Dear Esther,

I feel so overwhelmed with everything happening in the news with the pandemic, the election, life. I feel like there is no escape from it all. I can't go on vacation, I can't leave the house without wearing a mask, my husband and I are arguing more because we're always together. I can't see an end to all of this. What do I do?


Dear Overwhelmed,
Sometimes in life we need to see the forest for the trees. This is not one of those times. Right now, the forest is dark, dense, and seemingly endless. If you try to look at the entire forest, it will only overwhelm you more. This is one of those times we need to look at each individual tree as we make our way through this dark forest. Ever notice when you turn off the light, the entire room looks dark and endless at first? But when you start focusing on one object directly in front of you -- a piece of furniture, your arm, the person next to you -- you start being able to see better in the dark, and suddenly you can navigate the dark room. Sure, you navigate it more slowly and cautiously than you would if the light was on, but you can still get through it.
Use this dark forest / visible tree metaphor in your life right now. Each immediate "thing" in your life is so much more visible than getting through an endless pandemic. What is the one thing you can focus on now to get you to the next object in the dark room? Just pick ONE tree, not the entire forest.
Maybe it's the amount you're arguing with your husband. Focus on that. What will help that? Is it walking outside for 10 minutes to get out of each other's space? Is it going in the bathroom and running the hot water for 5 minutes while you breeeathe
You will find that by focusing on one thing at a time, you will start slowly and cautiously moving through this darkness. I can't tell you when this forest will end, but just like any forest, no matter how massive, it eventually ends. And this, too, shall pass... as long as we focus on that which is directly in front of us.
And for the love of the God, turn off the news for a little while! Is that really the soundtrack you want for your nighttime trek through the wood?
Remember, dear Overwhelmed, this forest is dark and dense, but you are not alone in this.

Dear Esther,

I recently got laid off because of Covid, and I haven't looked for a new job in about 8 years. I know this is a controversial question, and most people say HECK NO, but should I add a photo to my cover letter? I did with my last job, and I just feel like it adds something personal. Plus, if I was hiring, I'd want to know WHO I might be working with. What are your thoughts on including a photo with a cover letter -- yes or no?


Dear Cover Letter,
My initial reaction would be to say HECK NO on including a photo on your cover letter, as that is generally an outdated practice. BUT... in hearing your WHY (and I always believe in understanding the WHY so we can understand the HOW), I actually think in your case, adding a photo to your cover letter makes sense. For starters, it's not on your resume -- I would stronger advise against resume photos -- it's on your cover letter. Also, it sounds like it feels very authentically you and something YOU would look twice at if you were hiring. If adding a photo to your cover letter FEELS right, then I say: GO FOR IT! Ultimately, whether a hiring manager does or doesn't hire you will not come down to your photo. It will come down to your resume and how well you interview {and for tips on how to nail your next interview, check out my 6 Steps to Interview Success <-- shameless plug!}. And if someone doesn't want to even interview you you because of your cover letter photo, well, maybe it's not the place for you anyways (not that you'd ever know that was the reason you didn't get a call back). Just make sure the photo is appropriate! 

Dear Esther,

My sister-in-law had to cancel her big dream wedding because of COVID. She set an initial court date, but she has now changed dates several times, and also has planned (and changed) family weekends to celebrate her wedding. We already did all the bride / wedding things before COVID (shower, bachelorette, engagement party, etc.). While I want to be supportive and I have gone above and beyond for all of her other wedding events, I've had to cancel my own plans whenever she changes her date on a whim. When is enough enough and how can I politely tell her to make up her damn mind?


Dear So Over It,
It's a tough place to be: stuck between a rock (helloooo engagement ring!) and a hard place (like a world pandemic). Your SIL probably feels devastated she had to cancel her big wedding and wants to celebrate and feel like a bride, just like every other bride gets to feel. But she shouldn't do it at the expense of everyone else. You have a life to live as well, and bending to her every whim and fancy, and changing your life to suit her schedule isn't fair to you either. There comes a point where you need to set your own boundaries. (It's all about boundaries!) I know we are living in a bizarre-o world where plans change or don't even get made, but that doesn't mean our boundaries get to change also. So set the boundary. Give her specific dates of when you CAN make it, and don't waver. By giving her specific dates, you are being fair to her by giving options. But you are also being fair to yourself. You don't need to explain yourself or what your "other" plans are. (Who cares if your plan is to sit on your coach and binge watch all 10 seasons of Friends on Netflix.) Set the guidelines for your own life and let her follow them -- not the other way around. And if you are that important to her, she will find a date that works for you as well.

Dear Esther,

My close friend chose to homeschool her kids this year and I chose to send my kids to school. I feel judged for my decision. How do I navigate that conversation?


Dear Getting Schooled,
Parenting styles are like snowflakes: no two are identical. You have to do what is best for YOU and YOUR family. What works for you might not work for your friend, or neighbor, or sister's dog walker's cousin. I don't want to poo-poo the feeling of being judged -- it's a very real feeling, especially when someone close to you is doing something completely different than you. But this is a good time to remember those very wise words we learned back in grade school (pre-COVID): "I'm rubber and you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you." Let her judge you all she wants -- you might not change her opinion of whether kids should be homeschooled or not (nor should you waste your energy trying to change her opinion!). You've got more important things to focus on... like what you're doing to do with all that "free" time you have with the kids at school! (Lol. Free time? As a parent? Yeah right.) But you get the idea. :-)

Dear Esther,

I just got my dream job in California, but my family is in PA and I got an offer from a good job here. What do I choose? My dream job or a good job and being close to my family and nephews who are really important to me


Dear California Dreamin',
Ah, the age-old question: do I follow my dreams or stay in my reality? I could tell you to follow your dreams! Go for the gusto!  But we live in the real world, with real world consequences of our decisions. So that's what I would be thinking about if I were you. And those "consequences" don't all have to be negative! To help us understand those consequences, I like to play the "what if... what then..." game. What if... I go to California? What then...? If I go to California, I will leave behind my current world, including family and a good job offer (an imperative word here is offer because you don't actually know that it's a good job until you've taken it and been there long enough to assess whether it's good or not.) What if... I get to California and it turns out that it IS my dream job and I love it so much? What then...? OR What if... it turns out I hate the job. What then...? {I can't answer this question for you, but... Hint: you can always come home. Believe that.}
Then do the same for the alternative: playing the safe bet in staying. What if... I stay and take the good job offer? What then...? I will feel ________ about my decision. 
And this is the biggest and most important question to ask in the "what if... what then..." game. How will YOU FEEL "then"? Emphasis on the YOU and the FEEL. Not how will your nephews feel. Not what your mom will think. After all, YOU have to live with the decisions YOU make because YOU are the one living YOUR life. 
This isn't an easy choice, and I feel you on this one. I, too, have had to make tough decisions between following my dreams into the unknown or staying in my comfort zone. One choice isn't right or better. But one will definitely FEEL like the right decision today, tomorrow, and 5 years down the road. 
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Dear Esther,

I have started what I thought was my dream career after many years working my way up. However, I find that I am not doing much of what my job description says, but forced to do other tasks that take up all of my time and I am unable to balance my day with working on what I have to for experience and my actual career goal, never mind being very under paid during this Covid time.

I have a difficult time communicating with the colleagues even after opening up and setting up meetings. My manager has been supportive and says we will figure it out.

How long do I wait this out and try to build my career, do I eventually move on? How can I feel confident as a professional and not waste too much time?


Dear Wasting Time,
This is where a game plan comes in handy, and as your coach, here's what the game plan would look like...
First, I would paint for myself a clear picture of what it is I do want in this role / my career. This will help you do 2 things: (1) it will help you to know exactly what you're looking for for your own self, and (2) it will help you to verbalize for your manager what you want. Help him/her help you. When someone says, "I'll figure out," it's vague and ambiguous. So if your manager says, "we will figure it out," then provide your manager a clear picture of what it is exactly that you want. Then, hold your manager accountable to these specific items. And have a "deadline" for these action items. Your concern is how long do you wait... if you don't have any sense of urgency or a deadline, then you could be waiting until the second coming. By creating a (reasonable) deadline for yourself, you will know when to move on.
In terms of not wasting too much time, take a moment to ask yourself these questions: is there anything else I haven't learned in this role, or any more I can learn? Is there any other person in the company or team with whom I would like to connect that I haven't yet? Essentially, have you squeezed the lemon to the final drop? 
Then think about this: one of my favorite quotes is from an old Avett Brothers song, "So when you run make sure you run to something and not away from..." Make sure you are moving on to something, not from something. 
This is the game plan I would make if I were you. By making a game plan, and following through with the action steps, you will come to a point where you will know you have done everything you can, and that is when you will find that confidence to know whether or not to move on. 

Dear Esther,

I've heard the term Law of Attraction a lot, but it just sounds way too out there for me. Is there a good place to start if I want to learn more?


Dear Spiritual Newbie,
If you've ever heard me talk about the world of Law of Attraction (LOA) or spiritual stuff, you've heard me use the term "woo-woo"™. For us regular folk who aren't necessarily the Spiritual Gangsters we see wearing those sweatshirts, it can be kind of daunting to jump into the deep end of the woo-woo™ pool. LOA is the belief or theory that that which we put out there is what we attract. Put simply: you get what you give, you reap what you sow. When I first started down the woo-woo™ LOA path, the first book I read that really laid it out very simply for me was You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay, followed by works by Dr. Wayne Dyer like THIS VIDEO about changing the way you look at things. They provide real-life examples and tips on how to attract that which you seek without getting too meta-deep. I wish you the best success down this really wonderful path!

Dear Esther,

How do I let my boss know that I want more credit for the things I accomplish and that I need (want) more praise when that doesn't come naturally to him?


Dear Praise,
It's never easy asking your boss for things you want, especially when it might come in the form of constructive criticism. And before you go into your boss's office (or a Zoom meeting) guns blazing making demands, I would first think about the why. WHY do you want more praise or credit? Perhaps, like me, receiving praise is a motivator to work harder for your boss. Maybe receiving credit for your work gives you a measure of success that you can file in your kudos drawer or on your resume. Or maybe you just want some damn respect 'round here for making your boss look good and achieving major company milestones! Understand the WHY will help you in your HOW... how you ask your boss for the praise, how you frame it or position the ask. You can't just say to your boss, "I want more credit for my work." (Well, you can... but I wouldn't recommend that tactic!) But if you provide your boss with some context on your need for praise, he can make adjustments accordingly. For example, if praise is a motivator for you, that's good news for your boss because the more praise you get, the more good work he gets! Explaining the WHY to your boss is step 1. The next step is to give him concrete examples on what he can do -- after all, you said it doesn't come naturally to him, so help him help you! The convo might go something like this: "Boss, I feel I am not getting praised enough or getting enough credit for the work I do here. For me, receiving praise is a motivator -- I work better, harder, and accomplish more for you and the company when I get a 'good job' and credit for my work. A specific example on how I like to get credit is by receiving an email acknowledging my hard work on a project." Your boss isn't a mind-reader (unless you work for a clairvoyant!), so clue him into what YOU need. And if it's coming from a place of "I want to help you and the company," then he'll definitely be all ears. Unless your boss is a total jerk, he's going to want to give you what you need so you can make him / the company look good. 

Dear Esther,

I just got engaged, but I haven't been completely honest with my fiancé about how much debt I have. I told him I had some credit card debt, but didn't tell him exactly how much ($9,000) and the student debt I have leftover from college ($27,000). I haven't exactly lied but the conversation hasn't ever come up, so I haven't told him just how much I owe. He is very good with money so I'm worried about his reaction. Should I tell him about my debt?


Dear Down the Aisle,
YES! You must absolutely tell your future hubby about your debt! I know it's scary to talk about finances, especially when you're in the red and your counterpart is finance-savvy. When going into a marriage, go in with all your cards on the table. I'm guessing when your partner proposed to you, he didn't say, "You make me a better man and also you're super financially fit. Will you marry me?" He asked you to marry him for a bevy of other wonderful factors you bring to his life. So when you tell him your debt situation, he most likely will not ask for the ring back and call off the wedding. It will be sticky, uncomfortable, and sweaty-palm inducing, but here's a secret to marriage: there will be many, many moments like that, so get used to it, my friend. 
Aside from the nicey-nice stuff about going into a marriage with a clean slate and honesty is best policy, practically speaking, your debt will most likely come up when / if you do anything with your accounts (file taxes jointly, purchase assets, take out a mortgage, etc.). I can't give you legal advice or financial advice, but I can tell you there is a high probability that at some point in your marriage the question of money will come up. So before you don your wedding veil, best to unveil your debt and rip that band-aid off. Your marriage will be that must stronger!