Where’s the TMI Line with Health Information? by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

Nora Ephron wrote about how everything changes when you head into your sixties.  So a question that is on my mind is how does one deal with poor health, illness, and the bad diagnosis with grace?  There must be something between whiny self-absorption and lock-jawed denial, but sometimes it seems hard to identify.  Where and how does one locate the humor, wit, limited acceptance, a bit of self-pity but not too much, a sense of realism, courage, and whatever other qualities are in demand at such times?

In need of guidance,  Alison

Dear Alison:

Boy, have you lobbed a tough one.  I think this is one of the most difficult balancing acts we face.  I have a dear friend with whom I’ve vowed that I will not become one of those old people who does nothing but compare notes with her friends about what’s our new illness of the week.  I genuinely think that if we dwell on our deteriorating condition(s) we’ll end up focusing only on the grim and wind up chronically depressed.  But beyond that I’m also convinced that even family members find too much detail about one’s personal physical condition b-o-r-i-n-g. No one really cares about anyone else’s travails until one has walked in similar steps.  And even then there’s a healthy limit.

That being said, there are definitely times to reach out for help.  Good friends do want and need to know when we’re dealing with something big.  I’d suggest letting them know and then be specific about what you need or expect from them so that they don’t have to feel the burden of asking each time.  You can say, “I promise, I’ll let you know when I need you to do something for me.”

I also think that one of the best ways one can deal with the inevitable health challenges we’re all going to face is to try to find ways to nourish yourself.  If you’re able to, walk, dance, sing.  Go to afternoon matinees.  Get out of the house and surround yourself with people doing good things.  Volunteer.  We’ve all read the data about how helping other people is the best possible tool for lifting our spirits.

And hold your friends tight.


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Are Public Displays of Affection Okay at Work? by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

I work at the same office as my wife.  Neither of us report to the other.  How much affection is appropriate for us to show on the job?  I don’t mean making out or anything, but otherwise can we act like we’re married?

Sincerely,  John

Dear John:

Good for you for working with your wife.  My husband and I worked together for years when we started our magazine and it worked pretty well.  Like you and your wife, we worked in different departments, so didn’t step on each other’s professional toes.  We were co-founders of the company, which was small, everyone was young or youngish and knew we were married so we never pretended that we weren’t, but we also always acted professionally at work.  I’m not a big fan of public displays of affection in the first place, and particularly not in the workplace.  Your relationship with your wife can and should be unlike that with any other colleague's – but not quite as loose and familiar as it is at home. While texting and tele-commuting have been blurring the boundaries between the personal and the professional in everyone’s lives, the workplace is still primarily a place where we should be in a heightened state of formality.  I’m not suggesting a reversion to some kind of a pre-modern era of etiquette and courtesy – you don't need to call her Miss or Mrs. or Ms.! -- but I’d pretty much reserve your displays of affection for outside the office.  Trust me, everyone at the company already knows you’re married -- don’t offer them any grounds to snipe at either you or your wife for anything other than work-related issues.  No one has the time.

Hope this didn’t feel too harsh.


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Lonely at Work by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

I've been working at an office for a year now, and haven't made any close connections with my coworkers. It feels a little bit like I've passed the point of no return -- how do I reopen the possibility of friendship?



Dear Margaret:

Your question resonates deeply with me.   It is so hard to charge into a new working environment and establish relationships with people who may have worked in the company for a long time.  Particularly if you’re younger than many of the other workers who may have families to which they dash home every day.  And now that you’ve been at your company for a while, any effort you make to reach out to your colleagues may feel awkward and forced.  And if you’re shy, it’s a double-whammy.

But there are a few things you could try.  First, as painful as it may feel, I’d ask the person or two you feel closest to join you for a drink one night.  Generally people relax more when they’re away from work.  Find someplace near the office that’s doing something fun – mixing new cocktails, having a poetry reading or trivia game, anything that gives you a pretext for the invitation.  And if they say no the first time, try a second time.

If you’re a cook, you might try baking cookies to bring in some day – don’t make it seem like you did it just for the office, so as not to feel too goody-goody, maybe say you something had a pot-luck dinner party the night before and had some leftovers that were terrific and you thought your colleagues might like them.  Or you could notice a fellow worker likes a particular kind of clothing and note a nearby sale and suggest that you could stop by together.

There’s also the possibility that you give off the kind of laid-back, don’t-need-anything kind of vibe that has communicated to your fellow workers that you don’t really want friendships.  And given that you’ve felt a bit isolated you might have reinforced that perception in a stiff-upper-lip way.  If you think that might be the case, try and loosen up a bit and seem a bit more outgoing.

And if all else fails, and the cultural norm of the company is unfriendly and if you really like friendly environments, begin looking for a new place to work.


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Advice for an Empty Nest by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

I’m in my late 50s and my youngest kid is going off to college. I love my husband but I’m having a hard time conceptualizing what this empty nest is going to feel like. I love my work and I don’t want to work more, but I feel like I need something that’s going to fire me up and I don’t think a boyfriend is what I’m looking for……



Dear Barbara:

You’re a hoot! And I know just what you’re feeling. I had very similar anxiety when my youngest went to college four years ago – what would I do with all of that empty mental and physical capacity? I don’t know if this will be helpful to you, but I realized that I needed to try and change my routine, to break the mind set of thinking about the afternoon-getting-home-from-school rhythm or the time-to-get-the-homework done schedule. I decided to tap back into a love of mine from earlier days – drawing and painting. I, too, have a job I love that occupies my days (and many of my nights), but I wanted to explore a creative aspect of my personality that had lain fallow while I was working organizational jobs and raising kids. I found an evening oil-painting class that met on a weekly basis -- and it was perfect. The other artists in the class were women roughly my age. While I’d lost some of the fluency of the work I’d done in high school and college, I still had a deep connection with the process of painting. The mixing of the colors, the smell, the process. It was meditative and immersive. And the class definitely helped me get out of my head. But most wonderfully, by reconnecting to an essential part of myself I had long undernourished, I began to feel fulfilled in a fresh new way. I don’t know if you have something similar – a love of gardening, cooking, dance, bicycling, rowing, whatever -- but if you do, dive in. Take a class. You’ll re-energize yourself and along the way connect with new people in fun ways. Please let me know how it goes.

Good luck, Anne

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When Should I Speak Up? by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

As a recent college graduate in my first job I wonder how I can know how much to assert my opinions or take a back seat? How much is too much opinion, and how much is too little?


Hi, Beth:

That’s a great question. It’s always tough to know when to assert yourself, but particularly when you’re new to working in general and to a particular workplace. Some of the answer comes from the size of your organization and the nature of its culture. If you’re working in a small entrepreneurial environment it should be easier to speak up because of a looser structure. In general, I’d suggest that you listen more than you speak during the first few months, and when you are venturing into an area where you lack confidence or specific experience that you couch your query or contribution in language along the lines of, “Have we thought about x, y or z” which turns your thought into a suggestion rather than a statement. You can also be charmingly self-deprecating by saying something like “This may be a stupid question, but…” I cannot tell you the number of times throughout my career where I’ve asked that kind of question and sensed an immediate sigh of relief throughout the room because others were also confused and too intimidated to ask. In my experience, people (bosses and peers) love to demonstrate mastery and knowledge and rarely mind explaining things to genuinely curious employees – it can be a sign of someone who’s committed to the company and a desire to become a more full-fledged participant.

If you’re a junior person in a big, structured company, in a large meeting and unsure of your expertise or value, rather than interrupting the course of conversation, I’d encourage you to follow up in a one-on-one after the meeting with whomever you think can help you understand the dynamic of what was going on, or whom you think might most welcome your fresh contribution.

But don't over-worry that it might be outside the scope of your job to speak out: if you think your idea will help improve how your company functions, be assured that bosses want their employees to contribute to the organization's success.

Finally, it may be that someone else in the organization would be better heard on a particular subject. If you think that’s the case, have a conversation about whatever is on your mind with that person and get the benefit of their thinking. If they are in agreement, ask if they’d be willing to put forth your proposal.

Good luck! Anne

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How Should I Grow My Business? by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

Five years ago I started a social media company with three people, now I have a team of five full-time employees and several free-lancers, but I’ve just gotten two new substantial clients and am worried that I’m not staffed to manage the bigger business but I don’t want to layer in fixed costs if the business growth proves to be short-term. I have a business partner who is worried that we don’t have the surplus capital to invest in full-time staff. Do I scramble each time I get new business or should I staff up now and hope for the best? What is the best way to grow responsibly?


Dear Brooke:

As you’ve discovered, growth is not smoothly linear. You’re living the adrenaline high at the moment, having closed two new significant pieces of business and -- prudently, properly -- dread the gut-wrenching sense of failure that might come should the growth not continue. There is no one-stop-shop simple solution for your situation, but there are a variety of strategies you can use to help manage some of the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing and that may come into play with your more risk-averse partner.

First, I’d suggest that you create a matrixed grid, maybe color-coded, where along the top horizontal bar you organize all of your clients with the most critical or profitable clients coded red with each successive client coded a clear color according to the criteria that you and your partner establish.

The next line of the grid will outline beneath each of the clients the specific project. Make this line as detailed as you can – e.g. copywriting required, meetings, presentations, etc., beginning with the project start date and key the action steps to specific dates required to meet your deliverables schedule. And I’d make sure you allow time for client revisions and last-minute shifts in strategy -- people don’t necessarily have the time or resources to plan assignments carefully at the outset, so revisions along the way are givens.

Along the vertical left-hand axis compile a list of your employees with their responsibilities for each client assignment ticked off in the accompanying grid. After completing the color-coded grid – priority projects overlayed with staffing and time requirements -- you should be able to tell at a glance if you are correctly staffed for the work you have.

This exercise should also allow you to determine the skill sets required for your particular staffing needs. Is it copywriting? Scheduling? Client management? Accounting? Based on that assessment you can then decide if you can free-lance the work needed or if a full-time new position is essential.

As a final thought, I’d recommend that you develop a relationship with one of the co-working venues that are cropping up all over the country. One of the places in your city should be a home for people with the skills you need. Then when you need high-caliber free-lance help, you’ve got a ready pool of people to help you.

Good luck,

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