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?