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Improve the Right Kind of Skills (They Probably Aren’t What You Think)

Lesson: Improving “soft skills” can increase your value no matter what kind of career you have.

Hard skills are things you learned through technical or academic training: how to make architectural drawings with certain software, how to properly administer medication as a nurse, and so on.

Soft skills are just as important—if not more—but aren’t usually taught in school. To be more effective (and to become more valuable), spend time improving your soft skills in writing, negotiation, conflict management, and follow-up.

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When You Need to Escape, Build Your Own Countdown Clock

Before my dad packed up his cubicle and moved to a beachside office, he created a spreadsheet that displayed the number of days that remained until his retirement age.

It soon became a topic of dinner table conversation: “Hey, Dad, how much longer at the day job?” I’d ask. He’d respond with something like, “Oh, I don’t know exactly . . . well, I guess I do. Looks like I have 673 days and 4 hours to go.”

When you’re trying to escape a dead-end job or any other undesirable situation, create a calendar and count down the days to freedom.

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Hope, Expectations, and Winning the Lottery

" Most people know that the lottery is not a good investment plan. It’s not rational to invest large amounts of money in lottery tickets, because you’re almost certain to lose no matter how much cash you spend at the gas station or convenience store.

Buying a single lottery ticket or two, however, is actually quite rational. Most of us don’t play the lottery as an investment in anything other than dreaming. For a few minutes after you buy the ticket and before you scratch off the numbers, or maybe even for a few days if the winning numbers aren’t announced until later, you have the opportunity to walk around with a dream in your pocket.

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If Plan A Fails, Remember that You Have 25 Letters Left

alphabet *My brand-new book, Born for This, is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: Craft backup plans. They will allow you to take more risks and make better choices.

There’s no shame in having a plan B, or even plans C–Z. Use the “if this, then that” method to make a backup plan for every career choice, and then make a backup for the backup. If one strategy doesn’t work, move to the next.

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There’s No School for What You Need to Do

At one of the stops on my current tour, the bookstore host introduced me by saying in part “... and Chris earned a master’s degree in International Studies from the University of Washington.” It surprised me a little because no one else has ever mentioned that in any introduction that I can recall.

Sure, it’s public information, but who cares? No one reads my blog because I went to college. No one buys my books or comes to an event because I earned an advanced degree, or any degree for that matter.

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The Historian Who Couldn’t Escape from Alcatraz

In the introduction to one of the chapters of my new book, I wrote about escaping from Alcatraz. If you’re trying to get out of an unfulfilling job, it can sometimes feel just as difficult as getting out of prison. I used the Alcatraz story as a metaphor, but a reader who wants to remain anonymous passed on a story that I really liked. Here’s the story.

My uncle was a historian at the Maritime Museum in San Francisco. He gave me a tour of their private collection once, items that were too delicate for public display.

In a large metal drawer, he showed me the fake human heads made of soap that the escaped inmates had used to fool the nighttime guards. Can you imagine? Collecting the tiny end slivers of soap after a shower. Getting them back to your cell. Finally saving enough to create a head. They also made a makeshift drill out of hair clippers and a screw. You get really creative when you need to escape!

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The Answer in Your Inbox

AnswerInbox When you’re not sure what your “thing” is—when you don’t know quite where to look to find that job or career that brings you joy, flow, and a good income—the people you talk to every day can help you find it.

The answer may come from your inbox, whether that inbox consists of the actual emails you receive with the same questions over and over, your social media feeds, or just the conversations you have with your friends.

In other words, the people in your network may actually have a better sense of what your most marketable skills are than you do.

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Resign Your Job Every Year

*My brand-new book, Born for This, is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: Make a commitment to resign your job every year, unless your current job is the best one.

When you’re stuck in a rut or simply not sure if your current job is the best choice, here’s an idea: once a year, on the date of your choosing, commit to yourself that you will quit your job unless staying put is the best possible choice for you at this time.

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The Black Spot in the Painting

Consider a painting by one of the European masters. Somehow you’ve discovered this painting in your grandmother’s attic. It’s worth a fortune, or so say the appraisers who come to your house to inspect it.

They’re going to take it away for auction, but before they do, you insist on keeping it on your mantle for a month. Every day you look at it with pride. This painting has been in your family for centuries! Soon it will bring you wealth, but first it brings beauty and elegance to your living room.

The painting is spectacular, with thousands of careful brush strokes and just the right blend of colors. The artist had clearly spent decades mastering his craft. Of the dozens of his paintings that were still known to exist, you sense that this was one of his favorites.

Except for one thing. Just off-center, in the midst of perfection, lies a single black spot. The spot isn’t huge, but it’s not tiny either. When you look at the painting, there’s no missing it. How did it get there? Surely, you think, it was a rare mistake. Perhaps the painter was tired at the end of a long day and accidentally splashed a dash of black in the midst of all the color. Or maybe some well-meaning apprentice came along later to retouch the painting and ended up making a mess.

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Joy, Money, and Flow: The Three Qualities of Purposeful Work

*My brand-new book, Born for This, is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: There’s more than one possible path. Use the Joy-Money-Flow model to find the best one.

There are plenty of things you could do with your career, but the people who are most successful have found the perfect combination of joy, money, and flow. They’ve won the career lottery by finding this combination—and they don’t have to choose between their money and their life.

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“3 Encounters That Changed My Life”: How a Corporate Employee Gained a New Perspective through Travel

Clelia3 After enduring a life of “glamor and nonsense” (her words) for six years, Clelia Mattana decided to follow an inner calling and travel the world solo.

Imagine this typical scene on the London Underground: A business man reading a newspaper, a teenage boy damaging his eardrums listening to loud music on his headphones, a girl painting her nails while playing on her phone. They all regard conversation as a contagious disease.

When I was London, I was exactly like them — and I didn’t even know it until I started traveling. On the road, I learned that travel doesn’t necessarily make me a better person. We've all read touching stories on how traveling helps you find your true self, opens your mind, and changes you. This is certainly true some of the time, but I’ve learned that traveling can also bring out the worst parts of my personality.

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The Impact of Age on Happiness, Especially In Times of Crisis

New research reveals that situational happiness or sadness may relate partly to age.

"Long ago, when I was 30 and he was 66, the late Donald Richie, the greatest writer I have known, told me: 'Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.'

In my 50s, thinking back, his words strike me as exactly right. To no one’s surprise as much as my own, I have begun to feel again the sense of adventure that I recall from my 20s and 30s. I wake up thinking about the day ahead rather than the five decades past. Gratitude has returned."

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The 50-Mile Race vs. The Cliff Jump

Cliff Jump Imagine two scenarios that each require you to take on a monumental task.

In the first scenario, your task is to run a 50-mile race. You’re not quite out of shape, and you exercise regularly, but you’ve never ran anywhere close to that distance. It’s a daunting challenge, likely the most difficult physical activity of your life, and you haven’t even had breakfast yet.

Despite the tremendous challenge, you set off, determined to overcome the odds. You draw on whatever motivation you can muster. Maybe someone told you that you could never run a single mile, so you think of those comments as you place step over tired step on the ground, one foot in front of the other. Maybe you picture your arrival at the end of the race, with a crowd of supporters cheering your accomplishment.

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How Goals Change Over Time, and What to Do About It

The other day I was cleaning out my home office, and I found some old notes. The notes were from more than eight years ago before starting this blog. At the time I was planning to undergo some big changes and attempt a new career as a writer.

As I looked through the notes, I smiled in recognition of many of the items I’d listed so long ago. I’d been to about 70 countries then, and was officially beginning the quest to go to all of them (193/193). I achieved that goal almost three years ago.

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