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Posts Tagged ‘self-help’

Although I suspect that reading The Tightwad Gazette III is not going to reduce my monthly expenses by half, I did enjoy Amy Dacyczyn’s witty, unpretentious style and found her stories and tips inspiring and engaging. Because much of the issues discussed are still relevant, I almost forgot that her commentary and advice is from nearly two decades ago. Just then, I was jolted back to 2012 with one reader’s recommendation on thrifty communication.

Dear Amy,

Many people are using E-mail these days. They communicate through computers via Prodigy, AmericaOnline, or even free networks.

I don’t know if the fact that I am not really familiar either Prodigy or AmericaOnline indicates that I am ignorant or far too au courant.

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In the case of a purely instructional comic, particularly in the case of a behavioral or attitudinal piece, the specifics of the information are frequently overlarded with humor (exaggeration), to attract the reader’s attention, convey relevance, and set up visual analogies and recognizable life situations. This inserts ‘entertainment’ into a ‘technical work’.

Will Eisner in Comics and Sequential Art

Daniel H. Pink cleverly taps the comic’s potential to instruct and motivate in his The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, which he proclaims is The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. Pink uses a small cast of characters, comprising of Johnny Bunko himself – a young, bored, uninspired management trainee who, Pink insists, is a “lot like you and me…a good person basically” and a spiky-haired, supernatural career counselor, Diana. Joining them are Bunko’s various bosses and sidekicks, all splendidly multi-ethnic in a story that aims to impart career-related wisdom.

Using a manga-like medium (even though it doesn’t read back-to-front or right-to-left like traditional manga does), is certainly an ingenious approach to dispense career advice. Pink also keeps his counsel pleasantly succinct: six rules, no more. He uses a simple narrative to prove his point, that these six lessons are all one needs for a satisfying, successful career. His style is not fussy or pedantic, and the story serves to make the rules sticky.

Clever, certainly, but calling it ‘the last career guide you’ll ever need’ might be stretching it far too much. Although Pink has done a fairly good job of distilling  his career lessons into six short, simple rules, I don’t necessarily agree with all of them:

  • There is no plan
  • Think strengths, not weaknesses.
  • It’s not about you.
  • Persistence trumps talent.
  • Make excellent mistakes.
  • Leave an imprint.

While the rest may qualify as excellent career advice, I do have a problem with Pink’s very first rule – ‘there is no plan’. While I agree with the premise that life is complicated and unpredictable and that there is no real way to map it all out, and that it is better to do “what turns you on”, I don’t think that might be the best career advice for everyone. Pink, via Diana, urges us to ape what successful people do and how they think:

…they understand what you and your dad and your college advisor don’t.

While our dads and our college advisors may know less about us than ourselves, I’ve found that sometimes the unlikeliest people can make you have an ‘aha’ moment or point you in the right direction. ‘There is no plan’ is probably not the best way to summarize this piece of advice, which emphasizes that parents, teachers and counselors are often wrong, and might only lead to young people shutting their ears to all but their own ideas. Yes, you cannot map it all out, and there is no real way to know if you’ve taken the best path. So, don’t chose a path that you know you will loathe, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and talk to as many people as you can. And that, is a plan. Discover, network, converse. And modify your plan when and as you see fit.

In my experience, career advice is sometimes like fashion. It is exciting and new one season, and dated the next. When I was growing up, and looking for my first job (not all that long ago, actually), Pink’s advice would have been innovative and inspiring. I am talking about a time when we were urged to begin our resume with an Objective whose sole purpose was to announce what you wanted to do with your life. Most life aspirations sounded unoriginal, dull and insipid, something like ‘To gain knowledge and advance in my career’. We were also encouraged to stick with tried and tested routes that led to secure careers. Life has, since then, changed and so has the name of my hometown. Pink’s advice is hardly groundbreaking, but it is brief and pithy.

The plot is weak in places, but the characters and format are interesting enough that I’d recommend high schoolers and college students give it a try.

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Your Money Or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence is about just that, viewing money not as mere currency, but as Life Energy and learning to intelligently conserve this limited resource, achieve proportional fulfillment, and ultimately ‘retire’ when we still have some life left in us.

It certainly makes some good points, such as:

  • An unemployed person doesn’t have to feel worthless. Unemployment can well be a “time of learning and discovery.”
  • Unpaid activities should be honored and treated with “the same creativity, respect and attention that we give to paid employment.”
  • Life energy is precious and finite and much of it is invested in a job (paid employment). To truly value and cherish it (and be on the road to financial independence), one must seek the highest pay possible (that is, of course, consistent with one’s health and integrity).

While I happen to agree with all three notions, I sometimes wonder whether in our culture, that without doubt holds paid employment in very high regard and often relegates the ‘unemployed’ (whether by choice or not) to the status of second-class citizens, most such books that preach such truly important ideas are in fact aimed at those of us who dutifully play the part of paid professionals.

The books asks for diligent application of its 9 steps, including a monthly tabulation of income and expenses that opens our eyes to, now, just where is all my life-energy disappearing, and lets us sit up and take notice that that expensive spoon holder souvenir just cost us all of 64 minutes of our life. Now, in case of a couple, where the arrangement is that one works engages in paid employment, whereas the other engages in unpaid jobs, the sensible thing would be to treat the two as a unit, and plot a single earnings vs. expenses curve for the two of them. But if money is a symbol of our life’s energy that needs to cherished, valued, maximized and invested, what does the unemployed person have to show for it?

For those who don’t engage in it by choice, unemployment can certainly be a time of learning and discovery, as long as all that learning (well, at least some of it) can be eventually exchanged for the “highest pay consistent with your health and integrity”. (And by that I don’t mean that for those who are happy not to work for money, unemployment can be any less fulfilling.) And unpaid activities do deserve to be held in higher esteem than they are now. Maybe I missed something, but how is a 56-year old, ex-homemaker, currently without any means of supporting herself, going to be able to value her life-energy? By seeking the highest pay possible? In today’s climate where family ties are weakening and often uncertain, is the real message that unpaid employment is valuable only if it is also accompanied by paid employment?

As Roger Waters famously wrote:

Money, get away

Get a good job with more pay

And you’re OK.

Oh, I did find tremendous value in the book. But while transforming an individual’s relationship with money is hard in itself, money and family can be rather awkward bedfellows.

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