John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to

I am at a crossroads in my career and need some sound advice. I work at a job I’m good at, with a great boss and co-workers, yet I wonder if I could be doing better elsewhere. LinkedIn recently posted an opening at a place where I know I would be a great fit. Plus the salary is a bit more than I make now, and the job offers room for advancement. Should I stay put and stay happy, or chance misery for a few dollars more and the possibility of growth? I am happy working for a great company, but am I too complacent? Should I feel guilty that I’m not more ambitious? Well, if you really like your current job and friends at work, my advice is to get more ambition at your current place. It’s tough for a leopard to change its spots. Ambition can’t really be taught. The fire is within your belly or it isn’t. If you are a millennial, your generation, more than any other, seems to job-hop, not really trying to climb the success ladder at one place. One woman with who I serve on a nonprofit board told me that she “is not defined by her job and her workplace.” She wants to be defined by her relationships with her friends. But it wouldn’t hurt to explore the job possibility simply to get a sense of the people involved. You mentioned that the opening “offers room for advancement.” Try to think more about room for advancement at the job where you are now. I am on LinkedIn as well, and I see job postings pop up all the time that might suit me.

My bottom line for you: Do some exploring, but stay in a place that makes you happy when you come to work.

I sent a check to my niece for graduation and received a lovely thank-you note. But the problem is she didn’t write it. Her mother did. I recognized my sister-in-law’s handwriting. I am appalled that she would do such a thing. This brings over-parenting to a new level. Would it be wrong for me to mention it the next time I see her? Or should I simply forget the whole thing? At least I got a thank-you note! I see too many families giving a pass to the next generation. It is always appropriate to point out teachable moments in behavior and proper manners. Parents increasingly want to be best buddies with their kids. I can always tell when a thank-you note has been written under parental pressure or if it was original, just the way that school admissions officers can tell if an essay was the student’s own work or the efforts of a paid consultant or coach. An admissions officer at Brown University some years ago said to me: “I have a whole file of essays entitled, ‘My Summer on the Kibbutz,’ and they thought they could impress me.”

What the child has to understand about thank-you notes, real ones, is that the recipient then knows that the child “gets it” and is a deserving person. If you instead assume the child is selfish, then the grown-up will not be in a hurry to give the ungrateful one another gift. A smart child—even a cynical one—should know that “sucking up” in the right way can be a wise move. It would probably lead to more gifts in the future.

Tell your sister-in-law about your feelings. Tell her that she is doing her daughter no favors by shielding her from real life. You will feel better if you teach them both a lesson. And you’ll be giving your niece a better present than just money.

I recently received an invitation to a surprise 40th birthday party for my best friend. On the invitation, there was a request for a donation toward a group gift for the birthday girl. I was planning on buying my friend a gift that I know she’d like, and I’m not sure what this group gift would be. I don’t like being forced to come up with money for something I don’t even have a choice in: Is it tacky to ask for money in an invitation? Something about this whole thing strikes me as wrong. Should I just pay and hope for the best? Yes, pay for the group gift and don’t overthink this subject. Sometimes having other people make a practical decision for you takes the heat off. This makes it easy for you. If you want to personalize your celebration of your friend’s birthday, take her to dinner sometime and pay for the evening. This will emphasize how much you really care for your best friend. And it will separate you from the rest of the crowd and make you even more special. Dare to be different. ◆

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