"Why You (May) Marry the Wrong Person"

Saturday's New York Times contained an opinion piece entitled "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person." I'm not quite as pessimistic as the author (Alain de Boton) but I thought that some of his observations were definitely worth sharing, particularly the closing one.

"In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?” (note from JW: as opposed to only asking about shared interests).

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. 

Our partners are no more self-aware. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them. We visit their families. We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text.

The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.

What we really seek (in marriage) is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.

We make mistakes, too, because we are so lonely. No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable. We have to be wholly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to be appropriately picky; otherwise, we risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.

Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before.... The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.... But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

This philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage. It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition."


How to Answer the Key Interview Question Impressively

Very often the first substantive statement that an employer will make in a job interview is “So, tell me about yourself” (or words to that effect). The way that this question is answered sets the tone for the entire interview. Unfortunately many inexperienced interviewees answer in such a way that puts them immediately out of contention. They essentially recite the information contained in their resumes, which suggests that they have some combination of timidness, lack of imagination, and cluelessness.

Few people like to interview prospective employees. It’s time they’re not devoting to their jobs (unless they’re in HR) and it’s a process that’s generally ill-defined, but that requires a lot of focus and attention. So the key to successfully responding to this request lies in engaging and impressing the interviewer.

I coach my clients to respond by beginning with a little (I emphasize LITTLE) personal information: "I was born in Lima, Ohio and had a pretty typical childhood until I went out-of-state to George Washington, where I decided to major in finance, primarily due to an awesome professor I had freshman year. I was lucky enough to land a summer internship at Bank of America two years later, and that really hooked me.” Then I suggest that they pivot the conversation to what the interviewer really wants to know: “Is this a person we should hire?” The pivot can be accomplished smoothly by saying something along the lines of “But let me tell you what I think it’s most important for you to know about me.” And here’s where a version of the elevator speech comes in; stating the key talking points that align with the job specs. I say a version of the elevator speech, because the pitch needs to be tailored to what the employer needs. This is where the concept of “personal branding” can cause trouble, because the interviewee may focus too much on repeating selling points that may be appropriate in a general networking situation but not sufficiently attuned to the job being sought. 

The pivot suggests boldness, initiative, and efficiency: a non-nonsense approach that is pretty much universally valued. Now if the interviewer is someone who’s particularly chatty this might not be the best approach to use; successful interviewing requires the ability to “read” the interviewer and adjust style accordingly. But in most instances the approach I recommend will be impressive. 

In addition to the primary issue of qualifications, a candidate's likeability is such a core component of a hiring decision that it is also important to try to inject an element that will ideally result in the interviewer connecting on a personal level. This might take the form of a "coda" to the recitation of the key talking points. For example, after reciting the qualifications* it could be engaging to say something (with a sort of wink of the eye) like "and maybe not quite so important for you to know, but I'm a rabid Redskins fan," something distinctive and therefore memorable.

Whether "So tell me about yourself" comes up or not, the points I've made above are adaptable to almost any interviewing situation. Keep them in mind!

*Except in entry-level kinds of situations, don't just talk about what you managed or were responsible for in your work history. Anyone, good or bad, who holds a particular position can claim with equal validity that they managed or were responsible for something(s)/someone(s). Talk about end results, achievements, accomplishments, demonstrating the value that you've created in previous jobs.


Career Exploration - Early On and Later


Last week the New York Times published an article by Jeffrey Seling entitled:

"Will You Sprint, Stroll, or Stumble into a Career"

Seling describes the sprint as follows:

"Sprinters start fast right out of the gate.  They pick a major early on and stick with it, enabling a progression of internships that look more and more impressive with each year.  Some have the perfect job lined up on graduation; others are laserlike in their focus, moving from job to job up the career ladder.  They have little or no student-loan debt, freeing them to pick job opportunities without regard to pay."  Sprinters are a distinct minority of twenty-somethings (many of them have no student loan debt because they come from well-to-do families). The truth is that most people graduating college aren’t sure of what they want to do.  As a result, far too many of them enroll in graduate programs simply because that’s a structured next step rather than because they’ve desired to deepen their involvement with a particular field.

How to find clarity? 

The answer is wide-ranging exploration, exploration that can (and should) be conducted in numerous ways. Through exploration (primarily conversation with those with experience) a sense can be gained of what various career paths involve, their plusses and minuses, their typical trajectory, their income potential.  Ideally a plan should be created that calendars career exploration activities on a regular basis.

One of the best ways to conduct career exploration is NETWORKING.

The term strikes fear into the hearts of most young people, but the fact is that older adults generally enjoy giving guidance and advice to their juniors.  And actually networking for most can be easier than they might imagine:  friends of their parents*, parents of their friends, and alumni of their colleges are all fairly accessible targets.

My favorite source of networking utilizes Linkedin - see my blog post:

By utilizing people with whom they already have a relationship career explorers can connect with, and learn from, hundreds or even thousands of people who have walked the path they are contemplating.  Career testing is widely considered a great way of choosing a career path, but I see its role much less (if at all) as concretely indicative and more as suggestive. Turning to a career test to provide "the answer" makes little more sense than asking one's parents - tests and parents both understand the subject well, but can't begin to get at what really makes a person tick.  My prejudice against the likelihood of career testing providing definitive guidance is confirmed by the absence of any data showing that career tests lead to career success.  However, these tests can certainly be valuable in suggesting paths for exploration.  Career counseling can be a very valuable way of exploring if one works with experienced and successful, "real world" career counselors.  The perspective and experience they have accumulated from working with hundreds of clients allows them to shed light on numerous paths.  Furthermore, if they are successful it is likely attributable at least in part to an ability to read personality and psychological issues that can have an important bearing on career choice. 

There are several other great ways of learning what a career might feel like.  Going to Meetups of people in a chosen field (Meetups are an easy place to strike up conversations about careers because attendees are there because of their interest in the speciifc subject).  Joining online discussion groups and posing questions to the members.  Attending lectures or seminars and interacting with participants.  The purpose is not to land a job (although that could be an outcome of a well-handled conversation), but to gather as much information, and to get a feeling, for what working in a particular career would be like.

In the article mentioned above, Seling quotes Jeffrey Jenson Arnett, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, about the early stages of career life: 

“Emerging adulthood is a time of life when many different directions remain possible,” Dr. Arnett wrote, “when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life’s possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course.”  Today the period of emerging adulthood is even longer than it was when the term was coined in the year 2000.  Fortunately (and hopefully reassuringly to those uncertain of their career path forward) the average worker will 

experience several different careers over a lifetime (seven is the often quoted, but not substantiated, number). I myself am on my fifth.

*My interest in marketing, the launching pad of my first career in advertising, began as a result of the experience I had working in the marketing department of Ronson (the lighter manufacturer) one summer between junior and senior year of college. The stint was arranged by my Dad with a neighbor of ours who was a VP at the company, and consisted of my spending a week in each of 6 areas of the company. Marketing was the one that turned me on.


Fifteen Roads to Happiness

Last week I attended a 3 day symposium on varioius aspects of psychology and culture for continuing education credits (I need 36 hours every 2 years to retain my license). One of the presentations was on "Treating Anxiety." When I entered the ballroom in which the presentation was to be held I noticed a large screen with different quotations being shown every minute or so, all relating to happiness. 

The connection between treating anxiety and happiness? Well, quite simply, if you are happy, in that moment you by definition can't feel anxious. So cultivating happiness is an effective antidote to anxiety. I wanted to share with you some of the wonderful quotes. Don't make the mistake of thinking that these quotes are primarily about the power of positive thinking. They shine a light on the power of our thoughts, PERIOD! What we allow (or, better, choose) our minds to focus on determine's our emotional state of being:


"It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” 

- Dale Carnegie


“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” 

  - Marcus Aurelius


"I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet, I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it." 

 - Groucho Marx


“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”

 - Helen Keller


"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."

 - Epictetus (Greek philosopher)


"Learn to let go; that is the key to happiness."

 - Buddha


"A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes."

 - Hugh Downs (news anchor, TV host)


"Do not look back on happiness or dream of it in the future. You are only sure of today; do not let yourself be cheated out of it." 

 - Henry Ward Beecher (minister and social activist)


"Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect. It means you've decided to look beyond the imperfections."

 - Unknown


"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow. It only saps today of its joy.”

 - Leo Buscaglia (author and motivational speaker)


"Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened."

 - Dr. Seuss


There were also some trenchant quotes about the "false" (or, perhaps more accurately, less universal) road to happiness - the pursuit of cxircumstances, experiences, or objects which bring pleasure:


“Happiness is a myth we seek, If manifested surely irks;
Like river speeding to the plain, On its arrival slows and murks.
For man is happy only in His aspiration to the heights;
When he attains his goal, he cools and longs for other distant flights.”

 - Kahlil Gibran


“For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.”

 - Seneca


"Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.”

 - Asley Montague (anthropologist)

Finally there is a wonderfully witty quote on happiness by that wittiest of men, Oscar Wilde:

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

Turn Around Your Thinking

This entry is essentially a repost from a few years ago, but it came to mind as a result of two people (a client and a friend) having their thoughts fall into an exceptionally negative place. There's a wonderful, structured technique for pulling out of that place, first articulated by Byron Katie.

This method has antecedents in post-modern thought, namely that reality is to a great degree constructed by how we look at it.  There's a parallel idea that has emerged from quantum physics known as the "observer effect": the mere act of observing a phenomenon alters it to some degree.  A problem common to virtually all negative thinking is that the mind scurries around looking for evidence to support its point-of-view, and evidence can always be found.  Contrary evidence is rarely considered, because it puts the mind in the uncomfortable place of holding opposing thoughts at the same time (the psychological term for this state being "cognitive dissonance").

The foundational principle behind the method I'm about to outline is that by viewing thoughts / situations from multiple perspectives we can begin to see that there is a fluid, multi-faceted aspect to "reality" which allows us greater freedom and flexibility in reacting to it.

Step One: WRITE down the thoughts that are troubling you.  Go on for pages, if you like.  Get it all out and down on paper.  Then:

Step Two: Take the first thought you've written about and ask yourself "Is it true?".  Let's start with a fairly easy example: "My husband is self-centered and doesn't listen to me"  You might say "yes, it's true".  Then go on to

Step Three: Ask yourself "Can I absolutely 100% for sure know it's true?".  You can't really know anything for sure when it involves the motivations and actions of others, so the answer would have to be "no".

Step Four: "How do you feel or react when you think that thought?"  Because the purpose of this exercise is to focus on troubling thoughts, your answer will always involve some kind of negativity, in this case perhaps: "I feel disrespected, I feel unimportant, I feel unloved".

Step Five: Ask yourself "Who would I be without that thought" (or "how would I be feeling without that thought?).  In this case, a sample answer answer might be "I feel less tense, I feel lighter, I feel loved".

Step Six: This is the tricky one.  It's called the turnaround.  What you need to do is to take the original thought and switch elements of the sentence so that it has a different meaning.  For example "My husband is self centered and never listens to me" could be turned around to:

1) My husband isn't self-centered and does listen to me.

2) My husband doesn't listen to me when I'm self-centered.

3) I'm self-centered and don't listen to my husband.

Now, think carefully and as objectively as you can about each of the turnaround statements and think of a time or times in which those thoughts are true.  Let's try another couple of examples:

"My wife is rude to my Mom" 

1) Is it true ("yes", you feel)

2) Can I absolutely 100% for sure know it's true? (no, at least to some degree rudeness is in the eye of  the beholder).

3) How do I feel when I think that thought?  Angry, resentful, like my feelings aren't important to her.

4) Who would I be without that thought? Calmer, less angry.

5) Turn the thought around:

"My Mom is rude to my wife"

"My wife isn't rude to my Mom"

"My wife is rude to herself"

Some of the turnarounds will have immediate resonance (in this case, you might recall an instance when your Mom was rude to your wife, or when your wife wasn't rude to your Mom which could certainly shift your perspective on her rudeness).  Others less so or not at all, but by working at it you'll usually come up with some examples that support the turnarounds.

Another example (focusing just on the turnarounds, as the preceding steps are fairly self-evident): "I'm always doing things for other people and they should reciprocate".

The turnarounds could be:

"I'm always doing things for people and they shouldn't reciprocate"

"People are always doing things for me and I should reciprocate"

"I'm always doing things for me and I should reciprocate".  

By identifying situations opposite from the one embedded in the original troubling thought you are able to see "reality" from a different, less troubling angle.

I urge you to experiment with this method.  The turnarounds can be tricky, and depend to some degree on the way the troubling thought is phrased, so try rewording the thought if turnarounds aren't working.  If you write down "I'm worried that I'll lose my job," the obvious turnarounds (I'm not worried that I'll lose my job, I'm worried that I won't lose my job) might not make any sense.  But if you reword the thought to "If I lose my job I won't be able to find another" a couple of the turnarounds would begin to make sense (If I don't lose my job I won't be able to find another (because I won't feel the need to look), If I don't lose my job I will be able to find another (because there's always the possibility of finding a new job), If I'm not able to find another job I won't lose my job (maybe by stopping the job search and focusing on the job you currently hold you'll improve your performance).

To learn more about this method and how to use it, go to Byron Katie's blog: