Confidence is Doing.
Lessons from a Cheater

infinate recognition

In high school, my friend Seth figured out how to work the system to his advantage. We attended a large public school where we, as students, had little control over our own fates. We were given a schedule of classes each semester that was more or less written in stone. The programming office would refuse any changes other than clear and blatant errors. Seth, however, took matters into his own hands. Each semester, he would volunteer for the programming office for a few days. In exchange, he’d gain the power to alter his own schedule. He’d pick classes with the best teachers and with friends, and give himself first period off. Sometimes he’d do favors for friends (and especially for the girl he was interested in).

Despite sometimes benefiting from Seth’s maneuvering, it infuriated me. It felt like cheating. I was angry that he was above the rules that governed the rest of us. At the time, I only thought of it as an irritating, and perhaps arrogant, side of his personality. It is only with quite a bit more perspective and life experience that I recognize Seth’s maneuvering as instructive on how to find the ways through and around obstacles– a lesson in confidence. (read more…)

Tough Cookie
Wrestling with Likability

Lee Miller by Man Ray

Three things I was called at work recently in the span of a week: “Tough cookie,” “taskmaster,” “slave driver.”

I have warm and respectful relationships with the colleagues who said these things, actually, and know they weren’t trying to hurt or offend me, but the names chafed. They seemed so negative, and not at all consistent with how I think of myself in my personal or professional life. I told my friend and co-worker Rebecca – someone who also might be called something like “tough cookie” – who tried to cheer me by saying that they all reflected positive attributes and was sure they were meant as compliments, even if they felt backhanded. “You’re organized, and you have high standards, and you keep people on task,” she told me, “and that’s great!” (read more…)

So I didn’t go to Princeton, OK?

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The summer before I went to college, my friend Kristi and I managed our own lawn mowing business in our home town of Billings, Montana. Basically our “job” entailed mowing lawns in the morning, and then drinking pops and sun tanning down by the river in the afternoon. I loved mowing lawns– that is, I loved it until our customers asked the dreaded question. I would wait for it, eager to get it out of the way.

“So, what college are you going to?”
“Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota,” I would blurt out as fast as I could, trying to get it in before Kristi could say… “Princeton.” (read more…)

Trial by Ice: Two Years Alone in a Cabin in Maine

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I am not sure I know why I went to live all alone in a small cabin in the Maine woods in 1972, when I was 22 or 23. Maybe it was some sort of a delayed rite of passage.

I recall that I felt like I did not have much practical knowledge after growing up in a household in Nyack, NY where my businessman father introduced me to sports like baseball, sailing and skiing. But since he was neither an athlete, and had never sailed or skied before trying to teach me, these father-son outings were more often embarrassing than empowering during my high school years. I had four years of headiness at college and a stint teaching at a private boarding school in the mountains of northern California, but still no hands on experience, before deciding to move back East with a yellow Labrador, Jesse, in tow. (read more…)

Where Do Your Career Expectations Come From? Tackling My Mommy/Daddy Issues

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As a kid, I was mistaken for mature when really I was just obedient. I dutifully followed in my older sister’s footsteps. I was good at school, went to the same college, and assumed I was heading for an office job and a climb up a company ladder. There was always a lot of “work talk” in my home– all centered around pretty traditional business, where success was some type of recognizable prestige, be it leading a company or winning a Fulbright. Reinforced by much of society at-large, I never questioned these assumptions growing up.

(read more…)