DO YOU EVER get the feeling that, as a decade, the '90s are not exactly shaping up as an improvement? Take, for example, a sign of the times such as Fireproofing: Protecting Your Job in the 90s (Key Porter, 188 pages, $16-95 paper), by Brian A. Grosman with Allan Reznik. This is a book for people whose good jobs are giving them bad vibes. (You haven't had a memo in days, nobody told you about the staff meeting, your peers have been unavailable for lunch lately, etc.) With "Canada's leading employment lawyer" in your corner, however, you'll stand a better chance of protecting your job or, if the worst happens, negotiating a satisfactory severance package while hanging on to your self-esteem. "If there is any loyalty among employees today, it is to their own sense of competence and self-respect," says Grosman. Company loyalty's gone the way of the dinosaur, getting fired looks good on today's resumes (provided you describe it as being "outplaced, "outcounselled," or "subjected to a 'downsizing"'), and the new job insurance is not "obedience" and "political correctness" but "the ability to transfer your knowledge to a wide variety of situations." Fireproofing offers timely professional advice to corporate employees. Think of it as preventive medicine, and read it before you need to.
Landing on Your Feet: The Canadian Guide to Surviving, Coping, and Prospering from Job Loss (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 214 pages, $16.95 paper), by Mara Brown, tackles some of the same problems from the point of view of one who's been there. Brown was a successful marketing and P.R. executive for a major theme park when "there was a political shake up and I was jilted. Just like that." So, after a brisk run-down on such practicalities as "The Termination Meeting" and "Outplacement Services," the focus of her book is on dealing with emotional shock. Brown mixes first-person stories and pertinent quotations (e.g., from Bertrand Russell: "To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom") with helpful exercises (how to relax, making a "goal list") and information on everything from body language to writing resumes. (One first-person narrator, a former vice-president of an international corporation, confesses he sent out 450 resumes before he joined a support group and learned "how to market myself in the '90s." Fifty revised resumes later, he landed an excellent job.) Brown says she now sees being fired as "an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop," and that she designed Landing on Your Feet to be "well-worn, like your favourite sweater." Or like a security blanket, perhaps.
It's not only the corporate employee who's nervous in the '90s. How about the professional athlete, whose career future can be decided in seconds? Dr. Saul Miller is a sports psychologist better known as "Yoda" to the L.A. Rams and "Dr. Bombay" to the N.Y. Mets. In Performing Under Pressure (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 274 pages, $19.95 paper), Miller explains the relaxation and focusing techniques that he's been teaching major-league players for the past 10 years. Though riddled with psychologese ("dis-ease," "empower," "responsibility," "fear-full," and would you believe "overeffort" as a verb?), Miller's advice covers a lot of territory and makes good sense. "Breathing is a psycho-physical bridge that connects mind and body..." he writes. "One way to regulate your emotions and to empower yourself is to tune into the rhythm of your breath." Then it's on to "scanning," or tuning into, then releasing, the tension spots in your body, followed by "streaming," or "channelling the flow of energy to any part of your body ... or out into the world around you." This kind of thing works in the corporate world, too, says Miller, who also includes some helpful hints for writers: "Imagine yourself personally connected to an unlimited supply of good ideas.... Imagine expressing yourself well .... Avoid being self-critical ... and open up to possibility." After you've empowered yourself with tuned- in breathing, that is.
Barbara McNeill is a personal financial adviser who learned the ropes early; she was born in the late 1920s to working parents and "was doing the family banking" by the age of eight. Now she and Robert Collins (Butter Down the Well, A Great Way to Go) have collaborated on a concoction from "the Chicken Soup School of Money Management" titled The Kitchen Table Money Plan: Building Personal Wealth and Security (HarperCollins, 205 pages, $14.95 paper). Don't let the cheerful, homespun packaging foot you, though; McNeill knows her financial onions. What not to do, what to do after you went and did it anyway, and basic guidelines for investing, organising your paperwork, and "finding the black hole of mysterious cash drain" combine to convince me that here is one money guru, at least, who has our best interests at heart. The many case studies from real life are informatively soothing, too. As McNeill and Collins (who obviously became good friends during this project) explain, "Everybody knows ... [that] chicken soup ... is good for what ails you .... With wise words for the financially fuddled .... [Barbara McNeill] does exactly what mothers have done with bowls of chicken noodle." She's also helped realise that impossible dream: a money guide that's fun to read.
Meanwhile, back in the less material world, other self-help writers are beavering away on the topic of personal relationships. Daryl Sharp is a Jungian analyst whose Getting to Know You: The Inside Out of Relationship (Inner City, 128 pages, $15 paper) presents the concepts contained in Jung's essay, "Marriage as a Psychological Relationship," as they grew out of an actual seminar held in Toronto. Six women and seven men - from backgrounds as diverse as professional therapy, housewifery, and real estate -attended the seminar. Their ages ranged from 28 to 63, and their comments from "I get the impression Jung was a misogynist. These wet dishrags, is that all he saw?" to "If God had been satisfied with what's natural we'd still be swinging from the trees." In such a setting, Sharp's explanations of Jung's ideas are necessarily clear and, well, sharp. For example, he defines "becoming conscious" as involving "a progressive waking up to why we do what we do." As for "complexes": "The most important thing to understand ... is that they determine how we feel and what we do they deny us freedom of choice." "Individuation" means "finding your own unique path." By degrees, Sharp leads the group - and the reader -to the understanding that if we become "conscious" of ourselves, "a good relationship will follow." Which should be good news for any potentially conscious persons who are serious about getting, or being, married.
Peggy Anderson prefaces Wife after Death: Women Coping and Growing after the Death of a Partner (Sophia Publishing, 118 pages, $17.95 paper) with some blunt statistics. There are nearly a million widows in Canada today, a number that "increases by 100,000 each year." More than one-third are widowed by the time they are 40. And, "contrary to public opinion, we do not 'get over' our loss within the first year - or the second, or the third. We feel our loss in some way for the rest of our lives." Wife after Death brings together the stories of seven women who made the journey from devastating loss to recovery and renewal. It offers advice from those who have been there, as well as admirable role models, insight into the grieving process, and hope for the future. "Filling the emptiness left by my husband's death meant finding my inner core much like an archaeologist on a dig," Anderson writes. "Now each day is a mystery, a special event, a challenge, a blessing." A bibliography supplies useful suggestions for further reading.
Finally, a useful reminder that the more things change, the more..., etc., etc.: The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Canadian Facts and Dates (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 404 pages, $24.95 paper), by Jay Myers, revised and updated by Larry Hoffman and Fraser Sutherland. This compulsively readable tome lists what happened in Canada between the year dot and today, in chronological order with comprehensive indexing so you can actually find what you're looking for. Or better yet, try reading it in impulsive order: what else happened the year you got fired, got married, won the lottery, earned a gold medal? Did you know, for example, that Henry James Morgan (1842-1913) published Bibliotheca Canadensis, or A Manual of Canadian Literature, "the first scholarly guide to Canadian writers," in 1867? Or that the night they opened Toronto's SkyDome (June 3, 1989), and also opened its famous retractable roof, "rain poured on the heads of the 55,000 spectators"? Maybe the universe is unfolding as it should, after all.