The Worldwide Web: it involves the very pinnacle of our brains and technology. Scores of satellites lifted aloft into orbit and millions of miles of wire have spawned this astounding communications network. And what does humankind do with this incredibly powerful tool? Primarily, we use it to make each other laugh. Once the body part enhancement ads are all deleted, most of us click open and pass along hosts of E-mails filled with jokes to brighten our friends’ and co-workers’ days.

Paul McGhee, laughter expert, advises office workers to open up those E-mails and chuckle away. He speaks on "Lighten Up: Humor is FUNdamental in the Workplace," on Monday, December 8, at 6 p.m. at the Hyatt in Princeton. Cost: $40. Call 609-883-6327.

During the seminar, sponsored by the Human Resources Management Association, McGhee discusses the physical and corporate benefits brought about by a sense of humor, and suggests some simple techniques for instilling an air of fun.

America’s humor starvation is no laughing matter for this veteran academician turned corporate consultant. Raised in Detroit (no jokes, please), McGhee graduated from Ohio State University before taking his Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Oakland University in Michigan. As a humor researcher, he devoted 22 years to discovering the interplay of humor, stress reduction, creativity, and productivity. The results have been presented in over 50 scientific papers, and in the first of his 11 books.

Then, in l983, there came Paris. Living there for two years, McGhee recalls, "I couldn’t believe what a different atmosphere this city had. The people had more humor — seemed more alive. I had to get back there." In l989 McGhee decided to take his findings on the road and now, from his home base in Wilmington, Delaware, he spreads a very practical gospel of laughter through lectures and corporate workshops. McGhee’s writings, such as "Health, Healing and the Amuse System," and a schedule of his talks can be found on www.laughterremedy.com

Today working America is fixed upon the grim. Those fast-track individuals who live hard, work harder, and even frown intensely at the weekly volleyball game, have become our role models. These no-let-up folks are the achievers who waste neither time nor chuckles. McGhee points to a typical pattern. As people get promoted, they feel duty bound to check their humor at the door. "Somehow we associate the scowling, serious demeanor with high rank," he says.

Yet in 2000, 25 of the nation’s top CEOs met at a problem-airing seminar sponsored by CEO magazine, where they expressed a preference for a lighter style. With tough economic times on the radar, these leaders agreed that their survival depended on employees who could produce more effectively, more rapidly, and more creatively, and could enjoy their work throughout its entire process. Humor provides a more amiable playing ground, explains McGhee, where the needs of the individual employee and the needs of his company can meet, revel, and come out healthier for it.

Employee snicker perks. "Currently, the average person faces more work, downsizing threats, a demand for new skills, and a knowledge explosion beyond belief," says McGhee, ticking off the swords of workplace stress. "And then the deluge of E-mail and voice-mail! Oh, don’t get me started!"

Heap upon this the merest hint of Dilbertian frustration, and any worker is inclined to spend more time shredding his insides than performing creatively.

"Business demands daily resilience," says McGhee, "and humor provides the emotional bootstrapping that brings us back, happily ready for the fray." You need to turn the downfall into a pratfall to take the sting out of it. Seek the joke in disaster. Giving in to humor causes the shackles of blame and consequence to fall away, and allows the creative business of forging solutions to begin.

At day’s end, the person with a sense of humor will drive home with a few funny stories, the satisfaction of having at least started on some solutions. and no dire craving for Maalox. Within the realm of reality, he will enjoy the workplace.

Corporate guffaw benefits. Of course, filling one’s plant with jovial worker bees has long been considered a nice, if tangential, ideal by most firms. Yet releasing humor into the hive is a proven enhancer of everything from straight product output to more thought-provoking designs. "An individual surrounded by managers who are able to find the light side in situations is more likely to drop the weight of his fear and anger baggage and let his creative energies come forth," says McGhee.

Likewise, conflict management, communication skills, team building, morale, and even employee health swing up where the punch line is part of the day’s conversation. When Martin Marietta workers watched their latest satellite rise gloriously, and then crash into the sea, engineer Gene Van Kirk broke the depression of the moment with, "Well, we cannot fix the problem, but we can truly fix the blame." With a laugh and good-hearted energy the team took it back to their drawing boards.

Like the Buddha, McGhee outlines an eight-step path to the enlightened nirvana of humorous health. He admits that incorporating them all may be difficult for every individual, but several of them blend quite easily into most work environs:

Find your inner funnybone. You don’t have to have a joke at the ready for every occasion, but look for funny anomalies and jokes in life. Find funny quotations and pass them on at work. Maybe it’s puns, maybe it’s the long humorous story, what kind of joke fits you?

Develop your joking skills. Go to a comedy club, listen to the Tonight Show, read the news (a boundless source of unintentional humor), and see what makes these things funny. Sometimes it springs from perspective: "On his deathbed, my grandfather sold me this watch." Sometimes it comes from word play: "I’m going on an African safari with a club." Mentally play with your words and pass it on.

Laugh at yourself. This seems a risky proposition in the business environment where everyone is jockeying for promotions based on equal parts of performance and reputation. Yet truth may be found in Caesar’s summons to "show me a man wise enough to make a fool of himself." Admitting one’s foibles and occasional blunders often diffuses blame and displays a desirable confidence. Confessing your mistake with a joke frequently works.

A better belly laugh. McGhee credits the deep and hearty laugh with expanding lung power, circulation, brain activity, and a host of other health benefits. Additionally, it adds in a good way to your corporate persona and shows that you appreciate the wit of others.

Seek the lighter side. Lifting your business life to a lighter plane cannot be done with quips alone. It requires an attitude shift where people seek to lighten each others’ loads with a laugh. The contagion of humor at work is not likely to bring production to a halt while folks roll in the isles. Yet it will produce an easier mode where individuals will feel freer to work and think together.

Kings in their darkest hours have called always on jesters. All of us crave the most basic human response of laughter. Perhaps that is what makes the endless stream of E-mail jokes so natural, so popular. So instead of envisioning some higher and more lofty purpose for the web, we might better give ourselves a well deserved hip-hip-hooray that we have chosen to use the Internet for worldwide inoculations of laughter.

— Bart Jackson

#h#How to Take the Chill Out of Cold Calls#/h#

Amanda Puppo makes sales calls for a living. Yes, she is a telephone marketer. She spends her days doing work from which others shirk. It is entirely possible that a reluctant cold caller is behind every neat desk and reorganized file cabinet in the country. To put it another way, most entrepreneurs would rather spend the day disinfecting their dumpsters than dialing for sales.

Puppo, founder of MarketReach, a Hightstown-based telephone marketing company, says it is hard to beat telemarketing as a cost-efficient, time-efficient method of bringing in new business. Full of sweet vigor and bursting with energetic good cheer, even at the end of a full day of cold calling, she proclaims that the phone is nothing to fear.

Every businessperson can learn how to turn the cold call into a sales tool of unrivaled power. Puppo provides a detailed blueprint for doing just that when she speaks on "Warm Up to Cold Calling" on Tuesday, December 9, at 1 p.m. at the Palmer Inn. Cost: $79. Call 609-448-6364 for more information (www.marketreach.biz).

It is common to hear about entrepreneurs who started their businesses after a decade or two of corporate experience. Puppo did not hang around in corporate corridors nearly that long. A 1997 graduate of the State University of New York at Albany, she spent a little time at payroll giant ADP, learned one key lesson, and set out on her own.

"ADP is a $4 billion business built on kids right out of college running around, collecting business cards, and calling prospects," she observes. If the system works for ADP, why couldn’t it work for her? She quickly decided there was no reason it could not, and in 2000 founded MarketReach (609-448-6364; www.marketreach.biz) in her Cranbury home. Now, with two employees, she has moved into offices at 102 Main Street in Hightstown.

MarketReach’s telephone marketing services include appointment setting, surveys, database clean-up, and cold call training. You will never hear Puppo’s voice when you rush from the dinner table to pick up the phone — and run headlong into one of the sales pitches that somehow continue to roll in thick and fast, despite the new no-call list. She does only business-to-business telephone marketing, the bread-and-butter of success for so many entrepreneurs.

To a great extent, telephone marketing is a numbers game. Dial enough, and you will get sales appointments. Get even a handful of sales appointments, and you will make a one or two sales. Here are her tips for upping the numbers in your favor:

Get through the gatekeepers. This vital task gets more difficult all the time. The stern secretary, a.k.a. executive assistant, is still on guard. But sometimes it is necessary to get through a receptionist before reaching her. And she now has a powerful tool. It’s "Can I put you in his voicemail?"

This is not the route you want to choose, says Puppo, who never leaves a message. Instead, she works at making the receptionist her ally. Many people look right past the receptionist, or worse, treat her badly. Don’t, she advises. Learn her name, and use it. Make her your friend, and chances are she will be honest with you. "Get slightly personal," is Puppo’s advice for getting in good with the gatekeepers. "They want to be treated well, and often, they’re not."

Warm up the call. Cold calling can work, but frigid calling is awfully hard. The warmer the call, the better. The warmest calls of all are those that mention a reference.

If you have completed a plumbing job for Big Bucks Bank, where your contact was Richie Rich, by all means lead with this information. Where there is no reference, at least try to get a good list. If you’re selling yachts, it is tremendously helpful to have a list of high-income people who subscribe to boating magazines, have homes near a substantial body of water, or attended a recent boat show.

"The best campaign is not totally cold," says Puppo. Knowledge of your target customer, and where to find him, helps tremendously.

Identify a niche. This is getting really tough for IT companies, says Puppo. Competition is so fierce, and differentiation so difficult, that this industry is having a hard time succeeding at cold calling.

Add a niche to IT, however, and results improve dramatically. Puppo has a client who sells inventory software to bars. This specialization means that it is easy to identify target customers, which in turn makes it far easier to set appointments.

The same can be true in other industries. So many salespeople compete for insurance sales that getting through is a big challenge. But Puppo has a client whose niche warms up calls considerably. The insurance agent specializes in the complex task of setting up insurance coverage for families with a Down Syndrome child.

Find a differentiating factor in the goods or services you offer, and it becomes a lot easier to get a positive response to a cold call.

Prepare for all objections. "This is easy," says Puppo, "because there are only five to seven of them." Sales prospects consistently use this handful of excuses to fend off your advances. They include "`we handle that in-house; we have a contract; it’s not in the budget; and I’m happy with my vendor.’"

"There are no surprises," says Puppo.

It is your job to craft a script that deftly turns away these objections.

Be persistent. "You need persistence, enthusiasm, and the tenacity to plug away," says Puppo. Forget about reaching a prospect on the first try. Getting a prospect on the phone on the fifth or fifteenth try is more realistic. "It’s tiring for some people," she acknowledges.

The most important element in bagging a sales call is follow through. Are business people conscientious in this regard? "Tell someone to call back in three months, and you’ll never hear from him again," says Puppo. The entrepreneur who does make that call in three months puts himself head and shoulders above the crowd simply by doing so.

Keep excellent records. There is software, including ACT, Access, and Goldmine, that tracks calls and sounds alarms when it is time to make another call to a prospect. Choose one — Puppo swears by ACT — and use it.

Lead with an assertive line. Breaking through to a decision maker is the most difficult part of telephone marketing, no question about it. Once you’re through, you can’t afford to blow the opportunity. Start off with a simple statement of who you are, what you want, and how long it will take.

Use benefit statements. During this short, sweet introduction, let the prospect know what you can do for him. Puppo gives this example: "I have clients in your industry; I’ve raised their bottom lines 20 percent."

Ask engaging questions. Keep the intro short, point out the benefits of your goods or services, and then move quickly to questions. Asking whether the prospect, for example, is now outsourcing IT consulting or his employees’ coffee service engages him in a conversation. Following up with more questions leads him further into your presentation. This, says Puppo, is far better than trying to force him to sit still during a monologue detailing all the advantages of your wares.

"If you lead with a 45 second monologue," she says, "your prospect will have hung up 10 seconds into it." People like to talk about themselves. Give them a chance to do so.

Initiate action. After establishing that the prospect uses — or could use — goods or services like the ones you are selling, move right on to close the sale or set up the sales appointment. Puppo can close sales for her own business services over the phone — and has done so, but she says most of her clients need to set up a sales appointment. To get the ball rolling, she asks prospects: "Do you have a calendar in front of you?" The purpose of this question is to get them in action in response to her directive.

Don’t offer too many choices. While she has read that it is a good idea to offer a prospect a choice of dates for a sales call, Puppo prefers to take control of the timing. "If they’re in Lawrence, and I’m going to be in Lawrence on Wednesday afternoon, I’ll say `how about 3 p.m. on Wednesday,’" she says. If the answer is no, she moves on to choices, asking how is Thursday or Friday?

Never, ever, take rejection personally. "No, they didn’t call you back," she says of a common outcome of cold calls — and warm calls, too. "You’re number 82 on their list of priorities. They’re in meetings; they’re dealing with invoices, with people who didn’t pay them; they have employees to supervise. They don’t hate you. They’re not angry."

Do not ever, under any circumstances at all, take rejection personally. "If you do," says Puppo, "you’re dead. You’ll just put down the phone, eat your tuna fish sandwich, and never make another call."

Don’t give up that easily, Puppo urges. One of the many reasons she likes telephone marketing is that its results are so easy to quantify. You know just how many calls it took to make 10 appointments, how many of those appointments led to sales, and how much money those sales generated.

Puppo says she doesn’t have to psyche herself up for a day on the phone. Are there days when every receptionist is rude? When she is stonewalled, sworn at, and lied to? Days when she hears Mr. VIP is in a meeting for the 20th time in six hours or that Ms. VIP will be on a conference call until Tuesday next? Does she get discouraged, depressed, despondent?

"Never," says Puppo. "Most people aren’t rude because I’m really nice. It’s a mirror effect."

#h#A New New Name For Central NJ: `Einstein’s Alley’#/h#

What to call Central New Jersey, the vibrant mix of towns and counties, home to myriad big box retailers, armies of commuters, countless consultants, dozens of pharmaceutical headhunters, brand new developments, and fast-reviving city neighborhoods? Central New Jersey is not specific enough. The Route 1 Corridor does not have a solid gold ring to it.

Multinational corporations are building gigantic robot warehouses in Cranbury as fast as they can swing sheet metal siding into place, but Warehouse Way would not do for an area anchored by the greenest of the Ivy schools. Pharm Country has been trotted out, but has not stuck the way Silicon Valley did in the hills near San Francisco.

The stretch of real estate from New Brunswick to Trenton needs a name — a new name. Another new name.

Now Central New Jersey is set to christen itself as "Einstein’s Alley." That’s the handle being used to promote a full-day economic summit taking place on Tuesday, December 9, at 7:30 a.m. at the Hilton in East Brunswick. There is no charge. Full details and a registration form are located at www.publicforum.org/activities/2003/nj.

Congressman Rush Holt is honorary chair of the event and he is both opening and closing it. At 8:40 a.m. he speaks on "A New Vision for Central New Jersey" and at 3:30 p.m. he gives "A Summary and Call to Action."

The gathering falls under the auspices of the Public Forum Institute, a nonpartisan, non-profit committed, according to its website, "to advanced and effective means of fostering public discourse." More than 300 members of Congress have served on forums like the one about to occur in East Brunswick. The purpose of the forums is to prompt communities to engage in substantive debate on issues that impact their social and economic well-being.

In Central Jersey — or Einstein’s Alley — the forum deems some of the most pressing issues to be job creation, education, worker re-training, and sustainable development. Some of the many sponsors of the event are ETS, Johnson & Johnson, Lucent, Meridian Health, Pfizer, and the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers.

The four areas the forum addresses are strengthening central New Jersey’s research and development advantage, assisting small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship, preparing the workforce for the future, and promoting livable communities and sustainable development.

In addition to Congressman Holt, speakers include Ralph Izzo, vice president, Public Service Electric & Gas; Lawrence Downes, CEO, NJ Natural Resources Company; Greg Olsen, CEO, Sensors; Gail O’Reilly, O’Reilly Associates; and Ingrid Reed, Eagleton Institute of Politics of Rutgers University.

Four workshops are planned, as described on the website:

Strengthening Central New Jersey’s R & D Advantage . Potential discussion points include examining the economic impact of R&D; reviewing incentives to spur research in the private sector for small and large businesses; identifying ways to retain high-skill jobs and creating more of them; and defining the role of the federal government in the support of research and development.

Supporting Small Businesses and Encouraging Entrepreneurship. The forum will discuss opportunities for small business and entrepreneurs to increase write-offs for new investments and to speed depreciation schedules; showcase Jumpstart NJ, a competition among entrepreneurial and business plans to angel investors; examine the effectiveness of federal programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Program; and identify ways to build a vibrant trade network in central New Jersey.

Preparing the Workforce of the Future. Potential remedies under discussion are improving science and math education, identifying strategies to recruit and retain additional quality teachers; extend the availability of education and training to those who need it; examine innovative ideas to reduce brain drain; and assist dislocated workers transitioning into new professions.

Promoting Livable Communities and Sustainable Development. Steps in this direction could be made by developing a municipal clearinghouse for best practices in smart growth; pursuing new economic opportunities using existing assets; creating incentives for socially-responsible investing; re-designing and re-developing the Trenton train station and brownfields; creating an inventory of vacant, free-standing buildings across the region that could be of interest to developers; and examining ways to improve transportation throughout the area and make it possible for more people to work locally and stop commuting to New York City and Philadelphia.

That last idea sounds like one Einstein himself could get behind. After all, he did walk to work. Perhaps a better branding idea would be Einstein’s Walkway.

#h#Business, Buddha, & 9/11#/h#

While many folks dismiss marketing as the not-so-fine art of glitz and scam, all that changed after the effects of the World Trade Center attack rippled through the region. Businesses below Canal Street quickly rebuilt and reopened. But they were in desperate need of marketing their resurrection, and of letting consumers know that reports of their demise had been greatly exaggerated. Enter a compassionate teacher of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy to put the business owners back on their feet.

In the wake of September 11, James Connor sought to relieve suffering by using the best professional tools he had at hand — marketing skills. One at a time, he began providing pro bono services to companies in the area where the World Trade Center’s towers once dominated the landscape. Almost instantly swamped with takers, Connor realized the better course was to create a bootstrap marketing guide that these hundreds of businesses could apply themselves.

Connor gives details of the plan, "Checkpoint Marketing: How to Create Brand Advantage," at the New Jersey Communications, Advertising & Marketing Association (CAMA) luncheon on Tuesday, December 9, at 11:30 a.m. at the Doral Forestal Hotel. Cost: $45. Call 609-799-4900 or visit www.NJCAMA.org

While Connor’s Manhattan-based James Group has done work for Sotheby’s, Cadillac, the American Cancer Society, and Women’s Wear Daily, the marketing firm’s focus remains primarily on small and mid-size businesses.

The intriguing blend of Connor’s upbringing and education uniquely, if circuitously, fitted him for a career in marketing. Son of an army father, Connor grew up "all over the world," absorbing the cultures of both Europe and Asia. He attended the University of Virginia, where he majored in rhetorical communications. "It was a totally archaic education, I suppose," Connor muses. "We studied the great speeches of Cicero and the psychology of Freud. In the end, I graduated with a pretty good concept of how to interview and how to persuade."

From there Connor studied musical composition and piano. In l996 he founded the James Group, where he is CEO. The firm has launched more than 40 brands in 20 industries. Meanwhile, as a balance, Connor teaches Tibetan philosophy at the Asian Classical Institute and is president of the Godstow Meditation Retreat Center.

Like the three Buddhist mysteries, Connor’s Checkpoint Marketing plan is based on building-block steps, each of which appears simple, but must be thought through before moving on to the next.

Position the brand. A brand tells more than who made what. It sets a feeling in the customer of what he’s getting. Say "Burger King." Then say "Four Seasons." Both serve food, but each name creates different expectations. But interestingly, notes Connor, "each of those brands has a sweet spot — an essential nature — that will tilt sales in the favor of that business."

The trick lies in exactingly determining that sweet spot. For Connor, this sweet salable essence can be located by triangulation. First, figure what the customer desires. Begin with details, for example, good food, a pleasant dining room, and low prices, and work to a general idea.

Second, determine what particular advantages you have in providing that need. ("It’s that vision that first got you excited when you began the business," says Connor.)

Third, find your competitor’s weakness. Maybe he can match the quality of your food, but lacks a gracious serving style. Working with these three elements, define exactly what taste your brand will put in the consumer’s mouth.

With this fine sculpting of your product’s image, however, be aware where the chips will fall. That gracious service advantage will doubtlessly cost you the customers who want merely to stuff the meal in speedily and be on their way. Businesses that try to please everyone in all ways are usually called failures.

Further, each business dwells in a very real world, and often must adjust that sales-tilting sweet spot in the face of competition.

Connor recalls a burrito franchise that focused on its advantage of producing the freshest and healthiest product on the market. Yet along with a strong consumer desire for these attributes the firm also encountered an overwhelming number of competitors, including chain restaurants, touting the same thing. So the franchise shifted not just its advertised strong point, but its entire emphasis.

It created and sold an atmosphere of casual comfort. It filled the dining area with fun sock monkeys. Its brand became known as a place where friends would enjoy meeting in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. It worked.

Communicate consistently. Once the brand’s message is defined, the typical next step is to inundate the public with an overwhelming (and expensive) advertising assault. But for Connor, communicating consistently does not mean continuously. You don’t win a race by pouring power into only one wheel. Rather, your brand and the sweet spot it encompasses becomes a playbook. Every aspect of your operation — each point of customer contact — should be suffused with this message.

Begin with the cheapest tools and work up to the more costly. Start by training management to embody the message and to carry it to staff, who in turn need to carry it brand to the customer. Satisfied customers become the next links in the chain. Then add the simple tools of brochures and a website that reflect your unique saleable essence. Still keeping costs low, announce your message through public relations, perhaps by hosting professional and civic groups at your headquarters. Finally, invest in direct mail, then radio, print, and other ad media. Following this path, your message remains consistently present, yet never extends beyond your budget.

Insure marketing investment. "To take more money than you give back is to do harm. And that is wrong," states Connor with Buddhist simplicity. For his company, this translates into a formula whereby investing in the James Group’s marketing must expect and deserve a calculated profit on that investment. The cost of each marketing tactic must be determined then subtracted from the gross profit of each new customer it brings through a client’s door. This determines the true value of that customer and, coincidentally, the cash value of the various marketing tools.

The old idea of setting aside a certain percent of your business’s gross profits for marketing is, in Connor’s view, "just plain dumb." It leaves a lot of cash on the table, unexamined, and often unwisely spent. Too often, mid-size companies are filled with managers of great business vision who have no clue as to the timing and amount of marketing they should purchase. "They are like hunter gatherers who never plant any seeds, and are consequently always looking for their next meal," says Connor.

He cites the example of a company that has a 60 percent drop in profits and pulls back its marketing funds accordingly. Rather than doing that, Connor suggests that the company should look at the cost of existing clients versus the cost of developing new clients. The acquisition and servicing of certain clients may far exceed their worth. How much more do you want to invest in that one large client who brings in $200,000 a year, but costs $185,000 to keep happy? Couldn’t that $185,000 be better spent in acquiring a dozen new clients who offer a better service/income ratio?

The fourth step to marketing enlightenment is the one most forgotten: Repeat your efforts. Marketing is not a campaign or an ad blitz, it is a way of living within one’s business. Just as the Rolls Royce message is inseparable from the brand name, your company’s product will gain an aura in the public’s mind. Whether intentionally or not, this aura will be reinforced with each phone call, each point of sale, even in the decor of your showroom. Every business markets its message every day. The successful ones are those that construct it carefully and live by its discipline.

— Bart Jackson

#h#Stress Less#/h#

It is a true Dilbert moment. She has finally said yes to dinner at your place. The oysters and Champagne are on ice. All day you quiver with anticipation. At 4:45 p.m. your boss leans over the wall of your cubicle and announces gleefully that the client has agreed to come in! At 7:30! Everyone is staying late for the presentation. No options are offered. Your only choice is decide whether your rage will rip out your insides or his.

For those of us who too frequently face these options, a broader, less violent menu of responses are revealed in "Life Unscripted: All Stressed Out and No One To Choke," the keynote talk at Surviving and Thriving in Challenging Times, a conference and exhibition being put on by the New Jersey Society of Association Executives on Wednesday, December 10, at 8:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Della Menechella, president of Personal Peak Performance Unlimited in Edison, is the speaker. Cost: $99. Call 732-985-1919 (www.NJSAE.org).

In her talk, Menechella outlines a self-rewiring program designed to diffuse stress and seize opportunity. She and her family have had more than ample stress-inspiring business crunches in which to test her methods. Her husband, Michael, had risen to become vice president of administration for the American Stock Exchange. For him it was an ideal job — until the downsizing. Within two months, Michael Menechella found himself working beside his wife, cleaning carpets in other people’s houses and offices under the aegis of a franchise, which they believe was ripping them off terribly.

Nor was this exactly his wife’s anticipated career pinnacle. Brooklyn-born, she had earned her B.A. in management from Rutgers University. Shortly afterward, she landed a human resources job with Viacom, where for 10 years she worked in all aspects of corporate training. In the early l990s, at the time of her husband’s downsizing, Menechella had just left her secure job, planning to launch her own firm. Today, after some very tough years and some company name changes, her company is thriving by providing corporate training and management coaching to such companies as Exxon, Johnson & Johnson, and American Express.

And Michael Menechella? After several down years he is once again a vice president, this time in a major brokerage firm — a job he also finds ideal.

If you don’t really listen, Menechella’s stressless success program may seem sound like a make-lemonade-from-lemons tale told by Pollyanna. But for those strong-willed enough to make the attitude shift, it becomes a life-long discipline.

Work with words. We think in words, and the words that build our thoughts, fix our beliefs. We develop neuro-linguistic patterns that predetermine our perceptions and even our physical responses, explains Menechella. Thus certain phrases that tend to run repeatedly though our minds can actually predispose frustration and stress.

"This always happens to me," is a prime example of a sentence that invites stress. Odds are, you are not the only person to ever experience such an annoyance, and, what’s more, the odds are even better that bad luck has not interfered with your every endeavor since childhood. But those words will frame your perception, and stoke the fires of rage with memories of previous similar mishaps. Don’t let it. Banish the poor-victim response, and replace it with "Okay, now let me think." Doing so transforms you from a pained victim to an active problem solver.

Reframe the situation. The most difficult step in Menechella’s strategy, this forces you to deliberately wrench your perception out of negative response and to seek out a more positive one. "Life is neutral," insists Menechella. "It is only framed by your response; and your response is your choice."

So how would Menechella handle the sucker punch of that Dilbert moment when a dream date is scrapped for an evening with the client from Hell? Without hesitation, she replies, "I would tell myself that this is a prime opportunity to show my boss just how valuable I am, and to convince him to promote me."

This is more than slathering over reality with a batch of happy faces. It involves difficult, disciplined thought control that takes you out of non-productive misery, and sets you to strategizing success. Eventually, with effort, the individual can bypass the swamps of self-pity.

Angles of perseverance. Most successful entrepreneurs are into their fourth or fifth business venture before they hit it big. "We do not make mistakes, we just learn great lessons," says one businessman. Menechella agrees that failure is feedback, but the trick is to analyze the collapsed venture with exhaustive precision. Where were the strengths and weaknesses? Where did I excel? What skills did I lack? Does my incredible ineptness with logistics mean that I need to take on an administrator as partner next time around?

Remember: this is not your one shot at the brass ring. It is merely your first trip around on the carousel.

Leap into change. "If at first you don’t succeed, try something else," advises Menechella. Not a reversal of her perseverance strategy, she is merely advising that you know when to fold ’em. The same effort repeated seldom produces different results, so why bloody your head on the same stone wall?

While input from friends should be considered, only you can decide if a project is a failure. When it’s time to quit, salvage what you can, but don’t necessarily expect the change to feel refreshing. All change is traumatic, even though success demands it frequently.

In the end, no program guarantees that work and life will mesh seamlessly, or even that the Champagne will eventually flow into a glass held by the date of your dreams. But by shifting perceptions to the positive, it is possible to find a way to make the best of both work and life after work.

Maybe the late-night client can become the new boss, a boss who will respect your time.

— Bart Jackson

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