So you want a job where you can work from home, but you aren’t sure how to get one. Maybe I can help.
One of the first things that happens when people are out of work is that they start doubting themselves and aiming low. They feel insecure about their abilities, maybe even defensive about their track record. Rather than think, Hey, now is the perfect time to learn a few things and become more competitive, it’s more common to think, I wouldn’t even make a good doorstop, or, I can’t even cast a good shadow.
What I’ve learned is that employers don’t care what you did before. They only care whether you’ll show up and do something for them tomorrow and the day after.
I spent a lot of time preparing for my new job. I read at least a dozen articles on tough, tricky interview questions. I scoured my resume and reviewed all my talking points from every major project I did over the last twenty years. I rehearsed answers to what I thought would be a sore point, which was, What had I done since I quit my last day job in January 2010?
Imagine my surprise when none of that came up?
In two phone screens and a five-person panel interview, nobody asked a single question about any of my past jobs. A couple of things from my resume were mentioned, indicating that it had been read, but that was it.
I put two important things on my resume: a list of all the software I know, by category; and a list of my skills.
I’ve read that “skills resumes” are frowned on because they can be used to disguise a patchy work history. I don’t know if that’s true for most places, but it seemed to serve me well - and I *had* a patchy work history. I was transparent about the fact that I hadn’t had a traditional day job in over a decade. In my case, the majority of my most valuable skills were things I had picked up in between.
The point isn’t whether you can prove that you’ve 100% done something under an official job title at an official employer. It’s whether you know how to do it, whether you can learn new things, and whether you are enthusiastic about giving it your best shot.
This is where being unemployed, even for a very long time, can be an asset. It gives you the opportunity to study up.
Someone close to me did this a few years ago. She had never really used a computer at work, literally did not even know how to right-click a mouse or copy/paste. She did a self-study Excel course, got over a 90%, and now knows all the advanced features I never learned even though I started using Excel around 1990. Since then she’s been promoted twice, has an impressive new job title, and makes a significantly higher income.
That is my first piece of advice: Go through a bunch of job listings and look at what requirements keep coming up.
(That’s why I went back to college. I kept reading job listings for which I was qualified in every single respect, except the bachelor’s degree. It was infuriating until it became simple and obvious).
Stories keep coming up about young candidates who are shocked, stunned, and amazed that the job requires Microsoft Word and Excel. For those of us who are familiar with these programs, this might seem funny. Instead of laughing, we should be taking notes and realizing that we have been taking for granted what are actually very desirable professional qualifications.
When we get mopey and fall into doubting our employability, we focus on ourselves and our shortcomings. We have no way of realizing that our supposed “competition” may be severely underprepared. I got my first temp assignment in an office because the woman before me quit two hours into her first day, saying, “I don’t have to do this.” They were looking for 1. Someone who would work for 8 hours and 2. See #1.
It’s a similar situation with work-from-home jobs. They’re looking for applicants who are ready, willing, and able to work from home. Not everyone can do this. Sometimes these issues are not their fault; a friend of mine lives about five miles away from us, but the internet is so poor in her neighborhood that she needs two separate devices to try to get a better signal.
If you have electricity, good wi-fi, a smartphone, and a computer you can use all day, you’re ahead of the game and more employable than you realize right now.
Learning the basics of even one in-demand software title can be enough to put you over the edge. If you can pass a quiz, do a demo, or answer a few questions about what you can do, that’s usually enough. Start writing down all the programs that you have used, even if you only feel a passing familiarity. It may surprise you.
Another approach is to take on a volunteer position and build your skills there.
I spent the past three years in leadership positions in Toastmasters. They stepped up in responsibility, and I learned so much that I got back more than I put in. I’m absolutely sure that I reached a higher level of leadership through Toastmasters in that brief period than I would have if I had stayed in my previous line of work for ten years.
Again, it isn’t what you’ve been paid to do under your official job title; it’s whether you can demonstrate that you know how to get things done.
Unemployed people, and their friends, family, and neighbors, often say the same thing, which is: “There are no jobs out there.” This is demonstrably false. Also, you only need one.
Talking about what doesn’t exist, or what you do not want, is a pretty useless way to spend time.
Much more interesting to talk about what you do want to do. If there is something you really want to do because it fascinates you, that will shine through. If it is true about you that you really want to do a good job and be proud of yourself, that will show too. Right now, there are thousands of WFH jobs available. Some of them have been open for months or years without the right candidate turning up. Maybe that person is you.
Some stuff you can learn for free:
Microsoft Office 360
Jira / Agile
I’m still struggling and it’s been over two weeks since I got over COVID-19. My mood and energy level from day to day, or hour to hour, have everything to do with whether I am proud of my body, or frustrated with it.
Is my body a miraculous healing machine
Is it my adversary?
On good days, I think, Wow, my immune system is incredible! Great job! How fantastic is it that a brand-new virus got inside me and my body figured out what to do?
On bad days, I think, Why is this taking so long? Why can’t my tired old carcass keep up with my brain? Am I just... old now?
It would help if I had something familiar. Then I could hit the books and figure out what to do. This worked well when I was diagnosed with a thyroid nodule. I went directly from my appointment with the endocrinologist to the public library, where I checked out a couple of books on thyroid function. I’d already read a few chapters before my bus made it home.
(That was before Wikipedia and Google, if you can believe that! And smartphones of course)
My way of dealing with physical distress is to compartmentalize it. Try to ignore discomfort and distracting sensations. Get into a clean blank head space and try to figure out a plan.
The trouble with this method is that it can start to take over, until “the body” starts to feel like a separate entity. It can be like the head is a floating balloon, or like the mind is a driver riding around in a car. This is when we start to see “the body” as a stranger, or worse, an enemy.
Then again, the advantage is that it’s possible to ingest new ideas and new frameworks. We can take in new information that changes our perspective. We can also learn from other people and try out things they do.
One example of this is that my husband’s doctor told him not just to drink fluids, which everyone knows, but *why* it matters that we drink more fluids than normal when we’re ill. Mucus gets dry and stringy, and that makes coughing, sneezing, and stuffy noses much worse. Water, herbal tea, etc keep it moist and help keep it from building up. Now that I know that, I have been focusing much more on keeping a mug of tea next to me.
Another example would be a little more mystical, the sort of idea that takes more imagination and less practical effort. This approach tends to work more on the emotional aspects of illness, which is important because being sick can cause sadness and pessimism.
It’s one thing to intellectually grasp that you have a statistical chance of certain outcomes, such as being loaded into an ambulance, put on a ventilator, or going into a coma.
It’s another thing to physically feel your life force draining away, to have a continual stream of new sensations worsening day by day.
It’s yet another thing to confront the emotions brought up by this, almost all of which were dark and unhelpful, at least in my case. The combination of alarming research data and severe illness defaulted to a low mood and fatalistic thoughts.
Overcoming those black tides took considerable effort.
One of the ideas that came to me in the second week, when I thought I would be dead in another day or two, was the concept of “hiring” the virus. I kept getting warfare imagery, from the media and from personal advice, and it was awful for my morale. Advice in general was awful for my morale. It contributed to my overall sense of shame and failure for getting sick.
(Can’t people just send sweet photos or share memories of better times?? I mean, ARE YOU A DOCTOR??)
I liked the idea of hiring the virus much better. It made me feel like a founder or a CEO. Yes, I’ve hired this special consultant to teach me how to make antibodies for COVID-19, potentially one of the most precious commodities in the world in this year of grace 2020.
Then something else occurred to me, something I had been thinking back in December, when I had a terrifying drug-resistant bacterial infection that led to surgery. I had to take three courses of antibiotics, and I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I chose to reframe it.
MAGIC BLOOD, MAGIC BLOOD, I HAVE MAGIC BLOOD
I would just keep repeating this to myself as I went through the day, especially when I was swallowing the pills. I visualized the antibiotics flowing through my body and making me glow in golden light. Magic blood!
Not the same scenario, but in the context of potentially donating convalescent plasma, that same blood of mine suddenly became that much more magical!
Could it be?? Blood that I make inside my own body, without conscious effort, could save the lives of up to four people?? Doctors and nurses? Talk about magic!
The idea that I might be able to generate a life-saving elixir was sometimes the only thing that kept me going. I thought, if this works, it might even be worth it. (Not really, but...)
An irony of my illness is that I’m still tending the surgical scar, rubbing cream on it twice a day. I was able to watch it slowly, visibly healing. External proof of my body’s sorcery at work. The irony came in because I thought that infection and the surgery and the half-inch scar in my midsection were so scary and painful. Now they were barely noticeable. I could laugh at myself a little for being a coward, while at the same time appreciating that I had come such a long way and gained so much grit.
If you pray for strength be sure that’s what you really want.
I’ve resented so much of this process, felt so impatient and frustrated and disappointed in myself. I’ve watched my physical decline, from multi-sport athlete to dizzy, weak softbody, and it has made me dejected and miserable. I want my old body back and I want it immediately, not months or years from now!
At the same time, I recognize that hundreds of thousands of people confronted the same challenge that I did... and did not prevail. There is really no other response than to be awed, impressed, and grateful that my body did all this, alone, with no instruction manual. I’ve overcome other health challenges, and it’s when I feel I’ve won that I feel total unity with my body and what I consider to be my self.
I just found out that I was definitely exposed to COVID-19.
So, yeah, that happened.
Might have exposed my husband and two other people.
Sitting with that knowledge for a moment.
I’m the only person who was exposed that day who hasn’t been sick for the last two weeks. That’s why I was the last to find out. Also, the test results just came back. It takes a while to even get the test, much less have it processed.
Can’t blame them
That’s what this is about, really. How do you feel the full range of feelings about something truly awful, while knowing there is nobody to blame?
Well, not my friends, colleagues, or neighbors anyway. Only a psychopath or a malignant narcissist would deliberately infect someone with a lethal pathogen.
Emotionally there are so many ways to deal with world events, with the unfair sickness or death of anyone you know, with your own incipient demise. I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of them.
Denial - everyone on Nextdoor who keeps complaining that the whole world is “overreacting” - to something with a worldwide kill rate of 19%? This thing is killing more people than botulism. Come on, folks, get it together.
Anger - like that matters to a microbe
Disgust - see the neologism ‘COVIDIOT’
Fear - remind me to tell you about my coronavirus-themed night terrors
Sadness - this is where I have been over the past week, choosing what outfit I want for my memorial and crying over photos of separated families every day, and that was *before* I found out I was exposed
Embarrassment at being the kind of trainwreck who couldn’t see the future and who thought that following social distancing recommendations would be good enough
HEY, what gives? I followed all the rules to the letter, so why am I being punished?
The problem of suffering is a challenging one, a stumbling block that disrupts many philosophy students and spiritual thinkers. It’s related to the problem of evil, although of course we understand that evil and suffering are not the same thing, right?
Epicurus had basically this to say on the subject:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Interesting point, not exactly the final answer. The tricky thing here is assuming that any kind of suffering is evil, whereas it seems transparently obvious to me that not everything that happens is... about us. A coronavirus, one of many, pops into existence, and it just so happens to cause illness and occasionally death to humans. Was this *on purpose*? Or was it just something that happens?
There’s no real law about stuff that makes humans sick. Technically there could be several competing pandemics circulating at the same time. We’re not all suddenly immune to measles just because this dog-toy looking round piece of junk showed up. Yeah, I said it, you look like a dog ball, nobody wants you, get out of here Covid and go crawl back up Batman’s... *ahem* sorry about that.
If there is a hurricane and people die, is it evil? How about it if happens in the middle of the ocean and only some fish die, is it evil?
How about if it happens on the planet Jupiter and no sentient beings were within four hundred million miles, is it evil then? Really really big storm?
Getting hung up on the problem of evil is basically saying that no human should ever suffer anything. But why? Says who?
I have trained myself to ask myself, because my biggest flaw is that I am violently prone to self-pity, Why *shouldn’t* I suffer?
Not like I’m asking for it or anything, but if anyone... why *not* me?
My neighbors across the street many years ago? One got meningitis, one had a quadruple bypass, one got brain cancer, and the other got to be caretaker for the whole lot of them for several years. These were nice people, so what the heck? Why did all of that land on one house?
A friend of mine? Her house burned down while her husband was being treated for prostate cancer, right after he got laid off from his job. Nice people. Why them and not me?
Or... you, for that matter? No offense, just for illustrative purposes...
I tend to hear these types of stories because I’m a sympathetic listener (and a bit of a gossip) and because I have the sort of gloomy disposition that records the dark stuff and saves it for later.
As a good Stoic, I consider the prospect of suffering before it happens: premeditatio malorum. As a medievalist I think about the prospect of dying a lot, memento mori, and the reason they did it is because they had a lot more experience with epidemic illness than we do. As a yogini I do my savasana, “corpse pose,” and I’ve done a certain amount of Buddhist meditation on the subject, marasati, as well.
In a way it’s been almost soothing for me, to assume that I know the manner of my death. I’ve been sick in bed before, I’ve had nasty respiratory infections and coughed up blood, I can visualize this. I can construct a counterfactual that helps me cope, such as, At least it wasn’t a shark after all, or, Thank goodness I won’t be taken by a serial killer, or, I’m so glad it wasn’t a fire. I’ve found this strangely satisfying, although of course I could just as easily go in a massive earthquake tonight.
I have no reason to expect or demand safe conduct through this world.
Nobody ever promised that we would carry our mortal bodies around for eternity - or if they did, wouldn’t we all be taking better care of ourselves? Especially our teeth? Wouldn’t we have been wearing more sunblock all this time? Of course we know that our time will come one day.
I used to pray that I would die like a Stoic, without whining or crying WHY ME? Now I pray that when I go, I go alone, and that I’m not responsible for taking 400 other people with me. At least let my conscience be clean and clear, knowing I tried my best to protect others and obey quarantine rules. Let us make it through this as best we can.
“The Afterlife tastes like chocolate chip cookies.” What does this mean? I don’t know. I woke up with it in my head after a dream a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s going to kill more people than Stalin.” What does this mean? He who? I don’t know. I got that from a dream too.
I can say, as an historian, that there remains no consensus on the final tally nearly 90 years later. If someone had asked me as a trivia question, I would have said “about six million.” It turns out that I may have remembered only one of several categories that need to be disambiguated. How many people died under Stalin? Well, that depends; do you mean specifically in the Gulag, do you count executions, or are you including famine?
How many people are going to die of COVID-19, all told?
That depends largely on the compliance of the vast majority of humans, excepting those currently in Antarctica or on the ISS. They can probably rebel away as long as they keep the doors closed. Actually, come to think of it, pretending that you are in either of those locations might be a great idea right about now. Maybe print out a picture of a rocket porthole and tape it on the wall. Or a blizzard. For that I guess you could just use a plain unruled sheet of paper...
Where I live, people are complying very poorly, which is to say, enough of them are aiming in the direction of extreme personal autonomy that it will continue to amplify our mortality statistics for weeks. Since we were given orders to Stay at Home, I have seen:
A young woman bicycling around playing music off her bike rack
People flying kites
A shirtless young man vigorously using the pull-up bar on the neighborhood walking trail
A group of young people playing croquet
A father bringing his preschooler to a play area festooned with hundreds of yards of caution tape, examining each piece of equipment, and then playing on the only piece that didn’t have tape
All within arm’s reach of other people, outdoors, in public
An argument sprang up on our local Nextdoor. Someone had posted a photo of a young man who broke the law by climbing over a barricade to work out at a park that had been formally closed due to quarantine. (Shirtless. Same guy I saw a few days earlier?) Almost immediately, someone commented that this was public shaming and we had no right to judge because we didn’t know why this guy was doing this.
Uh, the “honey, this isn’t what it looks like” argument doesn’t really fly when someone is dressed in workout clothes and doing pull-ups. Like, what the heck else could he be doing, looking for his contact lens? Donating blood?
What we have is a failure to understand the premise of the categorical imperative.
What if everyone did this? (Whatever it is)
Anything you do, has to be okay for everyone to do.
You endorse it as something that could be a rule for everyone in the world, all the time.
It’s the right thing because it is right in itself, not because it gives you a warm feeling, improves your reputation, you can write it off on your taxes, etc.
‘Categorical’ means always, as opposed to a “hypothetical” imperative. Like, hypothetically, if I donated blood I might meet cute nurses in the bloodmobile, and that might motivate me, but that motivation might not work on others.
‘Imperative’ means that it’s something we must do. It matters. For instance, it’s imperative to stop human trafficking.
Obviously it’s an imperative to stop a pandemic, even if hypothetically it might kill someone who once got away with murder.
The selfish people who are refusing to comply with basic social distancing and hygiene are doing more than being selfish, which is well within the range of ordinary human behavior. They are putting others at risk. They are doing it because they refuse to pay attention, to read, or to think harder. This is why I’m spending so much time on this abstruse philosophical concept, to help people explain morality to those questioners and rebels who aren’t getting it.
This is how I have been explaining the categorical imperative to children for years:
“If you brush your teeth, you’re saying that everyone should brush their teeth.” *nod*
“If you’re nice to animals, you’re saying that everyone should be nice to animals.” *nod*
“If you yell at people, you’re saying that other people should yell at you.” *blink*
What selfish people are saying with their actions when they break quarantine is basically, I am willing to take a risk that endangers almost every living human being. Breaking the rules isn’t just breaking rules now. It’s potentially infecting people who won’t even know it for as long as two weeks.
So that guy uses the pull-up bar, thinking it doesn’t matter because he is the only one to be that clever. What he doesn’t know is that there are 25 other guys using it as well, each one thinking the same thing. Coronavirus may be able to survive on metal surfaces for several days. Same with the playground equipment. Not only is a single user potentially contaminating the area and directly spreading a fatal and highly contagious disease, but his very presence is undermining the entire idea of social distancing.
The most dangerous diseases that we spread to one another are pseudoscience, toxic skepticism, and callous disregard for others.
People don’t always take something seriously until it happens to them, or to someone close enough to them in their social group. Texting and driving is a perfect example. Everyone does it even though they obviously know it’s both wrong and a bad idea. I think the most extreme toxic skeptics won’t take COVID-19 seriously until one of their close friends or family members dies from it. Or when they themselves are getting a ventilator hose down their throat.
You know me, and that means you are three degrees of separation away from three people who have tested positive. One of them died. Most people probably won’t be motivated by an anecdote like this. It’s just statistics until it happens to you.
Okay, now for the part that I am asking you to show to others. This is a list of links that I have been checking regularly. (I won’t lie; I check them several times a day). Ask them to scroll down to the trend lines and PAY ATTENTION.
COVID-19 coronavirus cases and deaths, US
COVID-19 coronavirus cases and deaths, global
Coronavirus cases, US map
Coronavirus cases, world map
The book that caught my attention was called Rats, Lice, and History. It sat on the shelf at eye level where I used to sit and study in the public library. I thought the title was hilarious. After a few years, it occurred to me that I could check it out and read it. To my surprise, it was not a dense scholarly tome but rather an engaging piece of darkly comic commercial nonfiction.
The premise: Epidemiology has a huge impact on history and human culture.
By that we mean the spread of contagious diseases. You know, like now.
I’ve been getting worried notes from friends and I thought I might as well share my perspective as an historian with a long-standing fascination with epidemics. It’s pretty bleak, I won’t lie, but humanity has bounced back from mass plagues many times.
Justinian plague - and now we have the internet
Black Death - and now we have, well, now we have streptomycin
Spanish Flu (actually from Kansas) 1918 - and now we have a Mars rover
Did you know that leprosy and bubonic plague are endemic? These contagions were absolutely terrifying in the past, and they are still here as pathogens, so what happened?
As usual, a number of things: increased knowledge, better sanitation, better nutrition, antibiotics... and simply the fact that we are descended from the survivors. Two hundred years from now, our progeny probably won’t even know what COVID-19 was. For them it will be weak sauce.
What about today, though?
I’m sorry to say that we have plenty of evidence available from living memory. (‘Living memory’ means that someone is alive right now who can tell you about something from direct personal experience).
At worst, an epidemic, just like a war, leaves a deep and dark stain on history. Every person loses at least one person from their closest circle, and sometimes an entire family can be taken out in days. Burials become a serious logistical problem. Supply chains collapse and it becomes very difficult to find food or any other material goods.
Britain did austerity for eight years after the end of WWII.
In the Nineteenth Century, tuberculosis was responsible for something like 30% of all mortality. (Depending on where and when). It mainly hit people in their youth, 15-44. That doesn’t include all the other contagious diseases like smallpox or measles. For most of human history, chances of a baby living to age 7 were so poor that a lot of cultures didn’t bother naming their kids until they were toddlers.
In many ways, we in the Twenty-First Century are wildly, unfathomably lucky. Not only did we survive infancy, but our lifespan is double what it would have been in the Victorian era. DOUBLE!
Nobody wants to hear perspective on forced gratitude, though, in general and especially not when everyone is in grave danger. History doesn’t really matter on the individual level. Your personal risk of dying from something is either zero or 100%.
Now for the interesting news.
Okay, an argument could be made that the Justinian plague plunged Europe into the Dark Ages (500 words, due Friday, cite your sources). Remember, readers of these words are not only literate but benefiting from the existence of the internet. We made it through.
Extra credit question: What made the Dark Ages dark?
There is another argument that the Black Death was what finally ended feudalism.
So many people died that labor became scarce. Survivors could negotiate for legal rights, higher pay, and better working conditions. Aristocrats who didn’t like it could either come to the table or start doing their own scutwork. Serfs up.
Here we are again. Service workers are either being barred from going to work, or required to go in even at mortal risk. We depend on them and we also give them the least rewards, such as access to health care, paid sick time, or financial security in old age.
That’s, ah, probably going to change.
Broad social currents are really only observable in hindsight. We can guess at what future humans will think about our era, if they think about us at all, but we can’t really know unless we’re there to experience it ourselves.
I can say right now, though, that Boccaccio would have recognized the blindingly foolish behavior of everyone who went out to go buckwild the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s what people do. They run amok like a bunch of morons, rioting, fornicating in the streets, getting falling-down drunk, running around naked. The wheels always fall off the party bus.
Again, though... we survive this stuff. Humans are resilient. Culture is too. Stoic philosophy, for instance, has been in constant use for millennia. (It’s what works in harsh times).
What am I expecting to see in my little household?
Ugh, I don’t even want to tell you, but I promised. It’s BS to wait until after the fact to say that you saw something coming. Future predictions are almost always completely wrong, nay, ludicrously wrong. Maybe it’s good luck to put my concerns into print?
Rationing (i.e. one per customer), including food, medical supplies, and other material goods
Total unavailability of certain categories of product
A thriving black market
People waiting in line all day for something like a single loaf of bread
Economic, um... opportunities? 😬
On the other hand, I also expect to see incredible resilience and feats of courage. Times of crisis are often the making of the greatest among us. There’s a strong correlation, for instance, between major achievement and people who lost a parent in childhood. Crisis deals out trauma with one hand and builds strong families and leaders with the other. Grit, resilience, and thrift could be ours.
Can’t trade them in for bread or toilet paper, but hey.
The other good news is that it looks like surviving childhood illness and/or famine may actually contribute to greater longevity. There are a record number of centenarians alive today, and they all survived some rough decades, including the Great Depression of the 1930s.
It could be that a month from now, we’re all laughing off what was a very scary first quarter of 2020. Or, it could be that this is just the beginning of a major watershed, after which everything will be totally transformed. We are in the middle of the Place of Uncertainty. Those who do not understand history will be condemned to repeat it. When we are prepared to learn our lessons, though, we can move forward quite rapidly.
The last few days have felt like 87 years, am I right? I’ve been doing what I usually do when I’m in the Place of Uncertainty, which is to gather as much information as I can. What I’m picking up right now is chilling me to my very bones. There is misinformation and highly dubious behavior everywhere right now.
What do we do about it?
Last week I found myself in the position of thought leader. We were having an emergency meeting, and I discovered, to my astonishment, that I was the best-informed person on the call. How does this even happen when nobody really knows anything?
I scrolled through my blog, trying to remember which day I posted that “We Prepped for Coronavirus.” (March 3) We... actually bought our supplies at the end of February?? Has it been that long already? It seemed simple and obvious for anyone who reads the news to be aware that the trend line wasn’t going in the right direction. Time to mitigate risk.
“Up and to the right, up and to the right” for INVESTMENTS, not epidemiology
As I started hearing from more of my friends and colleagues, and reading more reports on Nextdoor, and even scrolling through Facebook (which I haven’t done in several years), I started to realize that what is standard operating procedure in my household is actually very fringe behavior for our culture.
Start with deep background, supplement with updates from trusted sources and subject matter experts, apply critical thinking skills, and run scenarios with favored sounding boards.
Isn’t that how other people react to current events?
I’m writing about the problem of fake virus news in this way because a bulleted list of conspiracy theories and actual facts NEVER WORKS. That kind of thing palpably does not work on the people who need it. I’m writing for the benefit of my fellow thought leaders, because the designated “smart person” in your circle of friends is probably you, yes, YOU, the one who is reading this.
You have to look them right in the eye and talk them through their pseudoscience, piece by piece. Praxis. One at a time, patiently and with all the lovingkindness you would show to anyone you care about, if you knew they had only months to live.
I live in a bubble, not just of privilege but of highly educated and brilliant people. A bunch of people in my social group have PhDs and a couple of my dearest friends are actual professors in STEM fields. The smart people are staying home, partly because their employers sent them and mostly because they know higher-level math. They look at the data and nod and trust the experts.
Ah, but I also know people with advanced degrees who are *not* getting with the program.
I was talking one such friend who was trying to convince me that we have nothing to worry about, because there were “only about 320 cases” in “all of California! The entire state!”
All the blood drained from my face. The last I heard, it was... six.
I’ve heard several people repeat the idea that “it will go away when the weather gets better” because “warm temperatures kill it” when they are missing the obvious, which is that the inside of a person is almost always significantly higher than that.
Only about a dozen people in my acquaintance seem to understand the concept of social distancing, or how viruses spread. “For those of us who need a break from ‘social distancing...’”
I love you, and you know that’s not how that works, right?
Do you understand that you could be contagious for two weeks before you even felt any symptoms? And that’s why we have community spread?
PRETEND YOU HAVE CHICKEN POX
People have been panic-buying at the grocery store in our neighborhood. Store hours have been cut back. People are showing up at 5:45 AM every morning and standing in line for over an hour so they can stream in and buy toilet paper. Which is fine, but... People are bringing their entire families into the store and cramming themselves into these tight lines. Panicking their way into the exact opposite of what they should be doing. Can’t one parent go and have everyone self-isolate at home? Or at least wait in the car?
The way people are reacting is like they are preparing for a cross between a hurricane, a terrorist attack, and... werewolves.
Quick, buy bottled water before the storm hits land... NO
We have to keep shopping and going out or the microbes will win... NO
We have to stay together, hold my hand, we’re going in... NO
Y’all been watching the wrong horror movies
It breaks my heart to know how many families have already been impacted by this thing, and how it’s spreading farther because so few people are as educated about basic public health concepts as they are about, say, helping a dog that has been left locked in a car in hot weather.
We do gradually learn, as a species. It’s fairly rare for people to die in structure fires now, for instance, when it used to be a constant problem in the Victorian era. This is because we have worked very hard on institutional inputs like smoke detectors, fire drills, crash bars, EXIT signs, and fire codes. Same thing with airplane crash fatalities. Little by little, every time a disaster happens, people take notes and start trying to avoid it ever happening again.
At least we have the scientific understanding of germ theory. That was not obvious to past humans, not by any means. The first thing the medievals did during the Black Death was to cull domestic cats, not realizing that the vector was actually... rats and mice. Oops.
The silver lining to this pandemic is that it has everyone talking and taking it seriously. Pop culture is eventually able to absorb new ideas, like “stop the shooter” and “don’t let the terrorist take over the plane” and “don’t leave a dog in a hot car.” We start adjusting to new social norms. We aren’t there yet with basic public health concepts, like how viruses spread, but we’re, um, going to learn it now. On the fast track.
Please won’t you help me by using your social capital with your friends and family, and making sure they understand what is going on?
In times of trouble, it can be hard to remember that such a thing as “luck” exists. Janice Kaplan decided to research the topic from an analytical perspective, not being a natural optimist, with the goal of finding out if she could learn to be lucky. How Luck Happens is the delightful result.
The first thing that becomes clear in the research and writing of How Luck Happens is that Kaplan gets tons of help whenever she asks. People keep saying Yes to her request for interviews, giving her extra time, and connecting her with other well-placed people. She recognizes that this is her way of making extra luck. Over and over, these successful people list off how they’ve been lucky in their own lives and how they do their best to pay it forward, which is clearly a way to become even luckier.
This was an exciting book to read, because I see myself as a lucky person even though I have lived through some pretty serious misfortunes. There are a lot of tricks to it, and one of them is learning to think in counterfactuals. “If X had happened instead” or “If Y hadn’t happened.” For instance, last month my husband had a terrifying and very painful eye injury and we spent the night in the emergency room, where we both picked up either a bad cold or the flu and were sick for a week. Anyone would consider that bad luck; you wouldn’t even have to qualify as a pessimist. The counterfactuals, however, go on and on. We felt so lucky that we have health insurance, that this happened near home instead of in the backwoods or on vacation or overseas, that we have antibiotics in our century, that there were numbing eye drops, that his vision was saved and his eye healed completely, that we’re both able to work from home so I could take care of him, that we ranked so low on the triage list that a lot of people in much worse shape got to go in first. Rather this than the kidney failure...
THEN we realized that we were even luckier than that, because this happened early enough in the year that we got “the flu” (or whatever) and we missed COVID-19.
How Luck Happens does a great job of explaining the concept of luck, which includes what I would consider to be ‘good fortune.’ Kaplan does an amazing job of demonstrating how to create your own kismet and generate serendipity. I also loved how she started looking for ways to create lucky circumstances for others, something that my husband and I do all the time and which it is thrilling to see explained and encouraged. Nothing is more fun.
I hope this book is wildly successful and that readers start testing these ideas right away. Maybe writing this review will throw a little extra luck my way?
Sometimes the seed of opportunity that we plant doesn’t blossom into luck until weeks or months or even years later.
“Real luck occurs at the intersection of chance, talent, and hard work,” I said.
You have to believe you’re lucky to take the action that will make you lucky.
The real trick is to recognize those moments of luck moving forward.
The grit and fortitude and steely resolve that come with being passionate make positive things happen. Putting your desire out to the universe just means that you know what you want.
You get lucky when you admit what you want and go after it.
It was inevitable that I would read this book. All my favorite writers talk about Marie Forleo all the time. Most of them thank her in the acknowledgements. Who IS this woman? I thought.
Then I read Everything is Figureoutable and found out what the fuss was about.
This is an incredibly motivating book. It is packed with examples of Forleo’s students solving problems from their lives, and sharing the thought process they went through when they realized that they actually had the power to do something about their situation.
The book takes on skeptics, starting with the very concept that everything is indeed figureoutable. I like this approach. As a coach, I find that people on the low end of the readiness scale spend a lot of time venting, telling others that they “don’t know what it’s like,” and exclaiming that they’ve “tried everything.” Meanwhile someone who has resolved the very same problem in the recent past may be sitting right there, waving for their attention. Everything is Figureoutable but contrarians don’t want to believe it, or admit it.
Perfectionist? Procrastinator? Naysayer? Give it a look. Literally what is the worst that could happen?
If you’re hell-bent on looking for reasons why this won’t work, congratulations. It won’t. But neither will anything else.
No matter what you believe your limitations are, I promise that if you look hard enough, you’ll find someone with more challenges than you.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those with reasons and those with results.
Embrace the fact that if you were powerful enough to create an overcommitted and overstretched life, you’re powerful enough to uncreate it.
If you had to find the time, you would.
You never get stronger if you only do easy things.
The horns of a dilemma are no place to be. Whatever situation you’re in, feeling unable to make a decision will extend it and prolong the difficulty. The only way to be free is to figure out what you’re going to do.
This is exponentially more true if you feel stuck on a lot of undecided decisions.
Not everyone has an issue with being indecisive. It’s good to appreciate that. I think indecisive people can learn by example, too, and free themselves and the others around them. We have to lower the bar on most decisions and save our mental energy for the big stuff.
You know what I tell people when they’re having trouble figuring out what to do?
If it were obvious, it wouldn’t be a decision!
The only reason it feels hard to make a decision is if there are good reasons for each option, and choosing one cancels the other. The flip side of this is if there are negatives to each choice, if no matter what you pick, there will be some bad outcome for someone.
Not deciding does not, unfortunately, allow you to collect on all possible positive outcomes. Not making a decision also does not help anyone avoid the negatives.
Eventually, this crossroads will be passed, only visible in the rear view mirror... until the next major intersection, that is. The thing about choices is that the same type of decision comes up again and again.
Should we stay together or break up?
Should I stay at this job or leave?
Should I go to this party or stay home?
Should I spend money on this or not?
What should I order off this menu???
Personally, I refuse to bog myself down with petty decisions. I’m never going to spend more than two minutes choosing what I want off a menu, or deciding what to wear. The minute I realize that I’m caught up at a choice point and that I need to make a decision, I’m 90% of the way there. Why would I drag it out and make it worse on myself?
This is a benevolent attitude because nobody around me needs to waste time listening to me try to make up my mind, either. Nothing spreads like stress. I have no way of knowing what other people are going through, and my concern of the moment may be only 1% of the valence of anyone else in my social group.
I actually prefer talking to other people about their problems, rather than talking about my own. It’s a great distraction! Sometimes it gives me perspective or teaches me how to solve an issue later on. Sometimes I can help.
It may be easier to help someone else resolve something. Then maybe you still have your original problem, but you’ve made a difference to someone else, and nobody can take that away.
Everything we do to solve a problem reminds us that problems can be solved. Try to think of a completely unique problem, one that no human in the history of the world has ever dealt with before. If you can, DM me, because I’d love to know!
There are a few heuristics I use when making a decision.
One: Is this problem actually mine, or someone else’s? *drama detector ON*
Two: Is this an animal problem or a human problem? If my dog, a squirrel, or a crow would know how to handle this, then can I?
Three: Can this problem be solved by money? How much?
There are three other things I’ve started doing to preserve my precious mental bandwidth.
Status meeting. My husband and I save all our mutual pending decisions to discuss once a week at Status Meeting. We also share what’s going on in our personal lives, and we’re usually able to help each other make decisions because of our non-overlapping skill sets.
“Decisions” email folder. If it isn’t an urgent, Quadrant I issue, I immediately drag it into the *Decisions* folder. Default to no.
A “Decisions” list in my day planner. This list is the opposite of the email folder. Email comes from someone else and requests your time and attention. My list is self-generated and reflects my own priorities. These are Quadrant II questions, things that could be strategically important and valuable, but will only happen if I choose to put my attention, time, money, social support, and other resources behind them. They also need their proper timing. Often they need research, too, because if I knew how, then I’d already be moving ahead.
It helps to have policies in place for as much as possible. It saves time and makes it easier for others to get along with you, because you are consistent, they know what to expect, and they can plan around you. It also sets the example that they can set their own policies. Example: don’t bother to bring me a coffee, because I won’t drink it, but thanks for the lovely gesture.
A new situation can often generate a new policy. We may sometimes have to learn things the hard way, but at least that bitter experience can help us avoid it happening again.
One of those policies is simply to force yourself to confront your pending decisions. Is it time to change jobs or relocate? Is your budget working? Are you sacrificing your health and peace of mind for something that doesn’t deserve it? Has a relationship reached the end of its natural lifespan? Is a lot of your time disappearing into the ether when you’d rather be doing something more intentional?
Keeping a list of pending decisions is a way of putting your foot down. It’s a way of reminding yourself that if you don’t set your own priorities, someone else will set them for you. Are you getting the rewards of your efforts, or is someone else? Are you heading toward the outcomes you’ve chosen for yourself, or blowing around like a tumbleweed? Exert your free will and confront your pending decisions today.
We always have our reasons for doing what we do, and those reasons can change. While sometimes our situations and perspectives change, that may not always be a reason to change what we’re doing, too! Anything can continue to be a good idea despite whatever else is going on.
Weirdly, we’re more likely to hang onto our negative constants, like a toxic relationship, than we are to keep up our better habits. We believe in dark circumstances in a way that we don’t believe in good fortune.
The talented person who stays in a dead-end job out of total inertia, resisting the effort involved in a resume update
The former smoker who always starts up again under stress, as though an extremely expensive habit like that is going to help somehow
The family living in a run-down rental for years, never quite getting around to calling the landlord for routine maintenance issues
We probably don’t talk enough about the emotional reality behind positive change. Cynical people don’t want to hear it because they want everything to stay down at their frequency. Skeptics don’t believe it. Positivity always sounds like someone is selling something.
One of the most convincing testimonials I ever heard came from a friend who had all his teeth pulled to get dentures. He said he never realized how much chronic pain he was in from the inflammation of his infected teeth until they were gone. Sure, his mouth was sore for a while, but his entire body felt better. He said if he’d known what a relief it would be, he would have dealt with it sooner.
His original reason for finally seeing the dentist was to move past this cosmetic issue that was holding him back. He became a true believer when this massive amount of hidden pain left his body.
I originally went back to school because I kept seeing job listings for which I was qualified in every way except that they required a bachelor’s degree. I sat down with a calculator and estimated the monthly payments on my inevitable student loans, realized I could afford them even if I never got a better-paying job, and enrolled. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I understood how much advanced education had changed me. I felt that college taught me how to think, how to research an idea, and how to write in ways that would not have arisen from my previous life.
It paid for itself in the first year, of course, but that was beside the point. I was no longer the same person I had been.
We make decisions because they seem like a good idea at the time, because they seem like the obvious next step, or because “everyone’s doing it.” We don’t usually make decisions thinking: Yes, it is time to transform completely.
When I took my first pink collar office job, all I could think about was the money. Suddenly I was earning triple what I did at the convenience store where I worked the summer after high school. I had no idea that the years of boredom and drudgery would turn me into an efficiency machine. It never occurred to me that I would develop a solid foundation of skills that would benefit me no matter what else I did.
This summer I met a kid, a teenager. He was being homeschooled, and he was going around asking everyone what was the most useful thing they learned in high school. Calculus, said my husband the aerospace engineer. Typing, said I. My typing teacher was the bitterest, most sarcastic and pointlessly mean woman I have ever met in life. She would stand against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest and rant about how naive and lazy we all were. That class was terrible. I just wanted to get through it so I could type letters to my boyfriend. Now I type 100 words per minute and it’s possibly the only skill I learned in high school that I use every day.
Two adults in that conversation said they had never learned to touch-type, and they wished they had. It’s not too late, I said, you can get typing games where you shoot zombies or whatever. Ah, but how many people in their thirties through fifties are really going to set aside three weeks to do something that mundane?
Come on. When I started marathon training, I had to relearn how to tie my shoes.
If you think that’s bad, I’ve known at least three men who had to relearn how to WALK after one catastrophic accident or another.
We’re so, so poor at testing our limits. Everyone has a limit somewhere, but how many of us ever test them out? Have you ever worked a muscle to failure, where you send the mental command to move and your muscle does not respond? It’s tiring, but you can indeed move again the next day. We could all be pushing ourselves so hard and finding out what we’re really made of, but we don’t want to. We’d rather live in our comfy little incubators, snuggling under the heat lamp.
The first time I got on an elliptical trainer at a gym, I’d never seen one before and I just wanted to know what it did. My friends invited me. The next time, I got in a row with them and we pedaled our way on our gossip machines. I moved, I went back to school, I changed gyms. The elliptical became my homework machine, the place I did my reading for history. Then it was the “avoid my ex” machine. Now it’s the place I read the news, and also the place I reset my mood. I keep finding elliptical machines with different programming and different strides, different views and different background music, because although my reasons change, the habit continues to serve.
Our reasons may change for things we do, like journaling, saving money, or staying married. Often our positive habits get cast aside, just because we changed schedules or relocated. It can take five minutes to discard years of what supported and nurtured us, just like bad habits can seem to pop up out of nowhere. Every now and then, it’s good to take stock of what we’re doing, compare it to what we were doing at different points in our lives, and remind ourselves of what works and what doesn’t. No matter what situations we might find ourselves in today, our reasons can change and so can we.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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