6 things to study for the well-rounded mind


What are the best subjects to learn for business – and life – success? If anyone sat down to identify the perfect secondary (and maybe college) education, I doubt they would come up with today’s average American curriculum. While there are plenty of courses in basic skills (reading, writing, mathematics, and so on) many other just as critical basic skills are overlooked (personal finance, homemaking, health/physical education). What are some of the critical components missing from our national curriculum?

From my own personal experience, I can suggest a few, but there are probably many more you can think of easily. I could also bash a few courses I took, but an argument can always be made for “knowledge for knowledge’s sake.” I believe that sincerely. I have never, for example, “used” A Tale of Two Cities in my day-to-day life, but I’m glad I was forced to read it, stuck with it and finished it. Experiences like that created a love of reading for me. Other subjects I guess can be chalked up to “generally good to know although not terribly useful.” For me this included subjects like biology and mythology (one semester of “English” was actually spent studying mythology, which apparently means “Greek mythology” since we didn’t study anything else (not even the excellent D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths). While those subjects were sometimes interesting, I didn’t learn much from either except that I don’t like biology and that you shouldn’t steal fire from the gods.

Here are a few subjects that are very useful, and why:

1. Typing. Out of all of the courses I’ve taken in my life, this one has made the most profound difference in my daily life. I took a typing course in high school, back when it meant learning to pound out “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” 500 times on a MANUAL typewriter. However, the experience taught me how to type, and very, very well, which means I can blaze away typing even while carrying on a conversation or reading something else. I doubt I have to explain to anyone who uses a computer why lightning-fast typing speed is useful.

2. Speech. I took a public speaking class that changed my life. Before that class, like everyone, I was nervous about speaking. After it, I was still nervous, but I learned that it was a temporary nervousness and that anything was possible. We had to give speeches to groups, recite monologues, debate, take questions and almost any type of “speaking in front of a crowd” activity you can think of. To this day I am relaxed and confident speaking to any group; I have addressed 2000 people or 10 board directors or 1 interviewer with equal calm.

3. Personal finance. I didn’t ever take a personal finance course, and I wish I had. Everything I learned about finance before college came from my parents, my grandparents about money, part 1 | brip blap or my own reading. A course that taught me things they weren’t as familiar with or not as proficient with – real estate dealings come to mind – would have been a great learning experience for me. That having been said, I’m sure personal finance would use textbooks sponsored by Capital One and tout the benefit of home equity loans to consolidate credit card debt.

4. Physical education. As a varsity athlete I was exempt from physical education, but I wish I hadn’t been. Learning to do some very basic “normal” training would have been helpful. I focused all of my energy on preparation for one sport (tennis) rather than general fitness. This had disastrous results later in life.

5. Homemaking. Don’t laugh. I think learning how to cook could save this country billions in health care costs. Imagine if people could actually prepare healthy food at home. My mother is a terrific cook, and I never had any motivation throughout high school to learn how to cook. I went straight from there to a fraternity house where meals were provided. When I finally started living on my own, my gourmet best was frozen pizza…

6. Civics. I took a civics course, but it was ridiculous. My wife, who is an immigrant, was required to undergo detailed testing before she obtained US citizenship on the Constitution, US history and civic life. Now, it may not be necessary for everyone in this country to know how many Congressmen there are or how many Supreme Court justices there are (although they should) but everyone should know the Bill of Rights and their civic duties (jury duty and so on).

Optional Bonus #7: A foreign language. Now, many people might disagree with me on this suggestion, and of course many people feel a certain nationalistic need to defend English as “America’s language” or French as “Belgium’s language” or whatever.  I don’t really think most people need to become fluent in a foreign language, and I’ve been a great proponent of the world agreeing on a true lingua franca – a second language everyone would learn.  As of today, that language might be English – it’s fairly easy to learn and already quite widespread.  But 100 years from now it might be Portuguese, or Spanish.  Who knows, who cares.  The point is that foreign languages open up your mind.  Studying a foreign language helps you understand that different people think differently.  That’s invaluable, in my opinion.  My life so far has taken a vastly different direction than it might have thanks to my study of foreign languages – especially Russian.  You can see why by reading an old post of mine, “boosting your career with an overseas stint“.

You could go on, but these are some basic courses that would make a big difference in the US population. They are not taught often enough, and it’s a shame they aren’t. I am amazed to this day when I see people hunt-and-peck on the keyboard – not because I blame them, but because that’s not a basic required course for graduation from high school today. The same goes for the other 5 subjects up there. It’s hard to say when they will be required – or if they ever will be – but we can hope.

lacrosse and Russian

faulkner grave


faulkner grave


I didn’t get that much out of college, other than friends, knowledge, life experiences, and the ability to blow up an opponent in lacrosse.  I majored in math, and now I’m a finance and systems consultant.  Related, fine.  But they are two different disciplines.  I studied linguistics, and while I’m able to speak several languages, I don’t really pay much attention to language, per se.  I minored in Russian, though, and that deeply, thoroughly, and massively affected my life – the choices I made, the places I lived, even all the way through to my spouse and (eventually) my kids.  So don’t assume college doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter the way you think it will.  I thought I would be a famous mathematician based on my time in college.  Nope.  But little did I suspect I’d become a Russophile and become “russkiy v sertsye” – Russian at heart.

From Good Financial Moves for College, Part 2:

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today.

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How coaching can help you out of a rut in your corporate career

happy cat

happy cat


It’s amazing what a little time off can do for your attitude towards work. It’s why so many of us love to jet abroad for a week-long getaway each year: we come back feeling refreshed, relaxed and ready to tackle the weeks ahead. But if you don’t have a holiday planned in the imminent future, and would like to get that same energized enthusiasm for your career, there are other ways to do so. Coaching is an increasingly popular way to achieve this.
Although there are often negative connotations associated with the word ‘therapy,’ the two are not all that dissimilar. A good coach can listen neutrally to you, help assess your current situation and make positive changes in your life.

For those who feel like they are in a career lull, bored of the same everyday routine, a new challenge could be what awaits you – and don’t worry, even those with the most fulfilling careers can feel like this occasionally.

Here are 3 key areas that coaching can help you with, whilst helping you get out of that rut and enjoy working again:

1. Helps to build confidence.
If you have been in one position or industry for a long time, the thought of leaving that familiarity can be very daunting. Sometimes it can feel more secure to stay in your accustomed bubble. But, more often than not, all you need is a confidence boost to make the changes that you want in your career.  A coach can offer the encouragement required to believe in yourself- whether this is through interview techniques for a new position or the courage to speak with your superior and re-negotiate your current contract.

2. Become objective about yourself.
A coach can offer objectivity. It’s difficult to accurately review ourselves. Similarly, when a partner, friend or family member offers advice or an opinion, it is often biased in the hope of being supportive. But, to break old habits you will need tough love. Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses can give you a new sense of direction, and an outsider is the best way to achieve this.
Not only can this new awareness help you differentiate between your desire for a new routine or a new lifestyle altogether, but it can mean you have the opportunity to make effective alterations to inject more happiness into your daily humdrum activities. We spend the majority of our days in the workplace so you may as well make the most of it.

3. Set achievable goals.
Experience with business clients gives coaches the knowledge to know what goals are feasible within a set time frame. Aiming to ‘turn your life around’ in a fortnight is not only unrealistic, but can leave you feeling deflated when it doesn’t happen – despite being impracticable in the first place.  Emotions can often overwhelm us and trigger impulsive decision but having an objective person for support can ensure that you don’t throw in the towel without a proper plan.

When you’re in a rut in your career, it’s always a good idea to evaluate your current situation, look at where you want to be, and what you’re capable of. Then it’s just about receiving the push to get it done. This is what coaching is ideal for. The renowned philosopher Albert Schweitzer famously said: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

Finding what you love is half the battle. Learning how to implement it is the other. In this sense, life coaching may not be imperative for your career, but just like a sunny day, although it might not always be needed, it sure makes a different when it’s there.

Bev James is the managing director of The Coaching Academy who trains and mentors life coaches across the UK. Bev enjoys her life as a successful serial entrepreneur, coach, and business mentor.”

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Ari Helminen

10 quotes on careers

conference lecture

conference lecture

The quotes (10, plus a bonus):

“Each of the professions means a prejudice. The necessity for a career forces every one to take sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.” -Oscar Wilde

I’ve found this to be quite true; people are so overworked that they make stupid decisions about their careers. It’s not that people are stupid, but the pressure and the stress make them ACT stupid. Big difference, same result.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” -Marilyn Monroe

Amen, Marilyn. I spent a lot of years working like a maniac at my career and amazingly, those TPS reports don’t curl up with me on a cold night. On the other hand, they don’t steal my covers.

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life” -Hillary Clinton

Yes, that Hillary Clinton. I’m sure she enjoys a lot of free time outside of her political career (there is no sarcastic font), but hey, politicians are free to dispense all sorts of advice that they themselves don’t take. She makes a great point, though. Don’t assume that being the hotshot assistant manager for the Northeast III region is “a life.” It’s a great accomplishment… but it’s not “a life” if it doesn’t fulfill your goals.

“Desire! That’s the one secret of every man’s career. Not education. Not being born with hidden talents. Desire.” -Bobby Unser, 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner

Wish I had thought about this a little before completing 7 years of school for two degrees. Eh, actually I’m happy with my education but Bubelah and I have this conversation all the time, with the same result (I will be annoying and put it in all caps for emphasis’ sake): AMERICANS CONFUSE EDUCATION WITH ACHIEVEMENT. Just because you have degrees out the wazoo doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. My suspicion is that successful people would be successful regardless of where they went to school or whether they went at all. Some of the least successful people I know are very educated.

“No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like.” -Napoleon Hill

If you read brip blap, you know I really (really, really) admire Napoleon Hill and his work. This is a straightforward statement that sums it up. I have never been successful in my line of work – accounting and finance – to the level I could’ve been because, quite frankly, I am bored by it. I don’t hate it. I’m actually pretty good at what I do, and I can hammer away at exceptionally complex accounting and finance problems with the best of them. But I get very, very bored with it very quickly. Because of that I’ve been moderately successful instead of extremely successful.

“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it. ” – Lou Holtz

I remember when I experienced defeat. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t in my career, but when I was attending mathematics PhD school I woke up one morning and said “this is NOT for me.” I had never seriously considered a career path other than “college professor in some type of math/computer science/linguistics/other technical type of study.” I sat down with a piece of paper and started writing down what I wanted, how I could do it, and how quickly I could do it. I came up with going back to school, getting a BA in accounting and an MBA in accounting… in two years. Doing that, though, achieved one of my dearest dreams: years of traveling the world at somebody else’s expense. My “defeat” in not completing PhD school led to some great things in my life.  So Lou, the absolutely awful analyst and overrated coach, got this one right.

” I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career. I just feel that I don’t have anything else to prove.” – Michael Jordan

I have little to say to this except this: can you even begin to imagine what it feels like to say that? I can’t.

“Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

I’m not exactly an America-firster; I have some big problems with what my country has demonstrated about itself by making some poor electoral choices in 2000 and 2004.   At the same time, I’ve traveled around the world enough to know that it’s a humbling thing to realize that people all over the world dream of achieving something that we got through the dumb accident of birth: being an American (and this applies to Canada, too). I also doubly appreciate the privilege considering my wife and her family, who lost everything in the collapse of the Soviet Union but have rebuilt a middle class lifestyle in a little more than a decade despite coming to this country with nothing more – literally – than the clothes on their backs. America still has a lot going for it.

“My whole career can be summed up with ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ When you do not know better, you do not really worry about failing.” – Jeff Foxworthy

I don’t remember all of it, but I read an interesting interview with Foxworthy a while back. He was some cubicle dweller for IBM, I think, and was prodded by friends to give comedy a shot. A few redneck jokes later and he’s done alright. He said he had no idea of the odds against succeeding in comedy, and if he had he would have clung to his crap job for dear life.

“I don’t want to get into the habit of thinking about my career because when it comes down to it, it’s not that important. I could die tomorrow and the world would go on. I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of the world. If the world is not going too good, I’m part of that. I’ll be happy to take the blame. I’m along for the ride.” -River Phoenix

Er, I’m including this in the “how’s that working out for you” category. Don’t be along for the ride – the river can get bumpy and there are a few hard turns there. You need to keep a hand on the rudder (or whatever the boat-thingy that steers is called).

“I often thought that if there had been a good rap group around in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics.” -Richard M. Nixon

I am including this quote because, well, read it! Really? What I would give to see Tricky Dick representin’! Gas face! “I am not a criminal – I am the O.G.!” His new moniker? Janky Forty Sippa. Please visit this site to put a smile on your face on the way out of the workplace!

According to that site, brip blap should be redubbed “Rotten Tree Hugga.” Good idea?

LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by runneralan2004

memorial day

our dead

our dead

“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” -Norman Schwarzkopf

society and the individual

Will code for food

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.

– Albert Einstein

I love pop culture, as long as it is MY pop culture. I love Star Trek, Star Wars, the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings and don’t care much for American Idol.  Loving one and not caring for the other won’t make me much better or worse as a person; there is nothing in Star Trek that makes the fans of that show “better” than the fans of American Idol.  Yet I feel that there is some value from the one show not possible from the other.  I feel that liking one over the other makes me more of an individual.

There are many opportunities for the individual to disappear in a society. In a totalitarian society, the disappearance of individual is a survival instinct.  In a command economy, it’s the easiest action.  In a capitalist society, it’s not the way to wealth but it may serve as the avoidance of poverty.

If you stop and think about the ways in which you can live a “life fully lived”, either through commerce or service or self-improvement, the individual is key. I imagine Donald Trump gets the same sense of satisfaction through commerce as a community organizer does through service to others, although I can’t be sure.  But the opportunity for development accorded to the individual makes or breaks a society.

Do you want your neighbors to succeed? Your city?  Your state?  Your country?  Your world?  At each point you’re concentrating less on your own self-development and more on a larger ideal.  As a family man, I concentrate less on my own self-development (reading, contemplation, exercise, etc.) and more on my family’s development.  I think others expand this to concentrate more upon their neighbors’ development, and so on.  It’s not a bad thing, but I think every time you set aside your own self development for society’s, you eventually will suffer.

Boil it down to real life? Killing yourself to guarantee your children’s college education?  Paying exorbitant taxes to support a dying city?  Working to support a corporation?  Destroying your own health to support a family?  All are self-defeating in the long view.  Each will eventually undermine the initial reasoning; working long hours and wrecking your health to support your family will fail to pay off when you die young, for example.

Most people can’t make that difficult choice to concentrate on their own self-development. I’ll be honest:  I can’t. It’s hard to say that you need to work on your own happiness or health or prosperity now to ensure your family (or friends’, or community’s, or whatever) betterment tomorrow.  Sacrifice is tough in the short term.  America hasn’t demonstrated much stomach for that in the last decade or two, and we’ll pay the price in the next couple of decades.  But if you want to help others often the best way is to learn to help yourself first.

photo credit: pvera

the intolerable cruelty of spoons

intolerable cruelty

intolerable cruelty

If you have never seen the movie “Intolerable Cruelty” by the Cohen Brothers and starring George Clooney (heard of him?) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (heard of her? the T-Mobile lady?), you are missing some exceptionally clever dialogue (but before you rush out and rent it, I’ll warn you that it is has a  dull and conventional ending).  There is an exchange between the massively successful lawyer played by Clooney and his right-hand man as they discuss a wedding gift for a client of theirs:

Wrigley: What do you think?
Massey (Clooney): What are they, ladles?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.
Massey: Spoons?
Wrigley: Berry spoons.  Everybody has spoons.
Massey: And nobody needs berry spoons.
Wrigley: Everybody eats berries.
Massey: Who are you, Pollyanna? Where’d you see ‘em at? A Martha Stewart catalog right next to the silver napkin rings? Stadium seat ass-warmers?


I look with some real regret at some of the specialty cooking items I’ve bought over the years.  If you are talking about a place in your house to review for frugality, most American kitchens would be a good place to start.  Some useless items I own (or now “owned”) and some alternatives:

  • A mortar and pestle versus a spoon and a bowl
  • White wine glasses, red wine glasses, port glasses, margarita glasses, martini glasses, shot glasses versus 8 ounce tumblers.
  • Dip serving bowls in fancy designs versus plain bowls.
  • Three different can openers versus one can opener.
  • An olive spoon versus a regular spoon plus a colander.
  • Eighteen different pots and pans versus one expensive pan, one large pot and one small pot.
  • Three sets of salt and pepper shakers versus one set.

Bubelah would be quick to tell you that most of these were pre-marriage wastes of money and she would be right.  I loved to buy specialty drinking gear, for example – coffee cups for coffee, taller glasses for champagne or white wine, fuller glasses for reds (must let them breathe!) and martini glasses because you don’t see James Bond sipping from a tumbler.  I also went through a gourmet cooking phase when I had to buy idiotic accessories like mortars and pestles – used approximately four times in five years.  I might argue it was simply a hobby with expensive tools, but I know the truth – it was a waste.

All of this clutter contributes to a bad sense of organization in the kitchen, a waste of money and I think ultimately drives a nagging desire to get a bigger kitchen (and a bigger house). One of the moments that stopped me wanting any more gadgets in the kitchen was the movie “Out of Africa” with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.  Again, great things in the movie but ultimately a bit of a disappointment.  However:  in one scene out in the savannah or veldt or whatever it’s called Redford drinks his morning coffee out of a tin cup.  He drinks water out of the cup throughout the day.  Later that same day, he rinses it out and uses it to drink wine in the evening.  Same cup.  I thought that was an excellent way to think about kitchen gadgets, or any other gadgets.  We could probably buy about 8 tin coffee cups (in case we have guests) and ditch all of our other glasses.

Of course, you want some beauty in your life and you do not want to have a pleasant meal on tin plates and cups.  If you were seriously frugal, maybe, but then again we could put up paper blinds instead of curtains and use old newspaper for toilet paper, too.  There is a limit, and there is a happy medium.  But the idea of a tin cup has reminded me each time I flinch walking by a clever no-stick spatula at Williams Sonoma that I already have a spatula made of plastic that will survive in a landfill for 10,000 years after I am gone.  And I do not need another berry spoon.


the whole life sabbatical (part 3 of 3)

Creative Commons License photo credit: mistress_f

In part 1 of this three-part series I talked about walking away from various responsibilities in your life. In part 2 I talked about whether it would be easy to leave them. Now I’m going to bring it together with my thoughts on “walking away from it all.”Would it make you happier? In each area, it really depends on how happy you are now. Simply dropping a responsibility doesn’t make you happier. It can, however, free up enough time to allow you to pursue other activities that DO make you happy. I will argue this – almost no personal growth is possible without giving up something; without walking away from something else.

Work: For most people, this is the big one. I have a picture of a “workless” life and a picture of a “better work” life. I think most people say “oh, I couldn’t be happy without regular work, something to do, yada yada.” That’s not the case with me – I really get a lot of enjoyment out of learning and engaging in the regular business of day to day life. I’m not sure I need an avocation, per se. But I realize nobody is going to pay me to play with my kids all day every day, so I imagine “walking away from my work” ending up as walking into another job. I’d just like the hours to be flexible and more or less self-directed. But I do recognize this point: nobody will get a dream job, a dream career, the flexibility they’ve always desired without walking away from the one they have now. In order to achieve fulfillment in your work/career, you must be prepared to walk away from everything you have now.

Family: In the example I mentioned (should you take an infirm elderly relative into your home or support them by placing them in an elder care facility), it’s a tough choice people make all the time. My family has done so. You can’t ever abandon your family, but you do have to be able to let go and move on to develop other relationships. I see less of my brother than I did when I was younger and we lived together. I see less of my parents than I did when I lived at home. I even spend less time with my wife once we had a son, and now that we have a daughter, also, I have to spend less time with him. But each time when you take a little time away from someone, it doesn’t mean – or at least it doesn’t HAVE to mean – that you lose any of the strength of that relationship. In some ways it makes time you spend with those people even more intense, if you value them. By giving up time with one person you can grow your relationship with another – and it’s not a zero-sum game. I don’t love my brother or parents or wife or son any less as more people have been added to my family – if anything, it makes me appreciate everyone even more.

Finances: Walking away from your financial responsibilities is one of the best things you can do for yourself – unless you enjoy having a financial responsibility to your digital cable. Each time I’ve jettisoned a financial commitment it has not felt like a sacrifice – it’s felt like freedom. I have a long way to go, and some responsibilities are better than others: I don’t mind my mortgage because it allows me to keep my investments liquid and enjoy a pleasant home. But completing the lease on my car and buying the next one for cash, and ending that once-a-month reminder of money floating away was a source of huge satisfaction. Sometimes I think happiness can be defined more easily – on a financial basis – as the lack of things, rather than the possession of things. I will be wealthy, but I want that wealth to be expressed in a house and financial freedom and security for my family and travel and experiences, rather than in Wii’s.

Life: And finally, life. Can you walk away from your health? No. Can you walk away from other parts of your life? Yes: you can walk away from everything about your life that’s negative. How many people do you know who cling to failed relationships, or bad habits, or make themselves sick by living in unhealthy environments? Life is the one area you have to learn to walk away from. Don’t accept the idea that you have to have some misery in your life. Don’t accept “no pain, no gain.” There is gain without pain.

So what was I getting at with these posts? Too often I read about, and think about what I need to GET or ACQUIRE to achieve goals. Too often people think I NEED that to be happy, or I have an OBLIGATION to stay in this situation. Try not to think of life as a series of things you HAVE to do. These are not powerful words. Try to think of life as a series of experiences you WANT.

Identify what’s not working for you, and walk away from it – what are you waiting for, your next life?