Find Worth in What You Do

Written by Davis Nguyen

Your first job (or even first couple of jobs) won’t always excite you. In fact, you might find yourself daydreaming of doing something, anything else.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find some reason to make the 40+ hours you spend at your job meaningful.

When I was 14, I heard the following story that reminds me of how much power we have to shape how we view our work:

On a foggy autumn day nearly 1000 years ago, a merchant traveling in England happened upon a group of three masons working.
Despite already being late for an important meeting, our traveller decides to stop and inquire the trio about their work.
He moved toward the first of the three masons and asked, "Dear fellow, what is it that you are doing?"
The man continued his work and grumbled, "I am cutting stones."
Realizing that the mason did not wish to be bothered, our traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question, “My dear sir, what is it that you are doing?”
To the traveler’s delight this time, the man stopped his work, and replied, “I am cutting stones. I came to London from the north to work, but as soon as my work is done and I get paid, I shall return to my wife and kids back north.”
The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home, and began to head to the third and last of the masons.
When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question,
"What are you doing?"
The third worker paused, stood up, and glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact before replying,
"I am a mason and I am building a cathedral. I have come far to build this cathedral. I have spent many months away from my wife and kids whom I miss dearly. However, I know how important this cathedral will be one day, and I know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here.’
Satisfied, our traveler continued on his route leaving the three masons to continue their work.

You can’t always do what you love, but you can almost always find a way to love what you do.

You can view tasks you don’t enjoy in your life as mundane and beneath you, or you can view them as opportunities to better things.

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


What I Learned One Year Later: What Drives Work Happiness

Written by Davis Nguyen

Last week marked a full year since I started my first full-time job at Bain. Though I’ve had jobs in high school and college, I always considered myself a student first and an employee second. To celebrate my one year anniversary, I took time to reflect on the largest lessons I’ve learned the past 12 months. 

One of those lessons was learning what drove my happiness at work. 

And it came down to this:

Doing work that pushes you to grow while feeling supported 

The way Bain operates is we work on projects on average 3 to 6 months at a time for our client companies. These projects vary from figuring out which country a company should launch its products to figuring out how a company can save a billion dollars. 

I’ve had seven different projects since starting a year ago and what I’ve learned in all these different environment is what makes the time pass and satisfaction high is having work that pushes my growth while feeling supported along the way.

If you are doing work that pushes you to grow, you are constantly learning and feeling immersed. Time passes by quickly. Compare this to doing a task that is routine and mundane: an hour feels like an entire day. And if you are doing work while feeling supported, you enjoy being where you are and challenging yourself to grow. 

The type of work you’re asked to do day in and out will change. Some days will make you feel so lucky to be where you are; other days will make you want to quit. But what drives happiness is feeling as though you are being challenged without being too stretched, and having people who care about you. The work can be tough, the hours can be long, but with supportive people the experience is more enjoyable.

This lesson is one of the twelve largest learnings one year out of school. You can find the other lessons here.

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Procrastination for the Win: 5 Ways to “Waste Time”

Written by Marisol Dahl“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” So says  Dr. John Perry, a Stanford philosopher and pioneer of the concept of “structured procrastination.”

Procrastination gets a bad rap. And that’s why I was thrilled by the very idea that procrastination might not be absolutely horrible. In fact, it’s kind of good for the soul.

Procrastination shows up in many ways, and we all have our own procrastination styles. And part of good procrastination comes with discerning the underlying problem going on: are your burned out and simply need to rest? Are you waiting for some sort of perfect alignment? Is the task ahead just not tapping into your creative genius?

Another way to think about it is to ask yourself: is your procrastination truly debilitating? A 2005 study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that there are two kinds of procrastinators: passive and active. Passive procrastinators are mentally paralyzed by the work ahead, and tend to fail to complete work on time. Active procrastinators better embrace it, knowing their work thrives under pressure. Interestingly, compared to passive procrastinators, active procrastinators were more similar to non-procrastinators in terms of academic performance, purposive use of time, and feelings of self-efficacy.

Procrastination for the win!

5 Ways to Positively Procrastinate

1. Brainstorm ways to make your task more enjoyable.

As Jenny Blake often says, “Let it be easy. Let it be fun.” When you’re facing a to-do that is in no way inspiring you into action, think about ways that it can become something you look forward to doing. Maybe for this particular task you sit outside in the sun. Or you listen to Beyoncé’s new song. Just don’t torture yourself!

2. Take a shower.

Our best thinking often comes in the shower, when we are left in solitude and have only our minds to intellectually engage us. There’s something about a shower that let’s us sort things out in our minds, come up with plans of action, and finally get us ready to jump to work. The next time you feel procrastination creeping up because you just don’t know how to get started on your task, hop into the shower. At the very least, you’ll be clean.

3. Get related work tasks done.

I can’t tell you how many times diving into my email inbox (as procrastination) ended up being the fuel I needed to jump into writing a new article, blog post, or other piece of content. I’d write a paragraph to a friend and realize I’ve come across the very idea I want to articulate or the perfect word to set the tone for my work writing.

When you do something remotely related to your work, like writing email, administrative tasks, or organizing Evernote notebooks, you are subtly warming up your mind, getting the gears turning without forcing it. Andthis is also one of the most productive ways to procrastinate!

4. Watch Anything But Netflix

I get it. It’s tempting to blow off work in favor of a binge round of Orange Is the New Black. But if you’re craving a little screen time, consider tuning into something that will challenge your mind a little. Documentaries and TED Talks are great. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of this year’s commencement speeches.

5. Go down the rabbit hole.

Follow your curiosity. Your fascinations, no matter how trivial or off-topic they may seem to you, are important to cultivate creativity and expand your knowledge. When you honor the things that truly interest you, whether it be the history of paper airplanes or how to grow the best garden tomatoes, you foster a love of learning and thrill for new thinking that can overflow into other, less exciting, areas of work.

LifeAfterCollege: Now Available On

We are thrilled to announce that LifeAfterCollege is now available as an audio book, read by Jenny herself! Throughout the recording process, Jenny was able to add her own little notes and updates, so there’s even more to discover now.

And it’s another option for a little positive procrastination ;)

About Marisol Dahl

Marisol graduated Yale as a Sociology and Education Studies major in 2015. A longtime NewYorker, her interests include business, communications, and marketing. She can be reached on Twitter at @marisoldahl.

Turn Mundane Jobs Into Larger Opportunities

Written by Davis Nguyen 

At dinner during our senior year of college, a friend and I debated if a perfect post-graduation job existed. We couldn’t name one.

She instead shared a story of how no matter how mundane/uninspiring/replaceable our first job after college would be, that the job description didn’t limit the opportunities we could create from it.

She shared with me a story of how a CEO of a small company hired a part-time janitor to clean their office. This janitor was responsible for cleaning the floors, windows, and restrooms. After sometime, the other employees would notice how this janitor would spend more time than he needed with each task. It was as if he was on a crusade to eliminate every single germ from the office. In particular, he took pride in how well he kept the restrooms clean, claiming someone could drink from the toilet bowl because it was so clean. The other employees saw how clean the restrooms were, but thought the janitor was joking.

One day, the company CEO was using the restroom as the janitor was cleaning it. The CEO commented how clean the restrooms are always, and the janitor mentioned you could drink from the bowl. The CEO knew the janitor worked hard but laughed; the janitor took out a red solo cup, filled his cup with water from the toilet bowl, and drank from it. The CEO was left speechless. Later that week, the CEO hired the janitor as one of his full-time project managers.

We know this story is true because the janitor is my friend’s uncle.

Take ownership of your responsibilities no matter how small

Your first job after college won’t be the sexiest, most fulfilling, or highest paying job you’ll ever have, but every day you wake up you have an opportunity to create opportunities for yourself to get closer to that sexier, more fulfilling, and higher paying job. All you have to do is be willing to do more than what other people expect of you with whatever opportunities you are given, no matter how small, mundane, or uneventful it might be.

You won’t have to drink out of a toilet bowl, but if you take ownership in your responsibilities and demonstrate the ability to handle more, you will be given more. Even if most people don’t care about the results and bypass it, you shouldn’t. Average people take average opportunities and create average results. Great people take average opportunities and turn them into greater opportunities. Don’t’ believe me? Just ask the now-CEOs who started as unpaid interns.

Your first job(s) out of college won’t be glamorous, but if you are willing to take the opportunity you are given—no matter how little, how mundane, or how dirty—and deliver more than what is expected, you can turn that small opportunity into something bigger.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments: What is one thing you could do today at work to do more than what others expect?

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Be Who You Want to Be—Faster

Written by Davis Nguyen 

When I first started playing violin, my teacher would criticize us every time we played even a bit off-key, sat a few centimeters from ideal posture, or lost focus even for a slight second. She was a hard teacher to please, and many students quit.

Each time I played, I was nervous I would be the next one to be corrected in front of the class. But I looked forward to playing for her every day, because I knew she was only harsh to us because she wanted us to be better. Though I disliked being called out in the middle of everyone, the result always led to me being a better player. I knew the moment she stopped caring and calling out my mistakes was the moment my progress would stop.

It has been more than 10 years since I picked up my violin, but the lessons I learned from Ms. Allegood still remain fresh in my mind each time I am working with others, from school projects to business projects.   

Who do you want to be?

None of us are perfect. We have our strengths and weaknesses. And these strengths and weaknesses can be sorted into four categories:

  • Things you know you are good at (known-strengths)
  • Things you know you are not good at (known-weaknesses)
  • Things you don’t know you’re good at (unknown-strengths)
  • Things you don’t know you’re not good at (unknown-weaknesses)

Playing the violin, you quickly learn your knowns – which pieces of music you are good at, which pieces you are not, which positions you are comfortable playing, and which ones you are not. But it is hard to know your unknowns, and that is why a good teacher matters. A good teacher points out your unknowns and challenges you so you can discover your own unknowns. The result is that you become a better player.

Each time I work with others on a team, one of my goals is to further understand my strengths and weaknesses. I want to develop my knowns while discovering my unknowns to make them knowns.

It is easy to go from activity to activity at work, doing enough to get by, and not worrying about your personal development. Doing so would be wasting an opportunity to learn and grow, to be doing the work that you want, to be making the impact you want on the world, and to be paid what you want to be paid. By caring about your personal development, you ensure that every task you do, no matter how meaningless it might seem, will benefit you and help you become the person you want to be. 

Begin each task with a goal of how you want to develop by the end, even if it is just to be better at what you’re already doing.

Supercharge Your Personal Development

One of the fastest ways I’ve learned to develop myself is to ask for feedback from people who see me in action. I’ll ask for feedback as we’re working together as well as at the end.

Getting feedback can be hard since no one likes being told they’re not good at something, but it is the process of being vulnerable and allowing others to be candid with you that helps you develop your knowns and uncover your unknowns.

Over the years, I learned that when people I respect give me feedback, it is because they want me to be better, much like Ms. Allegood 10 years earlier. Over time, I developed three questions I would ask people I worked with.

  1. What should I stop doing?
  2. What should I start doing?
  3. What should I keep doing?

The answer to each helps me become a better leader, a better teammate, and a better person. Each time I ask these questions, I move closer to being the person I want to become.

Making the space safe

When I ask for feedback from people I’ve worked with, people I’ve managed, and people who have managed me, I provide the 3 questions ahead of time so they have time to think about the answer. I make it known that I want to know the answer to these questions so I can better myself as a person to give people the OK to be completely honest with me. 

Depending on the relationship we have and what I know about the person, if they are comfortable, I’ll set up one-one-one time to go over their answers. During this session, all I am doing is listening, taking notes of their answers, and asking for examples when I feel the answer is too vague. This is not the time to uphold my ego; arguing or defending myself would defeat the purpose of why we are having this session.

If the person is not comfortable telling me in person, I will send out a mass anonymous email (usually to at least 5 people I’ve worked with recently) with a survey form with the same questions and get my feedback anonymously.

Putting feedback into actionable steps

No matter how I collect my answers, I aggregate them into themes. Since no one person gets to see me all the time, one person might say I am great at X, while another might say I am not. Unless that person works with me a large amount of the time, I am not looking for specific comments but for themes across different people.

Once I have my themes identified, I highlight the ones that represent strengths and ones that represent areas for improvement so that when I work on my next team I continue to demonstrate my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

Once the project concludes, I ask for more feedback and the cycle of personal improvement continues.

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Magnetic Personal Projects: What’s Yours? Part 3 — Let’s Talk Money

UOP3 Written by Jenny Blake

Now you know how to deflect boring cocktail party banter. You’ve tested your side business hypothesis and got your eyes on a personal project prize, maybe even one that can generate additional income. Now the question is, how can you turn it into a full-fledged business if and when you’re ready?

Roll up your sleeves and get ready for today’s post: we’re going to talk money, honey.

The Fundamentals

First, it’s important to know how much you need to live on a monthly basis.

When working with coaching clients, I start with three basic gauges for monthly income:

  • Minimum needed to pay basic expenses
  • Nice-to-have (to meet current or desired lifestyle)
  • Jump out of bed with glee (smashing audacious success!)
  • If you need help calculating your monthly expenses, try this 4-Step Budget Template (I also suggest for tracking on an ongoing basis).

Next, we work backwards from the nice-to-have number:

  • How many clients (or widgets do you need to sell) at what rate?
  • Or is it one client or company that you’re focused on, and you need to increase the scope of work?
  • Sketch out a few scenarios with this financial modeling spreadsheet.

Avocados versus Tomatoes

My friend Jenn shared an analogy that she learned from business coach Monica Shaw, on avocados versus tomatoes. Jenn describes it as follows:

Avocados are long-term projects and bigger bets that are worth the wait. Avocados don’t grow as plentifully, but when they do they are creamy and delicious. Avocados take longer to harvest, are more expensive to grow, and they aren’t always in season—they are therefore harder to come by.

Tomatoes, in business, are more readily available, easy ways to make money. In nature, tomatoes are a dime a dozen, their crops are bountiful, and they grow in all kinds of different terrain and weather. Therefore tomatoes are not as valuable, because there are so many of them, accessible to us at all times.

The analogy in business is that avocados are the long-term projects that bear very bountiful fruit but go through barren periods, whereas tomatoes are what tide us over in-between because of their short incubation period from planting to harvesting. The idea is to have a mix between avocados and tomatoes.

First, find your tomatoes: what activities create baseline income? Baseline income tends to be consistent, sustainable income that might be service-oriented programs or exchanging time-for-money, but are structured in a way that covers baseline expenses no matter what. Then with these “tomatoes” in place, you can move in to mid-and top-tier projects that are bigger bets but that won’t always consistently bear fruit. You have your basic expenses covered while still able to cultivate the time and energy it takes to grow more avocados (and not just be a tomato farmer).

Is it Quitting Time?

Even though leaving my full-time job in 2011 was the right decision for me, I actually don’t think it is always the best next move for everyone.

There’s a financial term, “unrealized gains,” that refers to money you’re leaving on the table by leaving too soon. If you’re in a great job at a great company, there is a chance this could be the case.

I suggest you pivot before you leap: before you plan your exit, consider whether there is some totallynew or sideways team in the company where you could practice some of the skills that you would need for your side business or for running your own business.

For me, I pivoted internally from the AdWords training team to the coaching and Career Development team. When I left Google to work for myself, I was doing virtually the same job activities.

If you have done everything in your power to stay and you’re still ready to go, it is critical to have a clear understanding of the following:

  • Savings Runway: how much money have you saved that can fund your transition?
  • Monthly Burn Rate: how much money do you typically spend each month to live? How many months will your savings last you?
  • Lines in the sand: by when do you want to make the final decision about leaving? When is your final “make or break” deadline, where if you’re not earning enough money you will look for another job?
  • Bridge Income: how can you earn income to buoy yourself between career changes, in addition to your savings runway?

Additional Reading

These questions alone could fill a book . . . one that I’m writing, in fact! Here are a few others to keep you busy in the meantime:

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What next step/s could you take to pivot before you leap? 

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career Strategist

Jenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book The Pivot Method. She isa career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its seventh year!) and at, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

Magnetic Personal Projects: What’s Yours? Part Two — Start a Side Business

JBlake2 By Jenny Blake

Last time we talked about the importance of having a compelling personal project you’re excited about, no matter where you work or who you work for (including yourself).

Today I’m going to talk about a specific type of personal project: the side business. This is different from a hobby in that it is tied to earning a living, even if just a tiny proportion of your current income.

Side businesses often represent a calculated risk: I am going to willingly invest some of my spare time and energy (and maybe money) in this side project, something I’m excited about, with the hopes of making a greater proportion of my living off of this someday, or using it to land my next paid gig.

Side Business Sweet Spot

One of my friends, Christian, loves fishing. When he finds a good spot in the lake, he refers to it as a “honey hole.” The honey hole is the secret spot he can return to that’s highly likely to yield a great catch.

The best side businesses are your equivalent of a honey hole: you enjoy them, you are excited to return to work, you feel you have discovered something unique to you, and they are fruitful—they provide value in return.

There are four criteria to a successful side business:

1. Cash Flow

If it does not create income, either now or in the future, your beloved side business is a hobby. The best side businesses will be able to demonstrate a return on your investment; if not now, then at some point in the not-too-distant future. How long you are willing to wait for that is up to you, but I suggest doing something where you can test the ability to generate revenue fairly quickly.

At first, the income you earn from your side business is likely to be very labor-intensive. You invest time and sweat equity for little pay. You do the hardest work up front. In his Startup Schoolpodcast series, Seth Godin calls this “front-loading”—better to do the hard work up front then reap the rewards later, rather than be surprised down the road when you have much more at stake.

2. Enjoyment

A side business doing grunt work is valuable if it helps you pay the bills or save up for the next big trip you want to take. But a side business with swagger is one that gets you into a state of flow. It is one that allows you to tap into your unique zone of genius, and leverages your best strengths. It is one where you lose track of time, and are excited to get to work, whether you have 15 minutes to spend on it that day or five hours.

Questions to consider: What did you love to do as a kid? How might you pilot something similar as an adult?

3. Skill-Building

This is where you get to be a bit of a futurist: what skills will be needed in your field in the next few years? What areas are most exciting to you? What skills, if you were to build them now, while this is a side project, would greatly serve you if/when you were to take this project full-time? For some this may be more formal education; for others self-study or learning by observing others does the trick.

4. Opportunity & Market Potential

This goes hand-in-hand with cash flow. The most successful side businesses are ones that have a solid amount of growth potential. If you love teaching underwater basket-weaving but there’s no one interested in learning it from you, you will be quickly catapulted back into unprofitable habit territory.

Look for side businesses where the market is bigger than your ability to serve it; opportunities that Nassim Taleb would describe as “Antifragile.” Look for areas where, if you were to invest your resources, you could profit almost no matter the state of the economy; opportunities that areasymmetrical in that they have high potential upside with limited downside, or risk.

Be the Scientist

I like to think of side businesses like experiments: you have a hypothesis about something that interests you that could make money, and now it is time to test your theory. For those of you who are already self-employed, this might be testing a new approach, service or product within your overall business.

Here’s a template for this exercise, which will walk you through the following steps:

  • Make a list of 10 potential side business hypotheses that interest you down the left-hand side of the page, with the four categories above across the top.
  • Rate each idea on a scale of 1-5 for each of the criteria.
  • If you don’t have a clear winner, narrow the list down to your top three, and determine one small next step or experiment you could try for each.

Stay tuned for Part Three, where I’ll share more on how to determine when to take your side business full-time.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

Which of your personal projects has the most side business potential? 

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career Strategist

Jenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book The Pivot Method. She isa career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its seventh year!) and at, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

Magnetic Personal Projects: What's Yours? Part 1

JBlake1 Written by Jenny Blake

There’s a conversational crutch we lean on in our society called, “So what do you do?”

Not knowing quite how to engage when meeting someone for the first time, people often resort to this familiar question as a default cocktail party kick off. It’s safe, it’s familiar, it’s lazy.

I’m guilty of it too.

How many of you have asked the question, not really caring about the answer? How many of you have been asked, and as you fumble through your own reply, you watch the person in front of you as their eyes glaze over out of boredom or complete cluelessness about what you’re saying?

The only thing worse than the question itself is suffering through an answer from someone who is miserable in their job. It’s as if their answer sucks the oxygen out of both of your lungs.

Which is not to say that people shouldn’t be vulnerable and share what’s really going on! But there’s a certain energy behind this answer that can either be soul-sucking, creating a conversational dead end, or generative, which opens the door for further dialogue.

In general, we just want to connect with each other on a genuine, authentic level, on shared passions or intellectual banter. We want to feel naturally curious and engaged, freed from the shackles of rote networking.

My theory: no one really cares what anyone else does, at least most of the time.

With one caveat; when what you are saying is bubbling with magnetic enthusiasm, that is contagious.

The Importance of Personal Projects

Harvard professor Brian Little says that the way we answer the question, “How are you?” depends on whether we have a compelling “personal project” that excites us—one that is connected to our core values and has meaning and significance.

Now that’s a question worth wracking our brains for.

Here’s a new game plan as holiday party schmoozing approaches: it starts with doing something worth talking about. Something with spice, vigor, excitement and a sprinkling of risk. Something with swagger.

For most of us, “What do you do?” conjures up whatever it is that pays the majority of our bills. But how would you answer if you pretended the question is, “So what are you most excited about right now?”

Flip the Conversation Switch

Below are a few recent experimental intentional conversation swerves of my own (because we can’t expect everyone else to read our minds and ask new questions). They’re still not perfect, but they get me more excited, which hopefully makes for a richer conversation all the way around:

Cocktail party questioner: So what do you do?

  • Before: I’m an author and a speaker. (BOOO-RING!)
  • My new answer: I’m fascinated by the intersection of mind, body and business . . . I love creating systems and templates for all three.

Question: “So you’re a motivational speaker?” Or “So you’re a life coach?” (Often said with a heaping dose of judgment and eyes scanning me up and down.)

  • Before: Yes, I’m a speaker and I do career and business strategy coaching and consulting. (BOOO-RING!)
  • My new answer: Yes, and speaking is what I’m most excited about right now. I love helping people through big transitions, to feel less intimidated by the question “What’s next?” I also see myself as a translator between smart, motivated people and the big technology companies they work for.

Question: So what book did you write?

  • Before: I wrote a book called Life After College; it’s like a portable life coach for twenty-somethings. (A recent reply I received that got my blood boiling: “Oh, how cute!”)
  • My new answer (not wanting to talk about the past so much as the future): Well, I’m really excited about my next book, The Pivot Method, which I’m now writing, on how to navigate change and be more agile within our rapidly-evolvoing economy.

Question: So what do you do?

  • My new answer (depending on who I’m talking to and the type of event I’m at, I pick just one niche project)I’m developing a meditation app called Lucent—it’s a five-minute morning ritual for people who consider themselves “meditation curious.” We just created a free 4-day course that you should check out!

These conversations can be the litmus test for magnetic personal projects:

  • Projects you’re thrilled to talk about, where it feels like you’re letting the person across from you in on a secret
  • Where others (including you!) feel inspired by not just what you’re doing but how you’re talking about it
  • It means you take charge of the conversation, and that starts with having something you’re jazzed to talk about in the first place.

So instead of asking, “What do you do?” as your next conversation-starter, try “What are you most excited about right now?” (Hint: if it feels awkward, you can even explain it first by saying, “Normally I would ask you what you do, but I’m more curious what you’re most looking forward to working on these days?”)

Whether you’re self-employed or you work for someone else, we can all benefit from a compelling project (or two) that we’re stoked to talk about, and more importantly, to spend our precious time and energy on.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll share four criteria behind choosing successful side projects.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What personal project/s are you most excited about right now? 

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career Strategist

Jenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book The Pivot MethodShe is a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its seventh year!) and at, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

9 Lessons Only Rejection Can Teach You

By Davis Nguyen

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” - Bill Gates

I thought the beginning of my senior year was going to be the time of my life. I thought that I’d quickly be able to find a job I love and spend the rest of senior year enjoying it with friends.

Instead of weekends sipping wine or exploring the outdoors, I spent my weekends sending out resumes and exploring the indoors of interview rooms.

I didn’t get an offer from my first, second, or even my sixteenth interview. Almost every day came with a call or letter of rejection.

In fact, I made a wall of my job rejections.

(picture here) -> after Davis gets back to dorm on Monday

After two months of interviews and a miracle, I received my first job offer; ironically from the company I wanted to work for most.

Now that my senior year is ending and I have a job, I’ve had time to reflect on my job search experience and come to appreciate what rejection taught me.

9 Lessons Only Rejection Can Teach You

1. You're not the sh*t

Being rejected teaches us humility. I still remember leaving my first interview thinking that I was going to receive the job automatically. I would have bet my first year's salary on it. It was a rude awakening when I did not receive the congratulation call I was waiting for. The lesson I was forced to learn was there were plenty of more qualified candidates who are willing to work hard to get the same job I wanted.

2. Not all outcomes are in your control

Sometimes my rejection came from factors that I couldn’t easily control or change about myself. With one company, my interviewer’s feedback was that I had the skill set to do great work with them, but felt I wouldn’t fit into the culture. I realized now he was right and that I probably wouldn’t have been as happy working there.

3. It can't kill you

Rejection is never fun. It got to the point that each time I received an email or call from a company I would just cringe. But I lived to send another resume and cover letter.

4. You're in good company

As the job rejections piled on, I googled for other people who had been rejected by companies they wanted to work for. In the state I was in, I just wanted to know that someone else had been where I was and ultimately came out okay. During my search, I read about Brian Acton who was rejected by Facebook. He later co-founded WhatsApp. Facebook bought the app this year for $19 billion. Maybe if it didn’t work out, I could develop an app? Probably not, but it proved that not having a job right out of college wasn’t going to kill me.

5. How to stop being rejected

After each rejection email or call, I learned to ask for feedback on my performance. The feedback I received didn’t prevent me from being rejected from future interviews, but helped me to not be rejected for the same reasons.

6. Not to reject yourself

For many of the interviews where I made the final round, I got to tour the company and meet the staff. I made friends with some of the other students interviewing. Though I didn’t get an offer, I was pretty happy to have enjoyed those weekends meeting pretty awesome people. As a friend of mine said to me, if you don’t try, you are rejecting yourself of potential opportunities.

7. How to be closer to success

With each rejection I felt more determined to work harder. I saw each rejection as a sign that the company I applied to didn’t think I was good enough. Nothing like being told you aren’t good enough to motivate you to prove yourself.

8. To appreciate success when it comes

When my first job offer finally came I couldn’t contain my emotions and weeped as I was receiving the call from one of my interviewers. The job search process was over and I would be working with my dream company. I don’t think I would have been as happy as I was that day had I not been rejected so many times before. I learned to not take the opportunities I was given for granted.

9. Who your true supporters are

During my job search I became closer to two of my friends as we were interviewing for the same companies. We would share our rejections and talk each other out of feeling sorry for ourselves. I am so glad I had my friends to share my low moments with. When we finally all had our job offers, we had a dinner to celebrate.

Rejection isn’t all bad.

We can think of rejection as we do fire (because it does burn). Like fire, rejection can either make us stronger or burn us until there is nothing left. The choice is ours.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments: What would you add as a 10th lesson?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


The Rise of Online Learning (And Why It's Right For You)

Written by Marisol Dahl

From 2001 to 2011, the number of full-time college students rose 38%. In the same time, the number of people taking online courses rose to over six million. Just ten years ago, only about 13.5% of students were taking at least one online course. Now we’re talking 32%—one third of the college population.

It’s loud and clear: online learning is a force to reckon with. With their accessibility and competitive quality, online courses are allowing more and more people to continue their education and build new skills.

And it isn’t just colleges and universities that are offering online classes—we’re also seeing a rise in the quantity, quality, and affordability of unaffiliated courses, too. Groups like Treehouse and Fizzle offer subscribers tons of classes, support, and training in the fields of web development and business. Thought leaders like Shawn Achor and David Allen have put together entire online platforms to make their knowledge and techniques more accessible.

With more education opportunities at our fingertips, how do you know how or when to dive in? Is it better to go back to school full-time with a backpack and campus ID in hand, or will an online course suffice?

Online learning is here to stay, but how does it fit into your own life?

4 Signs It's Time to Take an Online Course

1. You’ve hit a ceiling with your current job and are ready to move up.

You’re great at your job—fantastic even. But something’s keeping you from jumping to that next level and significantly increasing your earning power. Is it your dexterity in technology? Lack of leadership training? Limited understanding of Facebook marketing?

Learning a new skill might just be your ticket to rev up your workplace performance and position yourself to take on more responsibility and projects. With hundreds of thousands of online courses out there starting at all levels of expertise, you can zero in on the exact skill you want to build without the added nonsense of college major requirements or re-learning the stuff you already know.

2. You’re just not that interested in adding to your student debt.

But then again, who is? With average undergraduate student debt now at $29,400 and average graduate student debt at $57,600, it’s no wonder people look to alternative learning methods. There are thousands of quality online courses out there for a fraction of the cost of a college class credit—many are completely free!

3. You can’t commit to a rigid class schedule.

Let’s be honest. Very few of us have the time, financial ability, or desire to leave our jobs. We want to keep learning, but not at the expense of cutting out time from our families, hobbies and other projects. Online courses are wonderfully flexible. Most are self-paced and location independent, so learning a new skill doesn’t require a complete pause on other things in your life. Also, going to class in your pajamas is pretty awesome.

4. You want to stay competitive in your field.

With a rapidly-changing job market and advances in technology, odds are there’s always going to be something new to master. Keeping up with it all through online courses is a great way to demonstrate competence and dedication to your employers and peers in your field.

Take Learning Into Your Own Hands

If you’re ready to take your career to the next level with online learning, we suggest starting with SkilledUp, an online course discovery platform built to help you gain new skills.

SkilledUp believes anyone can quickly learn something new and become more marketable to employers. SkilledUp curates the world of online learning by comparing courses across different sources and only focusing on the ones with high returns on investment. It has the largest collection of online courses all in one place, so searching for that perfect class is easy.

We’re proud to have a partner so dedicated to a quality online learning experience. SkilledUp allows users to browse course reviews and ratings to find that perfect match. Their new Trends & Insights section offers quality reporting on the trends, challenges, and innovations in education as it relates to workforce development.

SkilledUp’s ultimate vision is to transform education as we know it—how it’s delivered, how much it costs, and how quickly it helps you get to a career you love.

Exclusive Offer for Life After College Readers

SkilledUp is offering 90% off Udemy’s How to Get a Better Job Faster, an online course created to help you find your dream job. With this course you’ll learn how to amp up your resume, ace job interviews and develop a fool-proof job search strategy.

At just $10, you’ll get lifetime access to 28 lectures filled with job hunting facts and hacks. Learn more about this generous offer here.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments:

What new skill would you like the learn this month?

About Marisol Dahl

Marisol is currently a Sociology and Education Studies major at Yale University. A longtime New Yorker, her interests include business, communications, and marketing. Marisol started her blog in 2011 as a way to document her college years and beyond. When not running around campus and catching up with her school reading, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading dystopian fiction, and trying out new recipes. She can be reached on Twitter at @marisoldahl.

The Most Important Word in the Dictionary

By Davis Nguyen

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

—C. S. Lewis

Humility isn’t a sexy word.

As recent college graduates, we are so eager to show the world what we have to offer. What we lack in experience, we make up for in our readiness to accept every opportunity coming at us – even if we don’t know what we signed on for. It is no surprise then that embracing humility is so hard; it means accepting our weaknesses. It means showing, instead of hiding, our imperfections. Imperfections we believe will keep us from getting the job we desire, being with the people we want, and living the life we dream of.

But the more we try to mask our imperfections, the more we miss out on the same opportunities we are seeking. We doom ourselves to repeat the same mistakes; we turn away people who want to help us; and we deny ourselves opportunities to grow. The outcome from making a mistake at 26 is not the same as if you make it at 36. The question is, will you learn at 26 or repeat it at 36?

But accepting humility doesn’t come from reading a “how-to” guide or waiting for an epiphany. It comes in gradual acceptances of who you are.

  • It means being proud of your accomplishments without being prideful.
  • It means thinking about how your actions will affect others.
  • It means taking responsibility for your mistakes.
  • It means admitting you don’t know everything.

Humility isn’t sexy, but it makes you more attractive.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

What trait in a person do you admire the most?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


Smart People Should Build Things

Written by Davis Nguyen

You’re 26 years old with $100,000 in student loans. Your recent start-up has just collapsed. You have a law degree and your friends and family pressure you to be a lawyer, but what you really want to do is build things.

What do you do?

This was a real dilemma facing Andrew Yang, who is the author of Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America, a few years ago.

I met Andrew a few month ago at a conference where he delivered our keynote. The conference had nothing to do with business or start-ups, but when Andrew asked “how many of you would want to start your own business or join a start-up?” 80% of the attendees raised their hands.

Andrew followed up by telling us that while the dream of building a company is one most of us have, when it comes time to choose, most of us will defer our dream for security and comfort. He understood that this was a normal reaction.

Bootstrapping Your Life

Andrew graduated from Brown University in 1996 and earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1999. After graduation he started working at private firm. Despite the job security and six-figure salary, Andrew couldn’t find much meaning and purpose in his work. Six months into his career as a lawyer, Andrew quit to pursue his passion of building things with no experience in business and $100,000 in student loans. Less than a year later, his first company,, was a victim of the dot-com bubble in 2001 leaving him with no back-up plan.

Despite his parents jeering him, “Didn’t you used to be smart?”, his friends introducing him as a lawyer, and his growing pile of bills, Andrew decided to give entrepreneurship another chance.

Today, thirteen years later, Andrew has had a successful career as an entrepreneur and founded Venture for America, a non-profit helping recent college grads become entrepreneurs by pairing them with early-stage companies to gain experience. He was recently named Champion of Change by the White House and one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” for his work with Venture for America.

While most people in the audience were amazed by Andrew’s successes, I wanted to ask him about the story behind the success: the nights no one will talk about.

Two lessons I learned about being a successful entrepreneur from Andrew Yang

1.     Find Your Yoda (Mentor)

After Andrew’s first start-up failed, he started to work for Manu Capoor, whom he met while networking for Stargiving. Manu was a former doctor and investment banker who had started a healthcare software company, MMF Systems. Andrew had no prior experience in this industry, but working under Manu, Andrew had found his Yoda.

Andrew notes in the book that it was from Manu where he learned the most important lesson about getting things done in business. It comes down to “people, processes, and technology.” Andrew left MMF after three years to work under his friend Zeke Vanderhoek at Manhattan GMAT where he learned to shape company culture, scale a business, and provide unparalleled customer service. Andrew eventually became the CEO in 2006 and ultimately grew the company to employ over one hundred people and had it acquired by The Washington Post Company/Kaplan three years later.

2.     Learn to live within your means

Andrew gave up a six-figure lawyering job to work at start-ups that were paying him just enough to cover food, housing, and other essential needs. Through this process, Andrew learned that what he previously thought he “needed” were really just “wants.”

Besides paying for living costs and his student loans, Andrew never went broke or homeless. As one of my favorite quote about entrepreneurship goes, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”

Audio Interview with Andrew Yang

I had a chance to do a 18-minute audio interview Andrew, where I went into more depth about Andrew's decision to quit his six-figure job, managing a start-up with student loans, and how you can take the first steps towards being an entrepreneur today if you wanted. You can listen it below.

[soundcloud url="" params="color=cc0000&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

You can buy your own copy of Smart People Should Build Things here.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:


What is the biggest obstacles facing your entrepreneurial endeavors? 

What is one first small step you can take?


Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


An All-in-One Guide to Finding a Mentor

Written by Rebecca Fraser-Thill Business man shows success abstract flow chart

What's all this hype about having a mentor?

Today we'll break it down, one question at a time.

Why Bother?

First, the obvious question:  is the "mentor search" worth the energy? In a word, yes.

People who have mentors tend to get salary increases and promotions faster than workers who don't have mentors. Graduate students in psychology report that peers who have mentors meet more influential people, move faster through the program, have a better sense of direction, and present at national conferences more often.

Although men seem to benefit from mentorship more than women do, women are in greater need of mentors because they still occupy fewer high level positions. It's a shame, then, that Levo League found 95% of Gen Y women have never looked for a mentor.

What Type of Person Isn't a Good Mentor?

Overstretched people make the worst mentors.

They may seem like they have it all - family, career, local fame - and you want to know how they do it. Since they have so much going on, though, they probably don't have the time to give you the mentoring relationship you need.

For instance, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, may seem like an interesting mentor given her high-profile career/family juggling, but with all she's got going on, how much time for mentoring does she actually have?

Who Makes a Good Mentor?

On the flipside, the best mentor may be someone who is just a few years or levels ahead of you in the industry.

You might think they don’t know “enough” but in fact they're more attuned to your needs because they just went through what you're facing. Plus, they usually have more time than more senior colleagues to devote to you.

For instance, the guy who is a late draft pick to the Patriots shouldn’t look to Tom Brady for mentoring, but rather to the guy who rode the bench "well" last season.

What Can I Expect of a Mentor?

Let's start with what NOT to expect:  weekly meetings. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, writes about this in a chapter on mentorship in Lean In:

“That’s not a mentor, that’s a therapist.”

Instead, use your occasional time with your mentor to problem solve. Come in with a clear and specific issue you want to address and ask your mentor to help come up with possible solutions.

Also, keep in mind that you can get great problem-solving help from one-off mentors, which Jenny discusses in her post The Best Way to Thank a Mentor.

Where Can I Find a Mentor?

Look local. Often your best mentor is right in your existing network, or directly adjacent to it.

He or she may even be a relationship you’ve already built – a teacher, former boss, colleague – but that you just need to re-invigorate and label “mentor” in your own mind.

How Should I Approach a Mentor?

Don’t ever ASK for a “mentor.” Just start building a relationship!

Sheryl Sandberg writes that being asked to be someone's mentor is her big pet peeve:

“If someone has to ask the question ‘Are you my mentor?’ the answer is probably no.”

There are 3 ways to approach a mentor, depending on your situation:

  • If you're looking for an internship, ask up front whether the position will set up a mentorship for you. If not, you might look elsewhere for a better internship, or else actively negotiate the inclusion of a mentor.
  • If you're looking for a mentor in your workplace, make an effort to stop by and chat with the individual once in a while (in an unobtrusive way!) and perhaps to invite him or her to coffee or lunch - when you have a specific problem in mind that you need advice about.
  • If you're looking to change careers and want to find a mentor in another industry, informational interviewing is a good first step.

How Can I Retain a Mentor?

Once you have a mentor, how can you keep him or her active in your life? Three pieces of advice:

1.  Be your best! In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites research showing that mentors select mentees based on "performance and potential." This leads her to the following advice:

“Excel and you will get a mentor”

2.  Be open to feedback! If you won’t listen, a mentor will not keep working with you.

3.  Don't complain! You don't want your mentor to feel like seeing you is a drag. It's one thing to ask for advice, it's another to rehash every awful piece of workplace politics. Stay positive and you'll have a mentor who isn't just putting up with you, but who looks forward to assisting you for the long haul.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below: Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you find him or her? If not, how do you think having one might help you?

Photo Credit: ffaalumni

Fraser-Thill_squareAbout Rebecca

Rebecca Fraser-Thill is the founder of Working Self, a site that helps twentysomethings create meaningful work - that actually pays the bills!She teaches psychology at Bates College and is one half of the Life After College coaching team. Follow her @WorkingSelf.

The Personal MBA: Interview & Book Giveaway

I have a confession. When people ask me why I started Life After College five years ago, I tell them it's because I felt lost and lonely at age 20 and wanted to help other graduates get on their feet faster. But there's another reason too. I thought I needed to start a business so that I could get into business school (run my life according to the mysterious admissions office gods...great plan, huh?), so I launched this website two years before it became a blog. I've never told anyone that because I don't want to take away from the passion I feel for helping others, and I'm somewhat embarrassed by the less-than-pure beginning.

I felt like business school would give me some magic credibility, validity and career success. But after I bought 4 GMAT/MBA books that I didn't even crack open ONCE in the span of a year, I realized I couldn't stomach going into $150K of debt just for a degree that I wasn't sure would deliver what I was wanting.

Enter Josh Kaufman and his The Personal MBA project. Josh has a blog and book that provide comprehensive business-education resources to help people "master the art of business without mortgaging [their] lives."

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Josh, and am excited to announce another book giveaway! Leave a comment below by Thursday, 12/23 and I will select a winner using to receive a copy of The Personal MBA.

Josh KaufmanInterview with Josh Kaufman

Many of my readers are twenty-somethings and recent college grads. What would you advise those who are on the fence about getting an MBA? What about those who don't really feel like they need one, but feel pressure (from parents or society) to get that extra credential?

Save your money - you can do much better by investing a little time learning the basics on your own. Research indicates that getting an MBA doesn't really help you in the long run, and getting an MBA can be enormously expensive, particularly if you attend a top school. On top of the direct expense, student loans restrict your freedom and flexibility in ways that severely limit your options. All told, the very limited potential benefits aren't worth the massive risks - particularly if you're interested in starting your own business.

Getting an education and obtaining a credential are entirely different things. You don't need a credential to do well in business, since there are no legal requirements that force you to get a credential before getting started. Your customers don't care whether or not you have a degree if you can give them what they need or want.  Provide enough value to people who want what you have enough to pay for it, and you'll do quite well, degree or no degree.

You do, however, need a world-class education if you want to do well in business. Fortunately, you can learn what you need to know on your own, without mortgaging your life in the process.

If you're feeling pressure from other people to obtain a credential, it helps to remember that they aren't living your life. You owe it to yourself to figure out what you want, and the best way to go about getting it. Other people may have opinions, but they're just that - opinions. Ultimately, you live with the consequences of your actions, so make your own decisions.

I often use the phrase, "If you're not learning, you are obsolete." How do you hope to change the business-related learning game with this book? Personal MBA Book

My goal is to help people interested in business learn the essentials - the very small set of ideas they need to understand in order to do great work. I call these ideas "business mental models," and my job is to help you learn them as quickly as possible.

As it turns out, the 80/20 principle applies to learning too. Learn the 5% of concepts that provide 95% of the value of business study, and you'll do quite well. Once you know the fundamentals, you can go surprisingly far, whether you're staring your own company or doing great work for someone else. My book is designed to teach those fundamentals.

Most people assume business is complicated, and as a result, they find it difficult to get started. The wonderful truth is that business isn't complicated - it's just not taught very well, so it's intimidating. Business isn't rocket science, but you do have to know what businesses really are and how they really work if you want to do well.  Once you've mastered the essentials, you're in good shape.

If you could give the Life After College community one piece of encouragement or career advice, what would it be? Experiment constantly - there's no faster way to learn. Side projects, diligently pursued, can benefit you more than even the best degree. If you have an idea for a business, figure out how to start making progress on the side, using your own resources. Speed and flexibility are your friends - just keep making little improvement to discover what works.

The Personal MBA started as a side project - I wanted to learn how to do well in business, so I started learning in my spare time. Six years later, I'm a professional business teacher with clients all over the world, I have no debts, I have the freedom to live however and wherever I want, and I've published my first book... all because I decided to start a crazy side project, experimented constantly, and stuck with it for years. Without experimenting, none of these things would've occurred, and my life would be very different.

What has been your biggest failure-turned-success or blessing-in-disguise story (in life or business)? A little over a year ago, I decided to offer my first business course. I thought that bringing a group of people with similar goals to learn and discuss important business concepts via phone would do very well.  I prepared my launch materials, published them, and waited for the signups to roll in.

Radio silence... nothing. In the end, only one person signed up after a week of promotion. My expectations were high, so I was devastated.

After recovering from the disappointment, I tried to figure out why it flopped - so I asked my readers. As it turns out, people were interested in the learning part - they just didn't think they'd be able to commit to meeting regularly at certain times, so they didn't sign up. That was a Barrier to Purchase I could fix.

Two weeks later, I launched the Personal MBA Business Crash Course. It was the same learning material, with a different structure - an online video course that my students could take at their own pace, no matter where they lived around the world.

Almost immediately, over 200 people signed up - far better than I expected.  Since then, the course has developed into a very active and dedicated community of business learners from around the world, and is a cornerstone of my business education company.

Keep experimenting, and you'll inevitably find something that works. In a very real sense, there's no such thing as failure - just experiments that provide you with more data to use in the next iteration.

To enter to win the book giveaway: leave a comment below by Thursday, 12/23 and I will select a winner using to receive a copy of The Personal MBA.


On a related note: want to network without the pain of small-talk?

Brazen Careerist's Network Roulette is one of the most innovative developments I've seen recently in the networking space. You can sign into Brazen Careerist and get paired up with a new person to chat with for three minutes at a time. If you enjoyed talking to each other, it's easy to send a follow-up note afterward.

Ryan also recently announced a daily lunch hour (12EST, 9PST) called Community Karma to "make sure everyone gets the help that they need through 3-minute conversations with me and other community leaders on Brazen Careerist." I highly recommend trying a Network Roulette or the daily karma hour - it's a great way to meet a lot of people with similar interests in a short amount of time!

Eat. Sleep. Yoga. Part Two: Re-Entry.

Rainbow from White Lotus Re-entering the "real world" after 16-days of actual rainbows and sunshine in Santa Barbara was a major shock to my system, as I alluded to in Part 1:

"I’ve been working harder every day but feeling like I am falling farther and farther behind. I’ve felt exhausted to the core; disappointed and helpless as I watched (mortified and even ashamed at) how quickly the clarity and calm from White Lotus escaped me."

On the first day back I could already feel anxiety pulsing through every vein. My breath was short and I ran around like a maniac all day re-arranging a room in my house (more below) as an avoidance tactic to delay diving into the massive amount of work that had piled up while I was gone.

Ganga and Tracy taught us to breathe - that breath is life - and to treat our whole day as our yoga - but I quickly spiraled into a nervous, compulsive, frenzied state. I wanted so badly to carry that zen, relaxed, peaceful yogini-self with me into my normal life. I wanted to change the way I work and commit to habits that would sustain me over the long-term, especially as I prepare to launch and promote my book next year.

Double Rainbow from White Lotus

By my second day back I was feeling semi totally panicked about how much I had on my plate. I felt like I was sinking faster by the minute in productivity quicksand. Every day I woke up earlier to start working, but every day I ended farther behind. Balancing a full plate at work, the final-final-final edits of my book and drama over the cover (it goes to press any day now) was wearing on me. Without my full emotional faculties, every text message, phone call, email request and social commitment that piled up felt increasingly suffocating.

By last Friday, I was a total wreck. A hot, hot mess. Case in point: I made myself my first coffee in a loooong time so that I could survive the afternoon slump, then ended up spilling it all over the table five minutes before starting to deliver a three-hour training, eyes still red and puffy from crying hysterically that morning as I was getting dressed for work. Feeling guilty but in survival mode, I regretfully cancelled all weekend plans (again) so I could try to get my life in order (again).

I'm not trying to be dramatic - I know that people have it so much worse than I do. I am ridiculously lucky to have the problems I have (and the unwavering support of my friends and blogger BFF Elisa). At the same time, I am determined to start solving these problems for myself and others who get overwhelmed by the big shoes they are trying to fill.

"Our culture has an excess of doing and a poverty of being" - Ganga White

People often tell me to stop doing so much, to slow down, or to go easy on myself. It sounds so easy. But that doesn't change the number of deadlines at work or with the book, or the number of email requests in my inbox. If I knew how to change the situation, I would. But somehow I keep ending up back here.

Here is my pattern (which may be blindingly obvious to long-time blog readers):

  1. Work too hard for too long.
  2. Get overwhelmed and resentful.
  3. Feel as though I've lost myself.
  4. Fall out of sleep and exercise habits that keep me happy and healthy.
  5. Get sick and/or break down.
  6. Force myself to slow down.
  7. Feel guilty about not being able to keep up with all friends in all corners of the world.
  8. Gremlin tells me soon I won't even have friends (or blog readers) if I keep complaining about feeling overwhelmed and ditching everyone to go into "emergency mode." (Gremlin also kicks in to tell me not to publish this post because it's too Debbie Downer).
  9. Promise to change.
  10. Try my very best to actually change and put myself first...
  11. Fall back into old habits.
  12. Feel like I'm lacking the magic sanity-management skillset that others seem to have.
  13. Repeat steps 1-12.

I feel compelled to quote Ganga's wise words once more. This is what I would like to strive for instead of the pattern above:

White Lotus from a pond on-siteSit under the stars with a quiet mind and no goal. Be attentive to all things in life. Honor yourself. Laugh at yourself. Listen to the voice of your own body. Carry joy and light on your path. Listen to the wise, but always question. Truth and love are simple and ever present. —Ganga White, Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice

Even though the first week back was rough, all was not lost.

Here are some positive changes I have made:

  • I've gone coffee free (in an effort to get my natural energy back) - I've only had coffee once in two months (to give me a boost for my 5-hour drive back from Santa Barbara). I started cold turkey when I did the Clean Program cleanse about a month ago, and have been really focusing on letting my body return to it's natural energy rhythms. It feels great - I can already tell I am way less tired in the afternoons.
  • I have been eating mostly vegetarian, and significantly reduced my dairy intake. This change was inspired by White Lotus where we ate delicious vegetarian meals every day and watched Food, Inc. (an incredibly powerful and shocking movie from Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation). I also recently read and was encouraged by Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. His core principle: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Pollan has two other great books worth checking out: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto and The Omnivore's Dilemma.
  • On my first day back, I gave away my TV (for free!) - I knew it was now or never -- and was curious to see if I could survive without a TV...another seemingly impossible feat. I figure without TV I will be more likely to read, write and think -- all things I could definitely use more of. If I were smarter I would have waited until after football season, but hey -- this might also encourage me to actually leave the house!
  • Taught my first (private) yoga class - I am excited about finishing my certification, which means teaching 20 group classes and 5 private sessions (I'll gladly take volunteers if you're in the area!). I successfully fumbled through teaching my first class last weekend, and I know it will only get easier from here. I also really want to make time for my own yoga practice every day - even if it's only 10 minutes. Now if only I could figure out what my recurring dream/nightmare about teaching an unruly yoga class means (twice now I've dreamed about teaching a class that rebels and stops paying attention to me).
  • Created an "essential self" sanctuary - this is the change I am most excited about. While at training I found myself longing for a dedicated yoga space. In an "aha moment" I realized that I've used my dining room about once in the last year. I never cook and I never work at the table, so it seems ridiculous to have a whole corner of my house go unused 99% of the time. So on my first day back I spent the whole day re-decorating to create a yoga/reading room with books, magazines, candles and all kinds of zen paraphernalia. I also bought a gratitude journal to keep in there -- before leaving the room, I make a point to write something in it.

BEFORE (the dining room I never used) . . . and AFTER (the yoga zen room!):

BEFORE: The dining room I never used.After - The Yoga Zen Room!

All of the great art on the wall is my dad's - online portfolio here.


My friend Julie is writing a book on this very subject - navigating work in a 24/7 world. We would both love to hear from you:

What is your biggest challenge in managing your work in the global, digital age? What related problem/s would you want help solving?