How to Juggle Multiple Careers

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 31, 2007
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On a particularly busy day last week, I did all the usual waking-up stuff, worked five straight hours on a review collating project for a Boston-based publisher, and then took a bus into the city, where I freelance nights at a daily newspaper downtown. In between proofing copy, I checked my e-mail account for my web mag internship, to see if I had received additional responses for a column I was putting together. I eventually made my way home and, unable to turn my brain off right away, did crossword puzzles till I passed out.

My husband accuses me of having no focus. I keep telling him that I have no interest in focusing on one thing. That only makes me bored and fidgety.

The other week, I picked up a book that put, quite eloquently, into words what I had been trying desperately to express to my husband. One Person/Multiple Careers, by Marci Alboher, is about those who balance multiple careers (totally on purpose), and how they do it without going off the deep end.

Appropriately enough, Alboher starts off with beginnings. Specifically, “having a slash career requires being comfortable with beginnings,” as the switching to or adding on of new career paths may require you to start from the very bottom all over again, or embark on a new sort of hands-on education.

New beginnings excite me. If they excite you as well, there should be no problem with making the leap.

Alboher goes on from here to talk about:

  • using previous experiences to get ahead in your additional career (“contacts and knowledge from one career can give you a leg up as you build another”)
  •  the four slashes that can be applied to most any area of interest: “writing, teaching, speaking, and consulting — the black pants of the slash wardrobe.” For example, if you happen to have a slight obsession with self-help manuals, you can:
  1. become a book reviewer
  2. start up a blog
  3. pitch self-improvement stories to all your favorite glossies
  4. teach a class on your favorite source of self-improvement
  5. become a motivational speaker
  6. become a life coach
  7. etc.
  •  owning your new identity, even if you feel like a neophyte (“Tell everyone you’re a writer,” one of Alboher’s subjects advised. “I mean everyone you know, everyone you meet, and everyone who asks what you do. Pretty soon it’ll be true.”)
  • marketing platforms, such as the needs for multiple resumes, web sites, and business cards depending on how closely your various careers are related to each other
  • connections among your slashes; they can give you an edge when/if they add a dimension to your experience that others in the field don’t have
  • finding slash-friendly employers, where you can negotiate flex time, sabbaticals, telecommuting, and other alternative work arrangements
  • juggling your multiple slashes without burning out: As one subject said, “Basically, I know how to say no and I do it any time something would upset the equilibrium of life.”
  • parenting as a slash
  • and more. Much more, really.

Reading this book got me retardedly excited, thinking of all the things I could do now that I had left cubicle-world behind. In fact, I recently wrote a post about it on my personal blog, in which I started frantically listing all the things I wanted to do, such as working at a small press again, in an editorial capacity; becoming a celebrant; starting a reading series; or volunteering with Girls Write Now.

“…why do slashes seem more satisfied with their careers — and less oppressed by them — than those who hold just one job?” Alboher asks. And for me, it’s because I can’t stand being still…I’m constantly interested in learning…I’m interested in so many damn different things…

My schedule has caused problems at home, as I haven’t yet mastered the art of the work/life balance. I rarely eat regular meals, never work out, have erratic sleep times, and don’t have a heckuvalot of time for my husband (or friends or family; I’m sure mom will be thrilled when she hears I’ve volunteered to work on Thanksgiving). But I’m working on it. Career is just too much a part of my identity to push aside.

“I used to think it was all about boundaries — about turning off the cell phone, leaving work at the office, and making time for vacations. I now think it’s just the opposite, that it’s not about respecting boundaries at all, but rather about letting your various vocations and identities commingle so that it’s sometimes hard to tell when your working and when you’re just living.”

This is the goal for me: to have working and living become so similar as to be indistinguishable.

This book is worth picking up if you feel the same.


How to Make the Most of Monday

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 22, 2007
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monday morning.

I’ve never really loathed Mondays as much as others do. Sundays always got to me more, with their miserable promise of the Monday to come. Still, as an enduring symbol of misery for most, it makes sense that David Cottrell has created a self-help publishing empire based partially upon the dread of Mondays, with titles such as Monday Morning Mentoring and Monday Morning Communications.

It was Monday Morning Choices that eventually made its way across my desk and, despite an initial sense of scorn for its feel-good, pop-psych title (yes, I am a book snob obsessed with self-help), I was soon won over. Reading like a collection of motivational posters, each chapter in Cottrell’s book focuses on a different strategy for life-changing positive thinking.

Though many of the lessons scattered throughout this book may seem of the no-duh sort, sometimes, it’s just nice to be reminded that:

  • You shouldn’t fall prey to a victim mentality. In the end, it’s your response to the events in your life that determine the ultimate outcome. In short, stop whining and take some action.
  • You shouldn’t waste too much time thinking about what you want to do, or someday will never come. I will invariably set myself down beside my husband, a wistful look in my eye, and say “I need to take an online photography course” or “I need to start up that blog of mine so I can begin my journey toward world media domination.” He always cuts me short. “Stop talking about it and just do it,” he’ll snap, sounding for all the world like a Nike advertisement, except more impatient than inspirational.
  • If you’re truly dedicated to a cause or goal, you shouldn’t let the minor setbacks throw you off course. Rather, you should take this golden opportunity to learn from your mistakes and, for the love of god, never commit the same ones again.
  • Creating a network of like-minded folk will always pay off in the end. Whenever I attend a networking event, I’m put off by the people who so quickly lose interest in a conversation once they realize you have nothing to immediately offer them. The scent of desperation lingers over them, and they often come off as real-world versions of Internet spam. When you build up a personal or professional network, it’s only a matter of time before you both get the chance to help each other. And in the meantime, it’s nice to have someone else to commiserate and bullshit with.

This book pubs in the new year. Grab yourself a copy then, if only to have it handy when you need a quick hit of inspiration.

How to Manage Your Depression

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 19, 2007
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me & my meds.

I don’t want to be a downer, but.

I’d like to post on a book — Is it Me or My Meds? — that did a really excellent job of putting into words the things I was thinking and feeling as I finally made the leap into SSRI-user. Both it and my experiences have helped make clear for me that yes, depression is not something that can be cured, but only managed.

I had been leery, for years, of going on medication for my depression and anxiety, and had stuck with a diet of regular talk therapy. Finally, Dr. Jill (shrink # 4) convinced me that I should give the meds a try. She sent me to a psychopharmacologist she knew (whose office I have forever after referred to as the Fifth Avenue Crack House, as Elizabeth Wurtzel once did in her own writing) and I was prescribed a very small dosage of Lexapro.

It was only 5 mg., but I felt an instant change within myself. A sense of balance. It was obvious, and obviously caused by the meds.

Still, after months went by, I started forgetting my initial, drastic transformation and starting thinking that a.) maybe I was cured, or b.) my sanity had actually been restored by situational elements in my life. So I stopped popping the pills.

I inevitably had a dramatic emotional crash, and went back on. This happened several times. And the changes were obvious to all around me. Whenever I’m cranky now, I inevitably hear, “Are you still taking your Lexapro…?” Sometimes my dad says to my mom: “Okay, you hold her down and I’ll shove the happy pills in her mouth.”

It’s a source of hilarity for us all.

I’m pretty regular with them at the moment. But when I was going through that back and forth, I picked up this book at a professional conference…APA or APsA or some such thing…and felt instantly understood.

The author, David A. Karp, writes of his self-experimentation in weaning himself off his medication, and then introduces the stories and words and experiences of others, those masses of people who are feeling exactly how I’m feeling…and perhaps how you’re feeling too, if you’re waffling on the SSRI issue. A persistent and across-the-board sentiment:

“I shouldn’t have to take a pill to be happy. I should be able to be happy without medicine.”

Of course, not everything about medication is wine and roses and sprinkles and rubbing your kitty cat’s belly when he’s trying to take a nap. There are those who find it difficult to accept the fact that they may be taking anti-depressants for the duration of their life. Others who can’t find one that keeps on working after long periods of time. The endless interior search for an authentic identity…for example, is “one’s ‘true’ self revealed or obscured by the pills one takes[?]”

In the end, this book doesn’t give any definitive answers but, much like the ever-popular Quarterlife Crisis, it provides what I suppose could be considered a book version of a support group…and the relief one gets when realizing they’re not alone.

P.S. Of course, I still have that love/hate relationship with my meds, and by no means believe it’s the only or best way to boost your mental stability (depending upon levels of emotional difficulties and whatnot). Other things I use to keep my mood up (which may or may not be ideal):

  • snuggling my cats


  • belly dancing
  • making cotton candy
  • talk therapy
  • throwing myself into my career
  • seeing my buds (rather than hiding from the world, as I sometimes have the inclination to do)
  • singing (in the shower…in church…wherever…)
  • etc. (like, it’s sorta gloomy outside right now and i’m feeling too affected by it to overtax my brain right now)

How to be Queen…For a Lifetime

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 17, 2007


The end of October is slowly creeping our way, and I just ordered myself 50 LED blinkies, which I plan on pinning one by one onto a skirt of mine in order to complete the transformation from mere muggle to firefly. This may seem slightly ridiculous, but I’m a huge fan of costumery. Dressing up gives me the chance to embody an entirely different persona, one I’ve perhaps always wished to embody in my day-to-day, but have been unable to because of sheer wussiness.

Dude. I wish I could do this every day.

A completely genius group of women, known as the Sweet Potato Queens, actually do do this every day, and their enduring queenliness stands as a testament to their willpower and admirable sass.

About five years ago, my best college buddy, a girl from Alabama, introduced me to the holy grail ofwomanly southern humor — The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love. Therein, I was introduced to the women who became known as the Sweet Potato Queens, purely of their own volition. The story goes thusly:

Once upon a time, a bevy of beauties in Jackson, Mississippi took it upon themselves to dress up for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They donned green gowns and lush red wigs, and lobbed actual sweet potatoes at the cheering crowd! They were such a hit that they came to adopt these alternate personae as a new way of life. There are now a plethora of copycat groups around the country. And who can blame these wannabe queens!? I learned some of the most important lessons of my life from Jill Conner Browne and the SPQs. Some gems:

  • “Be particular.”
  • “…always shave your legs.”
  • “…always wear pretty underwear on account of you just never know.” (It’s too bad that all I own anymore are granny panties.)
  • “Never Wear Panties to a Party.”
  • On vibrators: “That one of the greatest boons to womankind was actually invented to make life easier for men is okay by us.” (Amen.)
  • “Any failure on our part to know and do the right thing is no reflection on us, personally, even if we happen to be fifty-five years old and our mamas have been dead for thirty years at least. No, if we commit some unspeakable social faux pas…the blame for it will be places at the door of our mamas.” (This is just amazing, mainly because of how insightful it is.)
  • “Treat ’em like shit and never give ’em any.” (This is in reference to romantic relationships and, as counterintuitive as it may seem, I must admit that the guys in my life who have been the most persistent are the ones I’ve tried most desperately to dodge and scare off.)

I feel wary of going into any great detail here, or placing into context any of the lines quoted above. I mean, this book just can’t be described in a way that does it any sort of justice. What you have to do is just read it through yourself while at the same time imagining every word pronounced in a thick, southern accent. I mean, that just makes it a trillion times better.

What I can say is that, at the heart of things, beyond the shits and giggles the SPQs provide in this book, it becomes clear that you can become anything you damn well please, purely by the magical power of attitude (and these ladies have it in spades).

Before I go, I need to tell you about my most favorite part ever of this book, and the number one reason you have to check it out. In Chapter 12, Browne presents “What to Eat When Tragedy Strikes.” And as she explains it:

All tragedy is relative, of course. It could be anything from a car or plumbing failure to the death of the only woman in the world who has ever been able to give you a really great haircut. If you’re in any way upset by something — it’s a tragedy.

And then the first recipe she presents is…Chocolate Stuff.

God, I feel like I should be putting those words in a 10-foot-high, flourishy font.

Thing is, during our college years, whenever me & my buddy were feeling a bit…emotional…we would whip up a batch of chocolate stuff and then maybe watch When Harry Met Sally and cry while eating the chocolatey concoction with spoons, on the floor, straight out of the pan, and everything would just be better. It was like a mix of brownies and chocolate pudding and nothing I’ve had before or since has been quite so magical. Please. God. Make it. You’ll see.

(p.s. The SPQs have a number of books out now, among them The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook, which also includes Chocolate Stuff, in addition to a number of other unhealthy recipes that do their part in balancing cravings for the sweet and the salty.)

So yes. I’m going to be a firefly this holiday season, but I aim to be a queen every other day.

How to Escape the Seven Circles of Cubicle Hell

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 10, 2007
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mike c.

If you could judge the usefulness of the books on my bookshelf by how many pages in each are dog-eared, this one has a score of 22 (I just counted). Though the freelance life was something I had dreamed about for quite some time, being able to reach that dream had always seemed too daunting and super-impossible. Then I saw Michelle Goodman’s The Anti 9 to 5 Guide in the Career section of B&N, and my awesome-self-help radar started twitching.

Now look at me. I have large amounts of credit card debt, my interest rate is astronomical, and my husband worries that I will drag him down with me into the depths of bankruptcy!

Yet I’m happy.

Before I go on, let me point out that I did not follow the author’s very first bit of advice. I did not build up a monetary cushion before making the leap into self-employment. I am far too impatient for such things.

But I did get going on the rest of the steps Goodman walks the reader through and, as a result, I now spend my lunch breaks three days a week wandering Soho with a strange grin on my face, thinking of how lucky I am to be…where I am. The rest of my days, when I’m spending my mornings and afternoons at home, I use my lunch break to become more intimate with the inner workings of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway. Life has never been so rich.

Please please please buy this book if you are at all interested in making your moolah in an unconventional way. Let me walk you through the steps I took:

  1. Get Your Social Network On
  • Create or update a profile that includes your work history on LinkedIn or another social network. (I think I must be on just about every online social network that exists. Check me out on Tribe, StumbleUpon, Flickr, LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook. God, I’m sure I’m missing something here. I left out a few that I haven’t updated in awhile.)
  • Call your friend the resume queen to help you update your resume in exchange for a six-pack. (In my case, the resume queen is my husband [sorry honey!] and I totally stole his entire resume format and stuff. I didn’t give him anything in return, unless you count the pleasure of my company…for all eternity!)
  • Get business cards made (if you don’t already have up-to-date ones). (I always get my business cards done through VistaPrint, which is awesomely cheap. Which is important, especially when you’re starting out. You can choose from one of the pre-made designs, or design your own.)
  • Update your resume or portfolio on your website or blog (if you have either). (Voila!) (Except that it totally needs to be updated again.)
  • Select three networking events to attend in the next two months. (In addition to classes and workshops, which I find to be a great opportunity for networking with like-minded folks and generous professors, I tend to attend the MediaBistro cocktail parties here in NYC. When interviewing at a staffing agency the other day — for the purpose of obtaining some additional freelance proofing work –I found out about a Jersey-based group that has monthly events as well! Troll the websites of your local professional organizations to fid events near you.)
  • Aaaaand, I never got past stage one. A contact I had made through a writing class forwarded a job ad my way, and I got myself a freelance nighttime proofreading gig that provided enough hours and income to allow me to resign from my full-time job. Since then, I’ve also signed on for a web magazine internship and have several other freelance projects coming my way via former colleagues and old friends. (Remember, everyone is a possible career contact. For the love of god, network the hell out of yourself with every damn person you come across, including your mom. My mom got me my first job out of college through a lady in our exercise class.)

I still refer to Goodman’s book, however, when I’m feeling nervous or lost or in danger of having to go full-time again (god forbid). She goes into detail on informational interviews, patchwork paychecks, “pimp[ing] your personal office,” business plans, flex time, and more.

Goodman actually has a blog associated with her Guide, so be sure to check that out, as well as the book itself.

And just so you know, it could be a rough road ahead, but it will all be worth it in the end. Lately, this is the only view I get of my husband:

michael sleeping.

but someday, after lots and lots of work, we will surely find ourselves miraculously awake at the same exact time.

How inspirational is that!?

How to Achieve Financial Independence

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on October 8, 2007
Tags: , , ,

debt.There can sometimes come a point — every few years in my case — where you suddenly realize that your credit card balance is unmanageable and insurmountable…your interest rate, criminal…your goose, cooked.

It has happened twice before in my case and, both times (I’m incredibly ashamed to admit), my parents and grandfather have bailed me out. Well, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. I’ve since moved out, gotten married, and racked up more debt than I ever have before. Having recently resigned from a full time job to pursue the freelance lifestyle, I’m scared shitless.

I’m thinking it’s time to re-read Joe Dominguez’s & Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life. An oldie (1992) but still-relevant goodie, the authors of this volume have lofty aims: to guide their readers on an intensive quest for financial independence while simultaneously changing their materialistic mindset and, eventually, their entire lifestyle.

I must admit, upon my first read of this book, I skipped step one, went staight to step two, and then fizzled out. Because, when it came down to it, I couldn’t decide on a higher priority: less anxiety over my finances or, um, having pretty things.

To quickly gloss over the steps, you should be finding out how much you’ve earned over the course of your life; keeping track of the money that come in and goes out; and figuring out the levels of life fulfillment you’re experiencing in relation to the money you’re making/spending and the hours you’re putting in.

This last is a topic that especially interests me. For the past few years, I worked a 35-hour-a-week marketing job at which I became more and more miserable. For a variety of reasons, I found myself dreading my day-to-day. I was also wiped out from both the commute and feelings of demoralization and, as a result, was not devoting enough time to my own interests. Despite a good rapport with the majority of my colleagues, I think it’s safe to say that the money I was making was not enough to justify what I was putting myself through.

Since resigning, I’ve been working over 40 on-site hours a week at several places, and also putting in additional hours at home with whatever freelance work comes my way. My schedule is hectic as all heck. I never see my husband. I sort of miss my mommy as well. But, for the first time, it all feels worth it.

Now if only I could get my finances in order.

So it looks like I’ll be reading this one again.  This time I solemnly swear to:

  • make a thorough sweep through my past statements of earnings, income tax returns, checkbook records, bankbooks, and more in order to get a spot-on picture of the amount of money I’ve earned over my lifetime, and (somewhat depressingly), what has become of it.
  • painstakingly track all of my monetary transactions, simultaneously figuring out the amount of life energy I’ve spent on each.
  • determine my main spending categories, and take a good, hard look at how important those categories really are to me.
  • and, um, become magically responsible.
  • I mean, follow the rest of the nine steps in this book, and eventually achieve financial independence.

Do I hafta give up my self-help book habit?

How to Write with Vitality

Posted in Uncategorized by Steph Auteri on October 4, 2007
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dictionary page.

So my buddy Charlotte, knowing that I’m a total word-nerd, gave me this copy of Arthur Plotnik’s Spunk & Bite that she received through YPG. An obvious play on Strunk & White, the subheading averred that it was “A writer’s guide to bold, contemporary style,” and a flip through the TOC promised chapters on adverbs, thesauri, foreign languages, hyper-hyphenation, semicolons, ohgod I’m getting excited all over again just listing all the stuff in this book.

Now, before I go on, I should mention that the only topic on my bookshelf that beats out the sex stuff (it’s my niche, sort of) is the writing how-to section. Stephen King’s On Writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees. The Art of the Interview. The New New Journalism. I could go on and on.

And on.

But I never got into those books on grammar and all the other nitty-gritty technicalities. Spunk & Bite, however, is not your typical tome on usage and composition. Rather, it turns Strunk & White on its ear and urges the burgeoning writer to take chances with his or her prose, experimenting with word combinations, enallage, and the like, basically encouraging one to play god with the english language.

Some of my favorite suggestions, many of which I already use in my own writing:

  • Collect words as you would coins. Or comic books. Or those shot glasses from your college days. Being able to infuse your writing with widely unfamiliar language can give it an extra spark. Some of the gorgeous words that Arthur Plotnik lays out for us are “solipsistic”; “purled”; “coruscating”; and “darkling.” They’re the types of words you want to whisper aloud over and over, wrapping your tongue around them…letting the deliciousness of those round vowels and rough consonants reverberate on the air.
  • Upgrade your colors. Alain de Botton writes of, “…a counter spread with hams as brown as violins.” GaryShteyngart writes of, “T-shirts of…narcolepsy gray…” Metaphors like these help the vision of a color hover before the reader’s very eyes.The word “saffron” makes the color yellow seem that much more beautiful. And I love the word”claret” in place of “red.”
  • Create neologisms — new words or word combinations. I like to think that, as writers, we are given license to invent to new words whenever we damn well please.
  • Even more coveted than my thesaurus is my English-Italian dictionary. As a student of the language for five years (admittedly, I can’t even put together a sentence at this point), what I loved most were the rolling”r”s and skipping “l”s and I would get all nerd-excited whenever my prof asked me to read aloud a passage in class (because, of course, I could pull off the best accent, with the most perfect pronunciation; we’ll overlook the fact that friends laugh at my gusto with the language when ordering in Italian restaurants). La melanzana. Il pomodoro. Parlo un poco d’Italiano. Gosh, it just sounds pretty. Who in heck even cares what it means!?
  • Enallage is pretty popular these days. It’s when you shift the functions of nouns, adjectives, and verbs to to give a word new punch and meaning. A popular example is “I heart New York,” in which the word “heart,” which is typically used as a noun, is being used as a verb.
  • Ooh! Hyper-hyphenation. I used it before when I created the word “nerd-excited.” I use it all the time, actually, and it’s probably a bit overkill, but it can sometimes add a bit of pizzazz to your writing. That and it’s fun.

That’s all I’m gonna give you, but I highly suggest that you pick up your own copy of the book to get some more wordplay ideas. Because I’m keeping mine. As Plotnik writes, “charge like some mad lepidopterist through the meadows of language — every kind of meadow — and net the butterflies, let them loose in your pages.”

p.s. Some books I’ve added to the ol’ wishlist, recommended by Plotnik:

  • Mark McCutcheon’s Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary
  • David Grambs’s The Describer’s Dictionary: A Treasury of Terms and Literary Quotations

At the moment, I only own the M-W Garfield dictionary. Perhaps it’s time for an upgrade.

p.p.s. Bonus pic of my hubby showing his dictionary some love! (obviously, I should get a photography how-to as well)

dictionary love.