How to Help Yourself

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 29, 2008

beth lisick.

A few weeks ago, I popped over to the Barnes & Noble near my office to hear Beth Lisick read from her newest book, Helping Me Help Myself, in which she devoted each month of a year to a different somewhat-messy problem spot in her life. Lisick was delightfully entertaining, able to do a dead-on impression of Richard Simmons (she went on his Cruise to Lose), and she even had a sales rep from her publishing house do a bit of stand-up on her own obsession with self-help book. (Words of wisdom: “It’s okay to read a self-help book, but it’s not okay to read 100.”)

Because I’m one lucky duck, gave me the opportunity to interview Lisick for the site. Here’s what she had to say about the self-help industry and the people who so desperately need it.


How to Find More Time, Part Five — Possessions

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 24, 2008
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This past weekend, we finally packed up all of the Christmas decorations, so that our condo could be restored to normalcy. Only problem was…we were packing up more decorations than we had unpacked at the beginning of the season. And room is our storage space was getting slim, what with all the books I had piled up that I kept meaning to bring to the Montclair Book Center…and all the clothing I had stuffed into bags that I kept meaning to donate to charity…

Sometimes, it feels as if I’m drowning in clutter. And that’s what makes it so damn hard to find anything I do need when the situation calls for it (such as the gym membership pass I finally gave up looking for last night).


So we’ve already gone over Plans, Priorities, Personality, and Pests. Thank the lord that the next pillar in Laura Stack’s Find More Time is Possessions.

Some of the best tips from this chapter:

  • Devote each weekend to a different aspect of clutter. The plan Stack draws up for herself is closets on weekend one (and my pantry, hall closet, linen closet, and bedroom closet sure could use some tidying up); paper items on weekend two (such as magazines, catalogs, coupons, and receipts); reaing on weekend three (though her suggestion of getting rid of a niggling reading pile entirely horrifies me); correspondence on weekend four; storage on weekend five; and things that need fixing on weekend six.
  • For the love of god, keep your kitchen organized. This is a tough one for me, and she lists steps that should be taken, such as making frequently used items more prominent in placement; freeing up counter space; and throwing out what you know you won’t eat. I wonder what she’d say about all that junk mail spilling over on the kitchen table.
  • Set up an effective office space. One that doesn’t look like mine, with old books and sheet music and recycling in various piles on the floor, things strewn across the top of the desk, wires mixing it up where my feet go…

If you keep up with the first bullet point, everything should follow. So it looks like I’m going to need to roll up my sleeves and tackle my closet problems this weekend. I trust you’ll hold me accountable.

Next pillar: Paper.

The Infinite Wisdom of Others

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 23, 2008
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infinite wisdom.

Geez louise, I just added Ririan Project to my Google Reader last week,  and I’m already posting on a second guest post! Is this true love or what?

The latest post over on my new favorite blog was written by Lea Woodward of Project Woodward. The post itself is about ways to experience the benefits of traveling close to home.  Tips include taking up new hobbies, playing the tourist in your hometown, and learning a language. All fun suggestions, especially for someone who may not get the chance to travel so much.

Regarding the whole hometown-tourist idea, what would you include in a travel guide of your particular hometown? Aside from Osaka (my fave sushi place), I’m a bit stumped. Why do all of my suggestions always revolve around food? And why do all the fun things seem to be in the next town over? Oy.

The Infinite Wisdom of Others

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 22, 2008
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infinite wisdom.

Alex Shalman, guest blogging on Ririan Project, wrote an amazingly comprehensive post on 35 Sneaky Ways to Improve Your Finances. The list includes those obvious nuggets of wisdom, such as living beneath your means, but also contains specific little steps one can take to minimize the bills, such as selling what you don’t need, cutting down on meat, and weather-proofing your home.

Meanwhile, at Catalyst Blogger,  Jennifer participates in a meme in which she shares three tips on writing. She tags all of her readers, encouraging them to put up their own posts and link back to them in her comments. It’ll be interesting to see the wealth of information she collects.

What’s On My Bookshelf

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 21, 2008
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I’m sort of a reading fool, and sometimes I read books that I’d like to share with you, but which don’t necessarily warrant an entire post (usually because it’s either too specific or too general). This week, one of each:

  • What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants, by Laurie Lewis. As not all of my readers are as obsessed with the freelance life as I am, I figured What to Charge didn’t really warrant more than a quick mention. For those who are trying to build a freelance business, however, in any kind of field, this book is invaluable in helping you determine your rates, whether they’re hourly or you charge a flat fee.
  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. On the other end of the spectrum, The Four Agreements is incredibly simplistic and repetitive, distilling the whole of the self-help spectrum into its most basic ideas: the power of words; the benefits in not taking things personally; the danger in making assumptions; and the importance of always doing your best. I found Ruiz’s ideas on the origins of faith, and his concept of “domestication,” especially interesting. Definitely worth a read.

Happy reading!


Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 17, 2008
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If you’re in the NY area, and interested in the concept of test-driving your dream job, Brian Kurth of Vocation Vocations is appearing at the Paramount Hotel Mezzanine/Library Bar (235 W 46th Street) on Tuesday, January 22, 5:30-7 p.m.

I can’t make it, as I work till 6 p.m., and I’m supposed to be going to a networking event that evening, but I’d love to hear what it was like!

How to Switch Careers the Smart Way

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 17, 2008
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Back when I first graduated from college, I was feeling pretty aimless. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I had student loans and the credit-card-debt-of-the-truly-stylish to pay off.

(For further reference, I suggest you purchase an mp3 of the Avenue Q song, “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English?”)

After a couple months of sending resumes into the void, I got a job as editor for an environmental engineering firm through a lady in my callanetics class. While it paid well, I was miserable and, when I lost my job six months later, it was actually a relief. Finally! I had a chance to find the right job for me! One that wasn’t taken on out of pure desperation!

After seven months, however, of handing out caramel swirl iced latte samples at Dunkin’ Donuts, spending more than I was making doing nightlife reviews for Shecky’s, and burning through my unemployment checks at a rapid pace, I realized I had to try a different tactic. Hence the post-college internship.

My internship at the Feminist Press — a nonprofit book publisher housed in the CUNY Grad Center — was a revelation. I was in love with books already, fired up about the content, and even enjoying my menial temp duties. I felt that this was my dream career path, and I began to work out a hazy plan, in which I would eventually become an acquisitions editor.

A past FemPress intern eventually got me my editorial assistant job with an academic book publisher. I was pretty happy for the first six months, but began to feel I wasn’t comfortable moving upward, as I didn’t have a firm knowledge base in the subject area I was working on. When a marketing position opened up within my department, I jumped for it, as I had a passing interest in book publicity, based mainly on my love of lit events.

At first, I was exhilarated by how challenging this new position was for me, and I garnered several promotions/raises over a short period of time but, after awhile, I realized that this, also, was not the job for me. I had lost touch with my initial creative writing ambitions. In addition, I no longer wanted to handle communications with authors. Marketing was just not my thing. I longed to lead the full-time freelance life but, with a new mortgage to deal with, it just seemed impossible.

When I began to be depressed about my job, however, I knew I needed a plan. It took me about another six months, but I eventually found myself a freelance proofreading gig with part-time hours that would allow me to leave my full-time job, and afford me the extra time to work on my writing/pitching and even squeeze in a magazine internship! I began interning at Material Media three days a week, where I just loved the web magazine environment, and the intensity of staffers working on a project they believed in. I began writing pieces for the site, and also made valuable contacts for the future. When my internship ended this past Friday, I immediately started pitching story ideas to various publications, and have already gotten my first assignment.

The reason for this detailed story, which has grown ridiculously long? I wanted to illustrate for you the benefits of taking risks for eventual career happiness, and also of test-driving a career before committing yourself to a full-time job.

In much the same vein, Brian Kurth created Vocation Vacations, an organization that provides clients with the opportunity to test-drive a variety of careers via intense, short-term mentorships. (Yes, I thought this was an awesome idea as well.) The company launched in 2004 but, just recently, Kurth also published Test-Drive Your Dream Job.

Throughout the book, Kurth and co-writer Robin Simons provide a step-by-step guide to finding mentors on the way to one’s eventual dream job.

Some words of wisdom:

  • Pretend you’re a kid again. Do you remember your younger days, when you’d flip through magazines, cut out the images that appealed to you, and then paste them into a binder so as to remind yourself of the life you eventually wanted? Was that just me? Kurth suggests a somewhat similar exercise, by advising readers to create collages using images that appeal to them. In this way, one may be able to pinpoint what, exactly, it is one wants in a career.
  • Nurture your anger. Anger can actually spur one toward action. I know that I’ve been more liable to make a change when I’ve felt angry about something. It helps overcome the fear of leaving someplace familiar, or starting over again. So harness any negative feelings you may have and use them for the greater good.
  • “Are we going to die? If not, let’s do it!” This is a quote from the book, made by a woman replying to her husband’s money concerns. I think it’s a great way to keep perspective when considering all the possible negative outcomes of a risk.
  • If something is truly worth it, no obstacle is insurmountable.

    • “One day [Sandy] was talking with a friend who was lamenting her own career dissatisfaction and the many reasons she couldn’t change direction, and Sandy heard herself say, ‘Your problem is you just don’t want to give anything up to get there. It’s the “yeah, but” syndrome: “yeah, but I’ll have to work different hours; yeah, but I have credit card bills.” Well, you pay off your bills. And your job isn’t the end-all job.; if you really want to do something else you can give it up. It’s just easier to say you don’t know what you want to do than to take responsibility for what you have to do to get there.”

Kurth also gets into how to find and approach possible career mentors; how to decide whether or not a career is worth pursuing; what questions to ask your mentor about your dream career; and how to move forward with a career once you’ve made the decision that it’s the right one for you.

He also tackles the tough issues, such as what to do when your dream career isn’t everything you thought it would be, leaving you feeling directionless and shattered. Or how to talk things out with a family member who’s not feeling quite so psyched about all the risk associated with the career move you’re considering (“We have spouses and/or family members whose needs matter enormously, and we can’t just decide to run away and join our own personal circus”).

Are you feeling a bit…stagnant…in your present career? What types of dream careers do you have floating around inside your head? If you’ve already made a big change, how did you go about it? Were you scared? What did you learn about yourself in the end?

Was it all worth it?

How to Find More Time, Part Four — Pests

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 15, 2008
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Speaking of more time, my web mag internship just ended, so I will have significantly more time to devote to this blog.

I know. You don’t believe me. And I don’t blame you, but my schedule is now significantly more open and, thanks to Laura Stack’s Find More Time, I’m also tackling all of the other time-eaters in my life. Following on from the pillars for Plans, Priorities, and Personality, the fourth pillar is Pests.

Out of all the advice Stack gave in this chapter, the bits that really rang a bell with me were:

  • Go into hiding. When you can’t restrain yourself from socializing while “working,” (::waves to Google chat & txt msging::), it takes eons to get even one, simple thing done all the way through. Turn off the ringer on all your phones, shut down AIM & G-Chat, put up the Do Not Disturb sign, and sequester yourself with your work. The quicker you can get through your work uninterrupted, the more time you’ll have left over for fun-time.
  • Turn off the technology. In addition to forgoing the Internet and phones, don’t allow yourself to become distracted by America’s Next Top Model, or any of those other sources of quality television. Minesweeper is also bad news.
  • Be aware of all the other things you do to procrastinate. And then don’t do them. I went through the checklist in Stack’s book and found that I am distracted by television; hanging out around the refrigerator; checking e-mail as it comes in; surfing the Net; staying in bed too long; playing with the cats; taking naps; dealing with home deliveries; doing home chores while I should be working; running errands one at a time; and socializing. I am so bad!
  • Smother your sick husband when he’s asleep. Okay, just kidding. But it took me forever to write this one, little post because he’s home sick and, I swear, he’s even whinier than I am. He’s been quiet for the past few minutes. I’m going to cross my fingers that he stays that way (and that he didn’t pass away in his sleep or something).

The next pillar deals with Possessions.

The Infinite Wisdom of Others

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 8, 2008

infinite wisdom.

Luciano Passuello of of Litemind just posted an interesting bit on sending a time capsule to your future self.

In it, he speaks of the ability of time capsules to provide a startlingly accurate picture of how far you’ve come.

On the New Year, I posted briefly about the benefits of listing the past year’s accomplishments, rather than dwelling on resolutions that highlight your dissatisfaction with yourself.  To jog my memory, I looked through past blog entries, and flipped through my 2007 agenda.

But, as Luciano avers, memory is a persnickety thing, and it’s near impossible to accurately remember the things we were so  sure we would never forget.

His post gives a number of ideas on the form your time capsule could take, or the topics you should cover in your capsule.  In addition to these, there are sites out there — such as futureme — that have taken the time capsule to the next level, allowing users to type an e-mail to themselves and determine when it should eventually be sent to them.

Think about it. Read Luciano’s post and leave some comments: what would you most like to tell your future self about the person you are today?

How to Find More Time, Part Three — Personality

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on January 2, 2008
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I’d like to officially welcome you all back from the holidays. I tried to throw a few posts in there directly after xmas, but now we can really get back on track with finding more time (um, now that my schedule should finally be getting a whole lot less insane, but whatevs).

The next pillar in Laura Stack’s Find More Time is Personality. What this refers to are your regular habits, behaviors, and choices. Some of her oh-so-helpful advice:

  • Learn how to say no. Oh lordy, this is a tough one for me, and one I’ve only begun to move forward with (hence my proofing at the newspaper this past Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, instead of bonding with my family members, and singing five masses at Christmastime). Learn to set boundaries with others, and also with yourself. Don’t do things out of guilt. Do them because you truly need to or want to do them.
  • Delegate. Learn to swallow your pride and ask for help when you need it. You’re not conceding defeat by admitting that you need help, or by acknowledging that someone else may be able to handle the task at hand better than you.
  • No procrastinating! I like to tell myself that I do my best work when spurred on by pure, unadulterated fear, but seriously folks. The more niggling little tasks you have rotting in the back of your mind, the more stressed you’ll feel. Why do that to yourself when it would be so much easier and pleasurable to just cross that task off your to-do list for good? Speaking of lists, it feels damn good to cross stuff off of them.
  • Don’t multitask. Really. Sometimes, when you try to juggle several things at once, you end up finishing nothing. And the things you do finish may not be up to par, because they did not receive your full attention. It’s often best to concentrate on just one task, all the way through to its conclusion, before moving on.
  • Be positive. Accept responsibility for your own stress levels. Most of the time, it’s not about that darn streak of bad luck. It’s about the way you handled it. You can read more about this in one of my previous posts.
  • Stop trying to please all of the people all of the time. This has a heckuva lot to do with our first bullet point.

Previous posts in this series covered Plans and Priorities. Next stop: Pests.

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