Toward a Life Well Led
Past columns have discussed two keys to a life well
led. In one, I argued that status is a false God:
that status-seeking--whether in choosing a career
or buying possessions--often leads to an
unfulfilling life. People who have modest material
aspirations and choose less money-centric careers
are often more content.
In another column, I spoke of procrastination as
career cancer, indeed life cancer. Key to a life
well led is recognizing that youll be happier
if you look for opportunities to work rather than
ways to avoid work.
In this column, Ill discuss three other
practices toward a life well led.
How you address problems. When faced with an
important decision, many people think, think, and
think some more. Usually, they end up thinking
themselves into analysis paralysis. Theyre
scared to ask for help, and if they do, they
struggle to make even one phone call because
theyre filled with undue fear of imposing or
You take a big step toward a life well led if
you use the following approach to addressing
1. Think for just a short time.
2. They try somethingideally something
entailing little risk or time. For example, if
youre thinking about becoming a nurse, Google
around, only reading truly on-target web pages. Do
not at all be afraid to cold-call nurses to learn
more about the profession. Even if you might sound
awkward, your honorable intent will still come
through. And dont worry about imposing
because you know that most people like to be
helpful and if not, the person can say no. You
should simply call the Kaiser switchboard and ask
to speak with a med-surg nurse, an ICU nurse, an
OB-GYN nurse, or all of the above. Another example:
if you were thinking of starting a business selling
knockoff designer eyeglass frames to optometrists,
take that first low-risk step: ask manufacturers
for samples and pricing.
3. If such a quick, low-risk step succeeds, keep
moving forward with other quick, minimally risky
steps. If a step produces a negative result, go
back and think--only for a bit--and then try
4. Throughout, enjoy the process of taking each
step: the treasure hunt of scouting for
information, the pleasure of having interesting
interactions with new people.
How you invest. The price of a stock is the
entire worlds best estimate of what that
stock is worth. Unless you have inside information,
you are highly unlikely to better assess whether a
stock is a bargain or a rip-off at that price. So,
dont try to pick stocks. Instead, consider
putting the stock/bond part of your investments
into index fundsa market basket of stocks.
For example, an S&P 500 Index Fund invests in
all the stocks in the S&P 500500 major
companies. Index funds provide diversification,
risk control, and low fees. Vanguard (vanguard.com)
offers an S&P 500 Index Fund and many other
highly regarded index funds.
Nor should you try to time the marketthe
worlds greatest financial minds have been
unable to. If you try to time the market,
psychology is such that you usually buy when the
stock is high and sell when its low. So, as
soon as you have money to invest, invest it
immediately. That avoids the psychology problem and
puts your money to work for you immediately.
Even though real estate has done very well in
the past, realize that it may or may not do well in
the future. What is certain is that a real estate
investment is time consuming: buying, fixing,
managing, and selling. So, especially today, when
the average Bay Area home costs much more than even
a person earning $150,000 a year can afford, be
cautious about investing in real estate.
Avoid playing victim. My father spent years in a
Nazi concentration camp and after the war was
dumped in the Bronx without any family, money,
education, nor speaking a word of English. One day
I asked him, Dad, when you talk about the
Holocaust, you never sound bitter. He
replied, The Nazis took five years of my
life. I wont give them one minute more. Never
look back. Always look forward.
Too many people in the Bay Area spend a lot of
time looking back, blaming their present problems
on their parents, their spouse, past racism,
sexism, homophobia, etc.
Advice Id Give My Child
Dont look back. Look forward.
© 2007, Marty
* * *
Nemko holds a PhD from the University of
California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in
Berkeleys Graduate School of Education. He is
the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco
Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With
Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in
(NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on
400+ of his published writings are available free
on that website and is a co-editor of
Careers for Dummies.
and author of The All-in-One College Guide.
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