Overcoming First-Day Jitters at a New Job

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers will hold at least four jobs before they reach the age of 40. In addition, the youngest workers – the millennials – will likely hold 12 to 15 jobs in their entire lifetime, according to Forrester Research.

That’s a lot of first days on the job.

Looking at my own career path, I can honestly say this is true. By the time I turned 40, I was on my 12th job. That’s counting temp and freelance gigs.

With so many jobs – short-term, long-term and in between – I had a lot of first days, and a lot of first-day jitters. It never gets easier as you get older. There is always a certain level of excitement, anticipation, and yes, anxiety, when starting a new gig.

Some anxiety is normal. It’s okay to feel nervous about meeting new people, entering a new work environment and facing new challenges without, hopefully, falling flat on your face. But if those anxious feelings are so overwhelming to the point where you can’t perform, let alone step inside the door to your new office, then it may be time for an attitude adjustment, or at least, better preparation for your first day.

Below are a few tips for overcoming the first-day jitters based on my own experience in the workforce. Each person is different, of course, so some of these practices may work for some people and not for others. Find the right balance that works best for you.

1. Get a good night’s sleep. Many studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is needed to feel refreshed and mentally alert. You may be able to get by on five or six; other people require more than eight. But ahead of a busy first day, going to bed a little earlier than you usually do and getting more sleep may be a smart way to start your new gig.

2. Eat a healthful breakfast. Another smart way to start your day is by eating a healthy breakfast, including some protein, which will keep you feeling fuller longer. Avoid heavy carbs like pancakes which can make you sleepy. Instead, choose healthy options like fruit and yogurt or eggs and toast.

3. Dress for success. No matter where your new gig is located – even if the gig is a telecommute job from home – dress for the occasion, especially on your first day. Avoid overly casual clothes, like sweatshirts and jeans. Save the casual wear for another time. You want to make a good impression, so dress the part. It might also put you in a more professional state of mind.

4. Allow plenty of time to get to your workplace. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being late on the first day of your new job. If commuting, check and double check train and bus schedules. If you ride a bike to work, get it tuned up beforehand so you won’t have accidents or breakdowns on the way to work. Ditto with your vehicle. Check traffic conditions and find alternate routes if the one you planned to take is blocked for some reason.

5. Go with the flow. Your employer or client will likely have an agenda that first day. So relax and let them take the lead.

6. Be an active observer. One of the benefits of being a new kid on the block is that you can remain detached and somewhat anonymous. By being an active observer in the office, you can learn a lot about a company. Pay attention to the office environment. For example, note how workers behave, not just toward you but also toward each other and toward their bosses. Are they friendly and treat each other with respect? Or do they gossip about co-workers and badmouth their bosses?

7. Smile and be friendly. Offer a firm handshake when you are introduced to other people on your team.

8. Listen, and ask questions. On that first day, you will likely receive tons of information about the company, the project and the team members. If you are confused about something, be sure to ask questions so there are no misunderstandings. Don’t start off on the wrong foot because you misunderstood an instruction.

Don’t let your nerves get in the way of a successful start at a new job or client project. Plan ahead and arm yourself with a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast and a confident, get-it-done attitude, and you are sure to start your new gig on the right footing.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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With the holidays fast approaching, we can all expect to be running more errands and having more demands on our time. Time is a priceless commodity at this time of year. We want to get everything done, and still have time for socializing and enjoying the spirit of the holidays with our families and friends. How are we supposed to get it all done in time for Christmas?

At first glance, it would seem that multi-tasking is the ideal solution. Multi-tasking allows us to complete two or more things at the same time. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while shopping for gifts online? It’s easy to assume that multi-tasking allows us to get more done in less time, thus giving us more time to spend enjoying the holidays. But that may not be the case, say researchers.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, people tend to multi-task in one of four different levels.

  1. Simultaneous multitasking. You accomplish tasks by doing two different activities at the same time. For example, entering data into a computer program while talking to your banker on the phone.
  2. Task switching. In this situation, tasks are completed consecutively rather than simultaneously. You’ll finish one task then move on to the next. For example, you finish preparing a presentation then check emails for messages.
  3. Time fillers. We’re all guilty of indulging our guilty pleasures by reading horoscopes, house hunting, reading celebrity gossip or updating our social media profiles. These activities aren’t usually work related, but may make us look busy when we’re not. People often confuse these time filling activities with multi-tasking, but clearly they do nothing to make us productive.
  4. Having lots of things to do. These individual tasks and chores are usually unrelated to each other and represent the busyness of life. For example, getting the car serviced, going for an eye exam or baking cookies for the kids’ school bake sale. Having a lot of things to do is not the same as doing them all at once, which is multitasking.

No matter how much you have to do or where you fall on the tasking scale, multi-tasking is not the answer. Studies show that multi-tasking is counterproductive. Trying to do so many things at the same time, say researchers, actually makes us less efficient. Our brains are simply not equipped for completing multiple tasks that require brain power.

So while it might be easy to fold laundry while watching TV, activities like writing a speech or negotiating a contract require more focused attention because they require more brain power.

Or as the old saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So the next time you need to complete a project for your boss or are faced with a huge pile of paperwork, try focusing on one task at a time. Then turn off the TV, skip checking your Facebook feed and get to work.You may finish your work sooner than you think.

Supporting a Favorite Cause Can Be Good for Your Professional Life

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Today is known in our gift-giving season as Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back to the community. The movement, which began in 2012, shifts public attention away from the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season toward more meaningful, community service activities. Giving Tuesday is intended to bring the focus back to what the Christmas season is all about – giving to those in need.

As an independent worker or small business owner, giving back not only makes you feel good, it can be good for your business. Getting involved with a charitable group, especially one aligned with your professional identity, can give you added exposure in the community and attract new clients.

For example, if you work as a graphic designer, volunteering for a small theater group to design their sets can not only improve your skills, but put you in touch with people who may need your services. Likewise, if you write for a living, you might consider volunteering for organizations aligned with your writing interests, such as libraries, literacy programs or be a writing tutor.

Before you sign up for a volunteering program, there are several factors to keep in mind.

1. Why do you want to volunteer? There are many different reasons for getting involved with a cause. For some, it’s important to give back to their community. Others want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Yet others get involved to build their skills or improve their community. Whatever reason you have for volunteering, make sure it’s honest and sincere. The more sincere you are and the more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you will stick with your commitment.

2. Do your homework. If you want to get involved and aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you figure out what’s important to you and put you in touch with organizations that need your help. Check out Volunteer Match, Serve.gov, and Allforgood.org. These sites are a good starting point to find out what types of volunteer opportunities are available and the types of organizations that need help.

3. Assess your interests. Before you begin volunteering, take time to reflect on issues that are important to you. What issues get your blood thumping or makes your heart swell with joy? Are you concerned about the environmental, poverty, homelessness, literacy or women’s health? Make a list of these issues, then prioritize them in order of most important to least. Then choose one or two that are most worthy of your time and attention.

Next, find organizations that best represent those causes that are important to you. Do a Google search, entering key words that match your interests. For example, enter “literacy programs, volunteer” and see what pops up on your list. As you find these organizations, take the time to research each one. Review their website, read their mission statement, understand their requirements to volunteer. Some organizations may require a background check, especially if you plan to work one-on-one with children or seniors. If the group seems suitable, contact them to learn more about them. Most groups have a new volunteer orientation so you can see what they do.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities: a local place of worship, library or park district. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family too since they may already be involved in an organization and can give you the inside scoop about what kind of assistance that group needs.

4. Consider your time commitment. How much time can you give to the cause? A few hours each week? One afternoon each month? Volunteering doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but make sure you have time to truly commit to the cause. Be honest with yourself. If all you have to contribute is one or two hours per month, then be clear about that with the organization up front.

5. Consider your skills and talents. Volunteering is a great opportunity to develop your skills. Maybe you want to gain experience fundraising, event planning or grant writing. The opposite is also true. If you have strong organizational skills or communications skills, you can put them to work by negotiating contracts or teaching people how to read or write.

Once you know what causes are important to you and how you can contribute, getting involved with your favorite non-profit group and contributing to the community can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.

16 Quotes About Gratitude

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Wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., enjoy this time with family and friends. Take time to smell the turkey and reflect on what is important in your life.

No actual story this week. Instead, enjoy the following motivational quotes that are sure to inspire you and warm your heart. Happy Thanksgiving.

1. Count your rainbows instead of your thundershowers.  – Unknown

2. If you count your assets, you always show a profit. – Robert Quillen

3. I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. – Ancient Persian Proverb

4. Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

5. Gratitude is one of the sweet short cuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something to be grateful for. – Barry Neil Kaufman

6. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

7. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. –- Marcel Proust

8. In the bad times, choose to grow stronger. In the good times, choose to enjoy fully. In all times, choose to be grateful. – Unknown

9. I’m thankful for my struggle because from it, I have found my strength. – Unknown

10. The more you thank life, the more life gives you to be thankful for. – Unknown

11. The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. – Robert Holden

12. No matter what language you speak, a kind and smiling Thank You always speaks to everyone’s hearts. – Unknown

13. Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. – Henry Ward Beecher

14. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. – Anonymous

15. Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. – Seneca

16. Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you sue it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. – Alan Cohen

Make a Positive Impression with Handwritten Thank You Notes

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There will come a time in your career when someone will do something special for you. It could be anything from buying you lunch, to passing along a job lead or introducing you to a new client. When that happens, it’s up to you to show your gratitude.

But in our busy workdays, how many of us think to write a thank you note and actually take the time to do so? Even if we do think about it, how many times have you sat staring at the blank page wondering what to say?

It helps to work from a formula to get the task done quickly, efficiently, and with sincerity. Be sure you use professional quality note cards or stationery to write your message. Most thank-you notes I write contain three sentences: a thank-you intro, detailed sentence, and a closing remark.

First sentence: Thank the recipient for the gift, meeting, gesture of kindness, advice – whatever they did for you.

Second sentence: Explain why you appreciate the gift, meeting, advice or gesture.

Third sentence: Reiterate your interest in the job, client or product offering, or mention something specific about what you learned.

Closing sentence: Close the message by offering to return the favor, or how you plan to use the gift.

Example 1:   Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview for a Customer Service Associate with XYZ Company. I enjoyed talking with you and learning more about your organization. Based on what I learned about XYZ, I feel my skills and experience would be a strong match for your needs. I welcome the opportunity to answer any further questions you have about my background.

Example 2:  Thank you for joining me for coffee last week. I enjoyed our conversation and appreciated learning about your company’s latest product innovations. I believe your new products will meet the needs of an underserved market. If there is anything I can do to help you promote these products, please contact me.

I have always preferred handwritten notes better than email. Handwritten notes show that you’ve taken the time to THINK about what you are writing. Because so few people are likely to send thank-you notes, let alone handwrite them, they’re more likely to make you stand out and make you more memorable.

Emailed messages are likely to get lost in the in-box, and texting is too informal that recipients may not take your expression of gratitude seriously.

If you’re looking to make yourself stand out to potential employers, clients or business associate, sending a thoughtfully-crafted, handwritten thank-you note may be the very tool you can use to make a strong, positive impression.

Practicing Gratitude in Your Work Life

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One of the most memorable “gifts” I received during my career was a greeting card for Thanksgiving from a printing vendor. The message on the card was simple, yet powerful. “At this time of Thanksgiving, we want to express our gratitude for your business.”

The fact that I received this greeting card in November before Thanksgiving and before the usual rush of cards and gifts in December made it stand out. The message from my vendor came across as sincere and more thoughtful because it did not get lost in the rush of the holiday season.

November is a month to remember our blessings and express gratitude for the things we have and the people who share our lives. That makes it the ideal time to express our gratitude in our work lives, whether it’s sending thank-you notes to our vendors and associates, or buying a cup of coffee for a co-worker to show appreciation for their efforts on a work project.

Before the holiday rush sets in, think about what you are grateful for, especially in your work life. It could be anything from the technician who fixes your smart phone to the indispensable assistant who makes your business run smoothly. Maybe it was a former boss who gave you good career advice or a teacher who encouraged you to keep writing.

If you are not sure what you are grateful for, try this exercise. On a piece of paper, jot down at least five things or people you are grateful for in your business. I think you’d be surprised at how many people have helped you become the successful business person you are.

One of the most powerful means of communicating gratitude is thank-you notes. I believe the most effective, and most memorable, are handwritten because I think they come from the heart. In an age when emails and texts dominate the communications landscape, handwritten thank-you notes are often overlooked. The handwritten thank-you notes I’ve received from bosses and other business associates always made me feel deeply appreciated, and they confirmed that I was doing a good job. I still keep a few and re-read them whenever I feel in doubt of my abilities. I will write more about thank you notes in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned.

Other outward expressions of gratitude may include healthy treats like a fruit basket, gift cards, a cup of coffee, while other forms of gratitude, such as personal affirmations, prayers and meditation, are more private.

Even just verbally saying, “Thank you for your hard work on this project. I couldn’t have done it without you” goes a long way toward establishing good will and respect, and reflects positively on you and your business.

At this time of Thanksgiving, take the time to be grateful for every person and every situation that have served you well in your career. Of course, saying “please” and “thank you” should always be part of your everyday business vocabulary.

Business Lessons from the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs

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It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Cubs clinched the World Series championship, ending 108 years of futility on the baseball field and finally putting to rest any further talk of goats and curses. While still in the throes of celebrating their victory, it’s also helpful to look at their rise to the top of the baseball world. What can we all learn from the Cubs’ championship run? How can we apply these lessons to our businesses and our work life? Here are a few of my observations.

* If things aren’t working out, start over. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That means cutting the dead wood, so to speak, letting go of the pieces that no longer work, fixing what can be fixed, and rebuilding the business from the ground up.

In the case of the Cubs, that process started at the top rather than the bottom of the organization.  A change in ownership in 2009 brought the Ricketts family on board, followed by the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer to manage the team’s operations and begin the rebuilding process with the players.  With each new trade and draft pick, the Cubs slowly created a team that was built to win for the long term.

* You may need to go through a few lean years before seeing results. Like any other business, you have to take a few risks and make some tough decisions that may not be popular with your clients. For several years, the Cubs did not have a good team on the field. In 2011, they lost 100 games and fans were doubtful of the changes the Cubs leadership was making. But Epstein and Company stayed the course, knowing they had a game plan they were putting into place, and they repeatedly asked fans for patience. The fact is, whether you run a baseball team or a small boutique business, success does not happen overnight.

* Develop a long-term strategy for success. Create a strong vision of your business. Write down your business goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Develop a detailed plan and make adjustments along the way as needed. The Cubs had a clear vision for the team and knew what it would take to achieve it. Without that detailed plan, owners would have lost faith, and the fans would have too.

* Acquire the best players that can help you achieve your goals. Make sure those team players complement one another in terms of temperament and talent. When they like and respect one another, it’s much easier for them to work together toward a common goal. That likability and respect was on display during the Cubs’ World Series play, both on and off the field.

* Hire a good, strong leader to motivate the team to perform their best. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is a master of motivation. He respects his players, and encourages them to have fun, even if they’re on an extended losing streak. A good leader will always bring out the best in your team, so hire the most qualified person you can find.

* Have fun. You don’t want to create an environment of all work and no play. Have fun doing what you are doing, and share that joy with the people you work with. People who infuse humor and fun in their workplace are more productive and are better team players. And that bodes well for the success of your business.

* You need to work hard every day to improve your performance. There is an old saying, “Work comes before success only in the dictionary.” The Cubs have a lot of young players they have drafted over the years. With the assistance of coaches and several veteran players, the young Cubs are still developing their talents, and must continue to work hard each day to learn and grow as individually and as part of a team.

*Savor success and share it with others, especially your clients and your fans. The Cubs’ shared their achievement with their fans in one memorable parade and rally. Likewise, when you meet certain productivity goals, celebrate. Break open a bottle of champagne or treat your team to a pizza party. Recognize the important roles they play in your business success. Without them, your business would likely dry up.

No matter what type of work you do, or how you define success, whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there’s always something to be learned from seeing the success of other organizations. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the Cubs’ success is their own motto: Never give up.

 

Can People Watching Make You a Better Writer?

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“A good writer is always a people watcher.” – Judy Blume, author

Ever find yourself in a public place watching other people go about their business? Chances are you are probably a good writer. Why? My guess is that the act of carefully observing other people can create a store of knowledge that you can tap into later during the process of writing. That’s something to think about as you create characters for your novels, develop dialogue or re-create scenes.

Judy Blume makes an interesting point. If you want to become a better writer, it makes sense to pay close attention to the details of your surroundings, especially the people near you.

You can watch people anywhere – the public park, a library, a coffee shop, a music festival. Anywhere where there is a group of people gathered is ripe for people watching.  To make the most of the opportunity, however, you need to set aside your laptop, smart phone or other electronic device, and watch. True, people might find it strange that you are staring at them, but they don’t need to know that you are building your base of characters or that you are preparing to write your next novel.

Here’s how becoming an avid people watcher can help improve your writing.

* It helps you focus on details. When you observe the people around you, note how they dress, from the shoes they wear to the color of their shirt. Pay attention to their physical attributes, facial expressions and mannerisms. Listen to how they speak. Do they blink too much? Do they have crooked teeth? Do they wear a hearing aid?  Do they enunciate their words properly, or do they use a lot of slang language? These little details may normally go unnoticed, but can add color and depth to your character’s description.

* It helps you create dialogue between characters. Listen in on their conversations, whether they are on the phone or in conversation with one or more people. Pay attention to not only the content of the conversation, but also the mannerisms as they speak. Do they get excited and talk with their hands, for example? Do the individuals talk over one another, not allowing others to speak? Do they raise their voices when they get excited, or do they cover their mouths when they speak? These little details can help create context for dialogue beyond just a simple exchange of words.

* It helps you create characters with unique characteristics. Is there anything unusual about their appearance, for example, such as a scar or a tattoo, or do they walk with a noticeable limp?

* It helps you build a story about them. Since you probably don’t know these individuals personally, you can create a story about them. Where do they come from, and where are they going? What are their dreams, their motivations? What are their fears? What kind of work do they do? Are they married or single? What kind of personality do they have – shy and withdrawn, or outgoing and friendly? Give them a name, a home, a life, and you have the ideal set up for your character.

If you want to improve your writing, start with developing good people watching skills.

How Your Work Space Can Inspire Better Creative Work

What does your work space say about you? If someone were to walk into your office, cubicle or other area where you work, what would they see? Would they see stacks of papers and books littered around the room? Would the room appear dark and dreary? Does it drain your energy and make you feel sad?

More important, how do you feel when you work there? Does the space inspire you to do your best work? Do you feel creative and energized, or do you feel bored and depressed?

If your work area doesn’t inspire you to be productive, or doesn’t energize you to do your best work, it’s time to mix things up. Here are a few typical problem areas and how to fix them.

  • Cluttered space. Obviously, cluttered space isn’t conducive to productivity. If you have stacks of papers, books, magazines, folders and other junk lying around, how can you possibly think clearly? Take an hour or two to sort through your papers and file them away or toss, put the books back on their shelves and clear your desk of unnecessary items.
  • Dark, depressing environment. There’s nothing more discouraging that working in a dark, depressing environment. Lighten things up. Add a cool, modern lamp to your desk for better task lighting while you read or write. Paint the walls a bright, cheerful color, and keep the shades up during the day to let in natural sunlight.
  • Too many distractions. If you prefer a quiet place to work or study, the local coffee shop may not be your best bet. With music playing overhead and a steady rush of people coming in and out of the shop, it can prove too distracting. To create your own quiet space, preferably with a door that you can shut out interruptions. If you live with others, make it clear to them that you do not want to be disturbed. Set regular office hours too, and stick with them.
  • Much like the cluttered space, disorganization can also be distracting, causing you to feel unfocused and miss deadlines. You may have tossed out a lot of junk, but you still need to find a place for what’s left. I like to set up file folders and label them for each project I’m working on. I may have a file for magazine articles I want to read, another for receipts for my tax returns, and another for story ideas for my blog. Make sure you store the files where you can find them easily; in other words, don’t leave them on your desk or lying around your living room floor.
  • Mood-killer. If your work space is dark, depressing and doesn’t inspire you, make you feel comfortable or kills your spirit, it’s time for a change. A few changes to your décor can lift your spirits. Put a few (two or three at the most) photos of loved ones on your desk, a vase of fresh flowers or other colorful mementos from your travels to spice up your space. Open the windows and let in fresh air, pushing old, stagnant air out. Bring your pet to work with you, if it’s allowed. There’s something about having your favorite furry friend near you while you work that is soothing and comforting, inspiring you to focus on your project.
  • Too uncomfortable. Consider your seating. Where do you sit when you work? At a desk? Or do you lounge on your couch with a laptop in your lap? How and where you sit can impact your ability to concentrate and produce quality work. For example, if you sit at a desk, make sure your computer is at a comfortable eye level and you can type without pain or discomfort. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor as you work, and the chair is at a comfortable height without hurting your back. Experts suggest getting up once an hour and walk around so your legs do not stiffen up from sitting for so long.

These are just a few ideas to help you create a more inviting work space that lifts your spirit and encourages you to produce your best creative work.

 

What Does Bob Dylan’s Nobel Peace Prize Mean for Other Songwriters?

Since Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature last week, there’s been a debate among literary artists whether songwriters should be considered for such a high honor. After all, critics say, the prize is for the best works of literature, not songwriting.

Jodi Picoult, author of several novels including My Sister’s Keeper, tweeted “I’m happy for Bob Dylan, but #ButDoesThisMeanICanWinaGrammy?” Critics argue that giving the award to a songwriter weakens the meaningfulness of the award, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, other best-selling authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King praised the move.

That begs the question: can song lyrics be considered poetry or literature in the same vein as, say, T.S. Eliot? Yes, when those lyrics can stand alone without music, say supporters.

Clearly, Dylan’s body of work falls into that category, like this section from Mr. Tambourine Man. (“Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind/Down the foggy ruins of time/Far past the frozen leaves/The haunted frightened trees/Out to the windy bench/Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow). Certainly, Dylan’s lyrics in protest songs like “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” have struck a chord with the American public.

By naming Bob Dylan the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, does that open the door for other songwriters to be considered for this honor? If Dylan can receive the Nobel Peace Prize, why not Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie or Joan Baez?

Perhaps it is time for the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize every year, to begin awarding a prize for the arts, to honor the best works in theater, dance, art and music. What a radical idea, almost as radical as Bob Dylan himself.