someone else, you may have to pay dues for a long time—hard, not-fascinated work for low pay. In addition, you’ll forever have a hard time making a good living. Ever more well-paying jobs will be offshored because employers can get competent employees for 50-80% less. And tax rates will likely steadily increase because of profound demographic changes in America. Only superstars—very smart, driven, well-adjusted people—can, in coming years, expect to continue making a good living working for someone else.

For the rest of us, the smart money is on self-employment. You get to be an instant CEO without years of dues paying.

Yes, I know you’re scared. You hear that most new businesses go out of business within a few years. And you don’t know the first place to start. It is much easier than you think. Here’s how to beat the odds:

1. Keep your business very simple: one simple service or product. The more complex, the more that can go wrong.

2. If it’s a product, ensure it’s high profit-margin. That means 500% or more.

3. The business must require only a modest investment, and most important,

4. Do not innovate. Copy a successful simple business. Innovations are risky: Your product might not work, may not be popular with the public, or a competitor could beat you to market. Why be a guinea pig? Ask around or drive around to find a simple business that has customers lined up out the door. Open a similar one(s) in a similar neighborhood. Confine your urge to innovate to your hobbies.

Examples of businesses that meet these requirements:

· Burrito shop in high foot-traffic locations filled with young adults, for example, near a college campus.

· Espresso cart in front of a high foot-traffic location such as a train station, stadium, supermarket, or high-rise office building.

· Mobile auto detailing service.

Each of these businesses, well run, can net $20,000 to $100,000+ a year. If one location doesn’t earn sufficient income for you, get the first one running smoothly and then create a clone in an equally good location.

If you’re worried about these businesses’ lack of status, remember again that status is the enemy of contentment. There are many unhappy lawyers, executives, and investment bankers. If you need to impress others, and own a few espresso carts, say, for example, that you’re the president and CEO of the California Cappuccino Corporation, with outlets throughout Northern California.

Here are other low-risk, high-payoff businesses you can start:

· A consulting business where you hire experts to be the consultants. (Don’t waste your time gaining the expertise. It takes too long. You can hire the expertise. You run the show: identify the niche, hire the experts, market the business, and close the deals. How do you find the niche? Best is to simply call people in a field, for example, accounting, with the power to hire consultants. Ask what their unmet needs are that could be solved with a consultant. Or just hang around with people with enough money to hire you to solve their problem: volunteer to be on a local nonprofit’s board of directors, get invited to the right parties. I know a guy who, at a party, was chatting with a VP at Conrail, the railroad that runs on both sides of the Hudson River

· Pick a grungy business, for example, mobile home park maintenance. Few top-notch people go into such a business, so if you run your business decently, you’ll probably make good maybe great money. And you’ll feel better about your work, having people coming to you and thanking you, and owning your own operation than slaving away for some non-profit ever fearing your job will be downsized or shipped to India.

You say you don’t have the knowledge to run such a business? No problem. For example, if I wanted to open a mobile home park maintenance business, I’d find the best person who does that sort of work, pay him well and hire a consultant who is the owner of the most successful business located far enough away that she wouldn’t fear my competition. The two of them would teach me how to set up my business. Then, I’d spend my time trying to sign up the owners of mobile home parks.

If starting a business from scratch seems too scary, consider a franchise. According to Robert Bond, author of Bond’s Franchise Guide 2004, some of the best include Jani-King commercial cleaning, Merry Maids residential cleaning, and Aussie Pet Mobile, a grooming service. When you find a franchise that sounds appealing, be sure to speak with at least 10 of the franchise’s franchisees at random before signing on the dotted line.

Getting What You Want From People

Ask for what you want. This sounds so obvious yet so many people don’t ask because they’re so worried about imposing or sounding stupid. You must get into your head that the worst that someone can say is no. There’s usually someone else to ask.

And it’s amazing how much you can get just by asking. I do not hesitate to call or email even a world-class person asking for information and advice. Sure, sometimes people ignore my query or say no to me, so I may have to call a few people to get what I want. But if my request is reasonable, and I’m enthusiastic and appreciative (and sometimes playful)—I usually get what I want. Usually, it’s just information—for example, the name of a great doctor in my area--but I even got my own talk show that way—despite never having taken a broadcasting course and having been a guest on the radio only a few times.

The most important question is the one you ask last: “Is there anything else I should know?” Whether you’re talking with your doctor, the real estate agent selling you a house, or interviewing a job candidate,” asking that question can give you crucial information you didn’t know you should ask about. Sometimes it’s even information the person doesn’t want to reveal, but to not reveal it when asked “Is there anything else I should know?” would be lying.

Ask and ye shall--often enough--receive.

Be humble. Precede your request with statements such as “I know you’re too busy.” Or “I’m afraid this sounds stupid, but…” or “I had this idea, and I’m not sure if it’s any good but I’m wondering whether (insert your idea.) What do you think?” Don’t listen to people who say it lowers your credibility. Most people like to feel superior and in a position to bestow favors rather than receive them. So if you act humble, most people will be more likely to be helpful to you.

But, at the risk of confusing you, sometimes—when it feels right—you need to do the opposite: sound like you know what you’re talking about. Let’s say I wanted to write my first article for a prestigious publication. In pitching the editor, I’d use language and tone that make it seem like no big deal, like I was a member of the club. For example, “Jim, I have an idea for a piece that I think would fit well in the November college issue: When is it worth striving for Ivy? What do you think?”

Dealing with less intelligent people.

Often, you’ll find yourself annoyed with people’s stupid statements or actions.

Think of them as having a mental disability—they have the misfortune of being less intelligent than you. This mindset will make you more likely to react with kindness than with anger, just as you would if you knew you were talking with a mentally retarded person.

Always preserve the other person’s self-esteem. Above all, people hate feeling stupid. If a person makes a mistake or says something stupid, react with, “Aw, I do that stuff too. No biggie.” If you have a smarter idea, always couch it as, “I’m not sure this is a good idea. (Insert idea). What do you think?”

Mirror your counterpart. People like people who act like themselves. So, mirror your counterpart. If he or she slouches, do the same. If he speaks quickly and only in brief bursts, do the same. If he mainly talks about facts, do the same. If he mainly talks feelings, do the same. If she’s always talking about relationships, do the same.

Make friends with successful people. Those connections can pay off careerwise and personally. It’s just as easy to like (and love) a successful person as an unsuccessful one, so why not go for the successful ones? They’re often as nice or nicer than the plain folks that the media so extols. Don’t know any successful people? Get involved in a church in a high-income neighborhood. Put yourself in places where successful people hang out: a high-end bar or take up sailing or golf. (There are cheap ways to get involved.) Go to a singles event with a hefty admissions fee. Join civic groups such as Rotary in a high-income area. Get on a nonprofit’s board of director. Big nonprofits usually insist you have big money, but small ones may not.

Use your sexuality. Especially if you’re a woman, you can use your sexuality to get what you want. I’m not saying you need to sleep with the person, but you can derive big payoff from even mild flirtation such as standing just six inches closer than you ordinarily might or asking an unnecessary question: like, “How are you doing, Joe?”


Going Back to College or Graduate School

When you still haven’t figured out what you want to be when you grow up, when the job market is bad, or you don’t feel like getting a job, it can be tempting to go back to college or graduate school.

In many cases, that’s a mistake. There’s an oversupply of degree holders, so that extra degree won’t help as much in the job market as it used to. More important, while it will help some, the opportunity cost (what you could have spent your time and money on) is great. It’s smarter to work extra hard to land a good job now so you can learn on the job and get paid for it rather than go to school where much of what you learn won’t be applicable to the real world. Of course, if you’re sure you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, you must go back to school. But if your goal is to be in the business or non-profit world or to be self-employed, school may be a foolish choice. Even if you can’t get hired with your current credentials, in many fields, a smarter way to learn is to forego State U let alone Private U in favor of what I call You U. Find someone who is an outstanding employee in the job you aspire to. Ask him or her what you should read, what workshops and conferences you should attend, and what volunteer or interim job opportunities should you pursue to become prepared for that career. You will learn much more of relevance, in much shorter time, at little cost, and will more likely make connections to help you get employed in your desired career.

When it comes time to land a job, write a cover letter that sells that you attended You U rather than State U, for example,

But David asked, “Won’t employers much rather see a degree from State U than from You U?” I asked him, “Imagine you got a cover letter from an applicant that said,

I was considering going to State U, but heard that much of what is taught is irrelevant to being a good fundraiser. So I decided to get trained by master fundraisers. I was mentored by three top directors of development, attended two intensive workshops on fundraising, and have read the best articles and books on the subject. I chose to emphasize substance over form, but now comes the moment of truth. Will you interview me?

If you were the employer, wouldn’t you interview that candidate?”

A related concept is just-in-time learning. I had a client who wanted to improve his Spanish. He had taken courses, listened to tapes, and even spent two months in Spain, but his Spanish still stunk. I suggested he hire a bilingual tutor and that they simply converse in Spanish about whatever he felt like talking about. Every time he didn’t understand what the tutor was saying, every time he couldn’t come up with the right word, and every time he made a mistake, his tutor should correct him and he should write that new learning down in a notebook. That way most of his learning time was spent improving that which he needed and wanted to improve on. That’s very different from a course or tape, which bury you in a mass of content, none of which you need at that moment. By the time you need to use the word or conjugation in real life, you will have long forgotten it. He told me that his Spanish improved more from 20 one-hour sessions of that just-in-time learning than from all the courses, tapes and months in Spain.

If you do go back to college or graduate school to further your career, when you find a term paper or assignment not relevant to your intended career, ask the professor if you can do a more relevant assignment. Professors will usually agree to this.

Seek out as your formal advisor or informal mentor, professors who are well-connected to employers in your intended field. Most professors are not well connected, but usually you can find one.

Also, ensure that any fieldwork or internship placement is with a supervisor that enables you to learn things that will be important in your intended career. If you find yourself not profiting sufficiently, ask for a new placement.

Your Child’s Education

Unless your child is naturally scholarly, perhaps headed for a career as a professor, advise him or her to work only moderately on schoolwork: hard enough to develop good work habits, learn the important things such as how to read and write well, and have good number sense, not so hard as to get stressed out by school or deprived of out-of-school activities that in the short term, will be more pleasurable, and in the long-term, more valuable. School stress often comes from having to learn the endless arcana that the schools seem to think are important. When was the last time you were glad that you knew about the bituminous coal, simultaneous equations, or the War of the Roses?

Find the right out-of-school activities for your child. I am saddened when I see parents, without much thought, forcing a child to take a particular after-school activity, for example, music lessons. More than 90 percent of students who start music lessons have little aptitude for it and will never derive sufficient pleasure from it to justify the time and money compared with a better-suited extracurricular activity. Take the time to decide on extracurricular activities that truly suit the child. For one child, it might simply be to allow him to read or draw as much as he wants in the afternoons rather than programming him into soccer, violin, Cub Scouts, and religious school. Even if it’s not utilitarian, it is important to allow the child as many of childhood’s unique pleasures as possible. Or have your child try out a few extracurriculars, but quickly cut your losses if your child doesn’t quickly take to it. Yes, there are times when persistence pays, but that’s the exception. Better to search for one or more extracurriculars that naturally fit your child.

Schools today too often ignore bright children. If your child is bright, the most important thing you can do is get your child into a school that gives serious attention to bright students. The second most important thing you can do is each year, ensure that your child gets the best teacher possible. If your child is placed in a bad teacher’s class, see the principal immediately and request a change “because Teacher B’s style is a much better fit to my child’s needs.” If you do just those two things, you’ll do more for your child’s education than by volunteering every day in the school cafeteria every day and checking his homework every night.

Often, when a child is highly distractible in school, it is caused by a boring teacher or one whose approach requires sitting still for long periods—which is difficult for many normal kids, especially boys. But if, even with a good teacher, your child is hyperactive or spacey, which causes both social and academic problems, ADD medication such as Ritalin can often help. There’s little risk of a trial course of medication. If it works, it usually does so within a few days. If after 30 days, it doesn’t work or creates outweighing side effects, you can stop the medication. And Ritalin has been used long-term for decades with a good safety record.

Your child’s college education

First, be sure your child should be going to college. Today’s it’s an article of faith that any child who has half a brain should. I believe, however, that certain kinds of kids would be wise to forego college, at least temporarily:

-- Those that are burned out on school. So many students blow off their freshmen year, wasting parents’ money and their time. Better to take an interim year in which they work (paid or unpaid) in one or more workplaces that expose them to potential careers of interest.

-- Those that are not academically oriented. If a student scored below 1000 on the SAT and averaged less than B- in academic courses in high school, and enrolls in a four-year college, his chances graduation are no better than 20 percent. And if he does graduate, he’ll likely be at the bottom of the college-graduate barrel, and find it difficult to land a job requiring a college degree. We have a gross oversupply of college and graduate degree holders relative to the number of jobs available that require a college degree. That’s why there are so many degree holders driving a cab and working the on the Macy’s sales floor. And it’s only going to get worse as corporations realize they can usually hire a smarter person for 80 percent less by shipping the job or their entire operation to India or China. Of course, college is not just about career. A student who scored less than 1000 on the SAT and a less than B- average in high school will get too little from his courses to justify the time and money.

It is wiser for the non-academically-oriented student to learn entrepreneurship through one of the free courses offered by the US Small Business Administration and/or to work (paid or unpaid) alongside a successful small businessperson. Other good alternatives are apprenticeships such as surveying or to learn a trade such as electronics in the military.

-- Those that don’t really care for academics, are self-starters, and aspire to own their own business. A generally wiser use of such people’s four years after high school is to forego college and learn entrepreneurship through the SBA or to find jobs or volunteer opportunities at the elbow of successful small business owners who wouldn’t mind providing mentorship in exchange for the young adult’s work.

If your child is going to college, it matters more what he or she does at college than where s/he does it. Princeton’s Alan Krueger and the Carnegie Foundation’s Stacy Dale found that students admitted to Ivy League colleges who chose to attend less expensive, less prestigious schools, ended up making as much money 20 years later as the Ivy-admitted students who actually attended an Ivy.

So, unless your child is admitted to an Ivy AND plan a career that usually insists on an Ivy or Stanford degree (for example, investment banking or venture capital), it’s smarter for your child to attend a good public university or to start at a community college and then, after two years, transfer to that good public university. .

I believe that the student who does each of the following at the Slippery Rock State will grow more educationally and personally than a Harvard student who just goes through the motions.


Get the best teachers. It can make all the difference. Here are ways to unearth them:

· Many campuses post the student evaluations of professors on its website or in a booklet available through student government.

· Get the list of teaching award winners, usually available from the college’s office of academic affairs.

· Ask the department (for example, English or Biology) secretary who’s good. They get to see all the student evaluations of professors.

· Of course, ask friends for recommendations.

· Enroll in at least one more class than you plan on taking. Show up for the first session of each class and drop the one you like least.

The most valuable courses you’ll probably ever take include: writing, public speaking, basic computer applications such as spreadsheets, word processing and database, critical thinking, career exploration, human sexuality, and a course with an ideology very different from your own. If you’re a conservative, take a course in radical politics. If you’re a liberal, you’re probably out of luck. On many if not most college campuses, conservative courses don’t exist, except those bashing conservatism. To get a conservative perspective, you’ll probably have to join the campus Republican or Objectivist club.

Maximize your chances of getting a professor taking you under wing by visiting during office hours with such questions as, “In class, you said X. Y seems to make more sense. What am I not understanding?” Or “I really value your opinion. I’m not sure what concentration within psychology I should choose. Would you give me your thoughts?” Or, “I was fascinated by your description of your research. Could I be of any help?”

Also, ask a favorite professor if you can do an independent study—a one-on-one course with that professor on a topic of your own choosing. Most universities allow these and they are the very best way to customize and personalize your education, and to find a mentor.

Another way to customize your education is, when receiving a term paper topic that bores you, to ask the professor if you could substitute a paper or project on a topic that interests you more. Usually, the professor will agree.


I must admit that I enjoyed the regular ol’ college activities: going to parties, hanging out with friends, and going to the ballgame. But your child will probably grow most by participating in one or more of these activities:

· hosting a show on the campus radio or TV station

· participating in student government, even if just as an unelected committee member

· being active in a club—from kayaking to photography-- or even better, starting a club on a theme your child cares a lot about. (Colleges encourage this.)

· volunteering to be the student representative on a campuswide committee, for example, the faculty senate.

· Writing for the college newspaper

· Playing on a sports team, even if intramural

Students should first visit the campus career center as a freshman. It will open their eyes to career options they might never have considered or teach them about internships that can be career launchpads. Choosing a tentative career early can assist in choosing a major, term paper topics, fieldwork assignments, and internships.

Also enhancing career prospects, students, as juniors or seniors, should become student members of the college’s alumni association. Most colleges allow this and doing so provides an excellent opportunity to build relationships that can lead to an internship or good job after graduation.

Your child will also grow immensely by occasionally talking about the meaning of life instead of the meaning of that the ball game or that cutie’s glance, even if the conversation is lubricated by a few beers and lasts until 2 AM when your child has an 8 AM class the next morning.


Romantic and Friend Relationships

My formula for the meaningful life is: good work and good relationships. We’ve discussed the former. Here are my thoughts on how to build good relationships:

The most important principle: Only stay involved with people who bring out the best in you. If you find that a friend is dragging you down, screw up your courage and cut that person out of your life. It will hurt, but in the long run, you’ll be glad.

Do not enter a relationship—platonic or romantic-- figuring you can change their undesirable characteristics. Nor stay in a relationship hoping for a major change. A study gave one group of couples that were on the brink of divorce standard marriage counseling, which aims to change the behavior of the partners. The other group received “relationship acceptance” therapy. That basically means they were taught that you can’t change anyone, so you need to leave your relationship or accept your partner as is and perhaps change yourself. At the end of six months, 92% of the couples in the relationship acceptance therapy group stayed together. Less than half of the couples in traditional therapy did.

Should you stay in a particular romantic relationship? There are four keys to a good romantic relationship.

1. Sex. It really helps if you have compatible sexual appetites. If one of you craves hours-long sexual celebrations every night and the other would be happy with a monthly quickie, you have a problem. Sex therapists say that low sex drive is among the most difficult problems to cure.

Assuming your sexual appetites are similar, the next most important thing is communicate your desires openly. Tell each other what you like and don’t like. Don’t hold back. Nothing is dirty between two consenting adults.

2. Your out-of-bed life. Do you enjoy being with that person sitting over dinner, taking a walk, handling life’s little problems? Does it feel good just being in a room with that person?

3. Trust. Do you trust that this person truly has your best interest at heart? If given a chance, would he or she steal money that is rightfully yours? Might he or she even not mind if you died?

4. Freedom from fatal flaws: drug or alcohol abuse, physically or psychologically abusive, stinginess, or addiction to gambling, shopping, or infidelity.

All relationships have problems. Key to a relationship’s success is how you address them.

Step 1. Assess if the problem is likely solvable. If the problem lies deep within your partner’s character, don’t bother trying to change him or her. If possible, change yourself.

Step 2. If a problem is potentially solvable, ask yourself, “Is the problem important enough to be worth a discussion?”

Step 3. If so, bring the issue up concisely and without a lot of emotion. For example, “We’re not saving anything for retirement. Meanwhile, your average Sharper Image bill is $300 a month. What should we do?”

Step 4: Listen well to each other. Ask questions so you really understand what the other person is feeling.

In trying to bolster support for your point of view, it’s tempting to bring in examples of other problems in the relationship. That is dangerous. Stay on the problem at hand.

Step 5: Be fair-minded in proposing solutions.

Step 6: If you reach an impasse, say something like, “Well, let’s let it go for now.” Often you’ll find that the discussion has planted seeds that will result in one or both of you doing something to solve the problem without having actually admitted you should.

Step 7. If you’ve come up with a tentative solution, perhaps agree to check in with each other tomorrow to see how it’s working.


Rule #1. You cannot control your child’s behavior. You can only make your child want to behave on his own accord. The way you do that is by, ongoing, demonstrating your love for your child, your expectations, and when he misbehaves, expressing your disappointment and the reason why you’re disappointed.

Rule #2: You nip problems in the bud by routinely chatting with your child—over dinner or bedtime for example—asking how things are going and perhaps sharing a concern you have, and collaboratively deciding on what to do about it. For example, if your child is so disorganized that it’s affecting his schoolwork, you might ask your child, “Is there one thing you want to do differently starting today so you’ll be a bit more organized?” Then, the next day, ask your child whether he made the change.

Rule #3. Do not punish. It will temporarily extinguish the child’s undesirable behavior but makes the child more defiant, feeling you are an enemy. The child is more likely to misbehave in the future. And of course, spanking a child conveys the bad message that problems should be resolved with violence.

So when a two-year old throws a tantrum because you won’t give him more ice cream calmly say something like, “Sometimes, you can’t get what you want. I love you and I’m sorry you’re unhappy, but throwing a tantrum won’t help. I’m sad when you do that. It’s story time. Do you want me to read The Carrot Seed or The Cat in the Hat.” Then, you must ignore any further tantruming. If his tantrum yields him more attention or worse, if you give in, you send him the message that tantruming works. And that will—no surprise-- produce more tantrums in the future.

Let’s say your 6th grader has done a too quick, shoddy job on his homework. Calmly say something like, “I think of you as someone who prides himself on excellence. This isn’t the (insert your child’s name) I know. Is anything wrong?” Assuming nothing is wrong, say something like, “Do you want to redo it now, later, or do you want to settle for this quality work?

When your 16-year-old comes home after midnight, when 11 PM is the curfew, calmly say something like, “I was worried. You’re always so good at coming home on time. Are you okay? (Assuming your child is okay.) I’m disappointed that you didn’t care enough to call me. Oh well. (Give the child a hug) Tomorrow’s another day.”

When you discover marijuana in your teen’s drawer (or he tells you he smokes marijuana), say something like, “I know other kids smoke pot, but I wouldn’t think that you would. Do you think it’s wise to do it?” I mean, there are health risks (for example, loss of brainpower and memory) risks of driving while under the influence, risks you’ll say or do things you don’t want to, and the risk of it leading to harder drugs. Most users of very dangerous drugs started with marijuana, and nearly all of the were sure they wouldn’t go on to stronger drugs, yet they did. I obviously cannot control you, but what are your thoughts about you and marijuana?”

If you parent by setting expectations, calmly expressing disappointment when your child doesn’t meet them (perhaps invoking guilt), and encouraging a reasoned discussion, your child will always love you and probably, through your life, come to you to discuss life’s thorny issues.


Most of my views on how to stay healthy are conventional. Your genes determine much of your health. After that, most important is staying trim, not smoking, drinking little, and avoiding too much stress or anger. If dietary changes don’t control your high blood pressure or cholesterol, take medication. If you’re a man 50 or older or a woman 60 or older with any cardiac risk factors, take a baby aspirin every day.

The evidence for other health preventions are too tenuous. I even have questions about the value of vigorous exercise. Of course, light exercise such as walking, gardening, golf, or doubles tennis can’t hurt you, but it doesn’t make sense that doubling or tripling your heart rate for ½ hour out of the day’s 24 can be healthy, long-term. Sure, you feel good immediately after exercise—all the extra oxygen to the brain feels good. The question is, overall, in both the short, and especially the long term, will you feel good?

But you say, “People who exercise, live longer.” That doesn’t mean that exercise caused them to live longer. More likely, the people with stronger constitutions had the ability to exercise more. I would guess that they would have lived longer still had they not been such vigorous exercisers.

I’m also not a fan of “supplements.” It seems that yesterday’s vaunted supplement is too often today’s dangerous product. Ephedra, human growth hormone, DMSO, and DHEA come to mind. Many more have not been proven dangerous, but found ineffective. Melatonin was supposed to help you sleep, echinacea to cure the common cold, and vitamin E to slow aging. Even manufacturers are reluctant to make those claims any more.

I do consume a lot of antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries, strawberries, and a glass of red wine most nights, but I think it’s safer and cheaper to stay away from supplements.

What about alternative medicine? Especially when people are sick and Western medicine has failed them, people understandably seek out alternative treatments: from chiropractic to homeopathy. Alas, the National Institutes of Health have studied alternative practices and medications intensively for the last five years and the findings have been disappointing except for acupuncture, which appears to have some benefits, especially in pain control.

My perhaps simplistic thinking is this. The best minds go into traditional medicine and medical research, not alternative medicine. I’d sooner bank my future health on those smart folks, while fully recognizing they don’t have all the answers.

Your Looks

It’s lamentable, but looks matter big-time. For example, it affects how easy it is to find a good job or a good romantic partner. Looks also matter simply because you’ll feel better about yourself. No matter how many times you tell yourself, “Inner beauty is more important,” you probably won’t quite believe it.

People’s bias toward attractive people is not caused just by the media deifying the beautiful people. Studies of infants show that they are more likely to reach for a doll with a pretty face. People have extolled beautiful faces and bodies since recorded time began—ancient Egypt, for example, so it is unlikely that you or society will devalue looks soon.

So, it’s wise to take care of your looks.

Your body features

Everyone hates some aspect of their body: “My thighs are fat.” “I have a Buddha belly.” My penis is small.” “My nose is long.” “I hate my hairy chest.” “My breasts are like chocolate chips.”

Some of those are unlikely to affect your relationships or worklife: for example, plenty of romantic partners will not mind your cottage cheese thighs, Buddha belly, or small penis.

Other body imperfections, however, are likely to affect your life. For example, if your nose really does make you look ugly to most people, I would encourage you to consider cosmetic surgery. The one-time cost and hassle can truly change how you’re perceived. And the better you’re perceived, the more confident you will appear, so it will become an ever improving cycle.


People are turned off by overweight people, men as well as women. And of course, there’s the health costs—serious overweight will almost assuredly shorten your life and impede the quality of your shortened life.

If you’re lucky, your fast metabolism enables you to maintain a normal weight without too much effort. But if you’re like the rest of us, here’s an effective way to control your weight without feeling unduly restricted. The key is to eliminate choice. If each meal, you have choices, it’s too tempting to choose something fattening. The following has worked for me and a number of my clients:

Identify the healthy yet filling breakfast that you could enjoy eating six days a week, the healthy yet filling lunch you could enjoy six days a week, and the healthy yet filling dinner you could enjoy six days a week. On the seventh day, you can deviate or even splurge. Be sure that, in total, you do eat a moderate amount of carbs, fruits and veggies, protein, etc. I suspect that any extreme diets, including the current Atkins and South Beach diet fads, will ultimately be less healthy than a balanced low-calorie diet. And even in terms of weight loss, a recent study found that while low carb dieters lost weight faster, after a year, they weighed the same as dieters who ate a low-calorie balanced diet.

If you are one of those people who, for metabolic reasons, is morbidly obese (a body-mass index of more than 40 or at least 100 pounds overweight) it may be worth considering weight-loss surgery. While the procedure is no —pardon the expression-- piece of cake, and some people gain all the weight back, weight-reduction surgery can—when accompanied by dietary changes and restraint—change your life and help you to live a lot longer.

Clothing and Hair

Whatever your face and body’s shape and condition, clothing and hair can make a real difference.

I’ve seen a good hairstyle be transformative. Try one of those computer simulators, which allow you to see (roughly) how you’d look in any of hundreds of hairstyles and hair colors.

You don’t need a lot of clothing, just a small wardrobe of stuff that makes you look great. Never buy anything that just looks okay. Hold out for the few items that bring out the best in you. You needn’t spend a lot of money. Find the stores that seem to carry the kinds of things you look good in—sometimes, high-end thrift stores can be treasure chests.

I’d think twice about a look that is too far out of the mainstream—most people perceive weird dressers as, well, weird.

If you are not sure you have the best taste, take someone shopping with you whose clothes make him or her look attractive. Or hire a personal shopper.

* * * * *

I wish my daughter would listen to what I’ve written here. Not a chance. She wants to do it all by herself. Hopefully, you’ll be more open.

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