Archive for August, 2010

We’re all in the art business now

Did you know the MFA is the new MBA?

So says Daniel Pink in chapter three of his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

White collar jobs are being lost  as a result of abundance, Asia and automation. To survive, individuals and organizations should examine what they do for a living and ask:

1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

2. Can a computer do it faster?

3. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?

Pink says we’re leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age, where creativity and empathy will be in greater demand. High-tech is no longer enough; we also need to supplement that with high touch and high concept.

Some stats:

* In the US the number of graphic designers has increased tenfold in a decade.

* Graphic designers outnumber chemical engineers by four to one.

* Since 1970 the US has 30 percent more people earning a living as writers (yay!) and 50 percent more earning a living by composing or performing music.

* 240 US universities have creative writing MFA programs, up from 22 universities twenty years ago.

* More Americans today work in arts, entertainment and design than work as lawyers, accountants, and auditors.

* Advanced nations are exporting high-tech computer programming jobs and importing nurses from Asia.

* Nursing salaries are climbing and the number of male registered nurses has doubled since the mid-1980s.

The conceptual age has become evident even in areas that are typically a bastion of analytical thinking.

For example, some medical schools now include “narrative medicine” in their curriculum because it’s recognized that a patient’s story is important in making a diagnosis. (See my review of How Doctors Think for more about that.) The Yale School of Medicine has students take art history classes because they believe that students who study painting excel at noticing subtle details about a patient’s condition.

In Japan, where math and science schools have typically ruled the day, the country is remaking its education system to foster greater creativity, artistry and play. The Education Ministry there is now encouraging “education of the heart.”

In the automotive industry, one of the GM executives says, “I see us being in the art business. Art, entertainment and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation.”

[That sounds cool, but if it’s true then why are most cars such a snooze to look at? :) It seems art was taken more seriously in car design in the 1950s and 1960s.]

The College Board, creator of the SAT test has provided funding for a new type of  test to possibly augment the SAT someday. It’s called the Rainbow Project.

In this test, students are given five blank New Yorker cartoons and must craft humorous captions for each one. They must write or narrate a story using as their guide only a title supplied by the test givers (sample title: “The Octopus’s Sneakers”). They have to perform real-life challenges, such as go to a party where they don’t know anybody or convince friends to help move furniture – and report their findings.

This test has been twice as successful in predicting how well students perform in college. Also, the gap in performance between white students and minorities narrows considerably on this test.

As one who was a liberal arts major (English), I’m predisposed to liking all of this. It would seem a liberal arts degree these days is, well, liberating.


Do you hide your money in your socks?

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When I was a kid I LOVED playing Monopoly.

There was a strategy I used that completely demoralized my opponents – usually my brother and neighborhood boys – but always resulted in my win.

And the occasional overturned table (my wins didn’t always go over well).

Throughout the game, when nobody was looking, I would stash some of my hard-earned money in my socks (fortunately tube socks were “in” back then).

Then, late in the game, when I would have to pay rent on a high end property, and my opponent started rubbing his hands together with excitement because it looked like I was too low in funds to pay, I nonchalantly whipped out a stash of $500s and $100s.

This was very satisfying to me, of course.

Even better was when I sometimes forgot that I had stashed money in my socks and suddenly remembered at the right moment. That was always a thrill.

I didn’t use this money in the socks strategy every game because I wanted the boys to be on their toes.

Besides, I had other Monopoly strategies I used as well.

My Monopoly-playing days are over but I still look for those money in the socks moments.

I’m not necessarily talking about literal money… or things that make competitors/opponents overturn their tables… but simply being aware and grateful of the resources around me.

For example, at 11:30 p.m. last Saturday, a customer who bought something from a website of mine noticed the download page could be hacked into if someone was devious enough to try.

I had no idea how to fix that so I quick searched a forum to get the proper code to install on the web page and then ran it past a friend via email to make sure it was correct.

She replied within 5 minutes even though it was 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday. The kind customer also gave me some additional info to make the page even more secure.

That was a money in the socks moment for me and I was able to go to bed without feeling stressed.

As for the moments comparable to having money in your socks without realizing it.. several years ago I never would have thought I had it in me to add code to a website. Or start a writing business. Or give birth to a child at home.

I’m sure you’ve found plenty of money in your socks over the years too

Here’s to more money in the socks moments.


On the Nobody-Cares Bears and blogging

Did you know Care Bears grow up to become Nobody-Cares Bears?

Kelly Parkinson, in a fun post on her blog, introduced me to the concept of Nobody-Cares bears.

While reading her post I also realized that there are certain Nobody-Cares bears that surround me as a blogger.

Here are some of them:

1. That’s-Not-Funny Bear – Erma Bombeck said it’s easier to make someone cry than to make them laugh.

This is why people are often prone to tell sad stories or to whine about stuff.

Whenever I write something I think might be funny, the That’s-Not-Funny Bear shows up immediately.

Because of that bear I’m sometimes reduced to showing the post to one of my older daughters first, to make sure it’s not lame.

2. What-Will-Your-Friends-And-Family-Think Bear. This bear is especially chatty and is the most ruthless of the bears.

This bear knows that having people who know you read your posts can be anxiety-inducing and milks it for all it’s worth:

“What will your friends/family think if they see that you read a book like that?”

“Your friends/family are going to roll their eyes because this post will make you look really shallow/silly and they will like you a little bit less as a result.”

“Your friends/family are going to laugh at how confident you sound in that post because they know you really are a wimp.”

“Your family is going to say, ‘Yikes, I’m related to her?” when they read that.”

“Your friends will say, “I used to think she was an interesting person but then I started reading this blog. Oh well.'”

I told you that bear was ruthless. :)

3. TMI Bear – This is the bear that is very, very afraid what you’re about to post has Too Much Information (TMI) about your life or weaknesses.

When the TMI Bear shows up, I remind myself  how this post is one of the most popular posts on my blog.

More people bought copies of the book I mention in that post than any other book I’ve mentioned on this blog (I know this because I get a teeny tiny commission on Amazon purchases readers make from my Amazon links).

In that post I share how I didn’t at all have my act together that day and I guess it resonated with people. So there, TMI Bear.

4. Who-D0-You-Think-You-Are Bear. This is the bear that I can count on to say, “Who do you think you are to write anything about anxiety/depression/marriage/friendship? You’re not a counselor/professor/author.”

5. OMG Bear – This is a catch-all bear that brings up anything the other bears may have missed. “OMG, why are you wasting time writing blog posts?”

Maybe you face the Nobody-Cares Bears too even if you aren’t a blogger.

Anyway, if you ever thought blogging was about personal fulfillment or ego, then I hope this post has showed you how that’s not at all the case.

Blogging is instead about fighting the Nobody-Cares Bears, sipping from the elixir of anxiety, discovering who you really are beyond your roles in life and ultimately, I hope, becoming a better person in the process.

Off to do some bear hunting…


Anxiety is an elixir

Yeah, I did a double take when I first read that too.

I just discovered the author James Hollis, Ph.D. He is director of the Jungian Studies program at Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco and I’m reading his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up.

It has never occurred to me to think that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing but here’s what Hollis says:

The daily confrontation with these gremlins of fear and lethargy obliges us to choose between anxiety and depression, for each is aroused by the dilemma of daily choice.

Anxiety will be our companion if we risk the next stage of our journey, and depression our companion if we do not…

Not to consciously choose a path guarantees that our psyche will choose for us, and depression or illness of one or another will result.

Yet to move into unfamiliar territory activates anxiety as our constant comrade.

Clearly, psychological or spiritual development always requires a greater capacity in us for the toleration of anxiety and ambiguity.

The capacity to accept this troubled state, abide it, and commit to life, is the moral measure of our maturity.

He goes on to say we should choose anxiety over depression:

Faced with such a choice, choose anxiety and ambiguity, for they are developmental, always, while depression is regressive.

Anxiety is an elixir, and depression a sedative. The former keeps us on the edge of our life, and the latter in the sleep of childhood.

Well then.

As an entrepreneur, I face anxiety and inner feelings of resistance almost every day because, believe it or not, it can be terrifying at times not having a boss telling you what to do.

As a parent I struggle with anxiety too, with the What If Something Bad Happens To My Kids character hogging up most of the space in my closet of anxieties.

But maybe, as Hollis says, anxiety isn’t such a bad thing after all. Hmmm.


A new way to be a spy

As a kid I loved to spy and eavesdrop on adult conversation.

For example, whenever my mom and her sister would get together and chat, my cousin and I would spy and overhear the most hilarious stories.

One of the neighbor kids had blue Star Trek walkie talkies like the ones in the photo. They were awesome and pretty high tech for the 1970s.

These walkie talkies led to more spying opportunities and we would report our findings via walkie talkie.

Thanks to Facebook I now get to be a spy again with a lot less work.

One of the most interesting things about social media is that it’s now possible to follow the story of someone’s life through the bread crumb trails they leave on Facebook without having to interact with them.

This excellent article in The Atlantic captures this perfectly.

She tells the story of  following an old co-worker on Facebook – a person she wouldn’t have bothered to stay in touch with in the days before social media.

Yet she finds herself getting somewhat caught up in this lady’s everyday storyline. Unfortunately this storyline has a tragic ending (more on that in a minute).

Because of the nature of my work, there are a number of people in my life (fellow copywriters, clients, bloggers I read regularly, etc.) that I know but have never met in person.

On Facebook I follow the bread crumbs of some of them and probably know more about their quirks and daily lives than many of the people I know in person.

There’s a very well-known blogger that I stopped reading regularly because, even though he’s a good writer, he shared so many details about his daily life that it was irritating to know more about his day than I knew about my kids’ or husband’s days – or even my own day! In other words, TMI (Too Much Information).

Then there are the people I once knew but they moved away or we’re out of touch but I can keep “spying” on them through their blogs or Facebook.

As strange as it sounds, through 140 character messages on Twitter I’ve come to know several other copywriters from all over the country. They know far more about my work, reputation, writing style, and reading habits than the non-copywriters in my life.

The main way I stay in touch with many of my local friends – and even neighbors who live practically next door to me – is through email, instant messaging and Facebook . There’s no doubt I wouldn’t know them as well if it weren’t for that communication.

Sometimes I get dizzy when I think about this.

At the end of  The Atlantic article the writer asks: “How do you cry for someone you hardly know? And for what was I crying? S or her story?”

Because each of us is a story, and inseparable from our story, to cry for someone’s story is to cry for them too.

And I think the opportunity to cry for someone you hardly know shows that, annoying as it can be at times, social media has made it easier for us to care about people we don’t know well. If only it would come with a pair of Star Trek walkie talkies.  :)


Storytelling in the doctor’s office

I came across these quotes from Jung while paging through a notebook of mine and offer them as a P.S. to my How To Be A Partner With Your Doctor post:

Every personality has a story. Derangement happens when the story was denied. To heal, the patient had to rediscover his story.


The crucial thing is the story. For it alone shows the human background and the human suffering. Only at that point can the doctor’s therapy begin to operate.


How to be a partner with your doctor

Have you or a loved one ever experienced difficulty getting a diagnosis for a medical problem?

Or do you want to know how to work with your doctor should you ever find yourself worried about a condition and have to make difficult decisions about treatment options?

Then the book How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman, M.D. is must-reading.

Dr. Groopman shares a number of stories of patients and how sometimes the doctors completely missed the boat on making the right diagnosis… and other times succeeded spectacularly at making a correct one.

He shows you what goes through the mind of a doctor while analyzing a patient’s symptoms and, more importantly, how you can be an active partner with the doctor.

The most compelling of these stories for me was the one at the beginning of the book about a woman named Anne who pretty much went through hell for 15 years before getting the diagnosis that saved her life.

This is the beginning of her story: “Around age twenty, she found that food did not agree with her. After a meal, she would feel as if a hand were gripping her stomach and twisting it.”

When I read that I stopped and said to myself, “I hope she got the blood test for celiac disease.”

I have celiac disease and know all too well how under-diagnosed it is. Because I have my own difficult story about celiac – beginning with nearly dying from it at age 2, and then being hit hard by it again in my late 30s because I had been taken off the gluten-free diet at age 10 – it gets my dander up when a patient doesn’t get tested for it when there’s even the slightest suspicion of celiac.

The story continues by describing how she was diagnosed with an eating disorder (Argh! If she were male I bet that wouldn’t have happened), referred to psychologists, endocrinologists, orthopedists, hematologists, infectious disease doctors, etc.

She wasted away to 82 pounds even though she was eating 3000 calories per day, mostly pasta and bread. Of course that made me say, “Hello! Give her a celiac test!”

She had the bones of  an 80 year old woman because of malabsorption and her boyfriend literally dragged her to a gastroenterologist even though Anne had given up all hope.

I couldn’t believe it took 15 YEARS before she saw a gastroenterologist!

This doctor shoved aside her thick file and simply listened to her story and didn’t let himself be clouded by her medical history.

Sure enough, she finally got the celiac diagnosis, but Anne said it might take her years to recover emotionally.

Again, I want to emphasize that not every story in the book is a horror story like this. Many of the stories are just the opposite.

But the point of all the stories is to teach us that we must be partners with our doctors in our own health care.

Even if you don’t like consulting with Dr. Google or Wikipedia or reading other medical literature, you can at least help your doctor by doing the following:

Tell your doctor the story again as if he or she has never heard it – what you felt, how it happened, when it happened. Telling the story again will help you recall a vital bit of information you may have missed before.

Tell your doctor what is really frightening you. It doesn’t matter how irrational it is.

Here are questions Dr. Groopman says you should ask your doctor:

What else could it be? One of the doctors in the book said she always thinks of alternative diagnoses, even if the diagnosis is a straight-forward one. In rare instances it’s the alternative diagnosis that’s correct.

Is there anything that doesn’t fit? This will prompt the physician to pause and let her mind roam more freely.

Is it possible I have more than one problem? This will help your doctor cast a wider net and ask questions he didn’t ask before.

Another thing Dr. Groopman emphasizes is that it’s OK if it takes a while to make a diagnosis, so don’t unnecessarily pressure your doctor.

One of the doctors featured in the book says he spends several hours each evening thinking deeply about his patients’ cases. He refuses to make quick diagnoses for difficult cases.

In fact, uncertainty is often essential for a successful outcome because it demonstrates “the doctor’s honesty, his willingness to be more engaged with his patients, his commitment to the reality of the situation rather than resorting to evasion, half-truth, and even lies. And it makes it easier for the doctor to change course if the first strategy fails.”

Because the Baby Boomers are entering retirement years, it’s all the more important we learn from books like these as doctors will be busier than ever and we’ll have even more friends and family members in need of health care.


His eye is on the Swallow

A forwarded email has been making the rounds with the title “His eye is on the Sparrow.”

It’s a series of seven photos of a Swallow tending to his dying partner and well worth looking at.

Fortunately someone put together the photos in a slideshow, so I don’t have to upload seven photos. It comes with some cheesy text, but you can handle it. ;) Here it is:


Which team are you on?

I recently watched an interview with tennis player
Andre Agassi. He admitted that he hated tennis
his whole career.
His father forced him to play tennis as a child even
though he longed to play a team sport.
During the first ten years of his career he had
many ups and downs. He went from being #1
player at one point to sinking so low he had
to spend several months playing in the equivalent
of the minor leagues in tennis.
He was finally able to rise again and play
at a consistent level after he had an epiphany…
He realized he did have a team – his new prep school
for disadvantaged children in Law Vegas.
From the point on, he knew that every swing of the
tennis racket was a swing for his school.
Every victory was a victory for his school.
This motivated him like nothing before ever did.
Andre’s goal wasn’t to be the #1 player (that was
always his father’s goal for him) but to win all
four Grand Slam tournaments.
The French Open was the one that alluded him.
Finally, in 1999, 13 years after turning pro, he
won this title.
Here’s what you can learn from this:
* Find a “team” to play for. It can be your family,
a charity, your church, etc. Your achievements
will have more meaning and it will be easier to
stick to your goals if you have such a team.
* Set your own goals – don’t become trapped
by the expectations of others.
* It’s never too late. In Andre’s case, many
players aren’t still playing 13 years into their
career. If they are, they often aren’t in peak
condition and winning Grand Slams. If a
particular goal has alluded you, you don’t have
to give up.
In addition to having a team to play for, you also
need a team of people to help you.
A mentor/coach and a few close friends and
colleagues who will guide and advise you along
the way.
Books and workshops are useful tools too.

Watching three of my daughters play tennis this summer has reminded me of a book I read earlier this year: Open: An Autobiography, by retired tennis star Andre Agassi.

Andre begins by pointing out that the terminology in tennis is the language of life, which is something I had never noticed before and is unique to tennis:

It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature…

Points become games become sets become tournaments… It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours and any hour can be our finest.”

I now think of that every time I say something like, “do you want to work on your serve today?” Such phrases have double meaning now.

Andre admits in this book that he hated tennis with a passion even though he was so good at it.

His father forced him to play tennis as a child even though he longed to play a team sport.

He went from being the #1 player (which was his father’s goal for him) to sinking so low he had to spend several months playing in the equivalent of the minor leagues in tennis.

He was finally able to rise again and play at a consistent level after he had an epiphany…

He realized he did have a team after all – his new prep school for disadvantaged children in Las Vegas.

This motivated him like nothing before ever did.

And he finally focused on his own goal – winning all 4 Grand Slams. He won the French Open in 1999, 13 years after turning pro (many pros retire before the 13 year mark).

As a “tennis mom” this book is a good cautionary tale. Sports are best when viewed in this “life as miniature” way.  By doing so, I hope my girls will lose fewer “break points” in the real word, have more “Advantage, Miss Ashland” scenarios and always have an awareness of which team they are on.


How to party like an introvert

If you’re an introvert, or live with one, then may I direct you this fun Introvert’s Guide To Spontaneous Departures blog post?

I’m not in a stage of life where I’m invited to many parties – and the ones I do go to are not ones where my arrival and departure times would matter to anyone (I could even not show up and no one would notice).  But now I wish I did get to go to some real parties so I could try out her suggestions.

Here is my favorite bit of advice:

Look like you are HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE as you say goodbye.

Never leave a party looking tired. It’s a common introvert mistake. You want everyone to secretly suspect you’re going to another party, so they don’t feel sorry for you.

That’s a great tip. Anyone want to invite me to a cocktail party so I can try it out?