[Lifehack.org post] 23 Proven Strategies to Get Through Any Hardship - and Thrive

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[Originally published on Lifehack.org] Nobody sets out in their life to fail, get hurt by others or get ill, go bankrupt, take on massive debt, take punches from the world until they die.

But when these things inevitably happen - sometimes in a row - it can completely take the wind out of your sails. We have the choice to see the tests as something necessary to improve our lives or otherwise as needless misery.

Most of us grow up setting long-term goals and hearing that quite anything is possible. Then, we encounter more and more resistance as we age - from competition at an ever higher level - and from "circumstances."

At every level, starting with your college, you are striving for the top 10% (or better). For grad school, then top jobs, it's always the top 10% of that old 10%. That's how survival of the fittest works, we're told.

Except that fitness is but one small factor in the battle to swim through the darkness to the mythical and distant island of "success." Intelligence and pure hard work are critical, but over-rated. So is luck. That's why A students end up working for C students often.

Grit is the key ingredient for those that "make" it to the top of any field. Work long enough on any problem and you'll make some headway, often quite a lot. Even if not the smartest, wisest or the fastest worker, you'll outlast, outwork and ultimately outperform the smarter, wiser, faster folks.

A Russian saying puts it best. "The slower you go, the farther you'll get."

Those with true grit have generally overcome some combination of big childhood traumas, failures in their business and in family and personal setbacks. Yet they have persevered because they felt that life was worth continuing, that all the challenges were there for some big purpose well beyond themselves.

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In my own life, I grew up in a single-parent home, then emigrated here from Soviet Russia, put myself through college and then law school, managed to survive New York despite Recession, unemployment, massive debt and setbacks in my business and a lot of mini-traumas on the way. Yet, here I am, much stronger than before, more focused, healthier and wiser than before - and more accomplished.

What's worked for me? An over-riding sense that difficulties come and go, always for good, for growth. A discipline to get through certain problems to the end and also knowing when just to let go.  A wealth of patience and a boundless curiosity. Knowing my place and mission in this world and always seeking to improve and change for better - for my own sake and my family's.

These are the detailed strategies I've used to weather through great challenges and come out ahead:

1) Get a grip on life. Stop just surviving and learn to thrive.

First, break the vicious cycle that keeps you miserable and frustrated, poor and running in place. If I can do it, you most certainly can, as well.

2) Value your time above everything else and others will learn to value your time above all.

It's your most precious resource and is always diminishing.

Until I learned to value my time above all, friends, family and everyone I met could easily manipulate me (on purpose or not, doesn't matter) into spending my precious time on useless conversations, behaviors, habits, etc. In the end, learn to recognize patterns in your own behavior and the behavior of others to avoid wasting time on conversations that bring no useful, constructive effect to your life or the life of the other person/people.

Once I set limits and acknowledged the obvious bad habits in myself and others to engage in useless conversations - where I wasn't improving someone else's life or my own or was otherwise learning and taking something useful away from the experience, suddenly, I saw my time in a completely different light. Others started valuing my time much more and productivity went up a great deal.

3) Create good habits and get rid of bad ones. Keep a consistent (and consistently healthy) daily regimen.

This is a really basic, but under-appreciated point, especially for young Invincibles. A solid and consistent daily regimen will keep you in one piece through the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.

Here are 12 easy life-changing habits you can start today. Sleep 7-8 hours a night, EVERY NIGHT (and here are 9 ways to improve the quality of your sleep). Wake up early to take advantage of the most productive (morning) time. Get up and stretch from your chair every hour. Pack a healthy lunch and healthy snacks (almonds and other nuts, PopChips, fruits, etc.); eat out sparingly. Take good care of your digestion, because if you don't, you'll be miserable too often to function well and die too soon from chronic disease. Walk around quickly as often as you can to get exercise. If you hate the gym like me, do push-ups every morning. Take the stairs, not the elevator, as much as you can. Take good care of your hygiene (don't be lazy at night), especially your teeth and skin.

Learn how to relieve your stress in safe and reliable ways. Have close friends and family around. Minimize (ideally, eliminate) the time you spend with people that add negativity (jealousy, envy, wasting of time, perpetuation of bad habits) and stress to your life. Exercise regularly. Eat well, consistently. Sleep well. Have a glass of red wine once in a while. Reinforce good habits with others who have them.

Learn to control your impulses. Outrun, outwalk, outcrawl, make a detour around temptation. Acknowledge your limitations and outsmart yourself. Simply stay out of the context where you can't control your impulses. Simply keep away from unhealthy food, activities, relationships, spending, people, language, influences, etc. Be smart and cautious enough to nip trouble in the bud.

Learn to say no to people. This is by far one of the most important skills and habits of all. Practice makes perfect.

4) Take good care of your mind.

Find a highly recommended therapist with a sliding scale to help you dig through and unpack and throw away all the awful baggage from childhood that's holding you back from seeing yourself in a healthy way and moving forward with life and succeeding. Drop the stigma. Create good habits around positive thinking, stress relief (see above).

Get rid of toxic thoughts and overcome their effects on you.

Kill all your sacred cows and really start living.

Make no mistake - your mental health (or lack thereof) will make you or break you.

5) Eliminate negativity from your life as much as you can, day in and day out.

Be relentlessly positive, even while remaining a realist pragmatist. This means removing people that put you down or shower you with jealousy, envy and unproductive and unhealthy ways to spend time. Minimize listening to depressing music and watching depressing movies. Manipulate your mood for the better with music that lifts you up and keeps you moving forward.

Value your time above all (see #2).

6) Develop a Negotiation Mindset in all your dealings with people.

Practice negotiating for cheaper coffee or fruits at the farmer's market, where you have nothing to lose. Research, understand and internalize your true value to employers, business partners, landlords and all others you deal with. Be confident about your capabilities and set your limits when you go in to negotiate. Come in with concrete and measurable facts about what you've done, on what budget and time frame, how much money and time you've saved the team and company. Practice with a coach or a no-holds-barred friend beforehand.

Before I ever negotiated for anything, I was hampered by all sorts of insecurities and hidden scripts in my head that were passed down from parents, siblings, friends and cultural vectors. When I met my wife, who grew up in Morocco and negotiates for a living, the paradigm was turned upside down. In Morocco, NOT to negotiate is insulting and looked down upon. Locals always know the true price and the "acceptable" margin.

EVERYTHING is negotiable.

I slowly untangled my own hangups about negotiation, learned to understand my own true value to an employer or business partner or vendor in each case and started practicing with negotiation in a Moroccan bazaar, where there was absolutely nothing to lose.

With time, I successfully negotiated a full-time offer with benefits after being offered a contract. At that job, I ended up negotiating a 23% discount ($45K off) on financial management software - far better than expected for a company of our size. I then negotiated a cap of 1% on rent over 5 years (saving the company $17K). At another job, I negotiated $10K and better benefits/perks higher before starting. Since then, I've negotiated big discounts (20% or more) on everything from moving company expenses to rent, consulting rates, car rental fees, credit card fees, hotel chain points, coffee and all sorts of other large and smaller purchases.

After a while, developing a negotiation mindset has not only saved (and made) me tens of thousands of dollars, but also given me confidence and competence that are priceless. It's a snowball effect that consistently opens up big savings, perks, freebies, extra points and other "hidden" benefits.

The rule with negotiation is simple: If you don't ask, the answer is always no!

7) Connect to something higher than yourself through meditation and finding your roots (culture, religion, nationality, etc).

Put yourself in a context where you feel connected to where you came from and who you are, so you will have the bedrock for growth in your personal life.

My own experience with becoming an observant Jew has been a very long and winding road full of potholes and false turns. I've also learned to balance the various parts of my identity in my own way - Russian-American, Kentucky boy, New Yorker, writer, lawyer, financier, entrepreneur, etc. Every person's path is quite unique and frankly, it should be. Cookie-cutter transformations are often false and rarely last.

8) Practice gratitude daily, right after you wake up and before you go to sleep.

Literally count your blessings each day. Say thanks as much as possible to others, especially your family and close friends (where would you be without them and their support?). Write thank you notes by hand to others to set yourself apart in their mind.

Here are 10 things to be thankful for RIGHT NOW.

9) Live frugally, within your means. Organize, understand and regularly manage your finances. Find ways to make more money, not just to save and scrimp.

Not knowing the full picture of your finances will be a constant source of stress and family argument. It's actually critical to your health and well-being. Take it seriously and get your act together ASAP.

Put away at least 6-12 months of earnings as a cushion in case of unemployment or unexpected expenses. Carefully monitor your credit through carefully (Credit Karma, for example). Automate monthly bill payments, monthly savings and investments. Use budgeting tools to control your spending. Understand your cash flows and their timing clearly. Pay off your debts ASAP, starting off with the highest-interest loans first. Find ways to make more money by using your existing (or adding new) skills by freelancing, consulting, coaching or otherwise creating an online business. Learn to live frugally without completely forsaking a lifestyle you actually enjoy.

Living frugally is a virtue, but of course never quite easy, especially if you're used to a certain level of lifestyle. However, it often means the difference between "a little more fun now/misery later" and "a little less fun now/happiness a little later."

On a practical note, when you "deprive" yourself of material things you're used to, you find out that you truly need very little except basic necessities to get by. You will learn to be incredibly resourceful with food, entertainment, budgeting, hosting, dating, finding freebies and discounts and planning ahead. Even though it may seem like an awful chore for the first some time, living frugally actually forces you to become more independent and self-confident in your life choices, focusing you on what's truly important - experiences above material things.

When I was 9, I helped Mom buy a car for us, so she just had to give a check and we owned the car. At 15, I convinced her to buy a house, despite a shaky job and finances. My approach to money became to spend ahead of making money, which led to awful credit card debt that took years to repay. It caused me to move out of New York for a few months when I couldn't afford rent after law school. A lack of foresight, research and planning (aspiration without the perspiration) led to a quarter million in student loans from law school right when the Recession hit.

Only when I got married and saw down with my wife (who has always had a much healthier relationship with money) to review our finances, did it hit me just how much my ostrich-in-the-sand attitude had cost me in dollars, sense, time, late payments and opportunities in life. Before this, I had no idea how to budget or understand cash flows, or visualize the full extent and terms of my student loans.

Once I bit the bullet and learned how these things actually work, I felt greatly empowered to get rid of my student debt, optimize credit card spending to maximize points, to negotiate for discounts and otherwise take control of saving and spending. Now, it's hard to imagine my head was in the sand all this time.

10) Look internally for meaning, not to material wealth, circumstances or to other people.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Liberate yourself from the chains of jealousy and envy. Your only relevant measure of success is against your own potential, which is always much greater than you can imagine at your lowest. Seek experiences, not material goods. Stick to your ethics and morals and never stray from them for anyone or anything.

My mother's a neuroscience professor and two grandparents were doctors, so I grew up really wanting to be an MD/Ph.D. After my grades tanked in college, it became just Ph.D. After a year in my Ph.D. program, I left with the heavy weight of parental disappointment. I worked for a year and went to law school, realizing mid-way that law was not for me. In the depths of the Great Recession, I went into finance to make a living and realized after 3 years in that I was not doing anything enjoyable or working to my potential. That's when I left to start my own company in health tech and ended up working for two other startups  in the space, doing finance/operations, then product management.

Despite burnout, soul-searching, lots of criticism from family and friends, I persevered to find my sweet spot in helping health tech companies launch and scale quickly. All these experiences - both good and bad - have given me a thick skin and discipline, a better understanding of my virtues and faults, a great set of skills I use in all areas of life and a much clearer sense of what gives me meaning and happiness professionally and personally - and what doesn't. All of this is well earned and priceless as life experience.

In short, every person's path is different. Some find their way quickly and others take their time. Neither guarantees success or failure. The journey is just as important as the destination. Keep plowing - and constantly sowing new seeds - through the hard times. Work hard (and smart). Learn as much as you can along the way and you will certainly find your meaning and purpose in the process.

11) Always plan ahead and prepare with as many specifics as possible.

Break down goals into specific tasks. Set deadlines for each task. Track your progress. Celebrate small wins. Use project management tools to help you optimize the process. Set unrealistic, crazy goals - then research how successful people have achieved such goals. Follow their model. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Creative, artistic types have the hardest of times doing this. Having been born this way, I've nevertheless forced myself to break down lofty goals like publishing a novel, getting into a new industry, making a certain salary by a certain age, paying off student debt, understanding and managing my finances, etc. The first novel took 7 years. The second took 7 months.

Careful, realistic planning that involves small tasks, specific timelines and budgets brings the lofty into the realm of the possible and doable.

Minimize the number of daily decisions you have to make.

Prepare your lunch the night before. Choose what you're going to wear tomorrow before sleeping. Think Zuckerberg and his famous hoodie and Steve Jobs with his turtlenecks.

12) Research every person you deal with in business and personal life and have a clear picture of what you're getting into ahead of time.

A couple hours spent on due diligence now can often save you months and months of untangling yourself from a-holes and frauds, fake friends, failed joint ventures, lawsuits and other nightmares. Caveat emptor.

Before I learned to take myself seriously and set boundaries and rules, I used to fall for all sorts of schemes, one-sided friendships, bad deals, gigs that went unpaid, etc. Once I learned to dig deeper beforehand, this dramatically changed my preparation for dealing with every person I met by choice. Now, before I meet someone, I know exactly where they are coming from, what are their motivations, how I can help them and how they can help me. This makes all interactions instantly more useful and valuable for both parties and cuts out the BS to get right to the point of how we can work together to help each other.

13) Keep a journal and write down your experiences, both good and bad.

This is one of the best ways to give yourself therapy and perspective on what you've been through and how you've persevered. It is also critical to collecting new ideas and sowing new seeds daily.

In my case, keeping a notebook and pen always handy to take down observations, ideas, new concepts, things I overheard on the subway, lines of poetry, beautiful pieces of art or music I saw or heard, my craziest and most desperate thoughts at my lowest and amazingly inspired reflections at the highest - are all chronicles I can look to anytime to see my own development as a son, husband, father, writer, lawyer, financier, traveler, negotiator, etc. It's always invaluable to remember who you really are and what you're capable of when circumstances make you forget.

14) Always take the long view, but show up for the small things every day.

Don't get too high with the highs in life and don't get too low with the lows. Always find a way to press ahead. If you take good care of yourself, you will have a long time to work on important problems with your full energy. 5 years is a good reference point for how long it takes to become a top expert in your field and generate solid revenue in the process.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Don't waste your time planning to be the first to build Rome overnight. I've failed many times trying to build castles from cards overnight. The big successes all took a really long time, lots of hard work and evolution and constant improvement to materialize.

Keep your eyes on the prize. Find ways to stay focused. Constantly prioritize things in the order of what gets you to your goals fastest and most effectively.

Shoot for 1% improvement each day in whatever you're working on (a trait, a project, a relationship, etc.). Otherwise, you'll burn out and give up too fast.

15) Use the 80/20 Principle in your interactions with people and in the work you do.

Don't kill yourself softly with perfectionism. In the end, Getting Sh*t Done always beats Perfect, but Unfinished. Think Most.

Use the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as a guiding principle when building something.

16) Don't do it alone.

Cultivate mentors and advisors (in real life AND online, in the knowledge of others who write about overcoming the same problems).

Learn from every person - both what to do and what NOT to do. Read widely and voraciously on the experiences of others with the issues you're having. Nothing that you're going through, no matter how difficult or painful, has not been faced by someone, somewhere in the world, who's lived to tell about it.

Enlist help from friends and family to keep you on track and accountable, as well as motivated and encouraged. However, don't rely on everyone being on board with what you're doing. It often takes at least a partial success to make even the closest people to you to see the value in what you're doing.

17) Keep challenging yourself in small ways daily. Don't just react. Be proactive.

Take the stairs. Get up an extra 15 minutes early even though you fell asleep late. Take a walk even if you're tired. Do an extra lap around the park. Hold yourself off from buying that nice-looking danish. Out-walk, outrun temptation just this once.

This way, you'll show yourself you're capable of greater things than you imagine. You'll slowly push your limits out a little, then a little more. Eventually, this builds into a competition with yourself. This grows into a discipline and habits that are good for health and wealth and productivity, etc. It's always working on the little things that are attainable from day to day that yields the greatest of results.

Maybe it's just a personality type, but I've always felt driven to push myself beyond laziness (despite being lazy), to remind myself that I'm capable of small physical and intellectual feats that I managed when younger. This means taking a cold shower (15-20 second) every single morning, signing up for a half-marathon one day and jogging 4 miles in the park after not running at all for 6 years, taking the stairs with 40 pounds of groceries, waking up early to go to synagogue despite sleeping far too little, speaking French even when I can use English, writing essays in Russian after emigrating at 9, and many other small and big challenges I set for myself on a daily basis over the years. Maybe it's a way to stay young at heart.

The point is, it works quite well to keep me physically and mentally nimble despite all the setbacks and hardships in life, the bad logistics and circumstances and other things I can blame when I don't feel up for doing something. Oh, did I mention having a kid? Nope, no excuses.

18) When you fail, fail quickly and cheaply.

Learn from your mistakes and never make them again. Going forward, avoid jumping blindly into any new venture, relationship, debt, career, trip, religion or scheme. Always do your research ahead of time on the people involved, cost, previous successes and failures for others who've been through it. Always get a second, third and fourth opinion. Always look for a cheaper, better, faster option of whatever you're considering. Don't trust "gut feelings" until you've analyzed in depth all the relevant data to understand the likelihood of success (and failure).

Take calculated risks. See how others who have done the same thing have fared over the short and long term. Read and ask questions on Quora, Reddit, in related forums and in person. Crowd-source solutions from your networks. You'll be shocked how much useful and highly relevant information you'll find out there to solve just about any problem you can ever face.

19) Get fired at least once.

Make no excuses when it happens. Take a short time to let the strong emotions pass. Understand without resentment and emotional attachment what went wrong, how to fix it and what you need to learn from the experience.

When you get fired, figure out what you need to do differently to improve your performance. Don't just blame the boss for being an a-hole and unreasonable. Are you in the right industry and role? Are you more of a start-up person than corporate or are you too risk-averse?

When I was fired once, it was incredibly painful, since it stopped income flow, disappointed my loved ones, shook my confidence and burned bridges. But I got up, rebuilt myself, understood what went wrong after the emotions died down and moved on with the difficult, but necessary lessons.

The key is not to dwell on the disappointment, but instead to see it as something you can (and must) fix. Understand the root causes (you may just suck at the job or care little for what you were doing; it was a bad cultural fit, the wrong role, wrong industry, company size, etc.; likely, it's some combination of all of these). Now, look inward to understand better who you are, what role you're happiest in and then find the company that will nurture and push you in that role, then the appropriate industry and title.

Here's how to find out what you're really meant to do in life.

Here's how to find out whether you should work in a startup or stay corporate.

Here's how to find your career personality type.

20) Live in New York City or London or Paris or other large metropolis for at least a year or two - ideally more.

You will go through many difficult, but amazingly fruitful growth experiences, which will sharpen your mind and craft and earning power and knowledge of human psychology far beyond anything you could imagine if you stayed back home.

Yes, you will fall for many schemes at first and make many blunders and likely fail in a few relationships and business ventures. But you will also build a thick skin, an appreciation for finishing what you start, a taste for competition with the very best and for always doing things at a high level and quality, for good food and drink, for great company, for what exactly it takes to be successful anywhere (you make it here, you'll make it anywhere).

You'll often be at the edge of the cliff and at the bleeding edge of everything cool and interesting and important - often at the same time. You will have the best time of your life even while totally miserable - if you survive long enough. You'll make your best friends - and a few enemies, if you're really good at something.

21) Dig deep to understand what ROLE you want to play in an organization. Forget industry and title. Figure out what you really want to do in life.

Are you happiest as the caretaker who makes sure everyone else around is healthy and has everything they need to do well in their roles? Are you most comfortable as the subject matter expert everyone goes to? Does it make you feel good to delegate to others and keep hammering the company mission and vision? Do you love selling others on the company's mission and product?

I've had the fortune to work in many different roles, industries and companies over my career. I've built my own business, advised and consulted countless others, worked with the CEO and janitor and everyone in between. I've done finance and operations, product and project management, strategy, marketing, writing and everything in between. I've worked with every personality type from the relentless micro-manager to hands-off delegator to perfectionist and introvert subject matter expert.

Each person I've worked with has taught me a great deal about what kind of person I am and want to be, about what role makes me happiest and most comfortable (as well as what roles I hate), about the type of people I want to work with (and will categorically, never work with again). Industry and title are important only after you know that you're a good and natural fit for the role you'll be doing and the company where you'll be doing it, working with the right type of people that will bring the best out of you on a consistent basis.

This way, you will do the best work of your life.

22) Sow new seeds every day.

Listen much more than you talk and absorb others' knowledge and understanding of the world! Get out of your comfort zone to meet new people (at meetups, museums, markets, interesting events, not bars). Write down 10 new ideas a day on a notepad (and be religious about it). Read new books. Take courses. Learn new languages, skills and facts. Take on new projects and internships. Find new ways to make a name for yourself (and generate revenue in the process). Write thank you notes to people who've helped you to stay in touch. Visit new places. Take a new way home. Experiment with new foods and ways of seeing the world. Most importantly, always keep moving forward and have no fear! Never stay still.

You simply never know when a random bit of knowledge will help you get ahead in life, when knowing another language or culture or having a certain skill or worldview will get you in the door of your dream job, when the simple (but rare) ability to listen and empathize with another human being may find you a spouse or new best friend.

My own experience has seen me starting to write a handful of books (novels, self-help and others), tens of articles, meeting tens of thousands of interesting people, changing careers, hearing and telling hundreds of stories, speaking in 4 languages at one dinner table, traveling to 4 continents, taking on far too many projects at once, starting several businesses, learning about my capabilities and limits and countless other amazing experiences I wouldn't trade for anything, despite the many false leads and dead ends.

23) Just show up (and be on time).

As the cliche goes, this is indeed half of what makes someone successful. Just showing up consistently puts you ahead of the great majority of people in just about anything you do, especially things you do well. Do it long enough and you'll accomplish great things by persistence alone, even if others have more intelligence, speed or savvy than you.

If there is a "secret" to how I've gone through all the hardships in my life, it's definitely this last point. I've been lucky to know people that are more intelligent, faster and more savvy than myself. But the biggest successes generally come from those that have worked a long time at something, regardless of what others think or say.

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As you inevitably go through life and fail sometimes and get frustrated, take more punches, know that it's all for something, never just to make you suffer.

Grit and determination will get you through whatever hell you're going through. Don't give up and don't listen to naysayers. Everything that comes your way, you can ultimately handle (trust me). Just keep going!

Later in life, you'll come to see what blessing all the hardship really is. All the same, may your journey be easy and fruitful! I'll be rooting for you.

**And, as ever, if you have any questions at all, please do get in touch!**

Are there other proven strategies you’ve used to get through difficult times? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author and contributor to Money Magazine, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

14 (Deeper) Questions You Should Be Asking During Your Interview Process

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W7RWLHPKX4 The interview process (whether for a job, a second date, a business deal, even for quality advice) is never just a one-way street. You might be sweating, nervous or excited. Doesn't matter.

You REALLY want your future boss (or girlfriend, business partner, mentor, even friend) to like you, but you can't forget the basic premise - you're either getting value for your precious time and energy investment or you're wasting time. Never presume that a good company means a good manager or team - for you. Each situation's different and must be seen as such.

Your preparation's everything. Do your homework! Ask the hard questions now. If things don't work, it can be painful parting and restarting elsewhere.

Not only do good questions show your thoughtfulness and curiosity, but also a commitment to high standards. To demonstrate these shows your interviewer that you care and won't say yes to anything. That is a signal that you're capable, prepared and have a clue about the way things work - you're mindful.

Over the years, I've interviewed at countless companies - both large and small and in between - in law and finance, healthcare and consulting, startups, banks and hedge funds, young and agile teams and older, more established ones, people of every generation, age and gender.

Both from mistakes and positive experiences, I've learned to look for what's important in the process of the interviews, as well as research - both the before and after. One must be very careful what to ask - as well as what to hold back to yourself and find the answers on your own.

Here are the things I've learned that are the most important for a person interviewing to know about his or her role, team and company before he or she signs on the dotted line to start:

1) How does your manager-to-be resolve conflicts? What is his or her personal style - conciliatory? Domineering? His/her way or the highway? Ask him or her!

2) What Professional Development opportunities exist for employees on the team and company as a whole? In other words, how much opportunity will you have to grow in your role? How much do they care about keeping their employees' perspectives fresh and relevant?

3) How solvent is the company financially? It may be the greatest company, team and boss in history and you as a worker may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if the company's finances are poorly managed or in danger of poor cash flow and/or revenue management, you'll be in deep trouble and soon if you start there. Check very carefully how the finances look, because if they're bad, your head could be on the chopping block in the next cycle of layoffs.

4) Do your manager- and team-to-be pass the beer test? You'll be spending a hell of a lot of time with these people (more than with your family, likely). You better make sure you can not just stand them, but will actually enjoy their company, work ethic, humor (or lack thereof, more likely) and blather. Do team members talk about others behind their backs? You'll be the "others" soon enough, then. Are they dull, humorless cubicle dwellers or bro-me-all-day-bro frat boys fresh out of college? Know exactly what you're getting into if joining and that you won't be the odd man/woman out

5) How easily does management take suggestions for improving the company's bottom line, strategy and/or execution? If nobody cares or bothers to listen to people in the company, then you'll be in an echo chamber  while working there. If this is important for you, think twice before joining a company where internal feedback is not treated as a strategic asset.

6) What are your maybe-future-boss's biggest pain points? What can you do to make his or her life easier with your skills and experience solving similar problems? If the two don't align well, it's not a good fit. Also, what are the biggest challenges this role would face?

7) What do you need to do to hit the ground running and hit it out of the ballpark (to use two annoying sports expressions you'll hear often on the job) in the first 100 days? Can you do this and will the process make you happy and fulfilled?

8) What will this role look like 3, 6, 12, 24 months down the line? How will it evolve, if at all? Also, how has this role changed in the past? What does a successful candidate look like for this position right now? These are all critical things to know in order to nail your first 100 days and beyond.

9) What keeps the manager and other interviewers at the company? Why did they come here, in the first place, when they had other choices? Get the interviewer to tell you his or her story. Carefully note the tone and level of sincerity when these questions are answered. If the answers are clearly scattered BS - or otherwise Kool-Aid of the worst sort, then it may be a sign of lack of communicated vision/mission by leadership - or otherwise of working in a cult. Been there, done both. No, thanks.

10) What is the performance review process like here? Is it formal? Informal? Quarterly? Annual? Is there continuous feedback? What metrics will I be measured by? If the level / frequency of feedback and performance review are inadequate for you, don't join.

11) What are the company's strategic goals and how does management plan to reach them? What sorts of new product or product lines are being launched to gain or maintain market position? What's in the pipeline that I should be excited about? Lack of ideas may be a sign that things are headed in the wrong direction.

12) What is the team that I'll be working with like? What are their personalities and backgrounds? What other departments will I be interacting with? What should I know about the team? How about career progression for people on this team? Are you hiring or downsizing on the team? Who will be my direct reports?

13) What is the work environment like? Is it an open floor plan or cubicles / offices? Is there a pantry? What kind of office and / or team activities do they do? Is there a formal vision or mission statement that they have? Do people collaborate a lot of contribute independently? What's different here from any other place you've worked?

Pro tip: When you get into the office for the interview, ask for water and walk around, if possible, to see how people interact (and if they're friendly), how they look (formal or casual, stressed or chilled out, hipsters or suits, young or old or a mix, etc.), what the lobby and pantry look like, where the management sits (in the same place as everyone else or in their offices).

14) Is there anything about your experience or skills that concerns the interviewer (especially manager)? Address this right away with examples of how you would ramp up quickly by picking up a certain skill or level of experience you're missing. Worst case, address this in your thank-you note. What are the next steps in the process? What is their timeline for hiring someone? Any other questions they haven't asked of you yet?

And while this list is not exhaustive, it's a very good start. There are always industry- and company-specific questions you should ask if they are particularly important for you to be answered. The main thing is, don't be afraid to ask.

What NOT to ask: salary (negotiate later, when you know they want you), work hours, vacation policy, perks and benefits, etc. These are not relevant until you get an offer.

Now go out there and interview with confidence! I'll be rooting for you. And as always, let me know if YOU have any (interview-related or any other) questions.

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Are there other important interview questions you've asked before choosing where to work next? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

– –

Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

How to Find Out What You Are Meant To Do in Life

DeathtoStock_NotStock2 The vast majority of people – likely yourself, included - are not happy with their job and not engaged at work. You’ve seen Venn diagrams galore about the sweetspots between what you’re good at and your passion and what pays well and the like. Maybe in college or in high school, you took ASVAB or another long assessment that spits out ten possibilities of jobs you might want to consider.

And yet, you’re sitting in your cubicle and wondering what is it that you’re meant to do in life. What do you want to be when you grow up? Your mother’s voice rings in your head. Yet still, you have no magic answer. At times you seriously doubt there is an answer possible.

A part of you, in fact, just never wants to grow up and to focus on one thing. Deep down, you never quite believed in that annoying maxim that your parents and your teachers drilled into you, that says you have to choose and stick with your profession for your life or drift away, become a failure. There is a wisdom there and also folly, equal in their measure.

As we well know, Millenials pursue portfolio careers – they can be product managers and writers or risk analysts and DJs. There is no simple definition of profession anymore, as well. Most people change careers and jobs like gloves. There is no longer a straight path to glory or fulfillment, save for a few fields. There’s no such thing as meritocracy. Your personality and sense of politics are equally (if not, in fact, much more) important for advancement than your brains and execution.

Allow me to propose a heresy - life’s meaning doesn’t have to stem from work! It is a paycheck and an occupation and a means to learn, contribute and perhaps enjoy. There is no biblical commandment for your job to be your all-consuming purpose. There is your family, your hobbies, church or synagogue, non-profit work, whatever it may be.

But no, come on, you say. I’m young and smart and energetic and I know that I can be successful if I only knew where to apply myself. That may be true. Even if you are not a prodigy from childhood, you can easily still bloom much later and succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Think Warren Buffett and Ray Crock, Mark Pincus and a thousand others who created famous brands and giant value late in life.

You may be in your twenties, thirties, even older, if you’re reading this. Many of us pursued name brands of companies, degrees and fancy titles, but are unfulfilled. There has to be a better way.

Here’s my approach:

1) Beyond the many tests of personality and culture fit, there is the question of your role. A role encapsulates what motivates you in a given situation.

What role – that is, opposed to title - do you really, truly, actually enjoy in any situation?

Are you the expert who excels in giving consultations on in-depth details and who analyzes trends?

Are you the silent helper in the background who makes sure the others are on track and doing well?

Are you the planner that can carry off the complex project plan?

Are you an inborn manager and delegator, telling people what to do and how?

Are you the Type A CEO who lives by mission and are hell-bent on achieving it?

Or are you the observer who enjoys his writing far removed from business action?

You may be all these things in some capacity, but which one gives you real enjoyment in the moment?

 

2) Once you have narrowed down a favorite role, you can move on to adding value.

In what capacity can you help others best and thrive? In what capacity would it be easiest for you to make things cheaper, better, faster and kick ass and come home happy after a long day?

Are you a stickler for the right word in the moment? Then try marketing or writing.

Are you in inborn salesman, full of energy, who loves convincing other people that it’s time to buy, buy, baby? The sky’s the limit, GO AND SELL!

Do you enjoy forecasting profits or new trends? Then maybe you should be a data scientist in your favorite field.

Do you see years ahead of everyone and outwork all the rest to get to where you want to be? You might be the right person to go off and start something yourself.

 

3) Once you collect the evidence to show yourself what you enjoy the most, you can go on to mapping it to function in a company by title. Don’t fixate on the title, but on job description. Will this involve a lot of things that get you up all bright and early, thrilled to run to work? If not, keep looking.

 

4) Next, industry makes sense by what you value most. Everyone likes to say that they enjoy helping people. Those in the medical professions want to cure, improve their patients’ health. Investment bankers want to raise the capital for companies to grow. Climate researchers want to turn the tide and save the planet. Sometimes the industry is not so terribly important.

What medium or context is it that excites you most for doing your best work?

You could be crunching data in a healthcare startup, just as well as finance or at Uber.

 

5) Next, go and research companies where you might want to work. It doesn’t have to be the Googles, Apples, Ubers of the world – at least not right away. Often, your break can come inside a tiny startup or established, boring player, where the degrees and fancy titles carry much less weight than motivation, problem-solving skills and good experience.

The best way to get information is, once more, from people on the inside. These are the folks who get your resume directly past the tracking system and into the hands of the HR / recruiter. They are the ones who know interview questions, preferences of the hiring manager, the team dynamic and company culture. NEVER take the company’s own marketing at face value. Read Glassdoor and other reviews, keeping in mind that most reviewers tend to be either quite pissed or drunk with Koolaid. Stay skeptical until the end – at least until the ink is dry on your new contract with the firm.

 

6) Now that you’ve done your research and reflection, you can start to strategize.    

What is the shortest path to get to that specific role inside your chosen industry?

First, focus on the practical. Can you get in a sponsored hackathon and then get hired directly? Great, go for it.

Or can you take a General Assembly course for it? It might be worth the money, then.

How about taking MOOCs for credit – would that show your interest and dedication to potential employers? How about being active in industry groups on LinkedIN and in real life?

Depending on what role you want, you may be able to network your way into a job without much (or any) prior experience. Ask questions on Quora to get a straight-forward, no-nonsense answer from high-end professionals in the field.

Next, read all the books you can about the path the leading lights have taken to start out and grow, excel at the particular profession that you chose.

Before you rush to spend your hard-earned money (or take student debt) for a degree, for courses or for boot camps, go online and find the high-end free resources recommended by professionals (see Quora).

Contact the people in your network in the field who do exactly what you want (over LinkedIN, through  alumni network or another way). Take them to coffee and prepare good questions about paths to get there and the tasks and functions of the job, then companies and titles, then how to interview and what to know, etc.

This is the crucial process of intelligence gathering. If you don’t do it well, you’re liable to get the wrong ideas, spend too much money and get lost. Those working in the field (not academics in the field) generally have their nose to ground, a set of realistic views and expectations.

That said, beware of doctors hating medicine, those angry, burnt-out lawyers, bored accountants and the other misfits who are stuck – naysayers, who are not your friends. Talk to the doers, people with large networks and portfolio careers. They generally have the clearest and most sober view of things. Get second, third and fourth opinions, always, as a rule.

 

**DISCLAIMERS**

It is worth noting that at different stages in your life, you’ll likely want to be in different roles. You’ll find completely different things enjoyable when 22 than when you’re 30, 35 or 45. Exiting college, you are hungry for experience through solid training. You may already know exactly what you want from life or you can struggle through crap jobs, self-doubt until you’re sick and want to change direction. This easily can happen at the age of 30, 35 or 40, even later.

Consider this example. At 22, John starts his job at Google as a Junior Product Manager. At 24, he moves to LinkedIN and there gets his break, leading a team to build an awesome feature that affects a hundred million people, At 27, he’s recruited as VP of Product at a healthcare startup and begins to take the plunge. Here, he begins to build a team to take on cancer through great diagnostics. At 30, his equity stake is worth $3 million and he cashes out after the IPO.

After 2 years, he moves into the dark side, a VC firm, Kleiner Perkins. From his new perch, he is an expert and thought leader, now investing in healthcare and tech. He gives TED lectures and advises startups on their product strategies. After 5 years investing and an awesome record, he plunges back and starts a company with friends from college. He’s got 2 kids, a wife.

His interests, priorities and worldview have completely changed – several times - since 22. Once he got married and had kids, family's meant the most to him, his job taking a backseat.

Each person's finances and circumstances, personality and motivations may be different and change with time. The key's to keep things in perspective. It's great to love your job, but not at the expense of family and loved ones - or your health. Life is a trade-off, but a lack of balance brings great harm.

Not all of us (frankly, quite few of us) can have a straight path as our friend John mentioned here. Most of us will go from job to job and career to career until we reach apathy, complacency or maybe a small share of transcendence along the way. The bliss is really in the journey, often hard and bumpy, crooked as in Snakes and Ladders.

It gets quite hard and harder to amend directions in your life once you have family and kids, so try to get your stuff straight earlier. That said, it’s never quite “too late.” Think of those Buffets and Ray Crocks, Mark Pincuses and all the other fabulously successful late bloomers.

Enjoy the ride, stay humble and stay firmly on the ground, Marty McFly!

I’m rooting for you!

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Are there other tips and strategies you’ve found useful in finding your ideal job or career? Share them with the community in the Comments section below.

– –

Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

How To Decide If You Want to Work In a Startup (or Stay Corporate)

DeathtoStock_NotStock5 How To Decide If You Want to Work In a Startup (or Stay Corporate)

Many of us have been there. Tired of the boring job at a large company, resigned to being ten levels under management with no room to grow, running in place, not growing as a human being. We start to daydream - what if I was a Startup Guy or Startup Girl?

Immediately, we think of airy lofts and open floor plans, tons of snacks, open vacation, equity, being buddy-buddy with the founders, helping build an awesome product that will change the world, etc. We talk to friends who work at startups and they seem so driven and excited all the time. I want my freedom! Screw this corporate crap!

Now, back to earth. Just like in any other company, a startup job can be amazingly rewarding - or pure hell.

Here's what to look for when you think of jumping to a startup:

1) How do you look at risk? Is it excitement for you or a heart attack? Are you gung-ho about new challenges and run with them and own the problem or are you used to doing what you're told?

Frankly, can you survive if suddenly, the company goes under or the job doesn't work out? What if your job description changes drastically? How flexible are you to go get coffee/donuts, even if you're high in management? If suddenly the founders need to pivot or to cut the workforce, it could be a sudden shock.

If you're ok financially and otherwise with this scenario, then it could be for you. Don't take the startup gig it if you can't take the sudden changes in direction, moving quickly, daily shifts in mood and job description. 

2) How do you work? Are you methodical and thorough, harping on every detail to perfection? Then stay away.

Or are you of the 80/20 mindset, focusing on things of greatest impact first and then the rest? This might be for you.

Do you take ownership or do you always defer to others? If it's the first, then you might be a Startup Guy or Girl.

3) What is your learning style? Do you learn best by doing or through books and manuals and specialized trainings? A startup job will often have you doing things well outside of your comfort zone (what you learned in college, what you did in previous jobs, etc.) If learning things by doing is your forte, working for a startup might just be the thing for you.

4) What sort of people push you toward doing your best work? If you're not used to Type A, crazy people cracking whips around you, you will not enjoy it. Startups are different, but their founders tend toward having a very strong vision and a mission. If you're not in line, then often, you'll be yelled at, overruled or sidelined.

5) How stable is the company, especially its finances? Have the founders built companies previously? Have they worked successfully as a team before? How much does the company have in the bank (runway/burn) to achieve its mission and how well is this money being managed?

6) How do you get along with the founder(s) and the team you would work with? Make sure to take the beer test, ask detailed questions and OBSERVE their behavior, above all. If you don't like how people treat each other or how they react to stress (ask!) or other aspects of the culture, then it will wear you down and burn you out. Is the startup full of mature adults or a bunch of bros? It often depends on your function. FInance will be quite conservative and experienced people, whereas the Product Team and Devs will often be 20-something hipsters or bros. Know with which teams and people you would be working and make sure to meet them and estimate how well you can work with them.

7) Where can you grow in your role? Up or out? Don't settle for vague answers from founders. If you're a Product Manager, you will want to grow into a Director of Product Management, for example. If you're an account manager, you may want to become a Sales Director down the line. Be clear in where you want to go and that the founders and management know it and are on board with helping you reach your goals.

8) What is the company's mission and how closely aligned with it is the vision and the execution? Why do you want to work for a startup? Is it because you identify with the mission or because you're after the equity? Don't be seduced by wanting to "change the world" or the Perk Trap or "moving fast and breaking shit."

The work is often insanely hard and the hours beyond crazy. Equity almost always vests after a year and even then may not be worth anything. Too many free snacks make you fat and sick. You can't actually take as much vacation as you want (you'll be fired immediately when you try). Most of what you do will not come close to changing the world. You may want to move fast and break stuff, but there are always constraints like money and hours in the day and personality conflicts.

9) How happy will you be just to lay out your everything on the line for the company and learn as much as you can and work with super-smart people on an important problem (unless you're building yet another video or chat app) and then walk away? In the end, this is by far the greatest benefit, unless you actually build something world-changing, your equity actually vests and is actually worth something.

10) Does your family situation give you breathing room to work for a startup? If you're a single, urban 20-something, you have little to lose except sleep and hair and life enjoyment. You'll be fine. If you have a family and commitments, then it may not be the best bet to work for a startup, given the insane hours and constant stress and often unpredictable schedule. It takes a toll on you because you live your job (or you lose it).

In the end, there is no magic formula for whether it makes sense for you to take the plunge. An overwhelming number of startups fail each year. Nobody but you can decide what lifestyle you want or what skills you want to learn, with what people to work or what your mission in life is.

That said, if you are lucky to find a startup job that aligns with your mission and values and gets you in the door, working with amazingly smart people on an important problem with money and a great team behind you, ABSOLUTELY GO FOR IT!

Your life will never be the same and despite the hellish stress, it will open a wealth of opportunities for you. Just know, the startup journey ain't for the faint of heart.

Are there other factors you've found important in deciding whether to jump to a startup? Tell us in the Comments below. We would love to hear from you.

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Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

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