Saturday, January 12, 2008

In case you wonder what might have happened had you gone to medical school . . .

You know what feels really good? When you meet someone you knew like twenty years ago who took a totally different path, and then you reconnect in some meaningful way.

This has happened recently on several fronts. For instance, I just spoke yesterday to my first boss, who hired me for an internship in 1986. (I know, not every six-year old is hired for a post-college internship but there you go.)

Another example is when I reconnected with my friend, Pauline Chen, first at a dinner several years ago in Palo Alto, and most recently this past fall when we both coincidentally published our books. Hers just came out in paperback: Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality. It's earned rave review, deservedly so.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rekindling the 11-year old financial mastermind that lives somewhere inside me

Long-term observers of Michael Melcher are probably aware that in 1974 I was Paperboy of the Year for Scottsdale, Arizona. Actually the official title was "Carrier-Salesman of the Year" and the paper in question was The Scottsdale Daily Progress.

I was simultaneously a very sincere and determined paperboy, and a crafty one. I never missed a delivery, and at the same time plotted things like making homemade Christmas cards for my customers on the theory I would get higher tips.

Looking back, it's clear that I had a very entrepreneurial bent. I grew my route from my starting number of 37 customers to a high of 168, saved money, bought stocks (seriously), and lent my mom $600 when we moved to California the following year. This is an interesting memory for me since I tend to compare my financial skills unfavorably to those of the various bankers, venture capitalists and internet zillionaires that were my classmates in the Stanford MBA class of 1993.

What's my point here? I think it's that whatever we think is the truth about ourselves may not be the full truth. And whatever identity we have is probably just one of the many potential identities available to us, should we decide we'd like to shake things up.

I am having these ponderous thoughts after doing an interview for a cool website called QueerCents, which is a bunch of GLTB financial advisors -- who cleverly have realized that putting real, useful content on a site is more interesting than just having a bunch of people talk. They have a "Ten Money Questions" series that is interesting. Here is their interview of me.

Year-end review, with yourself

Here's the interesting thing about writing. You never know how something is going to come out until you write it. And you never know how it will resonate with the rest of the world until you put it out there. Okay, I guess that's two things.

A couple of weeks ago I did a guest-post on Marci Alboher's blog at the NYT, Shifting Careers. (A most excellent blog, by the way, independent of my own participation.)

I wrote this particular post during a recent visit to my mom's house in the burbs of San Diego County (San Marcos, California, to be precise -- a little prefab town that oddly has its own Bikram yoga studio). "Hmm," I thought. "What could I write that could be useful. Maybe some kind of exercise." I thought back to an exercise I did with my friend Polly on a Hawaii vacation three years before. "Well, I guess I could try that," I mused. I wrote it up, edited it down, and sent it off to Marci, with a not untypical email message to the effect that if she thought it sucked, I could try something else.

She loved it and posted it. It became widely read. It generated a number of strange ad hominem attacks and revealed that there is a certain sector of the population that has great hostility toward things like setting goals and in particular toward yoga bootcamp (which was merely a casual mention in the post but generated an extended argument about the divorce settlement of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. I know, kind of weird.)

But traffic continued to grow. I know, because I obsessively check the visiting stats for this blog as well as my somewhat duplicative but slightly different blog, The Creative Lawyer. Lots of potential client contacted me, as well as people I worked with more than ten years ago. It made the top ten emailed articles on the biz section. Which isn't the top ten overall, but still! Some people wrote on their own blogs about how they actually did the exercise, which made me very happy.

Anyhow, the point of all this is: you never know. If you feel the inkling of creativity, just do it. Reach into the well and see what's there, and then with a deep breath send it out to the world.

Oh, here is that cool invented-in-Hawaii exercise. The point is to look at the previous year before moving on to the next one. It's a method of taking you through the year to get clear on what, in hindsight, was meaningful to you. My favorite web post that I read about this was on a blog called Maigrey:"I'm astonished how unimportant the various men I've dated are. Seriously. Some not even mentioned, and not a one of them underlined. On the other hand, my lady friends got hearts."

Try it. It's fun and it works.