I’m not in favor of getting a divorce at the first sign of trouble. But there had been so many signs of trouble in this marriage that the couple might as well have purchased a billboard.

Her husband wasn’t abusive, but he was pretty selfish, more interested in hunting and fishing and kicking around than in family or spouse or responsibility. And she was the kind of person who had the unique ability to make a husband want to hunt, fish and kick around all of the time.

But when lending money, I always recall something I learned as a kid: Lending money to a friend usually winds up as a gift. So I wanted to make it count.

“I’ll lend you the money,” I told her, “but you have to tell me you’re through with your marriage and actually want a divorce.”

And then I looked her in the eye and waited. And waited. And waited. But she wouldn’t – couldn’t – bring herself to say she was through with the guy.

So I kept my money, and she kept her husband.

She knew what she wanted, but she didn’t want to ask for it – she just wanted everything to work out. And to this day, she and her husband remain together, seemingly hating every minute but unwilling to do anything about it.

It’s the same thing with job applicants; I talk with quite a few during the summer after seniors have grabbed their diplomas and hightailed it out of college. These prospective employees make the effort to send me a letter or an e-mail volunteering for a job. They take the time to dress up (most of them, anyway) and talk with me about their skills.

But it’s a rare, almost unheard of, applicant who actually says: I want this job and here’s what I’m going to do if I get it. And over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that if someone doesn’t come right out and say it, they’re ultimately not worth hiring.

Too many people sleepwalk through their lives, doing whatever pops in front of them but taking no joy in it. With graduation season just behind us, my advice to the newly minted, diploma-toting optimists is to keep your eyes wide open and grab your personal tiger by the tail. Jobs, marriages, advanced education, whatever: If you want something, you have to be willing to ask for it and work at it.

Otherwise, in employment as in marriage, you’ll get what you settle for, rather than what you’ve dreamed.

Unless, of course, those happen to be one and the same.