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My Visit to the Career Section of the Bookstore

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What sells books? Stress. Along with having a baby, one of the keenest contemporary stresses is probably work. Cubicles. Micro-managers. Endless meetings. You know the drill. To help us deal with our angst, a slew of new titles are constantly joining the “career section” of your neighborhood bookstore shelves.

Like the parenting section, the career section can be avoided for years at a stretch. But quit a job, as I recently did, or wish like hell that you could, and you’ll find yourself cooling your heels there on Friday evenings, an espresso and notepad in hand.

In checking out the wisdom in the latest crop of work-related books, especially those by and for women, I was struck by the cult of personality. The authors in this niche situate their expertise not only through impressive resumes but also with polished author photos—full-color numbers that show off freakishly white teeth, perfectly coiffed hair, and well-tailored suits. These images shout SUCCESS, presuming it’s your kind of success. For others, this Gordon Gecko-like perfection is a turnoff, which is partially why I enjoyed Michelle Goodman’s decidedly unglossy The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. From her au natural photo to her folksy, funny prose, I believed that Goodman was speaking from years of hard-won experience as a freelance writer. The book, she says in the introduction, is intended as a primer for anyone seeking to leave the traditional office behind, including dog walkers, carpenters, artists, and massage therapists.

Although slanted toward women with all female examples (one complaint about career books in general: so many models are introduced it begins to feel like a cocktail party of over eager gal Fridays, e.g., “Meet Molly …”), most of the advice is gender neutral or can easily be translated to men. Goodman mentions mothers but doesn’t entirely understand the complexities and challenges faced by self-employed moms. Let your kids and husband know your office hours, she says, assuming they’ll get this.

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide is a jumping-off point, scratching the surface on topics including researching a specific field, avoiding procrastination, and paying taxes. It’s for the woman who has been mulling the possibility of leaving her job and desires a broad blueprint for what might come. Full of checklists and sidebars, there are also helpful pointers for anyone about to reenter the job market. Goodman provides a lot of Web sites and organization names that don’t appear in an Appendix, so read with pen and paper nearby.

Far sassier, and, well, more ambitious, is Debra Condren’s sassy amBITCHous. An executive coach (with a decidedly upscale hairstyle), Condren wrote the book, “to help women redefine their ambition in the face of social sanctions.” As with many career-section authors, she seems to have felt that there was no word in Webster’s that adequately summed up her thesis, hence the term “ambitchous,” which she uses on nearly ever page. The term grates. Cute once—maybe. But Condren’s arguments and examples (yes, a whole new raft of perky women to “meet”) are worth a look. Many of us will recognize our younger selves in the woman who responds to most advice with, “Yes, but …” And any freelancers out there know that women are much more apt to undercharge for their services than are their male counterparts.

If you say “yes” too easily for committee work and volunteer service while your career lags, consider Condren’s book as a reminder to say no more often. Instead, invest time in reinvigorating your relationship to work and money. Condren encourages readers to write the phrase Life is long on a card and to look at it every day as a reminder that success cannot be measured in the short term. “The reality,” she writes, “is that the women I’ve known who are successful and satisfied with their work and personal lives don’t think about balance in that way; they think about it much more in terms of the big picture over the long term.”

If your sense of balance does not include reading 200-plus page books, then try Radical Careering. Sally Hogshead, bedazzling in a white suit on the back cover, is another corner office type who found it imperative to coin a half-baked term only to work mightily at using it throughout her book. Still, the hundred hints she offers in this pithy volume make for useful bedside stand reminders of how to maintain a sane and successful work life. Aphorisms such as, “The most risky decision is not making one,” or, “Chaos unlocks opportunity,” are worth staying acquainted with, even if they’re not earth shaking. Like Condren, Hoghead’s niche is a bit too navy blazer for my taste, but it was easy to bend most of her examples to non-trad work environments. After all, I am familiar with risky decisions and chaos. And though I may not find a direct answer to where my next paycheck is coming from, at least these books reassured me that I’m on the right track.






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