TIME Business

The One Question All Successful People Can Answer Immediately

And it's not "what's your biggest weakness?"

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This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

If starting multiple businesses people love is any measure of success for a serial entrepreneur, Tina Roth Eisenberg has got it made. Known as Swiss Miss, she runs a popular design blog, created a company making temporary design tattoos Tattly, and founded Creative Mornings, a breakfast talk series held in 80 cities (and growing!) around the world.

At the recent 99U Conference, Eisenberg shared stories from her journey as designer turned creative entrepreneur—and one question that’s helps keep her going. It’s a simple question, but one that she says gives her a lot of focus and clarity:

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

Don’t worry: This isn’t another one of those curveball interview questions. She says that all the most successful people she’s met have been able to answer this question immediately: John Maeda, who led the MIT Media Lab and Rhode Island School of Design, responded with “curiosity.” Maria Popova, who curates the popular Brain Pickings blog by reading 12-15 books a week, said “doggedness.” Eisenberg’s own superpower? Enthusiasm.

Knowing your superpower means you know yourself well enough to have a focus, and that’s the same competitive advantage that makes you so great at what you do. It’s the quality you’re most proud of, the one thing that makes you stand out, and what gives you an edge over everyone else.

So, if you haven’t ever considered what your superpower might be, do! Having an answer to this question shows that you’ve thought hard about your best personal qualities, and you’ll even have something prepared for the “What’s your greatest strength?” question at your next interview.

And if your current answer doesn’t sit well with you? Well, there’s no better time to think about what you want to be known for and start getting to that next level.

About the author: Before joining The Muse, Sarah worked in social business innovation for Virgin Unite in London, strategy and innovation at Market Gravity, sustainability research in the Dominican Republic, and business development for a NYC startup. Wrapping up her time at Columbia University, she’s headed to McKinsey & Company after graduation. Say hi on Twitter @sarahlichang.

Read more from The Muse:

Are You Truly Reaching Your Potential?

How to Turn a Setback into a Stroke of Creativity

What Anyone Can Learn From a Trip to Space

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Words People Who Lack Confidence Always Use

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A.L. Christensen / Getty Images / Flickr Open

Want to avoid giving the impression you lack confidence and authority? Avoid these words


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Nine-hundred and seventy-two.

That’s the total number of e-mails I received just in May, and it’s about my average. That’s not counting the hundreds and hundreds of messages Gmail dumped into categories for promotional mail, forum posts, and social networking updates. I’ve become proficient at jumping through messages quickly (using the J and K keys), but there’s one thing I’ve mastered even more than that: spotting a lack of confidence.

I also take quite a few cold calls–people who are not really sure what I do and have not really done too much research but have me on a phone list for some reason.

In most cases, it’s a pitch about a product or someone asking a question about marketing to journalists. He or she might say he or she “usually” does something. In a few cases, it’s someone with a business idea he or she “suspects” will be perfect. Most of the time, these messages are straightforward–the sender isn’t messing around. But a few seem hesitant. I fire back a question, and the response makes me question the person’s authority on the subject.

These words are not always triggers about confidence level, but they are my first signal that something is amiss. They make me think the sender is not that sure about the product or service. And they are dead giveaways that I need to question what the person says.

1. Might

Be careful when you tell people you “might” do something. Are you sure about that? No one is asking you to solve world peace. When you say you “might” finish a report, it implies you lack some ability, don’t manage your time well, or have too many priorities.

2. Won’t

Here’s an obvious word to avoid in your emails. Anyone who says he or she “won’t” do something or “won’t” attend a meeting is generating a negative vibe. Be more decisive: Either accept an invitation or reject it; using the word won’t suggests hesitancy.

3. Usually

This is a trigger word in email that makes it obvious to everyone that you don’t have all the facts. If you say the accounting department “usually” doesn’t approve your expense report or the boss is “usually” late to work, it means you’re stretching the truth.

4. Suspect

Unless you are talking about a suspect in a trial, avoid saying you “suspect” anything. You’re not Sherlock Holmes. Just use direct terms: You know an investor is pulling out of the project, and here’s why; or you have facts to support your conclusion on a new marketing plan.

5. Impossible

I’ll bet Mark Zuckerberg has never used the word impossible in an email. The recipient will lose confidence in you quickly. State why something might be hard or difficult or just don’t agree to a course of action. Don’t bother telling people it’s impossible.

6. Worried

We all worry about the stresses of life. Telling people you are worried by email makes it seem as if you lack confidence in your abilities. If you are worried, don’t bother saying that to anyone–just express what you are concerned about and offer solutions.

7. Confused

Expressing your confusion will create even more confusion. It’s better to just say what you are confused about and ask questions. Saying you are “confused” gives people the impression that either you don’t understand something or that the topic is confusing to you.

8. Need

We all have needs in life. When you express those needs by email over and over again, it makes you look needy. I “need” you to come to work early, I “need” you to get that report done. Avoid saying “need” and express requirements more directly.

9. Quandary

Have you sent a message and said you were in a “quandary”? You should know that the word means you are in a total state of perplexity. I mean, you are really perplexed. That’s not often the case when it comes to a new business proposal or fundraising round.

10. Likely

Few of us are in the business of predicting the future. If you say something is “likely” in an email, you are expressing to the recipient that you are not really sure about the topic, and you don’t have all the facts yet. It’s likely that you just lack confidence.

More from Inc:

The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

7 Ways to Lose Friends and Your Influence at Work

The Seemingly Harmless Act That Leads to High Employee Turnover

Simple Ways to Deal With Negative People

How to Be More Likable in 10 Easy Steps

MONEY The Economy

Why’s the Job Market Still Weak? Look At These 3 Charts

construction workers
Zigy Kaluzny—Getty Images

Construction, which had been a major engine of job creation before the financial crisis, is now a big drag on hiring.

In May, the U.S. economy added 217,000 jobs, a good-but-not-great showing. The construction industry, however, did little of the heavy lifting — adding only a seasonally adjusted 6,000 positions.

While construction jobs have been slowly recovering since 2011, they’re still nowhere near their pre-financial crisis levels. By contrast, the broader economy has now made up for all the jobs lost in the downturn.

REALJOBS
Source: BLS

Why has construction been so slow to rebuild? One big factor has been housing. There are just a lot fewer people working to build houses after, you know, the biggest housing crisis in a generation. And that’s still the case even though housing has come back some.

ycharts_chart (2)

Another way to view construction’s struggles is to look at the total number of hours worked. In the last month of 2006, construction workers were on the clock for a seasonally adjusted 295.87 million hours. Last month, that number down at just 233.56 million hours. “Unlike the manufacturing and information sectors, the construction sector, which represents 5% of aggregate hours, had experienced a long trend prior to the Great Recession,” writes St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist Carlos Garriga.

Aggregate Weekly Hours

The bottom line: The Federal Reserve will most likely continue its accommodative policy (i.e. super-low interest rates) as long as there is a lot of slack in the labor market. And thanks to the weak construction industry, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

MONEY Careers

At the Office, “Sorry” Seems to Be the Hardest Word

how to apologize when you screw up at work
If you've made a major misstep, spelling out your apology in office supplies probably won't cut it. Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

The stakes are high when you screw up at work. Here's how to own up to your mistake without hurting your career.

Q: Help! I screwed up at work. How can I apologize without making the situation worse?

A: A blunder on the job can tarnish your professional reputation, damage your relationships around the office, even put your job in jeopardy. But if you handle your mistake the right way, you can emerge unscathed.

There are several guiding principles behind effective apologies, says Lauren Bloom, author of Art of the Apology: How, When, and Why to Give and Accept Apologies. First, take responsibility. That means starting by saying you’re sorry. “If you lead with an explanation, that will sound more like an excuse,” says Bloom. Admitting to your mistake emphasizes your integrity, she adds.

Then propose a solution. How you do that depends on the situation. If you didn’t make the deadline for an important assignment, you might tell the boss that you’ll ask for his or her help prioritizing your workload in the future.

Should your actions have sparked intense emotions in the other person—for example, you made a comment that embarrasses your manager in a meeting or she overhears you complaining about her—apologize, then pause. You want to leave room to allow the other person explain what it was like from their side. The response will be painful to listen to if the person is really angry or upset, but it’s important for you to hear him or her out. Then ask what you can do to make amends. The person may be more forgiving if you clarify what you said to the people who heard your offending comment or complaints. If you can do it sincerely, express appreciation for the other person, say a boss who has allowed you to work flexible hours or helped you land important assignments.

Office rank should influence your strategy. The further up the chain, the more deferential you should be. You should also be incredibly courteous to lower-ranking employees. “The people beneath you can sabotage you or make you look great,” says Bloom.

If you offend a peer, apologize but don’t be overly deferential. “It can create an imbalance in office politics,” says Bloom. Keep your apology casual and say it in a way that can’t be used against you, says Bloom.

The most important thing to take away from your misstep: Learn from it rather than repeating it. “If you find yourself apologizing for the same thing again and again, just saying you’re sorry won’t cut it,” says Bloom.

Have a workplace etiquette question? Send it to careers@moneymail.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

You’re Probably Guilty of This Gross Work Habit

Putting a whole new meaning on “taking care of business,” recent research shows that corporate America increasingly views the bathroom — at work and at home — as an extension of their office.

About half of respondents in a recent survey (which was sponsored by Lysol) admit they bring their mobile devices with them to the restroom when they’re at work so they don’t miss a call when nature calls.

Maybe this is a sign we’re getting too busy and really just need a break. When we’re on the job, almost two-thirds of survey respondents between the ages of 25 and 44 said they multitask with their devices in the bathroom. A quarter of employees use that “quality time” to surf the web; about the same number admits to playing games, and 17% call friends.

More than a third — 36% — of employed Americans who responded to the survey admit to emailing their boss, co-workers or clients while on the toilet, and 26% said they “frequently” used bathroom breaks for catching up on work email. And for the 5% who said they text or call their boss from the lavatory, make sure you press mute before you flush.

Younger employees and parents are more likely to read, shop and communicate from the porcelain throne — or, at least, they’re more willing to admit it. According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll conducted last fall, half of adults under the age of 30 said they use their cell phones while on the toilet paper.

The Lysol study asked another question asking what people do on their mobile devices in general when they’re in the bathroom and the results are, well, pretty much everything.

More than half browse Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, almost one in five post or like Facebook statuses and 5% post videos on Vine. Ecommerce also gets a boost when nature calls. One in five respondents to the Lysol survey said they buy stuff online. Of those, more than half said they buy clothes, and about a third order their groceries from the toilet.

Not only are we taking more work home with us, we’re taking it right into the bathroom. Ikea’s new Life at Home survey of people in eight major cities worldwide found that roughly one in six employed New Yorkers admitted to doing work when they’re in the bathroom or on the toilet in the morning — a percentage matched only by Stockholm out of the other cities in the survey.

It’s kind of a bummer that the toilet has become the only place we can have a few minutes to ourselves where we can catch up on our digital activities, but look at the bright side: If the TP runs out, at least you can send a text asking for a spare roll.

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why I’ll Send My Infant Son to College Before I Buy a House

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Luke Tepper Taylor Tepper

With housing so expensive, I figure my young family will be renting for foreseeable future. The latest on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

Mrs. Tepper and I are 28 years old, and our son is four months. Over the past year, Luke has acquired an $800 stroller, a $250 crib, and a $50 humidifier. (Before you make fun, understand that he constantly bore a stuffy morning nose, and what kind of monster wouldn’t spend a measly $50 to help his only son sleep soundly?!)

We’ve begun funding Luke’s New York 529 college savings account in order to spot his entire higher education bill (provided he goes to a state school), and we, of course, will pay his medical expenses for the next 26 years.

But there is one thing that we will not buy him—a house. In all likelihood (which means unless we win the lottery, or someone gives us a hundred thousand dollars), we will put our son through college before we buy our family a home.

Which, when you think about it, is strange. Last year we earned almost $110,000 and that will (hopefully) increase rapidly as we enter our career primes. We hardly travel (much to our chagrin) and have a reasonable $300 monthly car payment. Mrs. Tepper really only shops for (baby) clothes on sale, online, or both, and my main indulgence is a bimonthly $45 bottle of Templeton rye whiskey.

Why then will we be renters, at least until we’re in our fifties?

Reason #1: It’s (Really) Hard to Save

We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with cheap wood cabinets and a kind of white plaster countertop that stains as easily as a peach bruises. In the afternoon it often takes five minutes for the water to go from warm to hot. We don’t have a washing machine—neither does our building, which was built during the Hoover administration—and I do our dishes by hand because we don’t have a dishwasher.

Next year our rent will be $2,020 (and that doesn’t include gas, electricity, cable, Internet, or whiskey).

Eventually we’ll decamp for the ‘burbs for the sake of space and sanity, but with that move comes higher mass transit costs (an $1,800 yearly increase) and more house to heat and furnish and maintain.

The Dave Ramsey in me says I should find more ways to cut spending: no more occasional brunches or flights to Florida. (Luke can meet his grandparents on Skype!) But those hypothetical savings are peanuts in the grand scheme of things, and the me that wants to stay married shuts Dave Ramsey up.

Read: Half of Millennials Will Ask Mom and Dad to Help Them Buy a Home

Reason #2: Student Loans

In order to gain our cushy, 50-hour-a-week jobs, both Mrs. Tepper and I attended (public) graduate school. That came on top of studying at New York University for four years and (seemingly) $550,000,000.

So we have loans. Lots of them. (I alone owe almost $60,000.) Obviously we are not the only ones tied up in the web of student loan bills. People like me now owe almost $1.1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, or about twice as much as in 2008, when my wife and I graduated college.

I’m now paying $350 a month—and that’s mostly interest.

Reason #3: Houses Are Expensive

In New York City, the median home price is $369,000, and that comes with a median down payment of $74,000, per a recent Redfin report. In Nassau County, which is out on Long Island, you need to put $88,000 down.

Needless to say, we don’t have that kind of money, nor will we anytime soon.

And that–expensive rent, student loans, and homes—doesn’t even take into account the $1,500 a month gorilla in the room (child care) or, you know, Christmas presents.

Look, there are worse things than not buying a house (like not having a job or being a Dallas Cowboys fan.) We have a happy, healthy family, with sunny days ahead, and maybe we’ll find a way to save a buck or two over the years.

But not that long ago, it took only one middle class job in the family to afford a home. Now, according to the Redfin report and my life, two doesn’t cut it. When the prospect of owning the roof over your family’s head is so far gone, is it really that crazy to buy a $50 humidifier for your son?

MORE: Why Does My One Baby Need Two of Everything?

MORE: How Can Child Care Cost as Much as Rent?

 

MONEY Small Business

How To Get Buzz for Your New Biz

Miguel Montaner

Three simple ways to make your startup part of the conversation.

Breaking into a crowded market? “Not only can press put you on the map, it can put you at the head of the class,” says Paul Krupin of Direct Contact PR in Kennewick, Wash.  The scoop on how to get media attention

1. Establish Relationships

Reach out to reporters and bloggers who cover your type of product or service. Start a dia­logue by commenting on an article the person wrote or by tweeting him a question. (If you’re an app creator: “Guesses on the iPhone 6 release date @reporter]?”)

2. Beef Up the Press Release

“Words are boring,” says Krupin. He suggests making a 30-second video on the inspiration for your business or an infographic on an industry trend to send to your new contacts along with the release.

3. Riff off Headlines

When relevant news breaks, tweet about it in real time or write a quick blog post including trending search terms (use Google Analytics to find them). That way you’ll pop up on Google News and in searches, says David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR. You may even be contacted by a reporter to comment.

 

MONEY Careers

Work for the Man? That’s So Over, New College Grads Say

With banks dissing them and peers largely underemployed, Millennials are finding an alternative financial future.

Big companies still have many high-paying positions, and with the job market perking up those opportunities will expand. But young adults are still having trouble establishing basic financial security—or landing a decently paying entry-level job. Instead, they are forging different paths to financial success.

This search for alternatives starts with checking and saving. Banks haven’t figured out how to serve this new generation. Millennials have big debts from college, and instead of a single, steady full-time job, a recent grad may have four or five paying gigs. Banks can’t fit them into an existing box. But this new generation still needs credit and banking services.

Faced with this inflexibility, one third of Millennials seek to cut ties with traditional banks and financial companies, according to market researchers. Half say they are counting on start-up firms to overhaul how banks work, and 75% say they would prefer financial services from the likes of Google, Amazon, and PayPal. They are also turning to alternative financial firms like Square, Betterment, Robinhood, and Wealthfront to manage their payments and manage their money.

In their search for financial options, young adults are also finding new ways to launch their careers. Millennials have seen under-saved Boomers delay retirement, while corporations have shed workers and their peers are settling for jobs below their ability. As a solution, more twentysomethings are turning to entrepreneurship. Six in 10 recent college graduates are interested in starting a company, according to a new survey by CT Corp., a small business services firm. Those results mirror similar findings by other polls.

Entrepreneurial pursuits offer the potential to put individuals squarely in charge of their future. This is the mindset that the Thiel Foundation capitalizes on with its 20-under-20 fellowship, which seeks to develop entrepreneurs right out of high school and convince them they don’t need college or the student debt that comes with it.

The problem is that while many recent college graduates say they want to be their own boss, a large portion doesn’t really understand what that entails. So while 61% say they’d like to start a company, only 45% believe it’s feasible, CT found. Meanwhile, 67% display a knowledge gap around practical aspects like incorporating, registering a business name, securing a domain, and marketing their products or services.

Still, the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in this crowd. One in five recent grads started a business while in college, and even among those who don’t believe they’ll ever start a company a third dream about doing so. More than half believe that being their own boss offers greater rewards and more financial security over the long run. Let’s hope they are right because in the new normal this is the path often taken.

MONEY Careers

Your Career Is Your Biggest Asset. Here are 5 Ways to Protect It

Career coach and former HR exec Caroline Ceniza-Levine offers strategies for ensuring that your human capital keeps appreciating.

Your earning potential is a million-dollar asset.

The first quarter 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics report puts median earnings in the US at $796 per week, which adds up to $41,392 per year, which amounts to a hair over seven figures over a 25-year career—even without any raises. Get a reasonable 3% bump every year and your career will be worth $1.6 million.

If you owned a million-dollar home, you wouldn’t let the grass get overgrown or park your cars in the lawn, since this would erode the property’s value. Similarly, you do not want to be complacent with the asset that is your career. Instead, reserve a few minutes a day or a few hours each week to focus on protecting it.

Use these five strategies to ensure your most valuable asset just keeps getting more valuable:

1. Nurture your network

Job leads are shared mainly by word-of-mouth.

But even if you’re not actively job seeking, a strong network enables you to hear about company changes, upcoming projects that you might want to be a part of (or avoid), the inside scoop on a new client, or helpful tips on how promotions, raises, and bonuses are decided.

Maintaining your network can be done in a few minutes per day.

Your action plan: Read your LinkedIn activity feed and reach out when people post news. E-mail former colleagues you don’t regularly see to catch up on summer vacation plans. Attend the occasional professional association event or conference. Or, block out specific days and times to reconnect with people —for example, scheduling at least one lunch a week with a different contact.

2. Make friends in HR

A former colleague called me in a panic one day: Layoff rumors were swirling at her company and she wanted to know how severance works without making a formal inquiry into HR. Having worked as a recruiter, I was able to tell her what she needed to know (severance information is actually openly shared with employees–check your employee handbook).

Your action plan: Get to know your HR colleagues well before you have an urgent concern. A friend in human resources can help you navigate the ever-changing benefits landscape, can explain sensitive issues like severance that you’d rather not discuss with your boss, or give you helpful insights, such as deadlines for performance reviews (these often precede when raise and bonus decisions are made so you want to know the timeline). Even HR relationships outside of your own company are helpful, as recruiters elsewhere can inform you about market trends—including what is a fair compensation for your position. Return recruiter phone calls, even if you’re not looking.

3. Manage your references

If you’re not actively looking for a job, you might think that you don’t need references. While you don’t need them in the traditional sense that a job seeker does—no one will be calling your list to vouch for you—informal references are given all the time. Recruiters may ask around to find an expert in a certain area: Will your network mention you, and therefore give you a chance to grow that recruiter relationship (see point 2)? Senior management may ask around about who would be good for an upcoming, high-profile project: Will your colleagues think of you and regard you highly enough to put your name forward? Managing your references means that you have supporters who know your value and promote you as opportunities arise.

Your action plan: Keep people informed of what you’re doing–don’t assume that even your boss knows everything you’re working on—and what is of interest to you. This way, the right opportunities will come your way.

4. Build your online profile

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with your network, your recruiters and your references.

Your action plan: Update your LinkedIn profile regularly to mention a new project or to add a new skill, since this activity is broadcast to your contacts. It’s a way of keeping people updated and staying in touch more broadly. At the same time, you will hear about others’ activities, and you can reach out individually with a congratulatory note or a helpful idea. Finally, you want your profile to be updated so that, if someone does refer you for a job or a project, the prospective employer can easily research you and see comprehensive details about you. Building your profile takes dedicated time if you’re starting from scratch, but updating it and maintaining correspondence with your contacts takes just a few minutes at a time.

5. Maintain your go-to status

Your online profile showcases you, your references think of you, recruiters flock to you, and your network promotes you… all because you are the go-to person for something. You have a set of skills, industry knowledge, specific expertise, or some combination of qualities that make you the perfect solution to a problem at hand.

Do you know what you are the go-to person for? Do you take the time to sharpen this advantage?

Your action plan: Define your unique qualities that make you marketable. And work on emphasizing your competitive advantage even more.This could mean taking advanced classes relating to your skill set, reading trade publications to stay ahead of trends in your area of expertise, or adding new skills with volunteer work or cross-departmental projects at your company.

_____________________________________________________

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

17 Daily Habits My Dad Insists Will Make You Happier and More Successful

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Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Want to improve your life, one daily habit at a time? My dad offers some pretty good advice.


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

The other day my dad sent me an email with the subject line, “YOUR COLUMN.” (My dad is sometimes big on all-caps.) It began:

Bill:
In the tradition of 12 step programs and your excellent columns, I offer the following for your use, adaptation, or rejection.

My dad (Bill Murphy Sr., if you’re doing the genealogical math) has enjoyed business successas a lawyer who built his own firm, and who has worked for himself since the early 1970s. He and my mom raised five kids together, and they’re still going strong. They’re devoted to their grandchildren, and moreover my dad is a man who enjoys both his work and the rest of his life.

In fact, as I read his email, it occurred to me that he’s achieved many of the things that younger people tell me are among their goals in life. (Of course, I’ve been too close to realize it.)

My dad went on to offer four daily habits, each of which made great sense to me, and which I know he’s backed up with experience. However, I also know my dad well enough to realize that offering onlyfour pieces of advice isn’t exactly his nature, so I racked his brain. Here’s what we came up with.

1. Carpe diem.

You know that this is Latin for “seize the day,” right? This is the first daily habit on my dad’s list. No matter how yesterday went–whether you had great triumphs or whether you wish you’d spent the whole day in bed, remember that every new day is a new opportunity. You can’t rest on yesterday’s accomplishments, and you never have to repeat yesterday’s mistakes.

2. Spend as much time as you can with the people you love.

Your spouse, your kids, your parents, your close friends–whoever they are–make sure that you find lots of time to spend time with the people you truly care about. If you want to feel really guilty about this, check out the calculator at seeyourfolks.com, which will calculate how many more times you’re likely to see your parents based on past experience and life expectancy. (We’ll wait here while you go give them a call afterward.)

3. At the same time, love the ones you’re with.

There are many different kinds of love, and here my dad is talking about showing respect and concern for the people you spend your days with. “That is simply, love everyone,” is how my dad put it, and he added a quote from Thomas Merton: “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone–we find it with another.

4. Work hard.

You can’t always determine what you get out of something, but you can often control what you put into it. When I was growing up and I’d be anxious over some school assignment or other project, my dad would usually ask me the same question afterward: “Did you give it your best shot? Then forget about it.”

5. At the end of the day, go home.

This one seems simple, until you start to realize how most of us are almost 100% on and accessible all the time now. Now, I’m not going to pretend that either my dad or I truly live up to this advice, but it’s a good goal to have.

6. Later, go to bed.

“Get the rest you need. Your body needs sleep–not just ‘rest and relaxation’–for it to work well,” my dad insists. He’s right of course–and it’s even become fashionable to admit thatpeople need sleep.

7. Get some exercise.

My dad’s sport is swimming, and while he came to it late, my dad has the zeal of a convert. A few years ago he did a half-mile open water swim off the beach in Narragansett, R.I. Regardless of what sport or activity works for you, my dad advises, your day will be improved if you do something athletic. Science backs him up.

8. Have a little faith.

As a lawyer–the kind of lawyer who takes on real clients and tries real cases in court–dad has pretty much seen it all. He also has stronger religious (Catholic) faith than most people I know, perhaps in part because he’s had his faith tested in many ways. It helps immensely if you believe in something bigger than yourself.

9. Learn another language.

My dad studied ancient Greek and Latin in high school. More recently, in his 60s, he decided to try to learn Farsi, I guess to better understand what some of our nation’s enemies were saying about us. Whether you’re literally learning another language or simply learning how to do new things and to challenge your preconceptions, the lesson is clear: Keep learning.

10. Read every day.

In a few weeks, guess what I’ll get my dad for Father’s Day: a book, most likely something on the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller lists. It’s what I’ve been doing for decades, so why stop now? I can’t think of many people I’ve known who read more than my dad. Importantly, he usually reads about things that have nothing to do with his work.

11. Keep your wardrobe simple.

My dad gave me this advice years ago when I first started working–so of course I completely ignored it at the time. However, had I gone ahead as he’d suggested and bought a handful of white and blue shirts, for example, and worn them every day, it would have been one fewer decision to have to make in the morning. It looks like that kind of simplification worked for Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, anyway.

12. Shine your shoes.

Shined shoes make you stand out these days, because most people are so casual. You can probably substitute something else for this habit. Just pick things that advertise to the world that you take care of small things. So maybe you also take care of bigger things.

(Here’s a text from my dad a few hours before this column ran: “Just read it again. On point 11, change ‘one less decision’ to ‘one fewer decision.’ Your grammar is wrong. Then, point out this message as an example of point 12.”)

13. Tell the people you love that you love them.

Hey, we’re back to love. Don’t just spend time with the people you love, as advised back in No. 2. Make sure you actually tell them that you love them. For example, when I talk to my dad, he’ll tell me to tell my wife that he loves her. Unnecessarily but amusingly, he’ll add that I should be sure to mention that he means he loves her “appropriately.”

14. Don’t worry.

This is one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do pieces of advice, as my dad is in fact pretty good at worrying about things. That said, worrying rarely improves the odds of good things happening, and can actually diminish those odds.

15. Be kind to animals.

My dad has had dogs since he was little. He treats animals well. His advice? If you want to treat a dog well, treat it like a dog. Don’t try to make it into something it isn’t, and doesn’t want to be (for example, a little human being). Help it become the best possible version of itself.

16. Find good assistants.

For many years, my father had the same, excellent secretary. He taught me long ago that even during the times when you’re working by yourself, you have to be willing to depend on others for help. The most productive people in the world often succeed because they refuse to do some things.

17. Repeat as needed.

This is perhaps the most important bit of advice on my dad’s list, so it’s fitting to have saved it for last. None of these items are actions so much as they are behaviors. The first time you commit to them, you won’t see results. Over a lifetime, however, they can greatly improve your life. Aristotle put it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

Read more from Inc.com:

The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

14 Tactics for Reading People’s Body Language

The One Trait That Guarantees a Good Hire

7 Things You Can Do on Friday to Make Monday Awesome

Sheryl Sandberg and the Hypocrisy of Lean In

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