Advice for parents, students, and the system

You’d think I revere education. After all, I come from a tradition that venerates education, my Ph.D. is in education, and the diploma increased my credibility.

Yet I am mad at education and here’s why. Let’s go chronologically.

Head Start

Of course, there are good preschools, but Head Start has long been touted as key to closing the achievement gap. and politicians love it because it’s intuitively so appealing: finally an apple-pie issue for both the left and the right.

So, for the past 50 years, the amount of our tax dollars spent on Head Start has skyrocketed. The trouble is that…

An under-considered way to free up hours each week

Many people scramble to find even an extra few minutes in their crammed day.

Many of those same people spend a good amount of time shopping, chopping, and cleaning-up meals.

There may be times you’ll want to make something elaborate, but there are a surprising number of dishes that are healthy, cheap, and tasty . . . and only take one minute, really. Here are my faves:

Cereal or oatmeal. Cereal is self-explanatory but here’s how you can make special oatmeal in a minute. Pour a few ounces of oatmeal (the old-fashioned, not instant) and a few ounces of water…

A self-assessment

Most people enjoy getting gifts and having favors done for them. But others don’t. Perhaps they don’t want to feel obliged to reciprocate. Or they feel they already have too much stuff and getting a gift adds to life’s clutter, even if they like the gift. And if they don’t, they have to return it, regift it or throw it out.

Such people may feel better about giving gifts and doing favors. That way, others are indebted to them, there’s no issue of what to do with an unwanted gift, and you feel like you’re a good person.

Here, you…

Dear Santa,

Forgive the graphic term, but 2020 pretty much sucked.

I’m not just talking about COVID with its shutdowns, lockdowns, and snotty masks — and that assumes you didn’t need to go on a ventilator.

We also had a presidential campaign that should embarrass anyone — Were those two really the best that America had to offer?

Then there was the racial roiling: If you are a liberal, you called it “unrest,” “protests” or “activism.” If you aren’t liberal, you called it, “rioting,” “looting” and “burning down cities when they didn’t like a court decision.”

Plus, if you lived…

Selected statements of mine from quotation websites

I’m honored to have a couple hundred of my statements quoted on quotation websites. Here are 31 that seem particularly appropriate for readers of this How to Do Life blog on Psychology Today. For some of the quotes, I amplify.


A career is like a suit of clothes: To look its best, it must be tailored and accessorized. For example, if you’re a helping professional, what specialty would make you most helpful? Whatever your career, should you try to get your job description tweaked?

What skill of yours has given you the most success? Use it more. Don’t know…

Leaving a lover, quitting a job, questioning conventional wisdom, seeing a doctor.

Have you ever felt that you should do something but can’t muster the courage? Perhaps these composite letters from the fearful and my responses might be helpful.

Dear Dr. Nemko: I’ve broken up with my boyfriend three times but, in moments of weakness, I tiptoe back. Even though he loves me and he’s a good guy, he’s just not right for me. But I can’t stay with the program when I’m feeling lonely or insecure. How can I develop the courage?

My response: In those times of weakness, might it help to consider whether you’re hurting this man you say…

The pursuit of excellence is widely lauded. Of course, “best and brightest” people and the organizations they work for may be wise to demand excellence. But we mere mortals, rather than insisting on excellence, may be wiser to pursue just good. That can be true both in career and in relationships.


Recently, a client and I agreed on the appropriate job target — an entry-level operations manager in a real-estate development firm. We then created a step-by-step plan for landing such a job. At the end of the session, I asked, “Would you bet that, in the next week…

Always central, now more important than ever

In our ever more complex workplace, employers lament many employees’ inability to think critically. Of course, that’s true not just in the workplace but in our personal life.

Before coming to a conclusion about something significant, it’s wise to:

1. Ask yourself whether emotion is clouding your rationality. It’s axiomatic to not act while emotional. At minimum, taking deep breaths and if it’s important, taking a day or two to calm down, can be core to making the most of your intelligence. …

Key to career satisfaction

It all comes down to:

Working at 90% and letting go of the outcome.

Let me unpack that:

‘Working” That means focus, compartmentalization, or as the Buddhists say, being in the moment. That doesn’t mean rushing. It means staying focused on doing a good job on your current sub-task.

“90%” Even if you could sustainably work at 100%, it’s probably unwise. There would be a tendency to rush, make errors, and decrease the pleasure one gets from working with a bit of breathing space.

“Letting go of the outcome” means that when you’re done with a task, its success is…

With 42 million Americans having lost their job because of the COVID pandemic, the competition for the small number of good job openings is fierce. So, many people are deciding to try their hand at self-employment.

The following self-employment ideas cost little to start and run, and so entail less risk of running out of money before you succeed. Also, these self-employment ideas are COVID-compatible, that is, they can be done remotely. Plus, many of these ideas serve people who who are and will be under COVID restrictions, which may tighten again if the predicted second wave occurs this fall.

Marty Nemko

UC Berkeley Ph.D, specialist in career and education issues.

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