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Tips for Adulthood: Five Household Items You Can Do Without

pickle

pickleOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband is a gadget freak. He loves coming home with all manner of things that ostensibly serve to make life easier. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But the other day he had a real doozy. Having visited the local hardware store, he came home with a device – wait for it – that extracts pickles from a pickle jar. (Cue: “Who Stole the Pickle from the Pickle Jar?”)

No, really, he did. It looks like a narrow plastic syringe for giving kids medicine, except that when you push it, four tiny metal pincer claws emerge to grab that elusive pickle. Nuff’ said.

Inspired by this dubious purchase (to be fair, it only set us back only about one pound thirty), I herewith give you five household items you (really) can do without:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Pickle via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Visit Argentina

tango

tangoOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve just come back from a short holiday in Argentina – the land that brought you Eva Peron,  the Tango, Gauchos and so much more. I am using this occasion to share a post I wrote about Argentina seven years ago, when I last visited this magical country. The idea is to convince you why it might be worth your while to plan a trip there in the future, if you haven’t already visited.

To wit, here are five reasons to visit Argentina:

1. The food. When I say “the food,” I really should calibrate this by saying “the meat.” It’s no secret that Argentine’s consume an inordinate amount of meat. (They have the highest per capital consumption of beef in the world.) It’s not at all unusual for them to have beef for lunch and dinner – sometimes even for breakfast too, for good measure! And they have no concerns that this is at all unhealthy. So it was with some trepidation that I warned my husband – who fancies himself a Pollo-Vegetarian – that we would be consuming a lot of meat on our holiday and that there would be nowhere to hide. (Except pasta; because of their strong Italian heritage, Argentines also eat a lot of pasta.) But lo and behold! He loved it. Once our hosts started cranking up the asado (barbeque), he thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Lamb, pig, cow – you name it. They really know how to prepare it in the most succulent ways imaginable. (Shame that my daughter announced mid-way through the first week that she was a vegetarian. I told her that little experiment in identity-formation would have to wait until we got home.)

2. Tango. I’m sorry. I know that it may sound cheesy, but you simply cannot leave Argentina without seeing a Tango. You don’t need to go to one of the over-priced dinner-theatre shows in central Buenos Aires to do this. We saw our first Tango on a square in the middle of the Capital’s artsy San Telmo neighborhood one afternoon, and the second one performed by my friend’s 78-year-old parents in in her living room on Christmas Eve. There is something utterly captivating about the intricacy of the footwork, the dramatic flourish of the music and the smoldering, sexy undercurrent of the dance itself. Have a look.

3. Glaciers. After a week in Buenos Aires, we headed South to Patagonia. (While you’re there, get a hold of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. Great travel partner.) I’ll be honest. I’d never given much thought to Patagonia before, beyond the odd nod to those super-cozy, colorful fleeces we all don. But Patagonia is also home to the most amazing Glacier National Park. I’d seen glaciers years ago in the United States and Canada, and I thought they were pretty cool. But those paled by comparison. The glaciers in Patagonia were unbelievable – each one had its own shape, character and personality, almost – and extended on for miles. If you were lucky, you could witness a small piece crumble, break off and fall into the water – adding to the pool, which was truly spectacular.

4. Penguins. Even further South lies Tierra del Fuego, the self-described “end of the world.” We took a boat from the city of Ushuaia to check out some penguin colonies, along a route once traveled by Charles Darwin himself. (Thank goodness all that seventh grade social studies finally came in handy!) Particularly cool – if you ever make it this far South – is the Museo Akatushun on the Estancia Harberton, a working museum/laboratory on one of the little islands along the Beagle Channel where they dissect and display marine wildlife from the region. Check out the bone house – an olfactory wonder!

5. Psychoanalysis. I read somewhere not so long ago that Argentina has more psychologists per capita than any other country in the world. So when my good friend there suggested that I take my eleven year-old to see an analyst to deal with his asthma, I had to smile. My own view is that my kid probably needs a new inhaler rather than a shrink, but I love the fact that people there are so open about therapy. God knows they could they use some of that up here in the U.K.

Image: Tango Dancing in Argentina by werner22brigitte via pixabay

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Dating in Later Life…for Friends

friendship

friendshipI went on a date recently. No, I wasn’t cheating on my husband. I was meeting a friend of a friend for coffee.

Much like real “set-ups,” I put this one off for a long time. Our mutual friend had introduced us months ago. And while I periodically emailed this woman – and she me – to try and find a convenient place and date, neither one of us really put much effort into it. The meeting languished on my “long” To Do list, falling somewhere between “polish silver jewelry” and “figure out religion.”

And then, one day, when I was scrolling through my email, I came across her name and thought: “What the heck?”

Finding Your Type

I’ve written before about how hard it can be to find your “type” when you’re dating for friends in adulthood.

On the surface, this lady I eventually met up with had everything going for her: she was a psycho-therapist (and we all know how I love a good therapist), she specialises in mid-life transitions (Hello!) and she was Jewish (Nuff’ said).

But, of course, people can look great on paper and still be total duds in real life. (I once went on a date with a guy in DC who seemed like reasonable enough boyfriend material, but who then spent the entire evening telling me how he’d been been listed as one of Washington’s 100 most powerful people. Right after telling me his salary and his work-out regime.) Blech.

Not so here. Within half an hour, this therapist and I began jointly analyzing the link between my being the youngest of four children and how that affects my attitudes towards my own kids’ sibling rivalry.

I knew I’d found my people. By the time we ordered our second pot of fresh mint tea, I was in love.

Why Real Life Friendships Matter

In the hyper-connected world which we all inhabit these days, it’s easy to fall back on virtual friends.  I, myself, have made loads of friends Online over the years. Some of those friendships have now claimed a seat at the table on my personal Board of Directors. Others are people I simply enjoy catching up with from time to time on Facebook.

But the internet can’t yield the sort of benefits that derive from close, real-life friendships. Research shows that having robust, diverse social relationships can have a host of wellness benefits, including longevity, happiness and professional success.

And it’s not just close friends who matter, either. The New York Times recently published an article on the importance of loose ties. The thrust of the article was that by cultivating low-level friendships at places we frequent – whether churches, bars or PTA meetings – we become less lonely and more empathetic. These “low stakes” friendships are also a fantastic source of recommendations for everything from hair salons to accountants.

The Value of Friendship

In a compelling column in 2014, New York Times columnist David Brooks declared that if someone magically gave him $500 million, he’d use it to foster adult friendships. His vision was sort of like a giant summer camp, composed of grown-ups drawn from all different backgrounds. Brooks believes that having close friends helps you make better decisions, adhere to a higher standard of behavior, and – ultimately – be more authentic.

I’m totally with him. I’m not sure I’ve got the cash right now to go to camp. But I do know that I need to keep putting myself out there, meeting new people, and soldering old ties.

In the meantime, I’m having dinner next month with my new Bestie. She’s bringing her husband and I’m bringing mine.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll become friends too.

Image: Backlit Dawn Foggy Friendship by Helen Lopes via Pexels

Why Anger is Useful

anger

angerI once took a course in college called Anger. Because I went to Brown University –  which has a reputation for being a bit groovier than the rest of the Ivies – it’s easy to mock a course called “Anger.” As one of my fellow Brunonians once quipped – “What did you do in that class? Hold hands, sing Kumbaya and pass around a ‘talking stick‘?

Sort of. There was a final project where you were encouraged to develop your own personal reflection on anger. One person did an indigenous dance. Someone else sang a song. I read aloud from a short story I’d written about discovering that my college boyfriend was cheating on me.

But most of the course was about reading. Each week, the professor would focus on one text –  the Old Testament, Moby Dick, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The students would write a one-page paper on the text and discuss it.  The punch line of the course  – but one you only came to once you’d digested all of these treatises – was that anger, in the end, was really about sadness. When we feel angry about something, it’s because we are actually hurt by someone or something. And anger is the emotion we often use to express that sadness.

That insight rung true to me then and it rings true to me now. I’ve been really angry lately. In one instance, it’s with a relative of mine who has proved to be a real disappointment. She’s done some horrible things, including to me and other members of my family, and some of those things are not fixable. In another case, I’m angry with a friend who didn’t show up for me when I asked him.

But when I sat down and thought  – and, more importantly, wrote about these experiences in my journal – I realized that I wasn’t really angry with either of these people.

I was sad. I was sad because in both instances, the people in question revealed a side of themselves that I either hadn’t seen before or didn’t want to see. And in revealing these less appealing sides of themselves,  I experienced a sense of loss. Loss for the person I thought they were – or perhaps more truthfully – loss of the person I wanted them to be.

Letting go of anything that matters to you is profoundly sad. It could be selling your childhood home or being laid off from the company you love or breaking up with your therapist. And, let’s face it:  feeling angry is a heckuva lot more comfortable for most of us than feeling sad.

But one of the realizations I’ve come to as I age is that I’m actually better off confronting sadness than avoiding it. So in embracing my own anger of late, I have tried to observe that feeling, peel it back and allow myself to feel the enormous grief of accepting what is, what is not, and what cannot be.

I won’t lie to you:  it ain’t fun. But it does feel more honest.

Image: Anger, Angry Bad, Isolated Dangerous by Geralt via Pixabay

 

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Authenticity: Life Lessons from my 18 Year-Old

tiger mom

tiger momIt’s a bit of a cliché to say that we learn more from our children than we teach them. I remember a close friend of mine coming to stay with us when her son was about six. They happened to show up on my husband’s birthday. When her son realized this, he produced a dollar from his pocket and gave it to my husband as a gift. It was one of the most touching things I’d ever witnessed. She turned to me and said, “He does a thousand things like this, every day.”

My own son is now 18. Yesterday, he finished his A-Level exams, which are equivalent to your final exams in High School. In a couple of months, he will be heading off to college.

My son has not been the easiest child to parent and we have definitely had our run-ins. He’s still not nice to his sister. And when I ask him to take out the weekly recycling, you’d think that I’d ask him to fill out my annual tax return.

But one thing he has always been is true to himself. From an early age, he would develop an obsession with a given topic and immerse himself in it. As a toddler, it was cars. He was so consumed by automobiles that when he was two, my husband and I abandoned getting him books at the local library. Instead, we took to obtaining those free, used-car supplements they used to give away in newspapers so that he could stay up to date on the latest models from Honda, Chevrolet and Cadillac.

When he was eight, he insisted on dressing up as Tamerlane for Halloween. (You know, the Turkic-Mongol ruler from the 14th century? Not a household term? Wasn’t for  me either. Can’t you just go as Batman like all the other kids?) He also began reading the Game of Throne books long before these were age-appropriate. (Though I blame my husband for that. No, honey, they aren’t quite the same as The Lord of the Rings series. Sorry.)

A few years back, as it came time to think about college, I began – in true Tiger Mom fashion – to harangue him for not doing more extra-curricular activities. British Universities could care less if you’re on the debate team or volunteer at the local homeless shelter. But American Universities eat that sh$% up. And since I knew that he was going to at least contemplate studying in the U.S., I began to entreat him to start thinking more strategically about how we would position himself to an American college audience.

He largely ignored me. Sure, he did a bunch of activities at school. But he never once did anything that didn’t genuinely interest him. Even after all these years, his main hobby remains – wait for it – reading.

“Reading isn’t a hobby!” I would shriek periodically. “You can’t list it on your application! You need to have more leadership roles!” And no, I’m not suggesting you follow my parenting lead. (Although at least I didn’t bribe someone to say that my son rowed crew or that he needed extra time on the SATs.)

I ranted and raved. And he kept on doing his thing. Eventually. I accepted that my trying to control his path in life was really about me trying to manage my own fears and anxieties about myself. So I gave up.

Needless to say, the whole college thing worked out just fine. But he also taught me a valuable lesson in my own life. Round about time that he was applying for college, I was trying to launch my own business. There were plenty of moments along that journey where I was tempted to throw in the towel and just go get a job – any job – that I *could* do. Rather than creating the job for myself that I actually wanted.

Watching my son gave me the courage to take some risks. Which in my case mostly meant creating a career that reflected my whole self, rather than just one part of it.

Which is another way of saying that my son taught me the value of authenticity. He showed me that the best path forward is always to be true to yourself. 

So thanks, pal. I needed that.

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Image: Siberian Tiger Mom with Cub by Mathias Appel via Flickr

 

Lifelong Learning: Cultivating Curiosity as we Age

Continuing Education

Continuing EducationNot long ago, I attended an all-day workshop on PowerPoint. It was designed for people who felt comfortable using the program, but who wanted to take it to the  next level. As I use slides all the time in my new consulting business, I thought it might be a useful skill to hone.

It was.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London twelve years ago, I’ve taken classes in everything from public speaking to improvisation to  how to write a business plan. In past lives, I’ve taken classes in freelance writing, beginning Hebrew as well as the  Continuing Ed class to end all Continuing Ed classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

People go back to school as adults for many different reasons. Often, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You collaborate. Above all, you have fun. (I’m currently eyeing a course entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway. Bring it on!)

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Continuing Education Adult Education Expo via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Tools for Adopting a Growth Mindset

working woman

working womanOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the things I enjoy most about my new life as a communications consultant is the variety it brings. One day I’m coaching a student on how to write a doctoral thesis …another day I’m editing a policy briefing…and the next I’m delivering a workshop on life skills for offices to a group of statisticians.

But dealing with that variety also has its challenges. Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings outside of the higher education and non-profit sectors to venture into commercial work. And as I begin working with a different sort of client, I am learning how to operate in an entirely new world – one that has its own vocabulary, mores and ethos.

I’ve long been a huge fan of  Carol Dweck’s concept of “the growth mindset.” This is the idea that we shouldn’t think about our basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, as fixed traits that are unalterable. Rather, she encourages people to embrace a “growth mindset,” one where people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. So as I make my foray into London’s financial center, “The City,” to drum up new clients, I am in full-on, growth mindset mode.

Here are five tools for adopting a growth mindset:

a.  Think of it as part of your lifelong learning. Dweck maintains that a growth mindset fosters a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. In a similar vein, one of the key takeaways from reading Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s brilliant book, The 100 Year Life, is that we need to abandon the traditional idea of a neatly arranged, three-staged life comprised of education, career and retirement. Instead, we need to embrace a multi-phased life course in which people keep learning throughout their lives, take lots of breaks and dip in and out of jobs and careers.  I think about my immersion in the private sector right now as a form of life-long learning, albeit one that doesn’t happen outside my job, but within it.

b.  Create some affirmations. One practical step that can help cultivate a growth mindset are affirmations. Affirmations are short, powerful statements of self-belief.  I adopted this practice – (which, like many others, I stole from Julia Cameron) – when I was writing my book manuscript last year. Telling myself things like, “I’m a good writer,” “I like my book,” and “My writing engages and connects with readers” was really helpful on those off days where I didn’t have flow or lost confidence in myself. But affirmations don’t have to just be creative. They can also apply to work, e.g.: “I am a great salesperson,”…”I enjoy client relationship management,”…”I love empowering people from all walks of life to achieve their full communications potential.” As a friend of mine who spent 30 years as a consultant in the private sector put it, “Don’t think of the Private Sector Delia as different to University Delia or Non-Profit Delia. She is the same person, who happens to be applying her skill set to a different sector.”

c.  Join a group. Another way to build confidence and gain insight when you’re embracing a new professional identity is to join a group of other people facing a similar challenge. Last year I joined a global network of professional women called Ellevate, right when I was launching my business. Ellevate operates chiefly through “squads” – groups of women of different ages, sectors and stages of their careers who meet virtually over 12 weeks to provide advice and support to one another. I found it incredibly reassuring – and useful – to bounce ideas about marketing, business development and networking with other women who were either going through – or had already been through – a similar set of challenges.

d.  Get a new wardrobeResearch has also shown that what we wear to work affects the way we are perceived by others and the way we perceive ourselves. So if we want to adopt a new mindset – “I am the boss lady now!” – changing our clothes can help change our mindset. I’m already well on my way to rocking the City

e.  In the end, of course, if you really want to lean into your growth mindset, there’s no substitute for Nike’s motto: “Just do it!” I was listening to the Creative Class podcast the other day, when host Paul Jarvis observed that “the cure to fear is action.” Although I normally dislike cold-calling people – hearing this clarion call – I grabbed the phone and adopted a “smile and dial” mindset. And guess what? I landed three leads in 24 hours.

How about you? What strategies have you employed to get yourself in the right mindset for a new professional identity?

Image: Woman taking phone call via Pexels

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Live Frugally Abroad

espresso machine

espresso machineI’ve been living abroad for twelve and a half years. One of the things I’ve noticed is how frugally our family lives in London compared to when we lived in the United States. Some of that has to do with the fact that I’ve worked freelance for a large chunk of that time period. And some of it has to do with the exorbitant cost of living in London.

But we’ve also made some smart choices about how to cut costs and I thought I’d share some of those with you today:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Espresso by Cahadikin via Flickr

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Tips for Adulthood: How to Cope with Sadness

sadness

sadnessOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been feeling sad lately. For many years of my life, I pushed sad feelings away whenever they arose. I felt that if I just kept moving fast enough, I could out-run them. Often times, I did.

But one of the things that happens as you age is that you begin to confront your fears. And, hopefully, you develop new coping strategies to deal with your demons.

So this week, here are some strategies for how to deal with sadness when it comes:

a.  Meditation. I’ve written before about the power of mindfulness. One of the things mindfulness encourages you to do is to treat your thoughts and emotions as fleeting. The idea is that just as the breath comes and goes, so, too, do thoughts and emotions. So when anger, or sadness, or regret pop up, you don’t push them away. You see them, acknowledge them, and move on. “Oh, that’s anger,” you say to yourself. Or: “Oh, I’m feeling sad now.” Over time,  instead of  saying, “I’m an angry person,” or “I’m depressed,” you begin to say: “I’m sad right now.” But tomorrow my happiness will return. Because it’s in there too.

b.  Reframing. Over on Maria Popova’s brilliant website, Brain Pickings, she writes about the famous Austrian poet and novelist, Maria Rainer Rilke, and how he conceptualised sadness. While we may feel paralyzed by it in the moment, the ability to sit silently with one’s sadness is also central to personal growth. As he so eloquently puts it, “…this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside.” Sadness is painful; yes. But it is also transformative. And it reminds us that we are alive.

c.  Poetry. I don’t read a lot of poetry. But when I’m sad, I find that poetry is the very best way to commune with my sadness and embrace it, as Rilke advocates. My mother, who does read a lot of poetry, has shared a lot of powerful poems with me over the years. Lately, I’ve been reading the Irish poet, James Claren Mangen, because, let’s face it, no one quite does sadness like the Irish. I’m quite taken with his poem, The Nameless One.

d.  Music.  As with poetry, I don’t actually listen to music all that much. My love for show tunes notwithstanding, I don’t tend to have a CD playing or Spotify playing in the background as I go about my life. When I’m sad, however, my go-to music is the music of my young adulthood, when I lived in Central America for a year. During that year, I spent an enormous amount of time listening to the likes of Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, two giants of the Nueva Trova movement. So lately, instead of podcasts, I’ve been listening to that music as I walk around my neighbourhood or do the laundry. Much like watching a sad film, or reading a sad novel, this music speaks on some deeper level to my feelings right now. If you speak Spanish – and even if you don’t – go have a listen to Mi Unicornio Azúl.

e.  Writing.  And, of course, I write. For me, nothing helps quite so much in confronting sadness as putting thoughts like these down on paper.

How do you cope when you feel sad?

Image: Sadness by Serge Mercier via Flickr

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Why I Struggle With Weekends

gardening

gardeningI was observing a presentation skills workshop recently aimed at a bunch of Alpha Male, hedge fund-type guys who wanted to improve their pitching skills. Attendance had been spotty; every hour or so, one of them disappeared to make a crucial phone call or broker a deal. During one of the breaks, one of them raised his hand and asked: “Couldn’t you deliver this on a weekend? I’m sure you’d get a better turnout.”

My first instinct would have been to say, “Sure! Let’s do that!” Instead, the guy running the workshop smiled politely and responded, “No, sorry. I don’t work on weekends. Weekends are for gardening and spending time with my family.”

I was floored.

Part of it is that I’ve been drawn to a series of careers over the years that don’t lend themselves to normal work weeks. My first job was in academia. When you’re a junior professor, you’re evaluated on how much you produce, not the quality of your teaching.  So weekends are gold for advancing your research, free of the distraction of students and committee meetings.

My next career – journalism – wasn’t any better. When you’re writing on deadline, or producing a daily radio show (as I did for four years), you’re a slave to the clock. The entire concept of 9 to 5 disappears.

Now I’m launching my own business. The first question I was asked by a company who recently hired me as a consultant was “Do you work weekends? Because if you don’t, we can’t hire you.” My gardening colleague above has been doing this for a long time. It’s easy for him to turn down work. I’ve just started, so I’m not in that position. I said “sure” without blinking an eye.

There’s a societal component to this as well. Katrina Onstad has written a book called The Weekend Effect. She blames the loss of the weekend on two primary factors. First, there’s the rise of competitive parenting, forcing parents to feel obligated to pack their kids’ weekends with soccer practice, chess tournaments and mandarin lessons. There’s also the pull of the constant, 24/7  technology era in which we live, which encourages us to remain permanently “switched on.”

In my own case, it’s far more personal. I struggle with slowing down. There is a fear of the abyss – of how to deal with the thoughts and fears that crop up when I don’t have 10,000 things to tick off my to-do list. Sundays are particularly bad, because vestiges of my childhood creep in to the poison the day.

Because I’ve conditioned myself to this expectation of working on weekends, I now feel guilty if I don’t do at least some work over the weekend. As if I’ve done something wrong. A therapist I saw 20 years ago once asked me why I found it so difficult to not work on weekends. I worked religiously on Sundays back then, so he was really asking me why I couldn’t at least take Saturdays off. I responded, “It’s not that I can’t take a Saturday off. It’s that when I do it, I feel like some people do when they’ve consumed an entire box of chocolates.” It was simpler to just to work and not deal with the guilt trip.

I know this is all terribly unhealthy. I’ve read the research showing that when people are nudged to treat the weekend as a vacation, they return to work on Monday happier than those who crammed too much in. Nor does adopting this “vacation mindset” mean that you need to spend a lot of money or race off to the beach. It just means taking a mental break from work. Like my friend the gardener.

So here’s a new resolution. In a year when I’ve resolved that my watch word will be balance, I’m going to try and gradually let go of feeling compelled to work on weekends.

After *this* Saturday, that is, when I’m scheduled to help facilitate an all-day workshop…

Sigh.

Image: A Woman enjoying gardening outdoors via Freestockphotos.biz

 

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