began my first career at 13: the world's youngest barroom
pianist. The money was great, but ultimately I felt I wanted
to accomplish more than to play "Danny Boy" 10,437
Lesson Learned: Meaning does matter.
Next I was a medical researcher at Rockefeller University, which
sounds impressive but mainly consisted of my implanting electrodes
in the sex center of rat brains 12 hours a day. My boss tested
me to see if I had aptitude for something more challenging.
I didn't, so I quit. Ended up being a great decision.
Lesson Learned: Persistence ain't all it's
cracked up to be. I think Kenny Rogers had it right: Know
when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
Next, I became a rap group leader in an
inner-city junior high school. I thought, piece of cake. All
I need to do is treat the kids with respect. Wrong. They took
my kindness as a sign of weakness and ran around the room
nonstop. When I tried to stop them, typical comment: "You
ain't my mama. You can't make me!" The district superintendent,
who was touring my school, heard the chaos in my room and
told me, "Son, you need a new career."
So I applied to graduate
school, lots of them. My criteria? Any school with a prestigious
name and a program with the word "education" in
it. I got rejected from almost every school except Berkeley,
which not only admitted me, but gave me a free ride. Why?
An anomaly: Berkeley looked only at applicants' senior-year
grades. I happened to get all A's because my entire senior
year was field work. Now that was a piece of cake.
Lesson Learned: Throw a lot against the
wall. Something will stick.
While in graduate school, I became a school
psychologist but soon got laid off in favor of another psychologist.
I was sad, but they did the right thing. I didn't have the
patience to deal with what I perceived as lazy, often stupid
Lesson learned: Losing a job you're not
right for is a blessing in disguise.
After finishing my doctoral degree, I couldn't
land a professorship. On my more confident days, I blame it
on anti-white hiring practices. On my insecure days, I think
it's because I have too big a mouth. In either case, the only
job I could get was back teaching inner-city kids. This time,
it was tough-love Marty Nemko and the kids behaved -- and
liked me much more. But despite working very long hours, putting
on plays with my little darlings as the cast, even taking
many of them home with me on the weekends so they could interact
with a middle-class family, I felt I wasn't fundamentally
changing them. So after three years, I quit.
Lesson Learned: Consider working with people
with the greatest potential to profit rather than with those
with the greatest deficit.
I then landed some part-time, temporary professor
gigs. At UC Davis, the students liked me so much that when
my temporary assignment ran out, they staged a protest demanding
my rehiring. That demand, of course, was ignored. Yet my officemate,
another temp, who was a true lightweight, to my amazement
got rehired, full-time, in a tenure-track position.
Lesson Learned: This is a lousy time to
be a white male.
While at Davis, I saw my first personal computer,
an Apple IIe that was sitting in the demonstration kindergarten
class. I figured if kindergarteners could learn to use it,
maybe I could too. I loved that its word processor enabled
me to make as many changes as I wanted without having to use
correcting fluid. I started writing and -- consistent with
my compulsive personality -- before I knew it, I had written
Lesson Learned: Computers are your friend,
as long as you stay basic.
I wanted to promote the book but didn't have
a clue how. Naively, I sent the book ("How to Get Your
Child a Private School Education in a Public School")
and the following note to KGO's Ronn Owens, host of Northern
California's most-listened-to talk show: "Dear Ronn,
I just wrote this book. Do you think it might be a good topic
for your show? Marty Nemko." He responded almost immediately:
"That is the shortest pitch letter I've ever received.
Refreshing. Let's try it."
Lesson Learned: Brevity indeed is the soul
On Ronn's show, I answered callers' questions.
People liked my answers and asked if they could consult with
me privately. Having no career, I said, "Sure."
I kept appearing on Ronn's show and my practice grew.
Lesson Learned: Demonstrating your wares
is a great way to find employment.
My practice has evolved from elementary school
consultant to college counselor to career coach, learning
my craft by reading the best experts' writing, watching the
best counselors and having them watch me. That taught me much
more of value than I learned in my entire doctoral program
Lesson Learned: Consider "You U"
before State U.
What keeps me fresh is the variety: I counsel
20 hours a week, write 20 hours a week, host a radio show
one hour a week, and always have some outside project.
Lesson Learned: A work life is most
vibrant when it's a three-ring circus.