Coping with Harsh Criticism

My friend and former student Kirstin Butler wrote a fantastic post on coping with traumatic rejection. I won’t go into a ton of detail about the feedback itself, because I know it was well-intentioned. But it also contained a few comments — I believe the exact phrase was “total rewrite situation” — that hit me square in the solar plexus. Listen, I will totally own the fact that I’m a sensitive person, particularly so with this book since it’s been my baby for almost three years now, but I do believe there are more and less helpful ways to give criticism. It’s also probably worth noting that of all the responses I received, the only one I internalized was a complete outlier. And that the things this reader said made the draft fundamentally flawed were the very elements all the others had liked best. In other words, taste is subjective and there will always be people that don’t dig what you do because it’s just not their bag. … [Read more...]

“Scope Creep” will Poison Your Projects!

"Scope creep is poisonous," a client of mine recently said after finally finishing an academic paper he had been procrastinating on for more than three years. He had a full spaghetti snarl of reasons for not getting it done--and remember, our reasons for procrastinating are always valid--but after he worked through them and started to write he encountered one more obstacle: a frequent temptation to add new bits and pieces. This is called "scope creep," a huge problem for many programmers, engineers, and others. Sometimes, as in the case of my client, we do it to ourselves, while other times others do it to us. (Bosses or customers often tack on extra bits to projects, all the while expecting you to finish it on the same deadline and using no extra resources.) Thankfully my client was able to recognize and resist the temptation to expand his paper's scope. That's not always easy, particularly when "the creep" is whispering at you, "C'mon! It will only take a few minutes to add that, and without it the … [Read more...]

Seth Godin’s Icarus Sessions A Great Idea – and Coming to Your Town

It's so important that you be able to stand up and say, "This is who I am and this is what is important to me, and here's why it is important." If you don't you remain ashamed and isolated, which feeds procrastination. Uber marketing guru Seth Godin knows all this and is organizing a global series of Icarus Sessions, where you do just that. ("Icarus" because often we do fall, but that's okay and part of the process--and survivable.) Learn more. … [Read more...]

Four Things Your College Career Center Got Dead Wrong

Over the years, I've helped many new graduates look for work; and one of the things I've learned is that a lot of the advice dispensed by college career centers is flawed. Below are four of the most common errors I see: three having to do with resumes (easily correctable), the fourth having to do with strategy. Avoid them and you should boost your chances of getting hired. 1) “List your education up at the top of your resume ahead of your work experience.” ...or, you could just embed a bunch of Blingees in your resume that flash out: “Newbie! Newbie! Recent grad! Little work experience!!!” This antiquated piece of advice assumes that you have little work experience because you're young. But these days many young people have not only worked at least some summers, but have an internship or volunteer gig or two under their belt. Even if your work experience is on the slim side, list it first. But do make sure you're listing it all. It's perfectly okay to list volunteer work in your “Work Experience” … [Read more...]

How To Be An Effective Decision-Maker

I was recently interviewed by for an article on decision making. The writer's questions were excellent and thought provoking, and I wanted to share my answers with you. Best, Hillary Q: For leaders you've encountered or researched, how have you noticed that decision-making tends to get in the way of productivity? Can you give some specific examples? A: Everyone knows the perils of over-researching and under-researching decisions. Less recognized is the problem of bashing yourself after making a decision that turns out wrong. It's a huge problem because it makes you wary of making future decisions, and thus more prone to dithering. None of us can tell the future. If a decision turns out to be wrong or suboptimal, you should just learn from it, make amends (if required), and move on. Leaders know that there is no benefit to indulging in feelings of regret, remorse, shame, etc. As Jim McCann, CEO of, once said: "If you look at highly successful people, they make … [Read more...]

If No One Falls Over, We’re Having a Great Class!

One of my recent newsletters discussed a misguided essay (and now, regrettably, book) by a prominent philosophy professor on his notion of "constructive procrastination. I'm happy now to refer you to this essay, I'm With Stupid, by a writer who is not, to my knowledge, a prominent professor, but who nevertheless has figured out a lot of the whole procrastination/perfectionism thing. Robin Marantz Henig started taking tap dancing lessons in her forties and reports: "Amazingly, considering how ambitious I was in the rest of my life, I didn’t really care about getting any better at tap. As long as I didn’t mess up or fall over, I considered that afternoon’s class a success. That’s what was so great about learning tap as an adult. For kids, every new skill might be the one they really shine in, the one that defines them, which makes piano lessons, ski instruction or tap-dance classes especially fraught. For adults, there’s not that kind of pressure. I was in my 40s. I already knew dancing wasn’t going to be my … [Read more...]

All Your Work Should Be Sand Castles

The wonderful and much-missed writer and writing teacher John Gardner wrote in On Becoming A Novelist: “If children can build sand castles without getting sand-castle block, and if ministers can pray over the sick without getting holiness block, the writer who enjoys his work and takes measured pride in it should never be troubled by writer’s block. But alas, nothing’s simple. The very qualities that make one a writer in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on.” However, if you work on your perfectionism and other barriers to productivity, all your work CAN be sand castles! Those other barriers, as outlined in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, include: resource deficiencies, unmanaged time, ineffective work processes, ambivalence, unhealed traumatic rejections, and an exploitative/unliberated career path. Yes, your work might be intellectually or emotionally challenging— but the act of sitting down to do it should be little harder than sitting … [Read more...]

Why You’re Afraid to Quit

Interesting article by Daniel Gulati in Harvard Business Review on why people have trouble quitting even jobs and businesses they hate. Everything he writes would apply to activist campaigns, too, and probably relationships and other areas of life. The author neglects to mention, though, that timing a quit is hard. It's not always obvious when to quit, and you also (of course) have no way to predict how better or worse things get in the future. Most people, though, take too long to quit--and many take way too long. One question to ask yourself: while you ponder or ruminate about the quit, are you inventing reasons for staying put, or reasons for leaving. If you're expending a lot of energy trying to convince yourself to stay, that's probably a sign you should go. Excerpted from Gulati's article: You've been conditioned. Scientists know that the best way to train someone to perform a behavior is to reward them for doing so at random intervals....If you look closely enough, you'll find that the … [Read more...]

Interview with Richard Stallman

My friend Richard Stallman is the founder of the free software movement . His ideas have spawned not only the GNU/Linux operating system , but Wikipedia , Creative Commons the anti-DRM Defective by Design campaign, and other important social movements. He is a MacArthur "genius," and arguably the world's most successful activist, and I was honored to have the opportunity to interview him. Q: What is free software? A: Free software means that the user has the four essential freedoms: 0. The freedom to run the program as you wish. 1. The freedom to study the program's source code, and then change it so that the program does what you wish. 2. The freedom to distribute exact copies of the program to others. (This is also known as the freedom to help your neighbor.) 3. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions. (This is also known as the freedom to contribute to your community.) Q: You have been working on the free software cause for more than 20 years. How do you keep your momentum going … [Read more...]