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Opinion Editorials

New trend in technology- sue for patent infringement, impede progress

Patent trolling is nothing new, but it is crossing into new territory where innovation is actually being stifled in the name of the almighty dollar.

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This is nothing new

For those of you focused on the business of selling real estate or any other small business, you may not know that patent infringement is part of every day life in the legal system. You may not know that your broker has been sued for patent infringement dozens of times (Keller Williams, RE/MAX, etc.) as a natural part of business and it has nothing to do with real estate but everything to do with the technology our industry is using and developing.

Innovation is escalating at a break neck pace, but from time to time, a patent lawsuit stifles not only the very practice of modern real estate, but any innovation and strikes fear in the hearts of real estate companies, just so patent trolls can make a buck (please take a second to read the link about patent trolls, it will speed this argument up considerably).

It is to be expected, however, that when a market is down and suffering that lawsuits will increase – it is a true sign of market conditions. Therefore, this is just a drop in the bucket… we will see more of these cases popping up as we predicted in the Genius30 awards as it is an inevitability in any industry.

Enter case number one: mobile real estate search

In a board meeting for a major real estate marketing and web development firm, we listened as they pitched their next move which would be a “social media widget” they could resell because they were so terrified of making a move that involved real estate search that they were at a loss for how to expand their business.

Why were they so scared? The “Boopsie lawsuit” wherein Smarter Agent sues everyone from Zillow to ZipRealty, claiming they own the patent on “mobile real estate search” and everyone that has an app that allows consumers to search for real estate on their phone is violating their trademark. If you live in 2011 and are a real estate professional, especially a broker, you can’t allow your consumers to search real estate unless it’s done through their platform according to their suit.

Case number two: real estate search

We cover the real estate search industry on nearly a daily basis as it has so many moving parts and is growing and innovating at an amazing pace. There is a wrench in the system, however, known as the “REAL lawsuit” which claims a 1991 patent for real estate search (more specifically they claim they own the process of creating a database of properties for sale, mapping results and offering zoom). Sounds like every single real estate website on the planet, no? Even Google.

The suit is broader and goes after many types of entities from Alain Pinel Realtors, Keller Williams, Move Inc., Georgia MLS, NAR, RE/MAX Gold, Pulte, Ryland and more. The National Association of Home Builders teamed up with the National Association of Realtors and Move, Inc. this week winning a countersuit to the claim and now REAL was remanded to further proceedings where they will go back to a lower court and explain what their patent covers more specifically.

A call for patent reform

The above cases are oversimplified for expediency, there are years worth of legal documents in both events. I’m not a lawyer, I don’t even play one on television, and none of this is legal advice (only my opinion, but I know that patent trolling is real and even when patent suits are legitimate, it seems that protection of a tech function for one company can stifle and freeze an entire industry. Some lawsuits (maybe even one of the above) go above and beyond to file their claims in area that are patent friendly, hundreds of miles from their headquarters, just to pad their claims while other companies are truly protecting a unique patent claim.

Can someone really own real estate search or mobile real estate search or mapping or hell, even “real estate?” Technically, yes. And technically, patent lawyers will pump this system for every penny it’s worth. And will Realtors suffer at the hands of these lawsuits? More importantly, will consumers? If innovation is frozen, yes. Patent reform must be taken seriously and as a Realtor, it seems like a far away topic to rally behind, but it absolutely is not (unless you don’t want consumers to be able to search for real estate anywhere besides your printed MLS book in your office one can only access via time machine).

Patent lawsuits and their impact on technology

Other reading to help you form a more rounded opinion on patent issues in today’s tech world:

  1. Fred Wilson, famed investor, outlines the Supreme Court ruling in the Bilski case, calls for patent reform and notes that software and tech patents are mostly a negative for startups.
  2. NTP sues Apple, Google, Microsoft, LG, HTC etc. claiming they own the patent on electronic mail over wireless communication systems. In other words, you can’t see email on your phone unless NTP says so.
  3. XPRT sues eBay, PayPal, claiming they confided electronic payment ideas with them years ago and that eBay’s filing for a patent acknowledges the values of those ideas. There’s a possible element of underdog here, but one can’t be sure.
  4. Patent trolling may continue despite the University of Texas report revealing that it does not have a good return.
  5. TechCrunch covers why patents hold back innovation not only for our tech toys but for important humanitarian projects like desalination of water.
  6. The Guardian shows all of the dozens of smartphone lawsuits each company has filed against the other and a more descriptive infographic shows what they’re suing for.
  7. TechRadium sues Twitter for mass messaging system (although I recall using AIM in high school, long before Twitter was thought up and possibly before TechRadium’s IRIS tech was developed, but who knows?).
  8. Apple sues HTC over more than 20 infringements of interface patents

The list goes on and on. Contact your local politician and tell them strongly that you are against patent trolling or that you support patent protection, but either way, we encourage reform of an easily abused system. This issue is not going away, it’s just getting warmed up.

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21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Jason

    March 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for the post. Patent technologies is not a new phenomenon but as you suggested is intensified with shifts in the market economy. Seeking legal counsel prior to patenting or using anything that might be questionable is a good idea. If anyone is in Michigan, there’s a great law firm that specializes in property law (intellectual, patent,etc.) and can be a great resource. Check them out here:www.sikoralaw.com

    Jason

  2. Rick Thomas

    March 28, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Your assertion of the ‘Boopsie lawsuit’ is not entirely correct the way I understand it. Smarter Agent is claiming they have a patent on the geographic location of a user, not search in general on a mobile device. That is a big difference.
    In other words, if I’m standing on the corner of 4th and Main, I can by my geographic position, search what is close to me.
    That in a nutshell I believe is their claim. If you take the geographic location of the search out of the application, then you should be in the clear. If they are asserting that any search on a mobile device falls under the patent, then the pdf you link clearly doesn’t make the case in my opinion. But like you said, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on the weekends either.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      Rick, it’s tricky because as we’re all saying, we’re not lawyers, but most real estate search apps ping your geographic location, especially those utilizing augmented reality (of which the number is growing). I’ve heard several interpretations, but the point remains that several innovators feel stifled by the lawsuit and are afraid to improve their offering in the event they get sued.

  3. Jim Colburn

    April 18, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Lani,

    You are absolutely right. Rent.com recently came out with their iPhone and Android apps, and surprise surprise, it does not include GPS-based searching. I bet you anything that this lawsuit has everything to do with their decision to not include GPS-based searching.

    • Lani Rosales

      April 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      Jim, I have a feeling it will impact several technologies in under the radar ways. That's a great case study, thanks for pointing them out!

    • Maciej

      July 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks for an interesting tip. It is even more interesting for me since I have developed a technology to provide those location based services without actually violating any of those patents. The technology actually never submits any location information to the server to get the nearby listings, a step on which, I believe, most (if not all) location based software is based on. This actually makes things interesting. 🙂

    • Erik Goldhar

      February 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

      Jim – we just re-launched Clikbrix (probably the first and certainly one of the most successful mobile solutions for Realtors and Brokers) and held off in including GPS search as one of our features. We need to see how this plays out.

      If you ask me patents should protect inventors. Smarter Agent did not invent Databases and they did not invent GPS. They combined the two and called it an invention.

      Before this patent there was a patent that protected serving up restaurant locations based on the GPS of the user. The process existed (and therefore legal prior art perhaps) and all SA did was change the content being served up not the process or the invention.

      Just my thoughts. Even without search Clikbrix still offers the best mobile solution for Realtors in the market today and, oh by the way, we are FREE.

      Great post Lani – Thank you!

      Erik Goldhar
      Clikbrix

  4. Berry Enloe

    August 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I am the Cofounder of REcake.com and can speak to this directly.
    We chose specifically not to violate this "patent"- yes it holds us up tremendously. As one franchise CEO described it to me, "It's like they patented breathing".
    And Rick is right- SA has several patents- all relating to real estate search "based on location of the mobile device"
    I am surprised that the USPTO has not been presented an Ex-Parte appeal of these patents. You can be sure we will do that as soon as we find it relevant.

    In the mean time we are very close to figuring out a way to do location bases search that does not violate any SA patent.

    So to Lani's point- yes, the SA patents are 100% stifling innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen overnight

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Minimalism doesn’t have to mean throwing out everything this instant – you can get similar benefits from starting on smaller spaces.

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Minimal desk with laptop, cup, books, and plant.

Minimalism. This trend has reared its head in many forms, from Instagram-worthy shots of near empty homes to Marie Kondo making a splash on Netflix with Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in 2019. If you’re anything like me, the concept of minimalism is tempting, but the execution seems out of reach. Paring down a closet to fit into a single basket or getting rid of beloved objects can sometimes seem too difficult, and I get it! Luckily, minimalism doesn’t have to be quite so extreme.

#1. Digitally

Not ready to purge your home yet? That’s fine! Start on your digital devices. Chances are, there are plenty of easy ways to clean up the storage space on your computer or phone. When it comes to low stakes minimalism, try clearing out your email inbox or deleting apps you no longer use. It’ll increase your storage space and make upkeep much more manageable on a daily basis.

It’s also worth taking a look through your photos. With our phones so readily available, plenty of us have pictures that we don’t really need. Clearing out the excess and subpar pictures will also have the added bonus of making your good pictures easily accessible!

Now, if this task seems more daunting, consider starting by simply deleting duplicate photos. You know the ones, where someone snaps a dozen pics of the same group pose? Pick your favorite (whittle it down if you have to) and delete the rest! It’s an easy way to get started with minimizing your digital photo collection.

#2. Slowly

Minimalism doesn’t have to happen all at once. If you’re hesitant about taking the plunge, try dipping your toe in the water first. There’s no shame in taking your time with this process. For instance, rather than immediately emptying your wardrobe, start small by just removing articles of clothing that are not wearable anymore. Things that are damaged, for instance, or just don’t fit.

Another way to start slow is to set a number. Take a look at your bookshelf and resolve to get rid of just two books. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for minimizing while not pushing too far. Besides, chances are, you do have two books on your shelf that are just collecting dust.

Finally, it’s also possible to take things slow by doing them over time. Observe your closet over the course of six months, for instance, to see if there are articles of clothing that remain unworn. Keep an eye on your kitchen supplies to get a feel for what you’re using and what you’re not. Sure, that egg separator you got for your wedding looks useful, but if you haven’t picked it up, it probably has to go.

#3. Somewhat

Sometimes, minimalism is pitched as all or nothing (pun intended), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because I want to purge my closet doesn’t mean I’m beholden to purging my kitchen too. And that’s okay!

Instead of getting overwhelmed by everything that needs to be reduced, just pick one aspect of your life to declutter. Clear out your wardrobe and hang onto your books. Cut down on decorations but keep your clothes. Maybe even minimize a few aspects of your life while holding onto one or two.

Or, don’t go too extreme in any direction and work to cut down on the stuff in your life in general. Minimizing doesn’t have to mean getting rid of everything – it can mean simply stepping back. For instance, you can minimize just by avoiding buying more things. Or maybe you set a maximum number of clothes you want, which means purchasing a new shirt might mean getting rid of an old one.

The point is, there are plenty of ways to start on the minimalist lifestyle without pushing yourself too far outside your comfort zone. So, what are you waiting for? Try decluttering your life soon!

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Opinion Editorials

Why tech talent is in the process of abandoning Austin

(AUSTIN TECH) There is no single reason Austin tech talent is packing their bags, but a handful of factors have collided to create a tenuous situation.

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austin tech talent leaving

“Nothing’s keeping me here” is a phrase we keep hearing around town. Being in the center of the tech space, we’ve been able to keep my finger on the pulse, and what we thought was primarily housing that is driving folks out of town turns out to be far more insurmountable than we could have ever imagined.

A perfect storm is brewing as the housing market collides with a dramatically transformed workforce that has become accustomed to working remotely and shifted priorities.

Last time Austin was bleeding talent, the year was 2011 and most investments were focused on early stage startups and there weren’t enough open roles that were senior level, so we started losing people to competitive markets. In response, we built a massive employment hub (the Austin Digital Jobs Group (ADJ)) and volunteered hundreds of hours to help make Austin a magnet for high quality employers.

This time around, we expressed to the Group of over 55K members that we were frustrated that people were confiding in us that they were leaving (or considering it). Some are even people that we all imagined to be part of the very fabric of Austin tech. We feel helpless this time.

Many of these talented people said that the soaring housing prices in Austin had them eyeballing smaller towns in Texas, or worse, their hometowns outside of the state. There are only so many times you can try to buy a house, get rejected, or get outbid on 22 homes before you start looking at other places. Only so many people will accept a billion percent rent increase at renewal time before thinking that going back home to Louisiana’s lookin’ pretty good.

This week, Austin CultureMap reported that Austin now ranks number two among the most overvalued home markets in America.

Tesla is getting ready to open their Gigafactory, Oracle is moving their headquarters to Austin, and Samsung is currently trying to get buy-in from city officials in Taylor so they can build their mega plant near Austin. Home investors and firms from all over are salivating.

It all feels both exciting, yet overwhelming when you’re going to buy a house here, only to get outbid by $150K over asking price from an investor in California. It’s been demoralizing for so many.

Because we also own a massive real estate publication, we’re firmly in touch with that sector, and brokers in Austin are telling us that the summer was out of control and overheated, but they’re already seeing that hyper-activity slow a bit.

Housing alone isn’t enough of a reason for an entire sector to be packing up or dreaming of leaving. So what gives?

At last count, a thread in ADJ on this topic is at 806 comments, and I personally received several hundred more via direct message with people in tech explaining why they’re leaving or considering leaving.

There are challenges within the city limits of Austin that have bubbled over like crime and separately, the contentious issue of houselessness – it’s an ongoing and very serious issue that has people leaving downtown, but not necessarily leaving the surrounding areas.

So if housing isn’t the exclusive driving force, how has that problem combined with the employment market shifts? How has the job market changed in such a way that talent is ready to hit the eject button on this town? It boils down to a changing talent pool, fractures in the hiring process, a shift in priorities, and a lingering brokenness in the entire process that is exacerbating all other conditions.

Let’s dig into that further.

Because of the global pandemic, remote work has become a staple in the tech industry, teams adjusted and realized the office is more of a luxury than a requirement, and many large brands swear that they’ll never require their employees to come into the office again.

For that reason, tech workers’ expectations have been forever changed. Fully remote options will drive the market for years to come, and hybrid options or flex work hours will also be how large tech firms attract and retain talent – ping pong tables and chill vibes will be less of an appealing sales pitch.

The pandemic has also shifted the talent pool to include everyone in America – if all workers are remote, employers no longer have to look just to the local workforce. This talent pool expansion is a double-edged sword – if an Austin tech company can look to Nebraska for workers, then remote workers can look outside of Austin to other budding tech hubs, potentially shifting the entire environment. That’s the main driver for Austin brands continuing to hire in Austin, lest the entire ecosystem fail.

All that said, a disconnect in the job market in Austin tech remains. Holdouts from attitudes and old systems of the past linger on.

A theme we continue to hear from high quality candidates is that employers have increasingly unrealistic expectations. You already know the stereotype of job listings that say they’re entry level but require a decade of work experience. But as budgets tightened in the face of uncertainty, Austin tech companies are becoming phenomenally great at hiring someone to do three jobs that pay less than one. One of our Group members asserted that employers are looking for turnkey employees. It used to be that employer job descriptions were a realistic wish list and that if you hit over 60% of them, you might get an interview. Now people believe that the requirements are becoming unrealistic and if you meet less than 100% of them, there is zero chance of an interview. Many have complained that hiring managers and recruiters continue to not be aligned, slowing the process repeatedly.

The timing of the acceleration of unrealistic expectations has locals feeling like the pandemic created conditions that allowed for employers to take advantage of job seekers who must be desperate since the world is upside down. I don’t personally believe this has anything to do with the pandemic, rather it is a continuation of an ongoing trend.

If you think this is an exaggeration, just this week a job seeker let me know that a recruiter sent them a job description that required the “ability to code in any language.” WTF. The recruiter was serious. Try telling me this isn’t out of control and I will laugh right in your face, friend.

Another serious point of contention in Austin is that salary levels are not increasing anywhere near the skyrocketing living expenses.

Many believe the salary levels are a decade old and simply can’t keep up with the market conditions in Austin and while we’ll leave the “you are a remote worker, you shouldn’t earn as much since you moved to a less expensive locale” debate to another day, we will firmly assert that this problem will hold back the tech innovation and the overall economy in Austin.

In that massive thread in our Group, one member asked, “So I guess a question is: do we accept the idea that Austin is now only for those making 6 figures??”

What is so disheartening about the salary conditions is that changing this couldn’t possibly be done overnight – it requires time and structural changes, and the bigger a company is, the slower it is to turn the proverbial ship.

Meanwhile, numerous people retired early during the pandemic, or began freelancing or consulting full time. Many of these people aren’t likely to return to the workforce under current conditions, and they feel like they have less roots in Austin – they can live anywhere now. See how remote work has caused a ripple effect?

Do you remember when some tech executives in Austin reluctantly sent employees home as the pandemic hit, flippantly warning that it wouldn’t be a coronacation!? Bad behaviors like this and other employee treatment during the pandemic haven’t and will not be forgotten – the memories will remain as fresh as the time you got shoved by that bully in elementary school. You may have forgiven, but you’ll never forget. Trust has been broken.

Trust was also broken during the pandemic when people lost what they believed to be stable jobs. It has created a certain trepidation in the marketplace.

The pandemic has forever altered all of our lives as individuals. Thousands died from COVID-19, and those of us left behind lost loved ones. We were all sent home with no job security. Many of us became homeschool teachers and somehow also had to keep up with our careers. We were forced to share spaces with our partners, our children, our parents, our family.

Some would think all of this is a recipe for resentment, but in the majority of cases, what has happened is a serious shift in priorities to favor the family, to appreciate quality time, to find solace in more quiet time and a less full calendar.

People tell us they don’t intend on going out for drinks after work when they’re called back into the office – it turns out we actually like our kids or partners now that we’ve gotten to know them, or that we value our newfound connection to old hobbies. The priorities aren’t fleeting – this pandemic has changed us.

Because of this fundamental change in who we are, ongoing problems in the employment market are now magnified.

“Isms” still plague the hiring process. Ageism continues to be a very serious problem in Austin tech, for example. People tell us that they’re still experiencing sexism, racism, ableism, and every other sort of discrimination. In 2021. It’s unbelievable. You can say all of that is simply perception, but in this scenario, perception truly is reality. And because our priorities have shifted, our giveashitters are pretty low when it comes to tolerating bad actors.

That same shift has also lowered tolerance levels for burnout. One member in the Group pointed out that after the market crash in 2008, resource levels were depleted – and here we are in 2021, they haven’t been restored. People were burned out before the pandemic, and now they’re moving to the country to work remotely and begin healing this burnout that is coming to a head.

It’s difficult to deal with ghosting (be it computer-aided or overworked recruiters) when you’re already burned out and thinking you’re the only one. It’s giving this sector a terrible reputation that is spreading.

Resources aren’t the only factor here that is stuck in 2008. Companies were so used to getting a flood of applications for every single job listing, their ATS (applicant tracking system) filters were implemented accordingly. The volume of applications has dropped, yet the filters remain overly restrictive. They put their ATS on auto-pilot once upon a time, and it remains that way, yet they continue to reach out to us in confusion, asking us where all the applicants are.

In the eyes of tech talent, the hiring process has deteriorated. Simultaneously, in the eyes of companies hiring, the process has been improved. Enhanced.

The disconnect here is not in the unrealistic expectations previously outlined, or the rising opacity in salaries, but in the actual mechanics of the hiring process. Even smaller companies have added additional rounds of interviews and ridiculous red tape in what is an effort in vain to compete with the Googles of the world. There’s a lot of what I would call “playing office” going on, with non-technical hiring managers hiring for technical roles, or unrelated staff being roped into panel interviews to weigh in on whether or not someone is a “culture fit.”

The process has become lengthy and demanding with endless personality tests, whiteboard tests, Zoom calls, questionnaires, more phone and video calls, aptitude tests, and so forth. Most people have come to accept these as hoops to jump through, but the practice of having job seekers do extensive unpaid projects as part of their job application is creating deep resentment and a growing resistance. No one expects to shake a hand and get a job today, but doing a 12 hour assignment that is due in 24 hours is unreasonable, especially unpaid and with no promise of their intellectual property being protected.

It started off as a way to aide candidates into demonstrating their true skills and it was simple. But over time, the practice has “evolved.” It feels to some like every Austin tech recruiter and hiring manager went to some evil underground conference a few years ago and were brainwashed into thinking that if they ALL assign abusive tasks, no one in the sector will notice because they’ll just accept that it’s “how things are done now.” But that’s not happening and the overly complicated process combined with other market factors is driving seriously qualified tech talent out of Austin.

The hiring process has continued to degrade and for no good reason. We actually built ADJ in a way that would directly connect hiring manager and job seeker, promoting the concept of simplifying the hiring process. Yet here we are.

The final nail in the coffin is that candidates and employers are blaming each other for a power imbalance, and thinking that their situation is unique. A feeling of isolation is growing due to peoples’ inability to openly discuss this process – both hiring folks and job seekers.

The bottom line is that numerous market conditions have converged to create a scenario where people are tired and simply won’t settle anymore. Expectations have changed. And we have changed as people.

We will inevitably get hate mail because of this editorial and folks will say that the very publication of this piece will push people out of town, but we would argue that if no one makes an effort to diagnose the growing illness, it will metastasize.

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Opinion Editorials

Coping tactics for exhausted working parents living with pandemic life side effects

(EDITORIAL) Exhausted working parents have been forced into wearing too many hats by the pandemic – here are some coping tactics that can help.

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The last 18 months have been undeniably difficult for many people, but families have encountered some of the more exhausting side effects of the pandemic – from isolation affecting small children to an inability to rest effectively. HBR’s Daisy Dowling has some tips to help anyone, but especially working family members, start to find some value in themselves again after being wiped out for so long.

Dowling’s first technique involves making a list of all of the positive things you have done for your job or your family. It’s an expansive list, to be sure – she mentions things like cooking for your family each day and keeping your cool in Zoom meetings in which coworkers are being annoying. Keeping a tally of your accomplishments in the last year and a half may give you a much-needed confidence boost.

It’s also a good way to check in on things like special skills and job experience for your resume, though Dowling warns against using your more official hiring documents as a lens for this activity.

Another step is more of a spiritual one: It involves labeling each distinct phase of the pandemic – Dowling encourages the reader to be “serious or flippant, basic or unique” at their discretion – and separating them with lines, saving your current phase for last. This is a less-active, arguably less-productive task than the last one, but it can help you close a lot of mental doors (or tabs, if you prefer) and allow you to move on to the next “phase” of this collective experience.

Finding your “point of control” is another notion posited by Dowling, and it centers around figuring out what you can actually control in your life. For most of us, there isn’t much that fits this description; Dowling assures that this is fine, and that finding any point (no matter how small) where you feel entirely in control is sufficient.

Possible contenders include anything from your wake-up routine to the shape in which you keep your house.

You don’t need to focus on work or your family for this exercise, either. As important as those two arenas are, finding your point of control should involve your desires and nothing else. In this case, it’s all about you – and, if your familial pandemic experience has been anything like everyone else’s, you could probably use some you time.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Dowling recommends taking some time to focus on your career – and nothing else.

Even if it’s just a tiny chunk of time per week (she mentions that 15 minutes or so is fine), part of reintegrating into the workforce involves conscious planning and thought about your job. It’s hard to wear the parent hat, the employee hat, and the at-home-personality hat all at once; this is your chance to take off all but one of them for a while.

Finally, using your experience to mentor or tutor a colleague or prospective employee can do wonders for your self-esteem, especially because it can help remind you about your true skill set and how much you actually know about your job. Nothing makes your expertise more apparent than working with someone who needs things broken down into basic components, and you’re doing your field a service along the way.

Dowling concludes by acknowledging that not all of these techniques will work for everyone, but the key is trying for now. “Whatever the case, you’ve just taken a critical, proactive step forward,” she says of anyone who has attempted something on this list. “You’re finding new ways to be a committed professional, a loving parent, and yourself at the same time.”

Even if you aren’t a parent, take a shot at some of these techniques – you may find yourself coming out of a pit you didn’t even know you were occupying.

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