Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, first edition. For newer info, read the 32nd edition of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living" at


Good luck with your career.

Careers careen.

Use your bean!

Job hunting

A good-for-nothing relative sent me this memo from the anonymous Internet about how job-hunting requires the patience of Job:

My first job? In an orange-juice factory! But I got canned: couldn’t concentrate.

Then I worked as a lumberjack but couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the ax.

I tried being a tailor but wasn’t suited for it, since it was a sew-sew job.

I tried working in a muffler factory, but that was exhausting.

I tried being a barber but couldn’t cut it.

I tried being a chef to spice up my life, but I didn’t have the thyme.

I tried being a deli worker. But any way I sliced it, I couldn’t cut the mustard.

Next came a job in a shoe factory. I tried but didn’t fit in.

I tried being a musician but wasn’t noteworthy enough.

I studied a long time to become a doctor but didn’t have enough patience.

I became a professional fisherman but found I couldn’t live on my net income.

I worked for a pool-maintenance company, but the work was too draining.

I got hired to feed giraffes at a zoo but got fired because I wasn’t up to it.

Then I got a job in a health club, but they said I wasn’t fit for the job.

I worked at Starbucks but quit because it was always the same old grind.

I finally took a job as an historian, until I realized there was no future in it.

So I retired — and found I’m a perfect fit for the job… of doing nothing!


My friend Larry Govoni was an airline pilot. One day, when he was leaving the plane, he saw a worker underneath the plane, trying to empty the plane’s toilet. Unfortunately, the hose burst and sprayed shit all over the worker. Larry looked at the poor worker and asked, “Why do you put up with a job like this? Why don’t you quit?” The worker replied:

What!!! And give up a career in the aerospace industry?

What’s the significance of that tale? Here’s the moral:

Your first job might rain shit on you, but it can lead to better things.

Here’s the counter-moral:

If your first job rains shit on you, remember that it can lead to better things — but probably won’t.


To create an impressive résumé, you can give yourself a fancy title, even if you’re just unemployed at home:

What you do                       Your title

answer & screen phone calls   Manager of high-speed fiber-optic network

generally mow the lawn          General in charge of advanced weaponry

use weed killer & bug killer  Director of chemical warfare

scrub & wash the dishes       Chief surgeon, microbiology department

rinse & dry the dishes             Chief officer, aquatic rescue operations

take out the garbage                Director of environmental services

clean the house                       Curator of the Americana Museum

get divorced                            First mate on the USS Matrimony

By dishing out those titles to your housemates, you can make household chores more fun. Aye, aye, mate! Salute the dishes!

You’re the captain

You’re the captain of your own fate.

Who’s the boss, really? Each employee wants to be the employee’s boss, but that boss wants to be the boss’s boss, until you finally get up to the chief executive officer (CEO), who’s still not really the final boss, since the CEO is at the mercy of the Board of Directors and its chairman, who really isn’t the boss either, since he’s at the mercy of the stockholders who can vote him out of office. But the stockholders aren’t the bosses either, since they’re rather powerless to control the company: they just gaze at it from afar.

Some computer techs view their employers not as “bosses” but as “clients.” If the “clients” are mean to them, they quit and find different clients who are nicer. The techs treat those corporations not as their bosses but rather their tools, to use as ways to get “computers to play with” and “interesting experiences,” until it’s time to move on to experiences that are even wilder.

So remember: you’re not just an “employee”; you’re your own boss. If your “client” ever gives you a hard time, find another and let your client go begging and whither.

You’re in charge, tiger. Just make sure that, before you quit, you have another job lined up — or at least some savings to get over the bump.

The word on the door

Here’s an old famous tale:

A professor is walking to his classroom and trying to think of how to inspire his students to improve. When he gets to the door, he sees the word “Push,” which gives him the idea: he walks into the classroom and gives an inspiring speech ending with, “To get ahead in your career, you need one key thing, written on the door you came through!” They look and see “Pull.”

To get ahead, you need to push yourself to work harder, but you also need to get friendly with folks who can pull you up.

Hate your job?

Drew Carey said:

You hate your job? Why didn’t you say so!

There’s a support group for that: it’s called Everybody, and they meet at the bar.

Night crew

If you get a job on the night crew, congratulations: you’ve won the right to recite this poem.

                                     I’m called a secret worker.

                                     I work throughout the night.

                                     I keep the world in order,

                                     So mornings will delight.

                                     Though you may never see me,

                                     You’re glad that I’ve been here.

                                     When folks come to relieve me,

                                     We give each other cheer.

                                     I try to do what’s right.

                                     Please tell me when I’m wrong.

                                     Please give a second chance

                                     To give the world my song.

                                     A creature of the night,

                                     I venture out at day

                                     To stare at God’s bright light

                                     Then sleep and work and pray.


If you make a mistake at work, apologize. My uncle recommends saying this:

I’m the opposite of a mechanic.

A mechanic screws things down.

I screw things up.


Dreams and passions

A friend asked, “What are your passions, and did you follow your dreams?” Here’s my reply:

I followed my dream, but she locked the door.

My passion is fruit, but the passion fruit’s taste doesn’t live up to its image.

Follow your dreams until they turn impractical. Then fine-tune them, to maximize ROI (return on investment).

I confess to this passion:

I want to do enough good to make me famous for doing good.

Although the word “famous” makes me seem vain, it’s my form of reinforcement and at least produces a positive social effect.


To help your company succeed, hang cute signs that make your customers smile, such as these gems (from the anonymous Internet and my personal observations):

Where seen              Message

Tire shop                      Invite us to your next blowout.

Muffler shop                 No appointment necessary. We hear you coming.

Radiator shop               Best place in town to take a leak.

Tow truck                     We don’t charge an arm and a leg. We want tows.

Tow truck #2                If you drink and drive, we might meet by accident.

Car dealership               Best way to get back on your feet: miss a car payment.

Restaurant                    Don’t stand there hungry. Come in and get fed up.

Pizza shop                    7 days without pizza makes one weak.

Propane-filling station  Tank heaven for little grills.

Septic-tank truck          We’re #1 in the #2 business

Plumber’s truck             We repair what your husband fixed.

Plumber’s truck #2    Don’t sleep with a drip. Call your plumber.

Electrician’s truck         Let us remove your shorts.

Electric company         We’d be delighted if you send in your payment.

                                     But if you don’t, you will be.

Plastic surgeon’s office Hello. Can we pick your nose?

Podiatrist’s office         Time wounds all heels.

Proctologist’s door       To expedite your visit, please back in.

Veterinarian’s office      Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!

Maternity-room door       Push. Push. Push.

Gynecologist’s office Dr. Jones, at your cervix.

Optometrist’s office     If you don’t see what you’re looking for,

                                     you’ve come to the right place.

Funeral home’s lawn     Drive carefully. We’ll wait.

Motel’s swimming pool We don’t swim in your toilet.

                                     Please don’t piss in our pool.

Fence                            Salesmen welcome! Dog food is expensive.

Employee’s T-shirt       I’ve used up my sick days, so I’m calling in dead.

Nonsmoking area          If we see smoke,

                                     we’ll assume you’re on fire and take action.

Store security dept.       God helps those who help themselves,

                                     but God help those who help themselves here.

Be nice

Jimmy Durante said:

Be nice to people on your way up —

because you might meet them on your way down.

If you’re the boss, here are 4 cost-effective ways to be nice to your employees:

Give raises frequently If necessary, make the raises small, but make sure they’re frequent (for employees doing well).

For an hourly employee, give a 25¢-per-hour raise, often. For example, instead of giving a $1-per-hour raise at the end of the year, give a 25¢-per-hour raise 4 times per year.

That way, the employee can proudly tell family & friends about the frequent raises, and the employees will feel their careers and lives are moving forward. That pride will turn into a more enthusiastic work ethic, more energy & speed, more efficiency, and less turnover. It will also encourage other employees to do better so they can get raises soon too! Just tell your employees, “I’m looking for a solid excuse to give you all raises soon, so do well!”

I’ve had good luck starting employees at low salaries (while in training) but giving them frequent raises as they learn more and become more marketable: a 25¢-per-hour raise every 2 weeks!

Do “favors” Although high wages and salaries are effective motivator, “favors” are even more effective and cost less.

Take the employees to dinner. (The meal is partly a tax write-off if you spend at least half of the conversation on business.) Give the employees a pleasant working environment. Give them flexible hours. Let them take time off from work whenever they wish (without pay but without criticizing them). Thank them and praise them when they do well (or at least haven’t screwed up recently).

Employees remember favors, tell their friends about them, and make the employees want to stay at your company because of their love for your personal interest in them.

Look at your bottom line: a bunch of favors costs even less than a tiny raise and is remembered more. Moreover, they make you seem human instead of an asshole.

Don’t fire a bad employee immediately Instead, chat with the employee.

Say you want to help the employee do better to protect the employee from getting fired. Say that you’re on the employee’s side and you won’t fire the employee unless you have to, but warn that the “have to” might come soon unless the employee and you can work together to make things better.

When you say that you’re willing to “go to bat” for the employee, the employee will typically respond by trying to “go to bat” for you.

If you think the employee is hopelessly incompetent and will get fired anyway, chat with the employee to help find a more suitable line of work. That will help the employee’s future and also help yours, since you’ll avoid getting penalized by the state government for generating unemployment claims.

Congratulate a good employee who leaves If a good employee decides to leave the company, congratulate the employee on moving ahead and for “graduating” from the job. Remind the employee that alumni are always welcome to come back, as consultants or part-timers or temps or, after further experiences outside the company, to higher positions in management.

When other employees see you congratulate the dear departed, those employees will feel less nervous about telling you their career plans, so you won’t be hit by unexpected departures that could wreck your company.

Job recommendations

When my employees go on to hunt for better jobs and ask me for a “job recommendation,” I say “gladly” and also say I prefer to give the recommendation by phone.

When the interviewer phones me to ask whether the employee was good, I try to think of at least one good thing and one bad thing to say about the employee.

If I were to say just good things, the interviewer would think I was just whitewashing over problems and wasn’t telling the whole truth, so I try to include something that’s negative but not important to that particular job. Then the interviewer trusts me for being a well-balanced objective journalist and thinks employee’s strengths and weaknesses are good match to the new job, making the employee an enthusiastic member of the new team.

I try to help all employees do well in their afterlife, just like a high-school tries to help its graduates move on to the best colleges. Then I can brag to new faces who are thinking of working for me, “This is a great place to work, because this job prepares you for a super-successful career: just look at what happened to my graduates!”

That’s the same pitch the military uses, to get kids to enlist: this job trains you to be tomorrow’s leaders.

On the anonymous Internet, I found this cute example of a job recommendation:

Memo to Managing Director:

  1   Bob Smith, my assistant programmer, can always be found

  2   hard at work at his desk. He works independently, without

  3   wasting company time talking to colleagues. Bob never

  4   thinks twice about assisting fellow employees, and always

  5   finishes given assignments on time. Often he takes extended

  6   measures to complete his work, sometimes skipping coffee

  7   breaks. Bob is a dedicated individual who has absolutely no

  8   vanity in spite of his high accomplishments and profound

  9   knowledge in his field. I firmly believe that Bob can be

10   classed as an asset employee, the type which cannot be

11   dispensed with. Consequently, I recommend that Bob be

12   promoted to executive management, and a proposal will be

13   executed as soon as possible.


That idiot was standing over my shoulder while I wrote the report I sent you earlier today. Please reread just the odd-numbered lines.

3 envelopes

Business executives ponder the tale of the 3 envelopes:

It’s time for a new person to be the CEO. He gets this advice from his predecessor: “I’ve prepared 3 envelopes. Here they are, but don’t open them yet. If you ever have trouble, open the first envelope. If you have further trouble, open the second envelope. If you have even more trouble, open the third envelope. Each envelope contains 3 magic words telling you what to do so the company will succeed. Good luck.”

At first, the new CEO does well, as the company’s employees eagerly help him learn the ropes and give him the benefit of the doubt. But after that honeymoon period, things start going downhill.

He opens the first envelope. It contains these 3 magic words: “Blame your predecessor.” He’s so happy to read those words, because they’re so right! He obeys those words. He tells the employees and stockholders that the company’s problems are just the delayed consequences of the mistakes that his predecessor made, and he’ll usher in the dawn of a new, better era. That pep talk works. Everybody is inspired by his gung-ho forward-looking attitude, and the company improves. But eventually, things start going downhill again.

He opens the second envelope. It contains these 3 magic words: “Reorganize the company.” He’s so happy to read those words, because they’re so right! He obeys those words. He fires the employees who are deadwood and invents new ways of managing everything. That improves the company. But eventually, things start going downhill again.

He opens the third envelope. It says: “Prepare three envelopes.”

Every CEO goes through those 3 cycles before getting canned. Which envelope is your company’s CEO using now? #1, #2, or #3?