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Getting Ahead, Happily

Some advice for working and living well.

“Think of death every day, and be cheerful.” ~ Buddhist saying

You know, I’m not the smartest kid on the block, or even the wittiest or the best looking, but I am probably one of the most organized. It likely stems from my legal secretary work way back in the day. You could quickly get fired if you lost one important document, or misspelled a client’s name on a letter or court document. This training has helped me tremendously every day through the years.

But organization and attention to detail is a learnable habit that anyone can develop and practice until it becomes second nature. It will keep your desk clean, keep you on track, and keep you and your life in control. No matter how smart and talented you are (and really, can any of us control that?) you cancontrol your workflow and practice effective habits. This will have huge benefits for your productively and happiness.

I know several brilliant, talented people who can’t seem to get out of their own way because they just can’t get all their ducks in a row. Constantly tripping themselves up over some silly little thing a competent middle schooler could handle. Don’t be that person.

Keep your desk clean. Organize papers in folders and notebooks, or use a color-coded system — whatever works for you personally. Take care of things right away if possible, don’t let things pile up. Answer mail, email and phone calls promptly. Unclutter. Keep a calendar and use To Do lists, whatever system works for you. You will feel more in control of your life. And if there is ever some sudden emergency, you will be in a better position to handle it. Once I literally had only an hour to rush out of town to help a family member in an emergency. With only minutes to pack and get to the airport, I made it. Heart pounding, palms sweating, but I made it.

Your friends and colleagues will appreciate your professionalism. And you will get more done, in less time, and spend less lost time looking for that important piece of paper you last saw piled under a stack of unread magazines and old mail, stained with yesterday’s coffee.

Find role models to emulate. Study people you admire, and find out what qualities make them who they are. Note the cool, charismatic brilliance of President Obama. You may or may not agree with his politics, but you certainly have to admire his style. Observe Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of The Huffington Post. She’s an extremely hard worker, but is also warm, open and honest. These qualities have endeared her to many, and led to her success and accomplishments. We can be inspired by these and others we admire to work hard, be forthright and well spoken, and do our very best.

And stay positive. Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” You might as well think positive, everyone else in the room will give you any number of reasons why you can’t do something or be something. Be your own best cheerleader. But quietly, no one likes a braggart.

Of course take care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, and get your sleep as best you can. Keep your mind sharp by avoiding those funny cigarettes and excess drinking. You need all the pistons firing to be your very best. Your body is like a car, you have to maintain it and take care of it or it won’t go very far. You wouldn’t go 5,000 miles without an oil change and checking the tires, would you? Why expect your one and only body to do the same?

Cultivate your strengths. Worry less about what you can’t do and focus on what comes naturally and more easily for you. In my case, it was clear pretty early on that sports was not going to be my thing. I was always last chosen on the schoolyard for teams. Once in grade school as I was walking across the schoolyard, a flying baseball came unnoticed and hit me squarely on the head, really hard. I was OK, but my pride was seriously damaged in front of all my little schoolyard friends. Whereas for writing, even my own mother asked, “Did you write this?” in disbelief when I showed her an early school essay. She couldn’t believe her quiet, somewhat mousy daughter could possibly write that powerfully.

Writing has saved my neck, time and time again. It’s probably the only way I made it through UCLA. I have made life-long friends and colleagues through writing that otherwise wouldn’t have given me the time of day. And here I am, working on this, not sleeping like most sane people at 6:00 am. Yet I love it, and it (mostly) loves me back, so here we are.

Work hard but also work smart. Don’t waste time on dead ends. Time and money are valuable, precious resources. Use them wisely. Do you really need a new car every few years? Buy a reliable one, keep it in good shape, and watch your spare cash pile up. Clip coupons no matter how much money you have. You don’t need to redecorate your living room every few years, even if you can afford it. If you have that much dough lying around, keep the old car and living room, and start a foundation for those who don’t have any money, food or a place to sleep. The world will thank you for it, and so will your tax accountant!

And hey, take a break and treat yourself to something fun every few days. A good movie, a new restaurant, something fetching to wear that looks great on you. Whatever floats your boat. It will keep you smiling, and a smiling person is an effective person.

Don’t forget to laugh. Read funny articles, watch some amusing movies or You Tube videos. Don’t spend your time around people who mope around like Eeyore. You are looking for the light-hearted, kind, easy to be with souls to travel through life with. Not always easy, I know. Sometimes life gives you a boss from hell and you are stuck with him or her. But deal with it, realizing you mostly can’t change people, but you can change your attitude about them. Forgive, forget and move on. Life is too short to be so serious all the time.

Be kind to your friends, family and loved ones. And be kind to yourself! Do something nice for someone every chance you get, even if it’s just a little thing like telling them sincerely, with a smile, that you appreciate them. Or dropping some coins into a homeless person’s cup, or donating anything you can afford to a worthy cause. There is such as thing as Karma, and you don’t want it biting you in the ass.

Dream big. Have some impossible to reach goals, and then break down how to reach them, baby step by baby step. When in doubt, remind yourself of your past accomplishments. And even if you don’t succeed at it, keep going until something else works out. In the big picture, how important is it, really? Will the world stop spinning on its axis if you don’t get that project done? Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Sometimes life will take you in surprising new directions. For example, I wanted for years to write a novel. I thought that would make me a real honest to goodness writer. Well I finally did it. I got up at 5 am day after day, set a tight deadline for myself, and finally squeaked out 150 pages. And it stank. Really bad. I eventually realized, I am no novelist, at least not at that particular time. But there are as many kinds of writers as there are sports figures. From the uncoordinated weekend warrior to the multi-million dollar sports superstar. So now I just toddle along on my own quirky path, doing any kind of writing I like: articles, stories, poetry, blogs, and I love it. And it has paid off for me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined years ago.

Define success on your own individual and unique terms. It doesn’t mean the amount of money you make, or how big a house you have. Don’t compare yourself with others, that is the surest way to misery. Compare yourself to where you were five, ten, twenty years ago, and see how far you’ve come, even as you dream about how far you have yet to go.

Uplift those around you too, even as you are following your own special little rainbow. Find out what makes you happy and go for it. If it’s hiking in the woods, or singing at Karaoke, or cooking a huge meal for friends and family, that’s great, masel tov!

And most of all connect with some kind of spiritual path or journey that makes sense to you and uplifts you. It can be anything from meditation to Yoga to going to church or exploring Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, or any other -ism you like. Whatever it is, seek it out on a regular basis, make it an important part of your life, and you will be sustained. Especially when life gets rough, and we all know there will be days and sometimes months and months when it does.

Lastly, be grateful, every moment of every single day. Life is one beautiful, mysterious dance, and it doesn’t last forever, so just keep on dancing.

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky” ~ Buddha

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