It’s true that I am publishing my gift suggestions too late for the biggest gift-giving season of the year. But I think it’s okay, because the gifts are totally impractical.
In fact, I think this is actually my wish list—stuff I wish I had been given over the years to keep my career on track.
1. A hall monitor for emails.
Email is a boon to communication. It’s a chance to sidestep the problems of reading facial cues, which is what people with Asperger’s want. And it’s a chance for introverts to collect their thoughts before they talk to extroverts, which is what introverts want.
The problem with email is that the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that emails are misinterpreted fifty percent of the time.
So, people who are really tone deaf, like people who have Asperger's, they won’t know they’re being an emotional idiot in email any better than they’ll know face-to-face. Also, people who are the most incompetent with social skills are the most likely to believe that they are doing fine.
This is why we need an emotional intelligence safety net in the form of software: Tone Check. The New York Times reports that the makers of Tone Check eventually plan to allow clients to prevent employees from sending e-mails that violate their “tone policy”. But really, this is already happening: People get fired for bad tone today, the verbiage is “you’re not a good cultural fit.”
2. Off-label psychiatric drugs.
Caffeine is a completely sanctioned drug at work. So if you feel like you want to curl up in a ball and sleep, if there’s no company culture to support that, and no office door to shut, you should probably try caffeine instead. For the hard-core few who don’t want to just stay up, but want to get a lot done in a short time, get a friend with Adderall and take it off-label.
For the other end of the emotion spectrum, like if you feel a surge of energy when you imagine killing the co-workers you hate, try Xanax. Some of you—probably the ones who totally abuse caffeine and tell yourself it’s not a drug—snub your nose at Xanax as a go-to drug of choice. You all will be good candidates for new-to-market relaxation drinks: Slow Cow, Vacation in a Bottle, and Mary Jane’s Relaxing Soda. The drinks ride on the backlash of the energy drink craze; if you trade in fast food for slow food, why not do the same with your soda?
3. A company.
Really. It’s a trend. Parents are buying their kids a company to run, according to Sue Shellenbarger, writing for The Wall Street Journal.
This makes sense. Gallup reports that 70% of kids want to start their own company, and author Scott Gerber has made a career for himself out of telling his Gen Y peers that they should Never Get a “Real” Job. A small franchise is relatively easy to set up, and it’s better than a stupid, entry-level job. And Richard Settersten’s book Not Quite Adults is a great explanation of the research showing how kids benefit in both the short-term and long-term from parents being overly involved in their kid’s early adult life.
For those of you who think buying a franchise is too expensive, Zac Bissonette points out, in the smartest book I’ve ever read about funding college, that you’re better off using college savings to buy a kid a business than to pay for an over-priced college education.
4. An insanely expensive chandelier.
Here’s the one I’ve been coveting. It’s 00 at Jak Home, in San Francisco (via More Ways to Waste Time).
I’ve looked at it from a few angles, and I decided it would be something I could make.
Then I tried to get all the lights wired together, and I nearly electrocuted myself. Then I tried to get an electrician to do it and he said he doesn’t have enough insurance to cover such a cockamamie scheme. He did not say cockamamie—there are no Yiddish speaking electricians in Southwest Wisconsin. But it would have been easier for him to say that than to spend an hour-and-a-half trying to wire stuff and trying to break it to me that my idea sucks. People tread lightly here in Wisconsin.
The thing is, if someone bought me this chandelier, I think I would probably return it. And get cash. Or I’d get a store credit and get something more practical, like, I don’t know, 00 of light bulbs. Because I’m not really sure what else this store would sell that is practical.
Wait. Speaking of store credits, I just learned a new phrase: Gift Card Laundering (via Urbandaily) It’s when you have a gift card and you spend a little of it, and then you use it to buy a different gift card and you give it, fresh, to someone else. That’s probably what I’d do. I’d divide my 00 credit into a bunch of gift cards and save a lot of money. (Or piss a lot of people off because there’s nothing at Jak Home store for less than 00.)
When you buy someone a gift like this, what you really are trying to buy them, I think, is that feeling that they deserve to have something so gorgeous and glorious and expensive as that in their lives.
Does anyone deserve that? I don’t know. I know that every piece of research in the world says that buying experiences, not things, makes us happier. So I guess the gift recommendation really is to buy the experience of waking up to a gorgeous chandelier every morning.
5. A coach.
Sometimes, when I’ve thought my kids were going to starve or at least have to live without electricity, I’ve thought, "Well I could always fall back on coaching." There is a huge market, for example, for getting paid by parents to coach their twenty-something kids. But I always end up telling the parents their kids are fine, just be emotionally supportive. And I coach a lot of people, but really, the thing that makes me is a good coach is that I love being coached myself.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks so much about how hard work makes you great, but the hard work has to be focused and productive, which he says comes from good coaching. So I can’t stand doing anything when I don’t have a great coach.
So you will not be surprised to hear that I found myself a coach for taking pictures. I mean, I already have an editor for my blog—with an editor I can take huge risks because the editor will always tell me if I’ve gone too far. If I were a good enough photographer, I’d call my coach an editor. But right now, I think she’s still coaching me. Telling me what photos to throw out. (Which, by the way, is how I learned to write. I handed in a page of writing each week and my teacher would either edit it or write “no” at the bottom of it.)
Here's how I know I have a great photography coach: one of my favorite photos from my coach's website. It inspires me to look more closely. And that's really what we should aim for in every gift we give: inspiration.
Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist