Illustration: Pierre Le-Tan
The thing about giving advice for a living is that you start to see it everywhere. Shakespeare must have been in his self-help phase when he wrote that there were "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones." I find life lessons in everything from showering to origami. Walking my dogs, which I've just done, leaves me bursting with insights. Since my loved ones have heard far more advice than anyone should have to take, I'm going to foist this dog-walking wisdom on you.
Step 1: You Cannot Feed a Beagle All It Wants
My beagle, Cookie, is wild about the golf course, where desert dog walkers like me go to avoid cacti. Cookie knows that the course is frequented by a kindly lady who gives out dog biscuits. This sends him into a warbling tap dance of anticipatory joy, as he lusts for food the way...well, the way a beagle lusts for food. There's no hyperbole more extreme than that. Beagles are genetically wired to be opportunistic eaters. This is why Cookie, at 14, is basically a manatee with paws. He invariably finds more calories than he exercises away.
Sure enough, Cookie sees the Biscuit Lady! He heads toward her at a breakneck waddle, begging. "Please, missus!" he pleads, in the tremulous voice of a fat Dickensian orphan, "please, anything..." Biscuit Lady tosses him a treat, hoping to satisfy him. Dream on. I've seen Cookie inhale a pound cake the size of his own torso and swear with his next breath that he's never, ever been fed. He simply cannot be satisfied.
Remind you of anyone?
There are among us people I call human beagles. They can't get enough—enough love, praise, attention, control. Psychologists categorize them as borderline personalities, narcissists, etc., etc., but all you need to remember is this: You cannot satiate them. Don't even try.
Human beagles can be identified by a sensation that I think of as drain-strain. Sometimes it registers slowly, as though you're a maple tree tapped for its syrup. Sometimes you can feel your energy being cannibalized in great, horrifying mouthfuls. Either way, drain-strain's signature combination of exhaustion, aversion, and resentment means you're throwing resources into an insatiable gullet. It's bad for both you and the human beagles. They can feel satisfied only by creating an inner supply of happiness and empowerment. "Feeding" them leaves both of you weaker and hungrier.
Step 2: We Should All Work Like Dogs, All the Time
In Cookie's case, perpetual ravenousness is a breed trait. This makes beagles wonderful airport food-sniffers, though they won't sniff anything else. Golden retrievers, on the other hand, are offshoots of the pointer breeds, which are bred to lift one front paw and point at game. Our household golden, Bjorn, raises his paw in a Teutonic salute so often, I fear he may have picked up Nazi sympathies from a reprobate gang of skinhead German pointers. Fortunately, this never distracts Cole (our Labrador retriever) from his God-given assignment of obsessively fetching his toy duck from the pool, swimming with paws that are webbed for just such a purpose.
This is what I mean by "we should all work like dogs": We should do what comes most naturally, reflexively, effortlessly. Many of my clients initially see this as irresponsible. They believe virtuous work means getting all tensed up and doing things they loathe. This is simply unsound marketing. My first and last sales principle is this: Love sells better than hate. Find a way to package what you can't stop doing, as in "Look! I love to raise my paw! So I'll use it to point out game, and we'll both be happy!"
One of the best life coaches I've ever trained started on her career path not knowing there was such a profession. She had just one objective—to get paid for reading self-help books. Her joy and intelligence make her a brilliant problem solver. I've used her myself—she's wildly expensive and worth every penny.
Use the work-like-a-dog principle to make your career and time-budgeting decisions. Should you go back to school? Only if it makes you salivate with desire. Should you stay home with your children? Yes—if the thought makes you feel as though someone's rubbing your tummy. Would you rather have a job? Don't apologize, just go ahead and work. Like a dog.