Sunday, December 16, 2007

Take it from the striking Hollywood writers ... December is a great time to network!

I have parachuted into L.A. for a few days to visit, among others, my friend Henry who was once a lawyer and is now a glamorous TV writer. However, just moments after he inked his new deal with a certain well-known star's production company, the Writers' Guild went on strike. So now he has to work that picket line.

It does not surprise me at all that, amongst the various striker antics (like Star Trek-themed day) the strike itself is turning out to be a great networking event. Because, basically, when you have a lot of verbal people hanging around for hours at a time every day, they end up getting to know each other a lot better.

One of the hazards of being any kind of entrepreneur (and writers are basically entrepreneurs) is that it's very easy to get isolated. Especially when you have to turn out the next episode of a show that's already jumped the shark, like Desperate Housewives. ("Let's see, we've given Lynette cancer and had a tornado come out of nowhere. Wait, I've got it! We'll send Carlos to Thailand for a botched a sex-change operation!") Networking is one way to counteract this isolation. It helps people keep up on relevant information, forge connections, and brainstorm possibilities, and writers need it as much as anyone else.

You don't have to be a glamorous striking writer spending his days chatting up Valerie Harper (as my friend was doing last week) to be a good networker. Just spend some time accessing some of your weaker ties (people you don't know all that well or whom you used to know but have fallen out of touch with).

There's a misconception that you can't do much job-related networking in December, since people stop working, go off to wherever they came from, and in general spend their days in the swamp of holiday commercialism. But actually, December is a great time for networking. Whoever is left in town isn't really doing all that much work and the upcoming New Year has made people a bit more reflective of where life is taking them. If you manage to get in touch with them, they are probably available for conversation. Since the normal rhythms of professional life are off it's a good chance to mix things up a little bit.

Facebook can wait, people. And so can that shelf take-down memorandum. Get off your computer and get out there in the world and connect!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hillary Clinton, misunderstood INTJ

Hillary Clinton is an introvert. I'm quite sure about this. My best guess is that, in Myers-Briggs terms, she is an INTJ (details below). This explains a lot about how the world regards her and why the press seems to find her so problematic.

Let me start backwards. In today's New York Times, a lengthy article about Hillary Clinton's political persona ends by comparing Hillary and Bill at the eulogy of one of Hillary's best friends, Diane Blair. Hillary gave a great eulogy, but apparently it wasn't tearful enough. "It was left to Bill Clinton to bring the service to its emotional peak," the article concludes. "When he spoke of Mrs. Blair, Mr. Clinton wept. 'I felt about her as I have rarely felt about anyone,' he said. His wife, Diane Blair's best friend, held steady in the front row.'"

Presumably, what writer Mark Leibovich would like us to conclude is: "oooh, yet again Hillary is so cold and emotionally flat. Oooh, what a strange person she is."

What I concluded was, "yeah, big duh, Mark Leibovich. Hillary is an introverted thinker, and Bill is an extraverted feeler, and each was behaving in a style appropriate to his or her type."

According to the theory behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), each of us uses four different types of mental processes, each of which has two poles: introversion/extraversion, intuition/sensing, thinking/feeling and perceiving/judging. We have access to all of these functions, but we tend to prefer one of each pair. This theory is unprovable, but in my personal and work experience, it is valid.

Introversion/extraversion refer to where people get their energy. Extraverts get their energy from other people, the external world, and experiences. Introverts get their energy from themselves or their own space. Extraverts are often chatty, social and open; introverts are often quiet, reflective and contained. Introverts open up to their close friends; extraverts open up to everyone. Bill Clinton is clearly an extravert; I think Hillary is an introvert.

Since 75% of the population is extraverted, extraverts are considered normal. By comparison, introverts are considered a little weird ("why can't you just open up?"). (As I’ve written in The Creative Lawyer, law is an exception: the majority of lawyers are introverts.) Introverts often have to feign extraversion to succeed in the professional world; their natural style is often not valued. Much of the criticism of Hillary Clinton's authenticity is criticism of her introversion. She's basically criticized for being private and for being careful about her words; and then she's criticized for inauthenticity when she tries to act more extraverted and social.

The second Myers-Briggs function is intuition vs. sensing. Intuitives look for concepts, the big picture, and possibilities. Sensing types are more interested in facts, details and concrete reality. Hillary has some strong sensing skills but my guess that she, like Bill, is an intuitive abbreviated as "N").

The third Myers-Briggs function is thinking vs. feelings. Both of these are ways of thinking. Thinkers prefer to make decisions based on impartial, objective principles, whereas feelers prefer to make decisions based on strongly held personal values or the effect on other people. Thinkers tend to think logically; feelers tend to think associatively. Though Hillary talks a lot about her values, I think that she, like the vast majority of lawyers and virtually all the men running for president (with the possible exception of John Edwards), is a thinker. Bill is a feeler.

Around 60% of women are feelers, and around 60% of men are thinkers. This means that both Hillary and Bill are in the minority for their particular gender. This is where the press gets wigged out. The words commonly used to describe presidential presence are all thinker-ish: strong, clear-headed, tough, questioning, blah blah blah. So the press is constantly evaluating whether she's enough of a thinker to be president. At the same time, the press seems discomfited that Hillary is not more girly: they also want her to be compassionate, open, nuanced -- apparently she is supposed to cry at eulogies.

The final Myers-Briggs polarity is judging/perceiving. This refers to attitudes about closure. People with a preference for judging like to be scheduled, organized, and know where they stand; people with a preference for perceiving are more spontaneous and open-ended. Hillary is a J, Bill is a big P.

Conclusion: Hillary Clinton: INTJ. Bill Clinton: ENFP.

What's the point? Since Hillary is in the spotlight, more or less 24/7, people assume that everything she does has some core meaning that has implications for her potential presidency or her character. But sometimes Hillary is just

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And now, eleven minutes of the mellifluous vocal stylings of Michael Melcher . . . . My ABA podcast has arrived!

The ABA Publishing homepage has a podcast featuring ME, talking about my book, lawyers, and how intelligent people can attain work happiness. Click here to go to the home page, then just follow the directions to listen.

Special thanks goes to my high school speech and debate coach, Mr. John DeNike! All that articulateness is the direct result of those many thousands of hours of preparation back at Valencia High School. Hooray.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ivanka Trump? Michael Melcher? What's the connection?

A couple of months ago I sat behind Ivanka Trump on a flight from Newark to Hong Kong.

At the time, I didn't realize that the tallish blonde person in front of me was the daughter of The Donald. She seemed nice enough, pretty smart, a little chatty on the cellphone while we waited to depart, though no more so than the average contemporary flyer. I remember guessing that she either worked in finance or was a kind of high-end real-estate lady.

I only discovered her celebrity identity a day or so later. Click here for the continuing saga!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why I am inspired by the lawyers of Pakistan

My thoughts (and a cool photo), here.

In Which I Offer the Readers of the NYT a Good Exercise to Figure Out What to Do With Their Lives

I'm a guest-blogger on Marci Alboher's Shifting Careers blog at the Check out the cool exercise.

Monday, November 05, 2007

How do you say studly? Perhaps "letter published in the Sunday NYT"

The NYT published my letter to the editor in this week's Sunday edition. It turns out that when you are in the Sunday NYT you get more blog traffic and your amazon sales number goes way up! I briefly elbowed Judge Judy aside for the most-purchased legal practice book.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Meanwhile, in another part of the blogosphere...

Check out my snazzy new book-related blog (which, ahem, tends to have most of the same posts as this one), The Creative Lawyer. And don't worry if you're not a lawyer––the fresh, punchy content is suitable to anyone interested in improving life and career! And who likes to travel and think.

P's Have More Fun

Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator? It’s a personality assessment instrument that’s based on the theories of Karl Jung, and it has pretty much permeated the professional world. This is the instrument that measures you on the parameters of introvert/extravert, intuitive/sensing, feeling/thinking and perceiving/judging.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Create a Right-Brain File

When people come to me to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, they typically arrive with one of two mindsets. Either they have lots of ideas, and don’t know how to figure out which one they should pursue; or they don’t have any ideas at all, and want to get some.

One method that can help you, regardless of what category you are in, is to create a “Right-Brain File.”

A Right-Brain File is a way to collect data that you aren’t ready to process. It’s a way to let your subconscious do the work for you. A Right-Brain File is based on the premise that applying your analytical skills, alone, won’t get you the life you want. As I wrote in my recent book, The Creative Lawyer, when it comes to creating a great life, thinking is overrated. That’s where the Right-Brain File comes in. It’s a way of thinking without, well, thinking.

What you put into your Right-Brain File is anything that tickles your fancy. It could be an article, a photo, a travel brochure, an email, an overheard snatch of dialogue. My Right-Brain File consists mainly of articles, but that’s just me. What you put into your Right-Brain File might excite you, it might intrigue you, it might make you boil with envy, it might make you just say, “huh.” There’s something there, you’re just not sure what. And the key is: don’t think about it. Just put it in the file.

Later, once your file has grown, take a look at what you’ve collected. What do you see? Any patterns, inspirations, insights? What you have is a record of what your right brain—the intuitive, associative, non-logical part of you—has noticed. It’s been noticing things, even if you haven’t been able to put words around it. Indeed, sometimes avoiding putting words around your impulses is one of the best ways to let them develop.

Create a Right-Brain File, and see what your mind comes up with when it’s not thinking. Here’s what I put into my Right-Brain File yesterday morning.

What’s in yours?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Have you been upgraded to the Valley Wing (and not realize it)?

When I was checking into the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, I asked the front-desk person, “Is it possible to get a room with one king-size bed rather than two double beds?” I get kind of creeped out sleeping by myself in rooms with two beds.

He looked doubtful. But then after clicking on his computer for a few minutes, he announced that he could comply with my request and that I’d been upgraded to the Valley Wing.

“That’s nice,” I said, though the phrase “Valley Wing” meant nothing to me. Still, you gotta love the word “upgrade.”

My room in the Valley Wing was really nice. Extremely spacious and sort of classic-looking but brand new at the same time. The bathroom was divine. There were many interesting things to investigate, like the automatic blackout curtains and shoeshine kit.

Since I was spending a relatively large percentage of my earnings upgrading my airfare and hotel, I decided that economizing was in order. So, the next morning I made coffee in my room with the free coffee provided, and deferred eating until later. Internet access was free in the lobby, so I hung out for some time in the lovely gilded Valley Wing lobby checking up on things. Several times I was asked by the exquisitely coiffed lobby hostesses if I would like a coffee, cappuccino or tea, but I smilingly resisted their blandishments. I didn’t want to spend seven bucks for a cup of coffee after spending three hundred dollars a night on my room.

The second morning I splurged on the breakfast buffet, since felt it important to be well-nourished in order to perform several hours of workshops. I’ve seen a lot of breakfast buffets in my time, but nothing like what the Shangri-La provided. It really defies description. There were a lot of food choices, very artfully provided. It cost about forty bucks, but I felt it was a reasonable investment.

The fourth morning, as I checked email in the lobby, I was again asked if I would like something. My workshops done, I decided to treat myself with a cappuccino. The cappuccino came in a little Wedgwood cup, with a glass of water and a cookie on the side. Yummy! Afterwards, I asked for whatever I needed to sign.

“No, sir, there’s nothing to sign.” It turned out beverages were free in the lobby of the Valley Wing.

The fifth and final morning, since I was flying later in the day, I again went to the breakfast buffet. However, I wanted to be intentional about my spending. After the waiter asked for my room number, I asked, “Do you have an a la carte menu?”

“We do have an a la carte menu,” the elegantly dressed waiter said. “But you are staying in the Valley Wing and your breakfast is included. So you can have the buffet if you want. Either way.”

So there you have it. All week I had been resisting the offers and entreaties of the Shangri-La. “Not for me,” I’d thought, marveling at my self-control and financial focus. “I’m spending three hundred dollars a night and not a penny more!” Yet all along, the free, lovingly made beverages and buffets were mine for the taking. It just never occurred to me that such things were possible.

It’s easy to think that we are only going to get things in life if we struggle for them, and that the outside world is our opponent rather than our collaborator. But what if it’s more complex than that? What if we’ve already been upgraded to the Valley Wing? What if the world is waiting, in some way, to help and support us. Can we let ourselves see it?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

What I learned from Madeleine L'Engle

Here’s what I learned from reading the obituary of Madeline L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, who recently passed away at age 88: she didn’t write this massively bestselling book until after she was 40. In fact, in her thirties her writing career was going so badly that she thought she might give it up. The novel itself was rejected 26 times before finding a publisher. How’s that for inspiration?

If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time, you have missed out on one of the great experiences of childhood. It is practically the awesomest book ever. So go out and get a copy!

I can still remember how I felt in fourth grade when Mrs. Thacher read our class a chapter each afternoon after lunch to help us cool down. (This was at Navajo Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona; given the midday temperatures lunch recess resulted in my daily entering a state of heat exhaustion and borderline mental illness). As she read the novel, I was transported.

A Wrinkle in Time is a book that’s both intense and easy to read. It’s about a girl named Meg who steps through a tesseract – a wrinkle in time – to a parallel universe in order to find her missing father, who despite his PhD can’t save himself. Meg is accompanied on this journey by her eerie genius 6-year old brother Charles Wallace. They meet characters named Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which, and find a planet run by an evil force where all the children creepily bounce balls with exactly the same rhythm. Lots of other stuff happens.

Now that I think about it, Meg’s journey is sort of a metaphor for career growth and transition. She’s plunged into uncertainty and weirdness, her parents can’t really help her, and she gradually discovers that she has talents she’s never really seen or valued. The whole journey is scary and dangerous but far better than living on the planet of people who bounce balls with exactly the same rhythm!

When asked in an interview how she came up with the idea for A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle said, “I think that fantasy must possess the author and simply use him.” She then added, “I cannot possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice.”

When reading this quote I thought of myself. I thought of the time I have spent wondering why I’ve made the decisions I have, both in work and love – basically why am me, as I am, rather than a different version of me.

What if we thought about the ways life possesses us rather than always thinking about how we are supposed to possess it? In other words, what is sometimes life is in charge rather than us?

Focusing on what we can do in our lives – as they are now -- rather than endlessly wondering why we are here, or why we’re not somewhere else – opens up possibilities. Maybe you can write a book that goes into (literally) 69 printings. Or maybe you can just bounce your ball to your own personal rhythm.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

How jet lag can improve your life

I’ve popped over to Singapore to do some workshops for the National University of Singapore business school. With a 12-hour time difference, you can’t really fight jet lag – you just have to give into it. But jet lag isn’t all bad.

The mindful pleasures of ironing

What do you do when you are fully awake at 4:30 am, before all the lovely amenities of the Shangri-La Hotel have opened? I ironed my clothes. Slowly and carefully, since I had a lot of time to kill. First my suit and tie; then all my dress shirts; then my jeans. I lovingly attended to every ironing detail. And you know what? I felt really happy.

Mindfulness is being in the moment. “Now I am ironing,” the mindful mind observes. “Now I am turning the sleeves inside out because I once heard that’s what you are supposed to do. Now I am attending to the collar. I am doing these things rather than thinking about global warming, or whether I will forget my passport when I check out.”

Buddhism holds that the monkey mind is always part of ourselves—the monkey mind being the voice that constantly judges and raises points of dissatisfaction. The way to freedom is not to talk ourselves out of vexing questions, but to rise above them by attending to the moment. In this case, ironing.

New frontiers of exercise and community

After a big travel stint last year, I ended up with back pain, weird sleep patterns, and, let’s be honest, constipation. So I decided to go to a Bikram Yoga class since there is a Bikram studio in Singapore.

Normally when I think about going to a hot sweaty 90 minute yoga class, I mentally seesaw for several hours asking myself should I go, will I like it, is there enough time. But with jet lag, I had a lot of time as well as great urgency to do something constructive.

So I went, and it was awesome. “Say hello to Michael from New York, everybody,” the peppy instructor said. I sweated through my bad airplane juju energy, and felt great.

Time to be and time to plan

When your body clock is off, you don’t automatically fall into the normal work, socialize, check email routine of our lives. You have a fair number of hours when you are just hanging out.

So after a lapse of several months, I returned to journaling my Artist Way-inspired “morning pages.” I also spent a fair amount of time planning and replanning my day, to make sure I could do all the cool things that Singapore has to offer – taking advantage of delicious street food (which, in Singapore, is arranged in nice clean indoor food courts) and planning my trip to the Singapore Zoo’s night safari. Plus getting ready for my workshops. The end result was that I felt ready for my days, because I’d taken time just to reflect and anticipate, rather than just to jump in and bounce from activity to activity.

Jet lag can make you gorgeous!

You can curse jet lag or you can cheer it. Notwithstanding the great street food, I haven’t been all that hungry so I’ve eaten lightly. Plus I went to Bikram Yoga three times. So I’ve lost like five pounds. So now I’m coming back confident and trim rather than bloated and regretful. Hooray for jet lag!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dare to be peppy!

When I was in business school, my friend Polly and I decided to name ourselves the two peppiest people at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

We did this not because of our inherent Pollyanna natures or our uncritical admiration for all thing b-school; quite the opposite. We made this decision because we recognized we were in danger of falling under the sway of cynicism, and still had the clear vision to see that this would not be a good thing.

MBA students are very peppy. They are high-energy, can-do people. Compared with, say, law students, they focus on execution more and analysis less.

When we started business school, Polly and I felt different from the mass of b-school students, and one of the ways we felt different is that we were skeptical of jump-on-board group activities. We felt proud of our critical faculties. We understood the world. And its difficult complexities. And its iss-shoes. More than others, anyway.

But then we realized that critical faculties can come at a cost. We found ourselves holding back from what we were experiencing, and from what we were contributing.

So we decided we would be the two peppiest people at Stanford business school. We also decided that our most dreaded class, Cost Accounting, was actually our favorite class. “Are you ready to study for our favorite class?” one of us would ask. “Omigod, I can’t wait to get started on our favorite class!” the other would reply.

Sometimes it was difficult to fulfill our mission. Polly went on a study trip to Chile and Argentina with a group of b-school students. “Let me tell you,” she wrote. “It is quite a tall order to be the peppiest person amidst a group of people who are getting up at 6 to go jogging in downtown Santiago. Extreme levels of peppiness are in evidence.”

Other times, people were not so supportive of our peppiness. When we started something called The George Stephanopoulos Fan Club (this was in the early Clinton days), and created our own fanzine, Stephanoupouletter, just for fun and the prospect of fame, some of our classmates thought we were incredibly witty and creative fun, and others thought we were kind of weird. It sure opened us up, though, and we even got into People magazine.

Deciding you are going to be the peppiest person in your environment really does change the way it looks for you. You choose one path – positive energy – over another – detached analysis. You pull open the shades and let the light pour in, even if it might bleach out your expensive carpets.

In certain professions – law comes to mind – deciding you are going to be known to be peppy takes courage, since peppiness is not always a culturally smiled-on characteristic. But try it. It gives you options, and you might like it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Achieving Career Happiness by Being Gay on the Inside

One of my clients works for a big, fancy firm. It’s the kind of firm that people who went to Harvard go to if they want even more Harvard in their life.

This particular client has dreams besides being one of a thousand employees of a highly branded business, but he is not sure whether he will pursue those dreams. Setting off for the unknown involves risks and the benefits are uncertain.

Recently, he pondered aloud to me, “I wonder if the reason you’ve made so many career transitions is that you’re gay. I mean that in a good way. One of my siblings came out the closet recently and then completely changed her career. Once she made that big break from convention, other breakthroughs were possible.””

I nodded sagely, as I sometimes do. “You’re right,” I said. “Career change is probably easier if you are gay. A big part of coming out is recognizing that you are not going to get acceptance and approval from everyone, including in many instances your own family. So you develop a basic undertanding that what you truly want and need may be quite different from the world’s expectations of you. If you naturally expect a certain amount of rejection and befuddlement from the world, they don’t fase you as much when they happen.”

“In addition, coming out is a process of sorting out your adult self, and understanding how that’s different from the childhood image of what you thought you were going to be. When I was twelve years old, I thought that success would involve my becoming a lawyer, getting married and having kids, and being elected to the U.S. Senate. When I realized that some of those things were not going to happen in the way I imagined, it freed me to envision how all the other aspects might be different too. Accepting that you can’t be like everyone, and may not even have the same options, can be very freeing.”

“Conversely,” I added, “if you fit in too easily, you may never explore who you really are beneath the acceptable exterior.”

My client nodded, somewhat sadly, silently reflecting on the ways that he is like many others in the particular demimonde of affluent professional New York—married, white, earning a good salary, working for the well-branded company. And therefore, somewhat trapped by expectations.

“But don’t worry,” I assured him. “You can be gay on the inside.”

“Really?” he said brightly. “That makes me feel much better about everything.”

Anyone can be gay on the inside. It just requires three things: (1) consider that you might be different from the way people think you are; (2) consider that you might be different from the way you think you are supposed to be; (3) be willing to accept that other people may disapprove of your choices, and realize that their approval doesn’t matter all that much anyway.

Get past those things, and you can start thinking about what you really need to be in order to be your true self.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Extraverts can be great writers, too

People know me as an extraverted person. I get energized by being around people and doing things in the world. When I think of my favorite foreign trips, I inevitably imagine myself walking in large exotic public spaces surrounded by throngs of people. Once in college I talked for eight hours in one day. You get the picture.

Because my extraversion has always been so clear, I have often wondered whether I am the right kind of person to be a writer. Writing usually happens when you are alone. It requires a lot of concentration. It takes a long time to get the words down, and then to edit them into the right shape. You can talk over ideas but at some point, you need solitude. Lots of it.

While introverts are 25% of the population, I am pretty sure that a significant majority of are introverts. Introverts’ personalities are streamlined for the process of writing in the same way that super-studly Olympic champion Michael Phelps’s body is streamlined for the process of swimming.

Introverts rarely have resistance to the notion of spending time thinking by themselves or working by themselves. For instance, my partner, who is a law professor, is an introvert. He spends his days happily working on legal scholarship. Ten hours after turning on his computer he is still at his desk, the only signs of physical movement an expanding set of empty coffee cups.

That is just not me! I can sit still for maybe a couple of hours, max. And even then I need to indulge in various kinds of self-bribery, most of which involve food.

And yet—my whole entire life I have been drawn toward writing. As a 12-year old in California, I typed 150 pages of a novel (it was about a 12-year old character named “Michael Melcher” who lived in a townhouse in New York City and went to a special school for millionaires’ children). I’ve continued writing, on both serious and wacky topics, ever since. Several years ago I wrote a novel with three other people (about a student prostitution ring at Harvard), and I just wrote a self-help and career-management book for lawyers (which is … a self-help and career-management book for lawyers). Plus articles, travel emails, crazed letters to the editor . .. the whole nine yards.

My urge to write has persisted. Writing is not the thing that makes me most comfortable, but fulfillment and excitement are rarely about comfort. When I do it, writing makes me very happy in a very unique way.

So now, instead of wasting any time wondering whether writing is really me, I focus on creating the workarounds that enable me to write—I have lots of clever tricks (more on those, later).

All this kinda makes me wonder how many of us put off pursuing things that excite us because they don’t seem to fit. Instead of just making them fit.

There are a lot of masterpieces of all kinds waiting to be created. What would it be like to make them happen, rather than pondering the reasons you might not be able to?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hassle me, please!

My friend Gretchen Rubin just turned me on to a new site, brilliant in its power and simplicity!

It's called "Hassle Me" and, basically, it bugs you at particular intervals to do things, like go to the gym, pet the dog, or take a moment to get out of your head and enjoy life. What I love about the idea is that it's a way to build in MINDFULNESS–at those prearranged moments when you are being bugged by the reminder, you remember what it is you are trying to focus on.

This is basically part of what I do for my clients, albeit in a psychic, non-computer way. They internalize the Michael Melcher voice who occasionally peeps up in their unconscious, "oh, I need to use my positioning statement" and "oh, I need to call person I've been trying to reach" and "oh, Michael Melcher says I'm allowed to treat myself to something fun when I do something that's hard so I'm going to buy flowers for myself and also get a massage and also have chocolate."

I will let you know how it goes. I'm going to focus on "eat fresh fruits and vegetables" which apparently is the key to all happiness.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Buddha on the Subway

This morning, when I was talking with a friend about life stuff, I remembered an exercise from a self-help book I once read.

Try going through your day imagining that everyone you run into is more enlightened than you. This means: the post office clerk, your boss, your dog, the checkout girl chewing gum, the delivery boy, your kid, your spouse or partner, your assistant, the scary teenagers shouting on the subway. Et cetera.

Sound hard? Actually, it’s easy. It frees you from the burden of judgment. If you regard other people as more enlightened than yourself, you’re accepting that you don’t have all the answers, and don’t have to.

Instead of getting annoyed at the person who stands directly in front of the subway doors, you get curious about him—because he’s more enlightened than you are. You start wondering about his thoughts, interests, gifts, what he’s struggled with, what he knows, who he loves, who loves him. In a weird way, through this kind of observation, you join with the world, rather than detaching yourself from it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Reducing my carbon footprint, and increasing LUV

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I decided not to rent a car and instead to rely on public transportation. I did this partly because I think the world is coming to an end due to global warming, and partly because I'm not all that into cars. I like trains and subways.

I took the BART system from SFO to the city, and then took the toy-like MUNI tram to the Sunset area of the city, where I was staying.

As soon as I rolled my bag over to the airport BART station, I felt a spring in my step. My mind felt engaged. I had to figure out the ticket machines, analyze the route map, contemplate my next moves. I noticed the people around me. I wondered where they were from, and where they were going.

Since instant mobility was not possible, I spent the afternoon hanging out in my host's neighborhood, which is largely Chinese. I had dumplings and bubble tea. Both were delicious.

That evening, I took the toy MUNI train again for a mile or so to Cole Valley to have dinner with a friend. He doesn't have a car, either, and takes the Googlemobile to work every day.

The next three mornings, I took the toy MUNI train to Embarcadero Center. In previous visits, going to the Embarcadero had always been a hell-on-wheels experience for me as I attempted to navigate the counterintutively triangulated streets of downtown San Francisco and find parking. This time is was easy and fun.

The morning rush consisted of lots of folks in their twenties doing their early-career-experience thing. They were sipping coffee, listening to iPods and reading books like "David Copperfield." It was refreshing to be with fresh people.

A couple days into the trip, I realized that I was loving San Francisco. This is a big deal for me, because previously I never--confession here--liked San Francisco all that much. I think this is because I had certain semi-traumatic experiences in the area over the years that were difficult to dislodge from my system, even years after the fact. I appreciated what San Francisco represented, I just couldn't get into it.

Freed from automobile imprisonment, however, I was able to easily construct a new reality. I rewired my San Francisco brain. Without a car to tempt to hop around the city (to places where I would never be able to park), I focused on where I was, and I connected to the people around me.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Spring wisdom

The next week or so is a magical time in New York. Why? Because nature renews herself.

It may come as a surprise to certain people (such as my father) that I, Michael Melcher, consummate urbanite, often turn my thoughts to nature. That I find inspiration, joy and peace from flowers and birds and trees and butterflies and squirrels. But I do!

The other day I was in the park (and when I say "park" I mean ultra-glamorous Central Park), observing the birds a-twittering, and I shouted out (inwardly), "You made it! You all made it through! You're all alive!" 'Cause I become concerned what happens to nature's creatures when it's, like 70 degrees in January and then 5 degrees in March.

(I also get excited when sparrows make lots of racket when the evil red-tail hawk comes snooping around for food. "Hide, you guys!" I scream (inwardly) to the birds and squirrels and even rats, which they all seem to do very effectively.)

Here's why New York is even more special than normal this week. Because for the next few days, all the trees look wintery. Their branches are bare. Not a lot is going on. Even though you know that spring is here, if you look at any particular tree you can't quite picture how it's all going to transform into lushness and vitality.

But within a week that's exactly what's going to happen. Spring will be everywhere! Just like that. Growth and renewal coming out of nowhere, really.

All this happens to us, too. But since we're not trees or daffodils, it takes different forms. With my clients (all of whom are extremely attractive, by the way), I talk a lot about "cocooning," a phrase coined by Fredric Hudson.

Cocooning is kind of like winter. It's a period of internal growth. You can't see it. It might not feel like growth at all. Cocooning happens when something else has ended. A job. A relationship. A sense of who you are. A whatever. You know how it feels. You wake up and think, "Geez, I'm 35, what the hell happened?" In our superglamorous, high-octane, Sex and the City city, cocooning can be hard, because everyone is out there seems to be makin' it.

But cocooning is leading to something. It doesn't look like growth, but it is growth. And one day, spring emerges. The bare branches fill up with green, and you wake up and feel alive, hopeful, excited and lush again. And maybe luscious. That too.

Check out this week's natural transfiguration. And get excited about the one that will assuredly happen to you.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

He's baaaaaaaacccckkkk!!!!

Hey, guess what? I wrote my whole entire book. Done! More or less. Just a few revisions and it's off to the presses. And my editor LUVS it. So stay tuned for a late summer book publication, jet-setting travel and parties with celebrities. Or something like that.

Insights about ME

Somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed writing this book. And I'm referring specifically to the final four weeks or so when I was really cranking things out. There were two feelings in particular that I experienced.

First, was the realization that I CAN STILL DO IT! I was capable of the old college try, or in my case, the old high school try. I was engaged, focused and able to manage my energies (example: periodically taking breaks to watch SuperNanny.) I have to say, I had sort of unconsciously concluded that over the years I had become a lazy person. You know, having lots of interests but not really able to pull it together. That was all false. It turns out that when I am really into something the sky is the limit!

The other thing I realized is that it is really a cool thing to write a whole, entire book. Because it's an expression of ME! And, given my subject matter (all of my coaching theories and experiences, adapted for a lawyerly audience), it was something that I could only do because of the choices that I've made over the past decade or so. Let me tell you, write a book and instantly your alumni-magazine anxiety falls away.

Insights about writing, and life in general

As for the writing of books, here are two other things I've learned that may be of interest to all you would-be authors.

The first is that if you put in some work every day, eventually it gets done. Strange how that works. Doing beats thinking (and it certainly beats feeling).

The second is that there's a RIGHT TIME for certain things. I first had the idea for The Creative Lawyer six years ago, and periodically over the past six years would harangue myself to GET MOVING ALREADY! But actually, this was the ideal time to write it, since I actually know what I'm talking about and have a platform from which to market what I've written.

This makes me think about other goals I have (e.g. having a kid, running for public office, developing six-pack abs) and wonder, "hey, maybe I don't have to these things right now. Maybe I can do them LATER."

p.s. You regular readers -- make some comments already!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A great new career book -- "One Person/Multiple Careers"

In the early years of my career, I felt I had a good resume. It was pretty cool and it all made sense. And the one day—all hell broke loose! For I had added one experience too many and things didn’t fit into any clearly defined box.

When people asked me what I did, or what I aspired to do, it was hard to give a straight answer. “It depends,” would have been the correct one. A lawyer? A writer? An entrepreneur? An unemployed person? A former this? An aspiring that?

I wasn’t sure which identity people wanted to hear about, and I wasn’t sure which identity was really me. And I wasn’t sure whether random experiences—my experiment with stand-up comedy and open-mike singing, my gigs writing on philanthropic topics—counted as a whole identity.

Part of me thought, "Why do I have to be some dumb label, anyway?" And part me thought, "What I really need is a smart, cool label that can magically encapsulate all the fabulosity that is Michael F. Melcher!"

If any of this rings a bell—if you have gone shopping for boxes to put yourself in and discovered that the only ones available are too small, too flimsy or are still using that tiresome 1980s color scheme of mauve and grey, then I’ve got the book for you!!! It’s called “One Person/Multiple Careers,” and it’s by Marci Alboher, a lawyer turned author/speaker/writing coach. It’s hot off the presses.

You’ll note the slashes in her current title. “Slashes” is what the book is all about.

Marci shows that the slash effect has gone way, way beyond the old standbys of actor/waiter and writer/[tedious day job]. Her book is filled with stories of really interesting, cool slashes: a lawyer/minister, a psychiatrist/violinmaker, an art consultant/Pilates instructor, a rabbi/stand-up comic, along with the tale of a very charming and handsome life coach to the stars based in New York.

More to the point, the book explains very clearly how having a slash career isn’t something to manage, or explain away. It’s something to ASPIRE TO, and she shows you the methods for making it work. This is the greatest contribution that this highly readable book makes. That slashing is part of good living.

As Marci says in the epilogue, “After all, who can answer the question ‘what do you do?’ with a singular response? And who would want to?”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My imprisonment … and my impending freedom

I’m in prison. Writing prison! My manuscript for “The Creative Lawyer” is due to my editor at ABA Press on February 28, which gives me 10 more days! My friend Gretchen Rubin says that writing is easy if you just pretend you are in prison. It kind of works.

I am being very focused. But not so focused that I am not enjoying the occasional short distraction, like writing this.

Here’s something I didn’t expect about writing this book. I don’t feel any anxiety about it. I am quite confident that it will be good. (I wouldn’t say it’s good now, but it will be.)

I first had this idea six years ago. I was in a sticky nightclub in Paris and I thought, “I should write a self-help book for lawyers, and I will call it 'The Creative Lawyer'." In the interceding years, I would occasionally work on it, but not really. Interestingly, it seems clear that now is the right time to write it. I might have constructed a self-help book for lawyers back then, but I would have been making it up. Now I know what I’m talking about. Plus, I’m ready to be famous.

I’ve also had a feeling, for a few years now, that a major purpose of this part of my life is to write this book—I can’t go forward to other things until I do.

I therefore perceive a great expanse of freedom awaiting me! Because carrying around an unfinished mission really does stop you from doing other things. I’ll be free to do whatever—build a school in the third world, join a presidential campaign, make money the way my classmates from business school do, write another book, have a baby, declutter my home, perhaps all of the above.

Thus is the state of my consciousness on this Sunday morning. Okay, back to the book!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

super-inspirational story of the day

I wanted to post an obituary from today's New York Times, about someone I'd never heard of who did something that could change the course of history for the better.

Check it out!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Message in Milan

In which I find myself in Milan

Recently, I was in Milan doing some workshops (because that’s the kind of glamorous thing that I do) on networking (it turns out that all the world is interested in networking) for the Bocconi School of Management’s MBA program. I had been quite nervous before going, because this was a new client and there’s always a question of how well things I do here adapt to international audiences, even though most U.S. audiences are themselves quite international.

I have traveled overseas on business before a few times, but mostly under the name and protection of big institutions – the foreign service, Davis Polk, etc. Mostly I’ve just traveled for pleasure. This time, it was me qua entrepreneur, trying to make money and deliver a service, as opposed to me qua tourist, just spending my dollars and being friendly. Going overseas in an entrepreneurial capacity is simultaneously thrilling and scary. I felt exposed. What if the carbinieri locked me up for some unknown tax code violation? What if the PowerPoints didn't work? What if I felt unattractive next to all those skinny Italian guys on Vespas?

My story, heard two different ways

As it turned out, the workshops were really fun and successful. Later, some of the Italian MBA students took me out to lunch. One of them asked me to explain my career progression, which had been hinted at in the bio attached to their handouts.

I briefly went over the story – foreign service, more school, law firm, internet start-up, unemployment, coaching. I actually left out several pieces – the first post-college internship I had in investment banking, my year in consulting, the stupid hedge fund, attempts to make it as a screenwriter, philanthropy consulting projects, my SAT prep business, temp jobs. As I jogged through my past (both what I told them and what I edited out), I felt that awkwardness you sometimes feels when questioning judgment in telling people things that might give them a negative opinion about you—like when they ask you how you are and you start going on too long about a bad relationship or a skin disorder.

The students listened very intently. A student named Tommaso said, “I wish I had that freedom. We can’t do that in Italy. Here it’s very hard to do anything besides the one thing you are trained for. People don’t accept your changing fields so most people don’t even try. I would like to be able to try a lot of different things, as you have.”

Well. That made me think.

The part I forget to think about

You see, I don’t often think about the freedom inherent in my choices. On several things I have not made it to the finish line (like being a rich entrepreneur, or a successful screenwriter) but no one has stopped me from taking the first step. Or the second, or the third. I can look back and see the cost of trying new things. But I never really ask myself, “how much would I pay for the ability to make changes, if I didn’t have it?”

Here in competitive New York City, it’s easy to focus on the outcome of everything. We always think, “what result did I get?” I don’t think we ponder as often the value of the process. Do I want a life in which I get a particular result? Or do I want a life in which I’m able to live fully—which means being able to sample a lot of what life makes available?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Change is scary (even when it’s just furniture)!

My apartment, myself

My apartment is an enduring metaphor for my mental state. It’s large (for New York), has good bones, is darker than I wish, is nonetheless the subject of much envy, and is filled with stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff. After 12 years, so much stuff. Oy.

This is one aspect of adulthood that I had no inkling of as a child. That as you grow older, you accumulate, and not in a good way.

One way childhood was easier than adulthood

I was not burdened much by expectations as a kid. I was excited about the future because, well, there seemed to be lots of exciting things out there. I wasn’t sure how far away from me they were, but I knew that they would be cool.

Perhaps as a result, I was quite the doer. I got a paper route, went to debate camp, played the piano, listened to language tapes in my sleep, tried out for the school musical, got a job at a donut shop. Basically, I set goals and went after them, without quite thinking of things in those terms. Of course, these energies also yielded some semi-disastrous results—water polo comes to mind—but once I was out of them I barely gave them a second thought.

So imagine my surprise that as an adult I find myself spending so much time reflecting, looking back, comparing, and in general evaluating my present and future in terms of my past. We’re talking baggage here. Am I off the mark in saying that one of the biggest challenges of adulthood is being fresh?

It’s hard to ignore what we have experienced, or the emotions to which we’ve become habituated. Changing my life is like rearranging my apartment—I have some ideas but it’s so easy to get bogged down in the stuff.

My life as seen through bookshelves

A couple of years ago, I hired someone named Maxwell Gillingham Ryan, who runs , to come and do a consultation. It was super-interesting (this is where I got the phrase “good bones”). Among other things, he noted that my apartment’s waistline was inconsistent mostly due to two towering bookcases in our living room. These bookcases I originally purchased from Gothic Custom Craft, a sort of cheapo furniture chain here in New York. I painstakingly assembled them myself. Shortly thereafter I decided I hated them. One of them is pictured above. It looks innocent, but don't be fooled.

Two years later, I have finally taken up Mr. Gillingham-Ryan’s suggestion that we install a lower, wall-length bookshelf instead—one at proper room waistline level. Aiding in my effort is Mr. Luis Calvo, the brilliant handyman and furniture constructor who is the father of a student I helped with her college applications several years ago. It turns out that spending part of each morning at Starbucks in December 2001 helping Sulay with her 13 college applications was a fine investment on my part.

Feelings about furniture

I was prepared to be all excited but what I am experiencing is anxiety. Anxiety about whether it will look good, anxiety about how we are going to get rid of these behemoth bookshelves, anxiety about whether our dogs are feeling anxious about hammering sounds, anxiety about the fact that whenever you lift up a board in our 1928 building or punch a hole in the wall you realize that the entire building is basically filled with rubble

But basically, my anxiety comes from change itself. I’m taking a step to making my life different. But it’s kind of messy and I don’t have any certainty what it will be what I want. As a kid, I didn’t have an overstuffed albeit glamorous apartment, so it was easy to move forward. But now I do. So change is more complex. It requires me to get rid of my stuff, which is hard. And if I am so weirded out just by furniture and dusty books, no wonder bigger goals can be daunting to achieve. While one is undergoing a change process, it doesn’t always look or feel so good.

I’m moving forward, though. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Everyone Can Be a New Yorker in 2007!

Will the real New Yorker please stand up?

On the morning of New Years Eve as I was waiting in line at a Starbucks in midtown, I saw a fit, middle-aged woman with puffy red hair carefully unwrap her long coat to reveal an ensemble consisting of knee-length black boots, a brown long-sleeved top and pumpkin-colored walking shorts. And it looked good!

“Love the shorts,” I told her. “They work!”

“D’you think so?” she asked, in a friendly British accent. Her interracial family beamed in the background. “I just gawt them today. I felt that this is what New York City on New Year’s Eve is all about!”

“It is what New York is all about,” I concurred. “Sometimes the best New Yorkers are the ones from somewhere else!”

I, myself, am a born New Yorker, even though I didn’t get here until I was 31. You see, New York-ism is a state of mind that anyone can adopt. You just gotta have the attitude to make it all happen! If you live out in Kent, or Scottsdale, or Anaheim, or Charlotte or Skokie or Dallas or wherever, you might actually be in your core a glamorous New Yorker.

A core New Yorker skill: healthy skepticism

One New Yorker skill is having the attitude to make it all happen. Another is having just the right type of skepticism.

My partner, the famous professor Jason Mazzone, is a bit of a skeptic. Toss some interesting trivia his way, say about how South Bronx is the hot new property market or how you might have prostate cancer because you pee a lot, and you are likely to get a “hmmm,” kind of response. Prof. Mazzone doesn’t automatically believe everything he hears. Though from Tasmania, he is also a born New Yorker.

Unleashing your inner skeptic can be good for you. It's your best resource against the cavalcade of self-doubting, depressive, cranky, whiny thoughts that form much of our inner lives. Even here in glamorous New York.

A breakthrough at Bikram

Recently, I was taking a Bikram Yoga class, as part of a revisiting of various physical fitness regiments I’ve tried over the years. (Long-time Michael Melcher observers will recall that my Bikram period stretched from 2000 to approximately 2003.) Anyhow, I was in the hot Bikram class, wearing my bathing suit staring at myself in the mirror (in Bikram you are instructed to stare into the mirror for the entire class), and I thought, “Oh my God. Look at that bloated, pasty person . . . who happens to be ME.” My bathing suit looked not edgy, but dodgy. My bod looked not studly but stuffed-ly. My hair was a mess. The dark clouds of self-loathing gathered round me.

And then, for no particular reason, I heard myself say to myself, “No, that’s not true.” I listened, entranced, as the voice went on.

“You don’t look like shit," it said. "You look fine. And, hello? The whole reason you’re here is because you are acting in a proactive, positive way. If you did this every day of your life you’d be worthy of the cover of Men’s Health. Take some credit. So, Inner Critic, just shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

My Inner Skeptic had emerged from unknown parts to take out my Inner Critic. And I felt great!

What your Inner Skeptic can do for you

Since that breakthrough moment, I’ve tried calling on my Inner Skeptic at frequent intervals. Whenever I feel kind of .... disturbed, I'll ask Inner Skeptic what he thinks.

Inner Skeptic favors phrases like, “that’s not really true.” And, “that sounds like a big generalization.” And, “that person is not really credible.” Inner Skeptic sounds very convincing when raising these quite reasonable objections.

It turns out that Inner Skeptic is useful not just for promoting positive body image, but also for dealing with the cranky pessimism that’s become our normal mode of discourse. You know, the kind of "the world is awful blah blah blah" that's not actually accompanied by any useful action. Inner Skeptic doesn't think that things are always peachy (he's a skeptic, after all)--but he's not impressed by ill-formed generalizations.

So when you feel down, or put-upon, or self-loathing, or when the conversation around you seems inordinately negative, invite your Inner Skeptic to intercede on your behalf. Be a New Yorker and love it!