Self-esteem is a lifelong issue, says Marge Smith, not just something that should be focused on by children and teens. How we feel about and value ourselves changes throughout our lives – and is crucial at every step along the way. Since much of our adult lives are spent in the workplace, how we feel we are valued at work has a tremendous affect on our self-esteem.

"Self-esteem is an issue throughout our entire lives," says Smith. Women moving from the workplace to home to become stay-at-home moms, for example, may find their self-esteem drops if they perceive that their role is not valued. A retiree who has always identified himself or herself with a job may experience a similar problem. "We have to learn to think about ourselves in different ways," says Smith.

"Having a positive self-esteem is the foundation for creating a happy and fulfilling life," says Smith, who will teach a five-session course on "Building Self-Esteem," beginning on Thursday, October 27, at 7 p.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $90. Call 609-586-9446.

The course is offered as an elective in the college’s Certificate in Business Communications program and is also recommended for people in the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program. Smith teaches several courses at the college including assertiveness skills and human resources development for non-profits. Her interest in helping non-profit managers communicate more effectively with their volunteers led her to found Princeton Community Works, a yearly seminar for not-for-profits held in January at Princeton University. She also runs retreats for non-profit organizations and is on the board of the Childcare Connection in Trenton.

Helping others to build and maintain their self esteem is an essential part of interpersonal relations, says Smith, explaining how the course fits into the two programs. Managers and leaders who do not know how to communicate well often have a negative effect on their employees’ or volunteers’ self-esteem. This in turn damages their effectiveness as leaders and makes it difficult for them to get needed tasks accomplished.

The course, says Smith, "will examine the building blocks of self-esteem." Participants will learn how to "talk back to their self-critical voice and ask for what they want." One of the ways a manager can damage self-esteem is by not assigning tasks. This is particularly critical in not-for-profits, she says, where volunteers will "feel useless and undervalued and often quit" if they are not given enough to do.

Often, says Smith, managers won’t ask for help or will not delegate tasks because "they are afraid someone else will do it better." They are threatened by others’ abilities. Instead, Smith suggests that people learn to understand the strengths of the people around them and use them. "Evaluate your strengths as well as those of others," she suggests.

"Not knowing how to treat other people with respect" is one of the most common ways that people damage others’ self-esteem. Developing good listening is one of the best ways to combat this. "How many people do you know who are good listeners?" asks Smith. "Maybe three to five." Communicating with others by taking the focus off yourself and shifting it to others is one of the best ways for a manager to increase the self-esteem of his employees and create a better working environment.

Often we are unconsciously sending messages to others that undermine their self-esteem and self confidence. Some of these messages have been received since childhood and are almost truisms that teachers, parents, and coaches use to encourage children or that leaders and managers use in critiquing employees. Unfortunately, they can have just the opposite effect, says Smith. These messages include:

If you can’t do it right don’t do it at all. This phrase, says Smith, is often used as a way to encourage people to strive to do something better. Unfortunately, many times it has the opposite effect. Because the person believes he can’t be perfect, he becomes stuck, incapable of trying anything for fear of not being good enough.

Smith has a different view of perfection. "There is no such thing as perfect," she says. Nothing can stop us more quickly from trying to reach an important goal than trying to be too perfect. Accepting that we are less than perfect is the first step in not only obtaining new self-esteem, but in reaching for bigger goals.

You’re not good at… Sports or music or dance – fill in the blank. We’ve all heard it said at some point about one or the other of our abilities. Frequently, says Smith, the statement becomes "a self-fulfilling prophecy." Because someone thinks she is not good at something, she doesn’t try very hard at it, and therefore, doesn’t do well. In the workplace, a manager who tells an employee he is no good at sales, or writing, or time management can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The employee quits trying and never improves.

"Give constructive feedback," suggests Smith. "If a manager says to an employee, ‘You did a crummy job,’ or ‘You’re lazy,’ they have given no

clues as to how the person can improve." Statements such as "you’re lazy," reflect on the character of the person, a sure way to decrease his self-esteem – and to ensure that there will be no improvement.

Instead, Smith suggests the manager say something like, "When you come in late, I feel frustrated because I’m counting on you to be part of the team." This statement, she explains, focuses on the person’s behavior, not his character, and behavior is something that can be changed.

You may not be able to do it, but give it a try anyway. This statement, says Smith, is a surefire way to undermine self confidence. "This is the kind of statement managers make in the workplace all the time," she finds. Instead of undermining the employee this way, try inspiring him. "I’m giving this project to you because I know you are ready for it," will leave the employee feeling confident in themselves and willing to try a little harder to prove that they are, "up to it," says Smith.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. That phrase is a fallacy. Before you say something to others that will hurt their self-esteem and self-confidence, think carefully. "A bruise will last for a week," she says, "but words can hurt forever."

Plan for a Secure Retirement

Keith Becker is passionate about the need for financial planning. When he was a child, his father caught meningitis during a summer job assignment in Venezuela and was disabled for the next nine years. The financial strain was rough on his family, and now Becker wants to save other people from the difficulties he experienced. "Part of the reason I teach," he says, "is that even if people are brilliant, sometimes they don’t pay attention to things that can affect their families."

Becker says that generally people fail financially because they don’t set goals, understand the impact of inflation and taxes, or use credit wisely. But the number one reason is procrastination. To help people get serious about planning for the future, he is offering a four-week class at Mercer County Community College entitled "Financial Strategies for Successful Retirement." The sessions, which will explore financial basics as students develop a personal financial plan, begin on Tuesday, November 1, at 7 p.m. He also offers students the option of a fifth private session and is available during break to answer personal questions. Cost: $80. For more information call 609-586-9446.

As people make decisions about retirement, a little information can go a long way. And when knowledge of the financial basics is tied to a thoughtful financial plan, people are in place to reach their life goals – whether they are achieving financial stability, leaving a charitable bequest, preparing for long-term care, or leaving an estate.

A financial plan identifies the rate of return on assets and level of savings necessary to achieve life goals. Such a plan is useful no matter what an individual’s stage of life and retirement goals. The process of developing a plan involves many considerations:

Mixing investments. Portfolios will look different as people’s needs for current income, future growth, and cash on hand vary during their lives. It is important to be able to figure how much volatility different mixes bring to a portfolio.

People who are retiring often stick with bonds, because they pay income semiannually. They structure their bond portfolios to include bonds that pay in January and July, in February and August, and so forth, so that they receive steady income. Becker dubs this mistaken strategy as "compartmentalization," having a specific asset for one specific reason.

Instead he advises looking at total investment needs. "Over 30 years, the cost of living may double or triple," he says. Instead of a bonds-only portfolio, he says it makes sense to include some growth investments, including stocks during retirement. Stocks may well pay dividends that retirees can take as income, and as the shares grow in value, some may be sold for additional income.

Considering tax effects. If people own a debt instrument – corporate or municipal bonds, certificates of deposit (CDs), or Treasury bills – they receive interest. Treasury or government-agency bonds may pay interest that is taxed at the federal, but not the state, level. What distinguishes municipal bonds, however, is that they are tax-free at every level.

For someone in a high tax bracket, the real value of any interest income may be reduced considerably by taxes. Becker gives this example: If a person purchases a CD that offers 5 percent interest, but if that person is in the 35 percent tax bracket, then the real yield on the bond is 3.25 percent. It may make sense instead to purchase a tax-exempt municipal bond that pays 4 percent.

Setting up an IRA. Depending on your family income and whether your spouse is eligible to participate in a retirement plan, IRAs may or may not be tax deductible in the current year. But there still is a good reason to invest in one. "When money goes into an IRA," says Becker, "its real power is that it is growing tax deferred." Any interest goes back into the IRA without being taxed.

Taking distributions from an IRA. Once a person turns 70-and-a-half a traditional IRA has a mandatory minimum distribution. It may or may not make sense to take out more, depending on the size of your portfolio and your age. If you take a distribution from an IRA before age 59-and-a-half, you may owe a 10 percent penalty on the amount you withdraw, but there are exceptions: a first-time home buyer can take up to $10,000 without penalty; you can also withdraw money if you become disabled or have qualified medical or educational expenses.

Managing risk. Risk management involves different types of insurance – life, health, disability, and long-term care. As your children get older and leave home, your need for life insurance may change. Although most people think of long-term care insurance as only involving elderly people, it is substantially less expensive to purchase at younger ages. Still, the insurance is expensive. But it may be worth it, because, as Becker points out, even a short stay in a nursing home can be very expensive – a good $50,000 a year, or more. "Most people have experienced someone in the family who needs long-term care," he says, "whether due to old age, or because they are hurt temporarily."

"If you have a retirement plan in place and risk has not been taken care of, the easiest place to go in an emergency is the retirement account," says Becker, "and now your retirement is in jeopardy." By taking care of this risk, you can save your retirement assets, achieve peace of mind, and alleviate a potential burden on extended-family members.

Choosing beneficiaries. People in their 40s often name minor children as beneficiaries, but Becker says "this can be mistake, because minors can’t make investment decisions." If a child inherits money, and you have not named a fiduciary, the court may appoint someone not to your liking.

Becker grew up in Bordentown, and spent two-and-a-half years at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, where he studied toxicology. His goal was to study poisonous chemicals in order to return to his community and clean up a toxic landfill. When he realized that the only way he could earn a living in the field was working with animals, he decided to try something different.

He took a couple of classes at Trenton State, and then his brother introduced him to Mary Roebling at National State Bank, whom he talked to about income and career. When he said he didn’t want to wait until his 50s to be well off, she directed him to Wall Street.

"Six months later I was trading bonds at a brokerage firm on Wall Street," he recalls. He wanted to expand to equities and moved to a firm in Princeton where he did research and worked in equities and bonds for 12 years. In 2003 he moved to his current position as financial advisor for Smith Barney in Philadelphia, where he advises individuals and small businesses on investments and financial planning.

Becker aims to help his students understand a range of financial information: stock tables; cash equivalents, like CDs and short-term Treasury bills; professional money management, including mutual fund investing and individual-managed accounts; how to make money last through retirement; the benefits of dollar-cost averaging; other types of retirement income, including Social Security, 401(k)s and 403(b)s; the difference between traditional and Roth IRAs; the power of annuities; and the effects of taxes on estate planning.

Becker read an article recently that got him to thinking. It was about the causes of stress, and included job and income changes, moves, and variations friendships. "When you retire," he realized, "many of these things happen at once to create stress." He believes that if you plan in advance, you may be able to reduce that stress.

But he cautions that things change over time, and a financial plan is an evolving document. Once people understand the concepts, and know where to turn for information, they can make necessary modifications to see them through a stage of life that can bring freedom and adventure to those who have prepared well.

Leading the Way in Women’s Sports

Val Ackerman hails from a dynasty of sports enthusiasts – her father was athletic director at her own high school and her grandfather, the state of New Jersey’s athletic director. She has carried on this tradition, but in her own way. Dreaming of both athletic achievement and a career in law, she has managed to merge her legal background and her activism in women’s sports into a career that utilizes both interests.

Today this 1977 graduate of Pennington’s Hopewell Valley Central High School is the president of USA Basketball – the national federation responsible for the selection, training, and fielding of U.S. teams that compete in international basketball competitions, including the Olympics, and for some national competitions.

Ackerman will be talking about her own experiences as well as the growth of women’s sports over the last quarter-century on Thursday, November 3, at 11:30 a.m., at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Doral Forrestal. She will also be rallying early support for the 1st and 2nd-round games of the NCAA women’s college basketball tournament, in March, 2006, at the Sovereign Bank Arena. Cost: $40. For more information, call 609-924-1776.

Named in the April 25, 2005, edition of Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal as one of the 20 most influential women in sports business, Ackerman believes that women have made huge strides in sports. But a critical area still needs development – the business substructure that will solidify women’s future in professional sports.

"At the professional level, the challenge is to build the business, in terms of revenues and meeting expenses," she observes. "This will be accomplished by ticket sales, television ratings, and getting sponsors to take positions and subsidize operations." So far only basketball has a functioning national organization, the WNBA. Both women’s soccer and softball have begun to develop fledgling organizations, but according to Ackerman, both are "on hold" for the moment as they try to find their place on the sports landscape.

Ackerman’s own involvement in sports parallels the development of women’s sports in the United States over the past three decades. During high school Ackerman was a standout in three sports – field hockey, basketball, and track – and still not content, she swam in the summer with a local swim club. She was one of the first women to be given an athletic scholarship, to the University of Virginia, where she played on the women’s basketball team for four years and received a bachelor’s degree in 1981 in political and social thought.

Her entree, as a woman, into athletic prowess was paved by Title IX, the portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive any federal funds. It requires equal opportunities in sports for men and women in terms of proportional financial assistance; accommodation of students’ interests and abilities in selection of sports and level of competition; and other benefits afforded to sports participants. Ackerman cites Title IX as being "directly responsible for establishing a host of playing opportunities for women at the college and high school levels."

A few years ago, she says, the federal government scrutinized Title IX to see whether changes were needed. Ackerman believes it just needs to be better enforced, as women’s sports still lag behind in dollars spent, absolute numbers of roster spots on teams, and use of facilities.

Ackerman adds that "the administration quietly tried to slip in a qualification to Title IX that many involved in women’s sports are upset by." An April, 2005, fact sheet on the website of the National Women’s Law Center explains the qualification: "The Department of Education, without any notice or public input, has issued a new Title IX policy – under the guise of a ‘clarification’ – that creates a major loophole through which schools can evade their obligation to provide equal opportunity in sports. The policy allows schools to gauge female students’ interest in athletics simply by conducting E-mail surveys and to claim – in these days of excessive E-mail spam – that a failure to respond to the survey shows a lack of interest in playing sports."

When Ackerman graduated from the University of Virginia, Title IX’s influence had not yet created opportunities in professional women’s basketball, and she had to move to France to play pro ball. After one season, she returned to the United States to pursue her second dream, a career in law, and she graduated from the law school at UCLA in 1985. After graduation she worked for two years as a corporate associate for the Wall Street law firm, Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett.

But she couldn’t stay away from sports for long. Her next job, as staff attorney for the National Basketball Association, began in 1988, and for the next 16 years she worked with pro basketball, beginning on the men’s side. At the NBA, she eventually became special assistant to the commissioner, working with David Stern, and as then director and finally vice president of business affairs.

In 1996 she was named as the first president of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She characterizes her time at WNBA as "a chance to be part of a very exciting development – the increased engagement of women and girls with the sport of basketball." Not only are girls and women playing, but, "spectators are watching women play team sports at the highest levels."

Locally things have changed too. Contrary to the limited opportunities for girls when Ackerman was growing up in Pennington, today in Mercer County there are recreation leagues, the Police Athletic League in Trenton, and teams at local public and private high schools. Collegiate sports are also strong at the College of New Jersey, Princeton, and Rider. "Now," she observes, "it’s O.K. to sweat. When I was growing up, I felt I was the exception rather than the rule."

After being with the WNBA from its first season, in 1997, she stepped down in February of this year to spend more time with her kids. Since then she has been named president of USA Basketball, a position she will hold through the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. One challenge that faces USA Basketball over the next three years is to maintain a "continuity of roster." This is critical to the major goal, which is to win what would be the fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal for the women’s team and would be a comeback for the men’s team, which won the bronze in 2004, after getting the gold in 1996 and 2000.

Not only does Ackerman love sports, but she also believes that sports teaches important lessons. "Not only is it healthy, teaching lessons of fitness, but it also teaches lessons of teamwork and leadership, discipline, and goal setting," she says. "All of these values are reinforced by participation in sports."

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