In praise of the generalist

There’s quite a lot to like about this interview on More accurately, I suppose, I happen to agree with its basic thrust. face_question_mark

I’ve always been a generalist or — less charitably put — a jack of all trades, master of none. More accurately still, I’m a jack of merely a few trades (hardly all). A dilettante, perhaps. A dabbler. A knower of only a smattering of information about a lot of subjects.

A generalist. That’s me all over. This personality trait, and the subsequent path taken because of it, hasn’t been the ticket (yet) to fame and fortune. But, like the interview subject in the piece suggests, my variety-seeking is central to my personal satisfaction. I’m discontent but happy, if that makes sense.

If I can find the way to get rich and famous being the way I am, I promise I’ll let you know how I did it. But don’t hold your breath. Besides, maybe it’s better to be rich and obscure.

Anyway, I hope you’ll find the piece edifying, or at least interesting.

Unemployment confidential

The Sunday Boston Globe’s Money & Careers section featured an interesting four-story package about the plight of college-age job-seekers. One was the dispassionate “umbrella” article by a Globe correspondent, one was the Innovation Economy column focusing on entrepreneurial collegians, and the other two were first-person accounts from the job-hunting trenches. more goofus and gallant

I’m not going to bother linking to anything, as the Globe is mostly hidden behind a paywall, but if you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth looking over.

One piece bore the simple headline “Hired!” while the one opposite from it was titled “Not yet …” Kind of like the old “Goofus and Gallant” set-up in Highlights magazine.

Both recent grads’ pieces were good reads but, as someone who has reviewed in the high-hundreds of resumes, then interviewed and hired quite a few people, I could sum up the stories quite a bit more quickly than the authors themselves did.

Babson College alumnus Matt Muller, a 22-year-old business major with a concentration in IT management and legal studies, netted what seems like a sweet gig in San Francisco.

How’d he pull it off? The No. 1 way most people get jobs: He knew someone at the company.

That’s not to besmirch his credentials, personality or drive. He seems like he’s been a high-achiever since his preteen years and has already started a Web-design business. But the chief reason he got in the door is a friend worked there and recommended him. Then he didn’t blow it in the interview. Kudos!

Not so fortunate, however, is Greg Dube, a 23-year-old chemical engineering grad from Northeastern University. He’s finding out the hard way how competitive a field that used to be a slam-dunk, big-pay-right-out-of-school career opportunity has become. That’s not his only problem, however.

“I’m on the Ultimate Frisbee team and No Limits dance crew, two pastimes that are on my resume as interests,” he writes.

Perhaps I should remind the reader that Mr. Dube is not applying for a job as an Ultimate Frisbee coach or a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance?” So why is that shit on his resume?

I suspect he believes the inclusion of such material makes him appear interesting. To the contrary, it makes him appear like a perpetually adolescent slacker committed mainly to a sport that can be played while smoking a joint.

Also, the pictures of the job-seekers are quite different. Mr. Muller is dressed in a suit and tie, while Mr. Dube is wearing a “Keep Calm and Chive On” T-Shirt and a shit-eating grin. I had to look up what “chive on” means and, despite this Wikipedia entry, I remain benighted.

One thing I’m certain of, though: I hope to fuck that’s not the outfit he showed up to his job interview in.

Best of luck to both these gentlemen. May their career pursuits be exciting, lucrative and, I suppose, filled with lots of opportunities to chive on.

Go for it: What’s the worst that could happen?

As someone who has made quite a few life decisions based mainly on spite do it(with, I must concede, mixed results), I really dug this punchy piece by Deepak Chopra. (And not only because he correctly punctuated ’70s.)

The alternative medicine-and-spirituality guru can be a bit of a snake-oil salesman at times, but the cat’s got plenty of wisdom to offer, too.

Anyway, click through to the link in the lead, if you’re so inclined. It won’t take long to read and, if you’re between jobs or questioning whether you should be embarking on the perilous journey toward personal and professional bliss, you won’t be sorry.

15MC: Are you doing it? How are you doing?

I don’t have children (besides my dogs and cat). Except for a few years working at a boys group home for juvenile offenders and wards of the state, preceded by a year working in a special education composite classroom, I’ve never had anything to do with teaching, training or taking care of any.

But I suspect this much is true: It’s considerably easier to sire children than raise them. Why do I bring this up?

Don’t worry, there’s no scandalous confession in the offing. It’s just that, for sisyphusthis week of the 15-minute Commitment, I’ve been concentrating on (I hope) tying up the ribbon on previously completed chapters, with the goal of finally seeing my novel through to the end. However, I’m finding this task far more difficult than filling up blank pieces of notebook paper or empty Notepad files.

That is, last week’s writing, while not always a snap, seemed to move along briskly, and the words flowed steadily. This week’s writing (technically rewriting) is more of a slog, perhaps because I’m putting more pressure on myself to turn out something I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out.

As analogies go, written fiction as kids is a bit of a stretch, I admit. Still, I trudge on, and I’ve stuck to my 15-minute Commitment and am definitely making progress. If you made a similar leap, I’d be curious to know how yours is going. Leave a reply here, if you’re so inclined. Just being nosy, is all.

Otherwise, best of luck. I hope we’ll all have something to celebrate before too long.


Unrequited love: the career

I didn’t leave the news, the news left me (as I was caught up in a round of layoffs in March 2011). Still, I was enthralled by this piece making the rounds over the last day or two.

Though this isn’t my story, I assure you the author — a 30-year-old woman living in Charleston, S.C. — nails it with regard to the state of newspaper journalism and the inevitable heartbreak in store for anyone who pursues that career.

She’s discovering that life can be much better outside the newsroom. But like a first love who leaves you, newspaper journalism — with its tense camaraderie, gallows humor and naive and unappreciated mission of truth-telling at all costs — is impossible not to miss.

15MC: a starter’s pistol, not the finish line

One reader brought up a reasonable point about giving oneself permission to go beyond the eponymous 15 minutes of the 15-minute Commitment.

The way I envision this plan is that 15 minutes is the point of entry in working toward a goal. Of course, you can always go beyond the 15 minutes, but if you’re prone to doing that, the 15-minute Commitment probably isn’t right for you. StartingGun

That is, your problem might be one of time management, but it’s probably not one of motivation. 15MC is for people, like me, who have stymied their own progress toward a desired outcome, whether that be a finished book-length manuscript, a better diet, a more-toned physique, a cleaner house … whatever.

So, if the spirit moves you to devote more than 15 minutes a day to your goal behavior, by all means go for it. I think that, over time, the habit of spending 15 minutes on improving your life will naturally spur more time spent on doing so. But even if it doesn’t, at least you’re spending 15 minutes a day, five days a week, toward that end.

A caveat, however: Fight the temptation to use an especially productive day (say, an hour of achievement-oriented action) to justify blowing off the next day’s 15-minute Commitment. The habit of making daily progress is more important than banking up scads of progress followed by neglect, at least if you’re someone who has trouble getting going in the first place.

Better to jog 15 minutes a day than complete a 5K one day and spend the next 364 in a pizza-and-beer-induced torpor (as seductive as that sounds).

Ultimately, though, I’m not in charge of your 15-minute Commitment if you undertake this. Your opinion of what you should be doing is far more important than mine.

15MC: This one wasn’t pretty

After two prolonged bouts of snow-shoveling today — the second shorter, though more grueling, than the first — I was tempted to just call it a day and blow off my 15-minute Commitment.

That’s the thing about temptation … it’s so damned, well, tempting. Somehow, though, I resisted and the result was 258 words, some of them not too shabby, in 15 minutes (and not a second longer). I can’t believe it.

It was already 6 p.m. or so before I finally sucked it up, shut off the radio, cranked my cheapo kitchen timer just past the 15-minute mark (giving myself time to open my file and take a few deep breaths).

And it wasn’t pretty. Though I managed to stay silent, inside I was bitching and moaning the whole way (though the moaning had as much to do with back soreness as the task ahead of me). Throughout, with each sentence I finished, I thought: “No way am I going to make 15 minutes, not today.”

But I did it. (I mean, come on, it is only 15 minutes we’re talking about!) It feels good. Worth it, though you probably already guessed that.

Good luck. Be brave. Stick with it and keep the faith!

15MC Day 1

Three-hundred eighteen words in 15 minutes, and most of them pretty good (at least that’s how they look to me at this moment).

I just completed Day 1 of my self-designed self-help program and I’m “steepling,” the gesture of satisfaction that my old algebra teacher Mr. Lyon first alerted me to.

This person is neither me nor Mr. Lyon, but someone on a palmistry website.

This person is neither me nor Mr. Lyon, but someone on a palmistry website.

I suspect not all quarter-hour increments will yield the same pleasure as today’s has, but Day 1 goes into the win column. I’ll check in periodically to keep myself honest, though I won’t be blogging about this every day.

However, if you dug the concept of the 15-minute Commitment, I’d be curious to hear from you and, if you began yours today as well, how it went. I’ve come to realize that checking in with someone who’ll hold me accountable can be helpful, though that might not be necessary for you.

Regardless of whether I hear from you, best of luck to you on your 15-minute Commitment!

The 15-minute Commitment

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time? I’ve decided mine is.

Beginning March 15, I’m embarking on a self-help program of my own design, one that’s largely been pulled from the ether. Not entirely pulled from the ether, as it’s inspired by a recent chat over breakfast with an old friend who happens to be a school psychologist.

We were talking about our respective flagging motivation on some long-range projects and, in the course of conversation, I suggested that even 15 minutes spent on an activity of value is worthwhile. It might not yield enormous dividends — it certainly won’t, in the short term — but it’s proverbial money in the bank.

However, like a lot of my ideas, I put it on the back burner and, when I wasn’t paying attention, the flame went out. (Luckily this is just a metaphor. Otherwise, you’d be reading about a gas explosion in my neighborhood.)

This incremental-progress-toward-achievement plan has been dormant for more than a month but, after a brisk walk with the hounds along the Merrimack River today, the scales fell from my eyes. I had a muddy footpath to Damascus moment, if you will.

The 15-minute Commitment is simple: Pick something you’ve always wanted to accomplish but, for one reason or another, haven’t yet. Now spend 15 minutes on it, five times a week.

Want to get in shape, but can’t dynamite your ass off the couch? Grab a pair of dumbbells and spend just 15 minutes a day doing curls and overhead presses. I won’t say it will give you a banging beach body that’s the envy of men and women half your age, but at the end of Week 1(!) you’ll already see larger biceps and improved shoulders, chest and triceps. And at the end of a month, you’ll be well on your way to sporting a stronger and leaner upper body.

By summertime, even if you do nothing else but bicep curls and overhead presses for 15 minutes a day, you’ll be rocking a tank top like nobody’s business.

Similarly, are you worried about your cardiovascular health? Take a brisk walk or break into a slow jog for only 15 minutes a day. Congratulations: You’ve just traversed a mile a day, and it wasn’t that hard, was it?

Who’s got time to cook at home? Nobody, I get it. Well, spend 15 minutes a day prepping vegetables. Grab a pound of carrots, an onion, a head of broccoli and cauliflour and hack away at those superfoods like Russell Crowe’s Maximus character in “Gladiator” and stick the produce in a zip-top bag. After only two days, pick up a precooked rotisserie chicken at the grocery store on your way home from work and, if the spirit moves you, mix up a box of macaroni and cheese and you’ve got at least a couple of meals you don’t have to call the pizza guy for.

Still haven’t finished that furshlugginer novel that’s haunted you for a dozen years like someone I know pretty well? Grab a pad of paper and a pencil and start scribbling for a quarter-hour. Once you really get going, you might produce a page or more in that time and, at the end of a year, that’s a novel-length draft manuscript.

Or maybe you just need to relax, but can’t find the time. I promise, no matter who you are, you can find 15 minutes to take care of yourself. Pray. Meditate. Read “The Relaxation Response” and do one of the exercises. Hell, you don’t even have to read that book: Here’s one of the exercises for you. Watch the video twice, and you’ll still have a couple minutes left over.

If you’re into yoga, that TV show “Namaste Yoga” is really only about 24 minutes long. Perform the techniques shown for 15 minutes, then watch the rest of the show while eating a bowl of ice cream, if you’re inclined to snack in front of the tube. That way, you’re transforming a lactose-laden shame spiral into a trophy for thinking enough of yourself to spend 15 minutes making your life better.

Is your life worth 15 minutes of your time?

High art

While catching up on a stack of long-neglected New Yorkers (I truly am my father’s son in that regard), I finally encountered this splendid simile:

“… the Hearst Tower, not long after sunrise on a Saturday morning, the offices had been as empty and lifeless as an inexpertly kept aquarium.”

While not quite as pert as the example of metaphor my sister would use with her science fiction students at Rutgers (“My car is a piece of shit.”), I was nevertheless entranced by its appearance in a protracted — but not too long at all — profile of Manhattan skyscraper window washers. On one hand, a slacker kills his fish by neglecting their artificial habitat. On the other, middle-aged men (almost always men) risk their lives to shine up the windows of some of the world’s most impressive buildings.

The whole article is worth a look, but that “aquarium” simile stuck with me, both because of its novelty and its being a deft, subtle rendering of irony: a couple things I’m trying to shoot for in my writing.

Seen any great similes or metaphors lately? Lay ’em on me in the comments section below, if you’re so inclined.