Should I Go to Graduate School?

Six Things to Consider First

Note:  This article does not necessarily apply to someone thinking about “Going back to school to get/finish a bachelor’s degree” because you had not previously. In most cases, though not all, the answer is “Yes”, but see “Alternatives to the 4-year Degree”.

I frequently have college interns, recent grads and young professionals asking my advice about “going back to school” (or staying in school, if they are still finishing up a Bachelor’s degree) for a Master’s Degree.

Again, you know what’s best for you, so this is a decision for no one but you (and your family if applicable). With that said, here are 6 things to consider before you make a graduate school decision.

1. Is a Graduate Degree required for your Career?

If your desired career REQUIRES a graduate degree, then yes, of course. For example, if you know you want to be a veterinarian, or a dentist, or a social worker, you know you are going to need a Master’s Degree. 

Otherwise, typically it is not required. But whether it is or isn’t, you might consider taking a school break between undergraduate and graduate school for a year or two to work in your chosen field and get some real experience that you might not get in an internship.

2. If not required, explore WHY you want a Graduate Degree.

And I don’t mean that someone told you “You can’t get a job without an MBA anymore,” or “Pretty much all companies require an MBA these days,” because that is decidedly NOT true.

I highly recommend you take a deep breath and spend some time thinking seriously about WHY you would do it.  

Are you sure you are not just choosing graduate school because you don’t know what else to do?

Because you don’t like first or second job out of college?

Because you think you can earn a ton more money (keeping in mind the debt you will incur)?

Are you so fascinated by the field that you don’t want to stop learning about it?  I’m guessing probably not. Most people, at the end of four years (or, your whole life, assuming you went straight from high school into college), are ready for a breather.

And, if you had to finance all or some of your bachelor’s degree, I suggest pausing to pay that off instead of piling more on.  (See point #4.)

Some people choose to go straight from undergrad to grad school because “the economy sucks and it’s going to be impossible to get a job anyway.” Hmmm…  If you have reviewed all these other questions and you would otherwise work for a while before grad school, I would go for the work and don’t use the economy as an excuse. There are almost always career-related jobs out there for people who are hungry.  

If you REALLY want to know if the “economy sucks”, in YOUR field, do some research on (Browse “Bright Outlook Occupations” before you use the economy as an excuse.)  Direct Link:

3. WILL YOU GO BACK later, if you don’t go straight from undergrad?

You know yourself.  Can you make the commitment? If you are afraid that you’ll really never go back if you don’t just do it now, then maybe you should go straight to grad school if you’ve considered all these other things. 

Of course: Life gets in the way.  You get a job you love and there’s no time or money to go back.  You get married, have kids, there’s not time to go back… 

On the other hand, working for a few years might reinforce, focus or spark your desire to go back later! If the answer to this question, “Should I go to graduate school”, after doing all your research, is not clear to you IN YOUR GUT, I suggest the answer to the “Should I go to grad school” question is, “Right now, no.”

Story: I had ZERO interest in going to grad school after I earned my Bachelor’s Degree. After I worked for four or five years at a small agency, I realized the work I was doing was repetitive there was no real opportunity for growth in the market I was working in. I just knew in my GUT that I was capable of more.  My mentor was really pushing me to get my MBA, but that didnt excite me. (Accounting, Finance, Management – barf!)

I spent some time researching graduate programs and talking to people, and found one that felt designed JUST FOR ME! I was ecstatic! (Furthermore, while IN grad school, I discovered the very specific career that I fell in love with – one that I didn’t even know existed.)

4. How will you pay for it?

If you thought undergraduate school was expensive, wait until you see the cost of a graduate school credit hour! What will your earning potential be with a Master’s degree? 

If you think your current employer will suddenly give you a big fat raise once you’ve earned a master’s degree, you better check on that first! Most times, you’ll get NO raise (and I know many people who will attest to this)! It’s highly possible you will have to switch jobs to see a salary increase.)

If you’re earning $40,000 year and going to grad school will increase your salary to $80,000/year, that sounds like a great investment.  But is that the case?  Or, are you simply piling this debt on top of other school debt?

Will an employer pay for it?  If you are currently employed, that is a great question to pursue.  (If you’re not currently employed, or the answer to the previous question is “no”, consider finding a job at a company that DOES offer education reimbursement program.) Many do, with limitations:  They might pay a certain percentage, if you get an A or B. They might only pay for classes (or a degree) highly-related to your job, etc. Regardless, this is an incredible opportunity to take advantage of. If you think graduate school might be in your future, when you are applying for a full-time job after college, be sure to ask your employer if they offer tuition reimbursement!

5. Are there other options, besides a graduate degree?

What about formal training or certifications that will better forward your career at a fraction of the cost? In fact, there are some certifications available for free, or at nominal cost, online. Your employer might pay for these as well, if they are related to your job responsibilities.

You owe yourself the time and effort of some research on this before you make a graduate school decision.

6. Talk to people with Master’s degrees (ideally, in your desired field).

Have you been serious about your research? Are you SURE this is the field you want to be in for 20+ years, before you make this commitment?  You owe yourself the effort of talking to a few people who have graduate degrees in your field of interest. Ask them how they decided. Ask them about the cost vs. the benefits. Ask them about the program – how it worked, the quality, the cost, the time committment. Ask them how it has helped them, specifically? Did their salary level change?

You can ask people you know, or ask friends of friends. (This is where your network comes in handy, and is a great opportunity to spark a conversation at a networking event.) Send out a call to your network on social media. Most people will be happy to tell you their opinions.


Here’s my best advice about going to graduate school: Unless a graduate degree is required for your chosen field, or you KNOW you want a graduate degree BUT believe you will never go back if you don’t do it right now:

You will get more out of graduate school
if you work for a few years before you go.”

-Kim Bailiff (yes, this is my own quote.)

Why? Because learning is about context. 

Life is about applying the CONCEPTS that you learn in school to life experiences. 

Otherwise, they are just floating around in your head as ambiguous, theoretical ideas.  When I graduated from college and someone asked, “What did you learn?” I was like… “Uhhhh….”

I knew I got a good education… but I couldn’t tell you what I was going to be able to actually DO. Because I hadn’t really done it yet (other than some cool internships that had me doing more minor, tactical stuff.)

Ever wonder why “case studies” are so helpful when you are learning concepts? It’s APPLYING the concepts. 
If you work for a few years before grad school, you will have your own experiences to apply concepts to.

The benefits of working a few years before grad school cannot be underestimated:

  • You will be better able to internalize what you learn by thinking of how it would apply in a real life work situation. It will feel more tangible.  It will stick in your brain better. You will get so much more out of what you learn!
  • You will be able to contribute more. You’ll ask better questions. Your classmates and professors will appreciate your ability to share relevant experiences. 

    Story: When I started grad school, I had roughly 5 years of work experience, which gave me plenty of context.  My classmates who came straight from undergrad had little to share and, I fear, had a harder time absorbing the concepts. 

    I distinctly remember feeling a little sorry for one classmate who seemed to often have a blank look on her face when the professor was explaining concepts… Unless she always looked like that... (Resting Confused Face?)

Again, as always, the decision is yours to make but, given the investment (time and money), it should not be taken lightly. 

I hope this helps give you some direction, or at least, food for thought.

8 Tools for Working from Home (with ADHD)

Some of you might find yourself working from home these days. I was asked for advice by a colleague who also has adult ADHD, so I wrote this blog post.  Whether you have ADHD (or a family member does) or not, it might come in handy.

Last year, I had the opportunity to start a new full-time salaried job… or work for myself, from home. I took the leap and I love it; I could never go back. However…

Working from home is an entirely different experience – mostly good… with some challenges.

Now that I work from home, I’ve had two huge epiphanies:

  • How much time working in an office is WASTED.  Commute is the obvious one.  Also, short interruptions, “emergency” interruptions, administrative bullshit, useless meetings, chatting in the hallways. I mean, literally 50% of the day. Of course, the social part is good time wasting.
  • How much an imposed schedule keeps someone on track – especially someone with ADHD.  When you have to be at the office a certain time; attend meetings at a certain time; people popping in to say, “Is that done yet?”; lunch at a certain time; needing to get something done before you walk out the door at the end of the day…. 

First, working from home lets me “waste” my time in a way that is enjoyable for me, whether it’s doing a puzzle, organizing something or playing a game on my phone. It doesn’t feel wasted because whatever I choose to do is my choice.  Doing chores makes me less stressed about all the stuff there is to do that you would typically have to cram into an evening or weekend.

On the other hand, with minimal imposed schedule, I’m a hot mess. The subject of which is the purpose of this post.

For my husband, an introvert and an engineer, who also works from home, it’s all upside. (His long commute crushed his soul and he arrived home exhausted each night after more interaction than ideal.)  Working at home, he is methodical in his schedule, getting up at a regular hour, eating breakfast, heading to his office and focusing intently until a set lunchtime, repeat…etc….   He’s a discipline machine!

For an extrovert with ADHD, working from home is so much “MESSIER”!

It has taken me a long time to figure out how to be both happy, relaxed AND productive and I’m still figuring it out. 

Here are some suggestions that work for me, keeping in mind that I’m no expert on Adult ADHD, working from home nor productivity, as anyone who knows me will tell you.  But here are some thought starters.

  1. Sound.  Silence is deafening. Find music that works for you. (I find lyrics distracting). This also keeps your brain from listening to what else is going on in the house that will distract you (e.g. my teens around these days, as school is shut down for coronavirus.)

  2. Lists. This might be a no-brainer but OVERUSE them – you need them now more than ever. Keep them simple and IN YOUR FACE. Separate them by work, personal tasks, personal rewards/treats.  STAR the “MUST DO’s” for today. Put critical items on your calendar to make sure it gets done, and you’ve allocated a specific time for it.

  3. Timers. Consider using a timer. A LOT. This is a HUGE one for me.  When I’m struggling to sit down and crank something out, I set a time for 15 minutes and “force” myself to do it.  Ideally, within 15 minutes, I’m “in the zone” and when the timer rings, I keep going and reset it for another 15.  

    If I’m NOT in the zone, I do something else (either at my desk or away from it), ideally, for 15 minutes – maybe even reward or shut my brain off by playing my stupid game addiction that I am too embarrased to name… Okay, Heart’s Medicine, Doctor’s Oath). Then come back and do another 15 minutes of whatever task I am struggling with until it’s done. Then I reward myself again.  Good Lord, I’m like a goddamn toddler!

    Incidentally, a timer is also great for reminding yourself that you have a meeting coming up.  I’m ashamed to say that I have OFTEN been late for a meeting because I got distracted by… anything other than the clock. (You know: You look at the clock and you’re like, “Oh, my meeting isn’t for 23 minutes.” Then you look again and you’re 5 minutes late! Set the timer at 23 minutes out.)

  4. Rewards:  Speaking of which, don’t underestimate the power of letting your amazing, busy, brilliant ADHD brain rest!  Expecting to be constantly productive all day is completely unrealistic and unfair.  Turn it off when you need to turn it off.  Know yourself.  (See Socializing, Exercise or “Stupid game addiction”.) I also recommend puzzles, knitting, TV or whatever does it for you.

  5. Socialize:  If you are an extrovert, this is going to be critical for you to work into your day.  It can be coffee out (or in, given COVID), a walk (with a friend, 6 feet apart), a phone call, Facetime, social media if that’s all you got. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. If a game with your kid does it for you – go for it. Importantly, set expectations on timing with whomever you are socializing with.
    “Hi, Mom! I’m really glad to chat with you, but just to warn you, I have a hard stop for a meeting in 30 minutes.” (It’s a white lie to keep you on track today. And “Hard Stop” sounds super important.)

  6. Know Your Body Clock. Pay attention to your typical productivity rhythms and take advantage of them!  It took me a long time to realize that there are times when my brain lets me really focus, and times when…not so much. I still haven’t figured it out but I am experimenting. (e.g. I know that my ADHD medication crashes around 3 p.m., so 3 pm is a great time for a 20-30 minute nap, yoga or walk. Conversely, a meeting can jolt your brain back into a good rhythm.)

    I know I can crank it out from 10-12 p.m. but that interferes with my sleep and sometimes 10 p.m. is the only time I have a real actual focused conversation with my husband, though he knows and respects this is truly peak productivity time for me, so usually he just goes to bed without me.

    Don’t schedule the socializing or errands or even meetings and appointments, if you can help it, during your peak productivity time. Save that time when you need individual work time! Alternately, work around important other obligations, like preparing dinner (when school is in, transporting kids) knowing that you will need to stop then. Use it to your advantage, e.g. “It’s 4 p.m.  I’m going to get THIS done by 5 p.m. so I can start making dinner.”

  7. Exercise. This is good on so many levels, but especially important for ADHDers. Make time for it ever day, however it works for you. (Basement workout equipment? Video exercise? DANCE PARTY! Ping Pong/Table tennis is surprisingly exhausting!) A double bonus is exercise AND a change of scenery. Explore nearby walking trails. There are so many and getting out of the neighborhood is psychologically uplifting.

  8. Patience.  Be patient with yourself. Don’t create a schedule for yourself and then berate yourself for not keeping it! Like I said, it’s been over a year and I’m still trying to figure myself out. Look at yourself as a unique project. You are AWESOME and your brain is a complex machine that needs practice, or trial and error, to use optimally! 

Other ideas?  Let me know what works for you and as I think of more things myself, I will add them here.

Working from home is a gift.   

ADHD is a gift.

Choosing a Career – For Job Satisfaction

Preamble: I started writing this blog a long time ago , the summer of 2019, after finishing my Certification in Career Services. The most valuable thing learned was this simple, free and effective way to help people choose a career. I followed the process myself and also “tested” it a lot on others. If they already knew what they wanted to do, this process aligned incredibly well. It validated their career choice. In other words: IT WORKS.

I was finally inspired to hurry up and post this while teaching a college marketing course. I asked my students, after learning that they all graduate this year, if they knew what they were going to do with their business degrees. Not one raised their hands.

Oh, no! No more procrastinating! Here it is! DIVE IN and give yourself the gift of a motivating goal and purpose!

First, choosing a career is a process that involves a lot of self-awareness and reflection.  You’re not going to decide in one sitting.  But you may be pressured to choose before you feel really ready, for example, so you don’t waste time and money taking college classes that you won’t end up applying to degree or certification. 

Karen and I launched “No Filter…” because we saw too many students “forced” to choose their careers at a pretty young age without a lot of information.  We’ve also repeatedly heard students say that they took assessments that were NOT helpful: “My assessment said I should be an artist.”  Could that be any more vague?

The goal of this blog is to give you some tools to get a better idea of SPECIFIC options and then give you some tips on how to explore them to find, hopefully, a really good FIT for you. Best of all, this method (specifically the assessment), besides being free and easy, is actually proven to lead to job SATISFACTION.

Here are the steps:

STEP ONE:  Go to  

You can explore this site any way that you like, but I recommend you start out by clicking on the blue square button to search by “Interest” in the upper right (it’s a little face). You can go directly there through this link:  This website is part of O*Net Online, a site run by the US Department of Labor and Statistics using huge amounts of data to help people select a career!  It’s amazing. (Yes, i just said “Government and amazing” in the same breath.)

It will take you to the Interest Profiler, which is based on a theory created by John Holland, called The Holland Assessment, Holland Personality Test, Holland Code, RAISEC, etc.  Basically, it identified six personality types related to career and vocational choice. They are Realistic, Artistic, Investigative, Social, Enterprising, Conventional (RAISEC). 

Take this assessment (10 minutes, max) and then write down or print out your score for your career portfolio. You will have a number by each of the six types.
Example, my code is SAE: I scored highest in Social (shock), Artistic, then Enterprising. 

STEP TWO:  With your code in hand, go to

You are going to use your code to find SPECIFIC careers or jobs to match it.

From the home screen, go to “O*NET DATA, and select the drop down “interests”.  (Note, they changed this, so I just updated this 9-18-22.)

Then it will show you the screen with the six words.  Click on the one that you scored highest on.

For example, I would click on “Social”, because my highest number was 26 in Social.  If you want, you can go straight to this page:  and then click on your highest-scoring word. That will take you to the page that shows your highest letter in the first position and then you can enter the next two letters in the boxes that say “None selected.”

So, then I drop down to my next highest scoring ones in the second and third boxes and click “Go”…

ISNT THIS EXCITING! Look! It says I should be an Annoucer! LOL! YES! Or a Teacher, Teacher, Teacher. WHAT A COINCIDENCE, I’M A TEACHER!

STEP THREE:  The next thing you will need to do is select your job zone. 

That means HOW MUCH preparation you would be willing to do/plan to do/have done to get a job. If you just want an entry level job, straight out of high school, choose Zone 1.  If you’re willing to go get your PhD, choose Zone 5.  If you get an Associate’s degree or a Vocational Certification, maybe Zone 2 or 3.  A Bachelor’s Degree, 3 or 4.  You can play with it. You’ll see what I mean when you see the results.

STEP FOUR:  Play around!

If the list you see at first doesnt excite you, try different things. Enter different job zones. If there aren’t enough choices for you or you don’t like these choices, try entering just TWO LETTERS OF YOUR CODE!  Play around with one Job Zone or all 5. 

Review the different job titles and click on the ones that intrigue you. Read about them.  Note whether this is a job labeled as “Bright Outlook” which means there will be lots of these jobs open… or not!  Look at the salary range.  Can you get all your needs (and wants) met with that salary range?

Be sure to explore a few or more of the job titles that appeal to you.  This website has lots of interesting information, but you will want to do your own research too on other websites.  Have fun finding the options that you’ll want to look into further.

Even if you think you already know what you want to do, I still encourage you to take the assessment to learn your code (and print it out/write it down, save it for when you want to come back so you wont have to do it again. And, incidentally, if I didnt already say so, I have taken this assessment several times and it always comes out pretty similarly, so dont think it was just because you are ain a bad mood or something.)

But if you know, for example, that you have your undergraduate degree in, English or History and you’re thinking you might want to get a Master’s Degree in Library Science, do a key word search for Librarian or similar to see what specific jobs are related! There are SO MANY! Trust me! Have fun and…


P.S. If you have any feedback on how this process worked for you, or how to make it better, let us know in the comments below.

How can my business help public school students?

I am so lucky to work in a community where the partnerships between businesses and schools are tangible.  You can see it all around with corporate sponsorship at foundation events, business food donations to Teacher Professional Development days and students job shadowing and interning throughout the school year and summer, to name a few.

So how can your company, big or small bridge the gap from school to work?

Well there is a need for sure. Business and nonprofit partnerships in public schools enable students to explore authentic career opportunities and expand their horizons. 

To build this relationship you can be part of the following three things.

  1. Go into the classroom and share your story and mentor.

It is so important to invite business leaders into the classroom to help create curriculum that students can complete while be mentored by experts in the field.  Long gone are the days where a speaker would just come in and lecture about their sphere of expertise.  Now we create opportunities for students to apply what they learn and get instant feedback from a business leader.

  • Regular Business Advisory Meetings.  Our partnerships are fluid because we continue to upgrade and change our curriculum to keep pace with what industry needs.  This regular conversation helps us develop students that have the necessary employability skills, soft skills and technical skills that our community needs to fill high wage, high yield jobs. At these meetings wants and wishes can be granted by telling the business community what labor, money and resources, a school needs, to develop our students. 
  •  Offering job shadows, internships and co-op’s.  The final point in this trifecta is getting our students out into the “real” world of business and nonprofit.  Our children have a very narrow mind about the world of work and therefore it needs to be every districts charge to get every child out on an authentic career experience before they graduate.  Through the chamber of commerce, local government and the downtown development authority this task can be a reality. 

By embedding these partnerships a reciprocal relationship occurs, stimulating our economy and making schools stronger. Get in touch with your local school district today!

Building Your Personal Brand

What does THAT mean? 

Everyone is familiar with brand names like Coke, Amazon, Apple, Starbucks… You can probably name 100. And when you think of a brand name, certain images or impressions come to mind, right? For example, when I think of a brand like Old Navy… I think inexpensive or sales; low (but passable) quality; play clothes (jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sundresses, flip flops) kids clothes; easy to shop; playful or fun. 

When it comes to shoe retailer brands, you probably have very different impressions of DSW vs. vs. Famous Footwear vs. Payless. MOST those brands impressions (the positive ones) are very deliberately created and reinforced by their marketing department in all of their communications and ideally, also in the way they run their company.

Companies are thoughtful and deliberate in building their brands and you should be too!

So, let’s say you are going to market your own brand, Brand [insert your name here]. In your personal and professional life, what words do people associate with you?  What words do you WANT them to associate with you? 

Building your personal brand means that YOU make an effort to influence what people associate you with, because whether you want them to or not, THEY WILL ASSOCIATE YOU WITH SOMETHING. So you should take control of it.

Personally, colleagues might think of me as fun, loud, outgoing, caring and smart.  If you knew me, you’d figure most of that out in a few minutes. But professionally, I also want them to think of me as a marketing strategy expert, a skilled workshop facilitator, a dedicated mentor/career advice provider, reliable, passionate and dedicated…etc.  Those are things that you would be quick to discern about me.

So, I have to make sure that, whether they’ve worked with me OR NOT, they believe these things about me. These are the things they associate with me when they hear my name, receive my resume or job application or even if they ask someone about me. 

Things that make up our personal brand are:

  • Skills and experience:  expertise, education, training, certifications, past jobs
  • Work habits, e.g. meticulous, prompt, efficient, creative, inspiring
  • Personal traits/emotional appeal:  Outgoing, passionate, thoughtful, decisive

Consider unique words or ways to present these things. For example, instead of saying you are “hard-working”, say you are “dedicated” or “passionate.”  When you stand back and think about your personal brand, make sure it is compelling. If not, find words that inspire you (See Karen’s list, third page of the attachment below).

Beyond just living and working your personal brand, there are two ways to communicate and build it, once you have identified it.

Channels that you have total control over, like your resume, LinkedIn page and other social media channels (especially those an employer might see).

Make sure they reflect you and that the messages you are sending out about yourself are CONSISTENT.   Anything about you can contribute to your personal brand, including your email address, how you dress and present yourself, including your mannerisms like handshake, eye contact and speaking style!   

Impressions people build of you based on direct experience.  What people think of you and what they say about you can include endorsements or recommendations on LinkedIn but they can also include things someone might say about you when asked. These things might not be so good, so make sure that you are living up to the brand impressions that you INTEND.

For example, if you are always late, or cancel on people all the time; If you are are lazy, or gossipy, complaining/bad attitude or careless in your work, over time, from job to job, these impressions can stick with you. Of course, you will be given time to grow, learn and make mistakes, but the more you are aware of your brand perceptions, the more you will be able to work to cultivate what you want and who you really are.

If you are not sure what your personal brand is,
ask your teachers, bosses or mentors
to give you some feedback on your strengths and,
while you are at it, opportunities for growth.

The things other people say about you can also help you better understand what you are good at and what you should work on. 

Consider asking friends, family and colleagues five words that come to mind when they think about you or your work.  Story: I was surprised recently when I talked to several colleagues about my performance.  Three of them said something I hadn’t considered: I’m very good at taking in a lot of information, perspectives and opinions… and summarizing and articulating the broader themes and conclusions.  I didn’t even realize I was doing that.   What a great thing to communicate to potential/future clients/employers.

Attached below are a few worksheets that Karen has generously provided for you if you want to try them out for yourself. 

It is also worth noting that employers are increasingly using personality tests to find candidates that are a good fit for their culture. While there are many out there, I recommend that you invest in a book called “StrengthsFinder 2.0” by Gallup and Tom Rath. (You should be able to find it easily for $10-15.)

I love this assessment. It won’t help you choose a career (more on the Holland Code in our upcoming “How to Choose a Career” blog) but it will help you understand yourself and identify strengths that will help you articulate your brand.

Okay, get to it:  BUILD BRAND YOU!

Unsolicited and Unqualified Financial Advice

We are not Financial Advisers.

We are not financial advisers.

But we have a few things to tell you anyway just in case you aren’t going to hear it from anyone else before it’s too late.

We will keep it short.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a REAL paycheck, especially when it’s 4-digits. 

But are you confident in managing your money besides paying your rent/mortgage, car payment, groceries, utilities…? Do you have a budget that includes saving or investing? Do you know what your actual monthly expenses are; Your monthly discretionary income after your bills are all paid? How much are you saving? Over the long term, can you afford the choices you make? What if your car breaks down or your dog gets sick – do you have emergency funds set aside?

Flying home from a conference last week, I sat next to an impressive young man named James (Hi, James!) who grew up not far from my home. After high school, James was fortunate enough to be offered a sales job making a pretty significant commission and was doing quite well for himself! 

But James didn’t really have someone to advise him in making good financial decisions. Quite the contrary, his employer even hooked him up (as well as his other handsome young employees) with a potentially shady accountant, putting James at serious risk for a rocky financial future.

Fortunately, James is smart and open-minded and listened to a few words from an opinionated mom-like stranger, as follows:

The average millionaire
becomes a millionaire
(and stays a millionaire)
because he/she lives
below his/her means.

What does that mean, to “live below your means”?

Most simply, don’t spend more than you have. In fact, don’t even spend everything you have. Save as much as you can (without being a complete cheap ass. Don’t argue over the restaurant bill unless your friend is in the habit of scamming out.)   This can be a hard thing to do. Just because you have the money and can AFFORD it, doesn’t mean to have to spend it. 

Buy a used car, not an expensive new or leased car. You don’t need a “nice” car. Why do you need a nice car? Why does ANYONE need an expensive car? Do you need to show clients that you are successful? Or are you really just showing them that you are materialistic and are making too much money off them? The only car you might need is a decent, reliable one. 

Don’t buy something on a credit card that you can’t afford to pay cash for. NEVER carry a balance on your credit card. Don’t use one if you can’t pay it off IN FULL every month.

(This is not only the smart thing to do, but you are also building your credit rating, something Americans are overly-obsessed with.)

Choose your friends wisely.
(This is no joke!) 
Don’t hang around with people that you feel pressured to keep up with, especially if they have expensive habits.
Find friends that are as careful with their money as you are,
or better yet, MORE careful.

“Your Rich Friends Could be Making You Poor”: Business Insider

Did you know that 70% of lottery winners file for bankruptcy within 3-5 years of winning?  Because they go hog wild!  They spend like crazy and they have a hard time saying no to demanding relatives and friends that crawl out of the woodwork asking for a handout.  Because they are not careful.

Contribute to your employer’s offered 401K. 
And, if they match, accept free money:
If your employer will match your 401K, contribute AT LEAST as much as they will match (e.g. 1%). If you can’t afford any more than that right now, fine, but take the free money. If you CAN afford it, contribute the MAXIMUM allowed! You’ll be glad you did!

You might think, “I don’t make enough money to afford to contribute to my 401K or to put anything in savings”.  Ah! Not true! Here are things to consider:

  • You CAN live without a few extra dollars a month.  People do it all the time. If the money never lands in your bank account, but goes straight into your retirement account, you’ll never miss it. 
  • Really sure you can’t live without that money right now?  The second you make a tiny bit more, immediately move the amount of your raise (or at least most of it. At least HALF of it, come on!) into a 401K account. Everyone knows the story about the tiny amount that you invest at age 25 will grow by leaps and bounds more than the amount you start investing at age 35.
  • NEVER EVER BORROW MONEY FROM YOUR OWN 401K.  Just don’t do it.  You’ll pay a penalty and you’ll never get yourself back up to speed.  Either don’t spend that money or think of some other creative (legal) way to get it, e.g. selling stuff on eBay or taking a temporary evening/weekend job. Even a small loan will hurt you less than “borrowing” from your 401k.

CRITICAL:  If you make commissions or some type of wage where taxes are not withheld, set 35% aside in a savings account from each paycheck. 
You WILL need this money to pay your taxes so you are not caught off guard in April next year!

  • Don’t cheat on your taxes, you idiot.  Have integrity.  Don’t file for bankruptcy.  If you make a mistake and owe someone something, pay them back as much as you can afford every paycheck/month until you have paid them back in full. 
  • Keep a budget and stay within it.  Consider dividing up your paycheck into three buckets, like this:  Spend (Bills + Food + Reasonable Entertainment), Save, Give (even if it’s just a tiny little bit).  When you get a raise, don’t put it in the “Spend” bucket – SAVE IT.
A simple philosophy that will change your life. Get it used for $1, or just study the wiki page.

No matter how much money you have, it requires DISCIPLINE. 
Start your discipline right now. 

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll be more financially responsible later! 

When is later?  “When” is RIGHT NOW.  Set yourself up for financial success.

Alternatives to the 4-Year Degree

CAVEATS:  You know what’s best for you. Your parents/family should certainly weigh in on this decision. You and/or your parents know what you can afford, or want to afford/how much debt you want to go into as well as what kind(s) of school you can or desire to get into.

But we just wanted to give you a few things to consider as you make any of these types of decisions about the next steps in your education.

First of all, this is not to talk anyone out of a 4-year degree. We both have multiple degrees and are glad we do. I am the first person on either side of my family to get a degree.  We just want to remind you that there are OTHER OPTIONS out there if you wish to investigate them. Repeat: We are not bashing 4-year degree programs or the opportunity to go to university and your dream school!


Community Colleges / Associates Degrees

The American culture has spent the last several decades (since the 70’s and 80’s) brainwashing everyone into believing that all young people must have a bachelor’s degree in order to succeed.  This is not necessarily true. And guess what happened?  A SERIOUS shortage in the skilled trades. You can find many articles on this topic in a heartbeat. Some are calling it a “CRISIS”!

Which means if you want a job as a mechanic, nurse, welder or electrician, just to name a few, good paying jobs are ripe for the picking!  If 4 years of college academics isn’t for you, you’re in luck.  Especially if you prefer to work with your hands, or just can’t stand the idea of a 40-hour-a-week desk job!   

“There are an estimated 30 million jobs that pay at least $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

– PBS News Hour, 2018

High Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty While High School Grads Line Up for University.”

NPR, 2018

Sources:; and,

Apprenticeships: Trade/Industrial/Vocational School

Alongside 2-year Associates degrees, we see a trend in engineering companies and the trades paying for students’ schooling while they work on the job. In Michigan, for example, MAT² is a website that publishes all the jobs that include training for high school graduates at specific community colleges.  What better way to get trained AND paid at the same time?

Here’s an example:

Apprenticeship Programs at Brose

Our award-winning Brose Apprenticeship Programs prepare you for a career in advanced manufacturing by combining on-the-job and in-the-classroom training. You will earn your Associate’s Degree while getting paid* to work at Brose. Upon successful completion of the program, you will have a guaranteed job and highly marketable skills.

*Compensation can be a combination of tuition reimbursement, hourly wages, and a living stipend. Exact amount varies by location and can be discussed during interviews.

Armed Forces:  Army, Navy, Air Force, National Reserves, Coast Guard, Marines

The military offers many options before, during, after or instead of a four-year-college degree. 

Maybe you want to go to college but don’t know if you can afford it and/or you’re not sure of what you want to choose as a career. (Or maybe neither of those are true, you would just like to serve in the military).  Definitely check out your options, including ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) with your school counselor. 

Each branch of the armed services has recruitment centers where they can walk you through the process and answer your questions in a completely transparent manner.  All college classes taken while serving in the armed forces and after will be paid for under the GI Bill.

Over the years I have taught many stellar young men and woman who enlisted.  In 2016, I got the opportunity to actually attend Marine Educator Boot Camp in Parris Island, SC.  For four days, I lived and performed like a recruit. (I say “performed”… I tried to scale a 10-foot wall and repel down a building.)  I have total respect for the Globe and Anchor and for every single recruit that leaves boot camp as a Marine.  A life of service can bring stability, a vocation, travel and a brotherhood. You will leave with a competitive skill set that many employers need and want.

Gap Year, Peace Corp Year, Travel Abroad, etc.

It is very European to do a “Gap Year”, taking a year off between high school or college and your next phase to travel the world. There are some advantages too. The business Insider magazine suggested that there are five.

  • Accelerated Maturity
  • Improved Academic Performance
  • Gain a New Perspective
  • A Chance to Re-focus
  • Improve Career Opportunities

I say go for it! If your parents approve, you are street smart and you have friends and family you can crash with, around the world – DO IT!  Even take a few language immersion classes along the away and you can be bi- or tri-lingual when you get back. I didn’t take a traditional gap year, but I did Nanny / Au Pair in the USA, for the long summers that college gives you. That’s an option too instead of a whole year!

I am a huge fan of service projects abroad.  This type of work wakes you up to how good we have it.  Whether it’s a full year working for the Peace Corp or a mission trip to Guatemala to build a house, take any opportunity to serve.  It looks phenomenal on your resume and it’s definitely a connection topic in an interview or at a networking event. 

Considerations on a 4-Year Degree: In-State, Out-of-State, Community College and Scholarships

  • There is NO reason to pay out of state tuition for your college degree. Unless you have a VERY specialized major that you can’t find at an in state university (e.g. veterinary school, etc.)
  • Want to save even more money? Go to a community college for your first year of school, or take summer classes to fulfill requirements (make sure your credits will transfer before you enroll!) You must seek advice with a college admissions counselors and have something put in writing if you do this.
  • If you are offered a full-ride scholarship to a school that is not your first or second or even third choice school, please take it anyway for your undergraduate degree.  You will save yourself and your family $100,000 of debt. Then you can pay or finance grad school, which is a fraction of the cost.  It pains me to hear of a student who turns down a full ride because it’s not their dream school!  Don’t participate in the branding / brain-washing machine!

Warm regards,


P.S. Michigan students, A Few More Things to Know For Post-high School

Fact: “There will be 811,000 high-wage, high-demand career openings through 2024 in the state of Michigan.” (Marshall Plan, 2018)

Problem: How do we get Michigan students trained and qualified to meet these career requirements?

The good news is that legislation has just been passed to expose high school students to alternatives to a 4-year degree.  The high school diploma is not enough to meet the skills gap. Certification, Licensure, Associates degrees and traditional 4-year degree are all valid options.  In 2018, only 43.7% of Michigan students earned post-secondary credentials. It is the goal of this new plan to raise this to a lofty 60%. 

So how will this happen?   

  • Develop, retain and attract talent in the strongest, fastest growing industries
  • Keep graduates from Michigan’s universities in Michigan. Over a third (38%) of Michigan’s graduates left the state in 2017.
  • Fill the jobs we have open now.

High School Exposure

To expose high school students to opportunities in the trades, a go-to website has been created called Going PRO in Michigan.  This is an excellent resource that all schools now need to embed into their curriculum in the 2019/20 school year.

  • Education Development Plan
  • Talent Portfolio
  • Career Development Education
  • Career Information/Counseling
  • School Improvement Plan
  • Work-Based Learning
  • Job Application Skills

Here’s a way to get your Associates degree paid for.  The MI opportunity will offer debt free pathways, if you qualify through FAFSA.  See info below. 

Alternatives to the 4-Year Degree.

First (or Second) Job Blues

Seven Ways to Beat Them

This blog is about your first (or second, or third…) “real” job.  And the fact that you may hate it. Maybe you’re not doing what you thought you would be doing.  Maybe you don’t like the hours, procedures, your boss, your colleagues, your commute, your working conditions or frankly, the work.

Here’s how we suggest you handle this situation.

(Before we dive in, allow us to state the obvious: if you are really in any kind of a dangerous or threatening situation, get to a safe place immediately and talk to a trusted adult about it, inside or outside the company. But that is going to be a rare situation.  We are talking more typical scenarios, like general, “I hate my job” feelings.)

1. Work Your Hardest

I’m sincerely sorry you don’t like your job. Have faith that it will get better there or somewhere else. And if you work at it, you will eventually find a job you love. (Karen and I are big believers in ‘everything happens for a reason’, and according to that philosophy, there’s a reason you are in this job – to learn something new, learn something about yourself, or to meet certain people.)

That said, you’ve heard the saying, “work is called ‘work’ and not ‘play’ for a reason, blah blah blah. And “You have to pay your dues” blah blah blah, but it truly is a thing! Everyone at a higher level than you at one point had to do work they didn’t like or was super boring. And if you are irritated about it, people around you will know it, trust me, and it will be duly noted.  People HAVE been fired for a bad attitude. I’ve seen it happen more than once.

As a wise young man once said, “Embrace the suck.”  He and I were working on a painful project, but we leaned into it and worked hard and learned a lot and made the best of it and ended up having fun despite the ambiguity and tedium.  (Note that working with someone else always makes a tough job more fun as long as you both have a good attitude. Find someone you enjoy working with.)


– Erik

2. Learn as Much as You Can.

I read somewhere that you know it’s time to switch jobs when you stop learning. Which means you should do this first. So, show up every day with a pen and paper. Set your frustrations aside for 8 hours a day and learn as much as you can so that you are not wishing away your time and after you leave, wish you had leveraged more of the opportunity there. No matter where you are, there is something to learn. Talk to as many people as you can. Find someone who is doing something interesting and interview them. Ask them about their jobs and their career paths.

3. Build Relationships

The people you work with now can help you in the future, if you form real relationships with them. So, consider this job a full-time networking opportunity. (More on Networking in an upcoming blog post.) Ask their opinions on anything and everything. Show that you are interested, be a good listener, show you care about their experience and are passionate about the industry.  Reciprocate:  Ask if you can shadow them or help them.  Thank them for their time, advice, insight, even if they are your peer. When you give back and express appreciation, it is noted.

4. Do Not Become a “Recruiter”.

Do not be that guy who bitches about everything at work. You may be justified, you may be right!  But it’s only going to hurt you. I’m not saying not to bitch. It’s good to blow off steam.  Find a trusted friend who you can vent to. For me, it was my office mate. We were in the same boat and I trusted her not to tell anyone anything I said. Of course, ideally the person you bitch to is not someone in the office, but they can relate and they are less likely to try to “fix” it than a friend or family member.

5. Resist the Temptation to Burn Bridges.

I cannot stress this enough.  RESIST the urge to slack off, be a jerk, say something you shouldn’t, quit dramatically and storm out the door without giving 2 weeks notice. Seriously. Just don’t. Take a deep breath. Be professional. Don’t set yourself up for serious regrets now or in the future.

Story:  I have had (on more than one occasion, I swear I am not making this up) utterly despised colleagues become clients.  This one guy was such an arrogant turd. He was just full of hot air; he never contributed in any substantive way. He just swaggered around and listened to himself talk. I never saw him do a lick of work, but he would order everyone else around and condescend. It was all I could do not to tell him where to stick it.

Fast forward 10 years and here he is, my direct client as the director of marketing at some random company. HA! Boy, was I glad I hadn’t told him what I REALLY thought of him! Turned out that having him as a client was actually pleasant — Because it is not necessarily out of the ordinary to have a client act arrogant and not do any of the heavy lifting , whereas a colleague who behaves this way is maddening. (Also, I think he had been knocked down a few pegs in the interim. Karma. Karma always gets them.)

6. Take Control: Make a Plan Forward.

Instead of being discouraged, start thinking about and making notes on your next step.  What do you like about this job? What don’t you like? What more do you need to learn? Is there a place to move within your company? Do you need to go elsewhere? What kind of companies are out there? Again, network. Read. Learn. Take a free online class. (No, don’t presume you need to go back to school/to grad school  – more on this in another post.)

Consider finding a mentor or coach to help you determine if this is really the right job path for you – it may be that you just need a plan.  Is this dissatisfaction with your job just circumstantial? Or is this really not a good career fit for you?

Story: A good friend from high school earn her degree in Pre-Law… and then Law… and then when she started practicing law at a firm in Chicago, she HATED it.  Ruh roh. To bad she didnt discover this before going into serious debt. But it happens — And you will find something that works better for you. (She did.)

7. If Things Get Ugly, Document.

Again, if things are bad and you’re trying to do all the right things (like points 1-6), and you really are being mistreated, disrespected or harassed: Document, document, document. The only way to complain in a credible way is to write down exactly when and how someone is mistreating you. Specifically, write down who exactly said or did what to you in what circumstances on what date. Note if there were any witnesses. (And, again, if you’re being truly abused, get help right away.) And of course, start looking for a different job. 

Be sure that when you do resign, ask for an exit interview (if you aren’t offered one as a matter of course) and be honest (but polite and professional) with what your experience was. Be thoughtful and constructive and specific. If something is seriously going wrong at your company, they can’t fix it if they don’t know. Sometimes they can’t fix it without enough evidence.

As someone with an “over-developed sense of justice”, I believe that it is your responsibility to communicate this information to the administration for the good of those who come after you. Don’t assume that someone else will report it and/or deal with it. You would be shocked to know how many people actually don’t ever provide feedback on anything.

One Last Word.

There are certain skills needed to productively move forward through long agonizing hours, days, weeks doing something you would rather not be doing. Unfortunately, many of these skills come with time, age and learning the hard way.

So, in the meantime (or instead of learning the hard way), I recommend reading/listening to  “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (I also suggest, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey.) You won’t regret it. It’s $10 on Amazon. Even though it was first published in 1936 (Yes, it’s older than your grandma and more relevant than ever), it’s easy and fun to read and if you follow the advice in this book, it will impact your whole life in a positive way — and even help you make the most of a bad job situation.


First or Second Job Blues