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Career Change: Finding Your Moment In Middle Age

time

timeI had coffee with a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She and I used to work together. Like me, she left that company roughly a year ago. And, like me, she’s spent the better part of this year regrouping to figure out what’s next for her professionally.

We share a lot in common, and not only our previous place of employment. Both of us are working mothers. Both of us would like to launch our own businesses. And while both of us have experimented with different ideas over the course of the past year, our plans have evolved into something much more concrete since we last had lunch in March.

The difference is that while I feel like my new professional life is about to take off, she feels that her future is momentarily on hold. A host of domestic issues have simultaneously cropped up that are distracting her from her goals: some unexpected travel…her kids’ education…her new puppy who isn’t yet house trained. (OK, so I can’t relate to the last one).

Crucially, she is also waiting to find out whether or not she will have to go back to a full-time “normal” job in order to help her keep her family afloat.

I don’t say any of this critically. To the contrary,I say it with great empathy. I was her six years ago. Literally.

Back in 2012, I was again thinking about my next career move. (Yes, it’s a condition. My husband likes to say that I’m an “expert in career change.”) I wanted a job that would be both fulfilling and challenging. But I also had two kids aged 11 and 8 who couldn’t travel around the city on their own yet. The “11+ exams”  loomed on the horizon. (If you’re American and don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky.)

Plus, we were in the midst of trying to buy a house. Let’s just say that having “unemployed” on your mortgage application doesn’t exactly look fantastic.

So I took a job. I was lucky that it turned out to be a good job with wonderful colleagues. But I knew the whole time I was there that it wasn’t really authentically me. Although I was acquiring a lot of new skills, it wasn’t a place that I intended to stay. But I did stay – for five years – because the timing in other parts of my life was never right for me to leave.

I’m in a different place now. My kids are in secondary school. We own a house. Sure, the banister lifts out of the staircase if you put your hand on it. And our shower was recently replaced because sewage – yes, sewage – was clogging one of the pipes in the bathroom. But the house has four walls and a floor. Mostly, anyhow.

More importantly, I feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place. I finished the draft of a book I’d been working on for ages. Now I’m trying to sell it. I’ve got some potential clients for my soon-t0-be-disclosed business. I may well fail at both projects. But I have enough energy – and a sufficiently  uncluttered horizon – to be able to “take a punt” now in a way that I couldn’t have contemplated before.

I reassured my friend that she just needs to be patient. This may not be “her” moment, just like 2012 wasn’t mine. But if she’s patient, I’m confident that she’ll get there eventually.

How about you? Did you ever put off something you really wanted to do because the timing wasn’t right? Conversely, did the stars ever align and enable you to take a professional risk?

Image: time-2160154_1920 by Sevgi001453d via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: The Art of the Cold Call

networking

networkingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all know the gospel of job-hunting. You don’t get jobs by applying for them; you get them by knowing someone. Some put the number of jobs obtained through networking — as opposed to answering an ad — at as high as 85%.

The corollary to this truism of the job market is that job-hunting is all about connections. Once you decide on a direction for your career, you need to start by talking to people in your immediate network — even if they aren’t all that close to what you want to do — and gradually work outwards, through them, into people working in the sector of your choice.

It’s true. People are more likely to answer your email/phone call if you’ve been referred by someone they know.

But does that mean that you should abandon the cold call entirely? Should you never just get in touch with someone doing work that interests you and see if they’ll let you speak to them?

It takes a lot of chutzpah, but it can work if done properly. I recently did it, and was offered part-time work. Here’s how:

Don’t assume you need to be an extrovert

Sure, extroverts have an easier time approaching strangers out of the blue. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at talking to them.

Quartz recently ran an interesting article arguing that introverts might actually be much better at networking than extroverts because they can focus and listen. And people appreciate that.

(Click here for a list of networking tips if you self-identify as an introvert.)

Do your homework about the company

You should obviously go to any interview — cold call or not — knowing a fair bit about both the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. But when you’re doing a cold call, this preparation has to come before you even draft your initial email approach.

When I did this recently, I made a point of telling the person I targeted (truthfully) that I’d been following her newsletter and her blog for a years. I also made reference to something specific on her website. Sure, a bit of flattery is always a good thing. But I also really wanted her to know that I hadn’t just wandered in off of the street.

You’re contacting them because you’ve decided you want to work there and/or think they could help you get closer to your dream job. You want them to talk to you, but they have plenty of reasons not to. You need to be sure it’s clear from the get-go that they won’t be wasting their time.

Identify a problem to be solved

People are much more likely to respond positively to a cold call if you can convince them that you can help them solve a problem. That doesn’t mean that you should suggest that they hire you in your initial email because you are God’s Gift to X. Far from it. Humility goes a long way.

For example, if you notice that the company is doing a lot of marketing in trade magazines, but nothing online, ask about that. If it’s a business school, perhaps note: “I see that you offer a lot of courses on management training, but there’s nothing on team-building. Why is that?”

I’ve found that questions about gaps often prompt the person being interviewed to reflect on their own blind spots, and might even get them thinking about hiring someone to pilot an investigation into a new area. That person could be you.

Reveal your USP

You never want to go into a meeting — unless it’s a job interview! — and tell someone why they should hire you. Instead, you want to ask smart questions that impress them.

In particular, you want to pose those questions in a way that reveals what is unique about you that could really add to the team. (Some call this your Unique Selling Point, or USP.)

Lately, I’ve been targeting the higher education sector in my job search, offering communication training. I explain to everyone I meet that I “think like a social scientist, but communicate like a journalist.” This is shorthand for saying that I have a PhD, but don’t sound like I do. That’s an unusual skill set, at least in this sector. I play it up because I know it’s what makes me distinctive.

Be willing to hear the word “no”

You can’t cold call people if you’re not willing to hear the word “no.” When I first moved to the UK twelve years ago, I volunteered to run the Christmas Raffle at my then-five-year-old’s new school. This amounted to walking around the local village and asking every single shop person I met if they’d be willing to donate a prize to the raffle.

Guess what? A lot of people said some version of “no.” But a surprising number said “yes.” What I learned from that experience was that I didn’t really care if people said “no” to me.

Develop this skill and you’ll find the whole process a lot easier. (Here’s an inspirational story of one woman’s perseverance to get the job she wanted.)

How about you? Have you ever done a successful cold call? Why did it work?

Note: This article was originally posted on the Ellevate Medium page.

Image: Ghozt Tramp – Business Communication Duplicat Model via Wikimedia Commons

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Every Day is Groundhog Day

groundhog

groundhogThe writer and artist Austin Kleon has a great tip for how to stay creative: “Remind yourself that ‘Every Day is Groundhog Day.’”

The reference is to the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day,  in which the main character wakes up every day to find that it’s exactly the same as the day before.

Bird By Bird

What Kleon means by this metaphor is that if you’re going to move forward on a creative project, you need to forget that there is a past or a future. If you focus on the past, and regret what you’ve not yet accomplished, you’ll get blocked. And if you focus on the future, and all the next steps entailed in bringing your masterpiece to fruition, you’ll become paralyzed with fear.

In her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott effectively says the same thing. “Short assignments” is one of the ways she motivates herself – and her readers – to just keep going on their projects: start with a sentence, then a paragraph and then a chapter. Don’t try to take on the whole thing at once.

The Challenge of Starting a Business

But the groundhog day advice is also useful if, like me, if you’re thinking of starting your own business later on in life.  Starting your own company is daunting at any age. But it can be particularly challenging for we so-called “silverpreneurs.”

After all, we’ve been around the block for a while. We feel the clock ticking more than the proverbial 23 year-old launching a start-up. We’re impatient to get going already.

Much like writing a book, however, there are getting one’s business off the ground takes time: You need to write a concept note, get feedback, and fine-tune it.

There are the also the more economic aspects to consider: You need to research the competition. You need to set your prices. And how on earth do you save money for taxes? 

If you’ve never done this before, there’s also a whole new vocabulary to master.

Finally, there’s all that business development.

“80% of my time is spent on business development; only 20% on delivery,” a friend of mine explained. He’s run a successful communications business for several years. Even so, many days, it’s just about ‘Smile and Dial,’ as he put it, pointing to the phone to indicate the amount of time he’d spent cold-calling that very afternoon.

I’m not Middle-Aged. I’m Zero.

All of this is fun and exciting of course.  I love new challenges.  

But the trick is not to get too freaked out about the past or the future as I build this new thing. If I think too much about the past, I’ll beat myself up for not having hit upon this business idea earlier.

If I worry too much about the future, I’ll start questioning the entire endeavor. (“Is there enough demand for this service? Will it pay the bills? Am I kidding myself about why I bring added value to this industry?”)

I’m also worried that if I get too frightened to take a risk,  I’ll go into “maker” mode,  abandon my idea, and flee to Indeed.com to look at job listings.

So as I go about this journey, I try to keep Kleon’s advice front and center: I’m not middle-aged. I’m zero.

Happy Groundhog Day.

Image: Groundhog via Wikipedia.org

Tips For Adulthood: Five Unconventional Tips For Healthy Living

fitness
fitness
On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.
At first blush, I’m probably the last person to tell other people how to live more healthily.
I’m not a fitness freak. Nor am I naturally athletic. My best sports are pool and ping-pong, often played with a beer in one hand.

I never diet and I’m not even remotely neurotic about food. (It may be one of the few things I’m not neurotic about!)

And yet, despite all this, I lead what most people would term a fairly health lifestyle.

Here’s how I do it, and how you can too:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50….

Image: Kettlebell Fitness Crossfit by Sifusergej via Pixabay

Building Awareness of The New (Old) Age: A Curriculum

midlife crisis car

midlife crisis carMiddle age is having a rebirth. Rather than conceptualizing this phase of life as something to survive, a new vision is taking hold, one that views midlife as a time of renewal and opportunity.

Instead of focusing on the statistically validated dip in happiness that settles in around 40, writers and scholars are now more interested in its upward slope. Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50  is just the latest example of this new literature on positive ageing.

This more optimistic take on middle age coincides with the reality that we are currently living in an age of longevity. The numbers speak for themselves. The average life expectancy for women in most industrialized countries is expected to exceed 85 by 2030. Of the babies born in 2017 in the U.K., the predicted real-life expectancy was 104, while in Japan it was 107.

But while the notion that we’re all living to be 100 may have caught on in the popular imagination, there’s still a good way to go in the policy sphere. It’s true that a rapidly aging population places all kinds of strains on government resources – requiring a shift in how we think about things like pensions and housing and beyond. But it also presents an opportunity. So we need to start thinking about how these “young old” people can keep contributing actively to their own – and society’s – well-being.

Motivating politicians to do something constructive and imaginative about engaging this older cohort begins by building awareness on a mass level. To my mind, there are three ways to improve public understanding of the particular characteristics and needs of this  “older” demographic.

Read the rest of this blog over at The Oxford Institute for Population Ageing

Image: VW Daimler Dart Midlife Crisis by Cracknell123 via Pixabay

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

writing

writingOn occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. At my 17 year-old’s urging, I’ve recently gone back and started listening to This American Life. For all those wanna-be adults out there, have a listen to this episode entitled, It’ll Make Sense When You’re Older.

b. I’ve long been a fan of the long-form essay site Full Grown People. Divorce stories are often fairly grim, but this one about how a couple told their kids that they were separating offered a lot of hope.

c. As a huge proponent of personality tests, I really enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek take on the Myers Briggs test over at McSweeneys.

d. For all those of you planning to travel abroad this summer, be sure to first consult this set of rude hand gestures of the world so that you don’t get off on the wrong foot.

e. I also loved this smack down of the ideal writer’s life over on Lit Hub.

f. And speaking of literature, for all you aspiring writers out there who have great material from your own lives but don’t want to write a memoir, I highly recommend this FREE (!) course by Jess Loury, Rewrite Your Life. I’ve started doing it and the exercises are fantastic.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Pen and Paper via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Talk Therapy Can Help You

psychotherapy

psychotherapyOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I had coffee with a friend recently. We have a lot in common, and tend to coach each other on everything from career change to creative writing.

But in this particular conversation, I discovered that there was one issue where we were profoundly out of sync: she’d never seen a psychotherapist. Ever.

I, on the other hand, can’t imagine going through life – and especially middle age – without having talked things over with a professional.
If you’re a therapy skeptic or just haven’t felt the need to see a shrink, here’s a layman’s perspective on five ways talk therapy can help you (But be sure to read my “five things not to do in therapy” before you go!):

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Psychotherapy via Wikimedia Commons

Why I Won’t Be Watching The Royal Wedding

Harry and Meg

Harry and Meg I realize that I’m an outlier on all things royal wedding. Just the other day, a close friend in America texted to ask me what I was doing Saturday afternoon.

“Umm, taking an improv acting class,” I answered. “Like I do every Saturday. Why?”

“Why?” she repeated, three eye-rolling emojis materializing on my screen. “It’s the Royal Wedding!” Like countless others, she plans to wake at 4 a.m. Saturday to take in the entire rigmarole.

When it comes to Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, there are those like Sarah Jessica Parker and the entire British press corps, who are over the moon with elation. And then there are the few, the proud, the ones like me who really wish the whole thing would just go away.

Read the rest of this post over on USA Today

Image: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Christmas Day 2017 via Wikimedia Commons

My Midlife Search for Authenticity and Integrity

integrity

integrityI had coffee with a friend of mine in London recently. We talked about our joint desire to make our second half of life both meaningful and productive.

He’s in his early 60’s, and he told me that he had decided to organize the rest of his life around the principle of “integrity.” By integrity, he did not mean moral probity. He was referring instead to the less frequently used definition of integrity – unity, wholeness, coherence and cohesion.

I knew exactly what he meant. I, too, had recently come to the same conclusion.

Indulging One Side of One’s Self

For the last several years, my own personal “watchword” has been authenticity. Particularly in the professional realm, I felt that I had drifted too far in the direction of being a “manager” in recent years, and had lost touch with my “maker” self.

And so, when I found myself lucky enough to get laid off from my job last summer – with a generous severance package,I went 180 degrees in the opposite direction: I wrote a book, I took acting classes, I started swimming every day. I immersed myself in a creative life.

It was a corrective of sorts, and I reveled in the rush that came from focusing on the side of me that had been starved for so long. Ideas flowed. Writing Flowed. I felt like I was re-introducing myself – to myself  – and that was exhilarating.

Bringing the Manager Back In

Over time, however, that corrective began to need a corrective. As refreshing as it was to call myself a writer again – and to feel the truth of that identity wash over me every morning as I sat down at my desk – in the back of my mind, I knew that my manager self could not be entirely eliminated from the picture.

At first, I brought her in to accomplish small things, like cooking. Then I realized that I needed a safe way to incorporate my manager self into my journey of career change – not to dominate my maker self – but to co-exist with her on equal footing. And that meant fashioning a professional identity that would not miraculously render me the Director of a Musical Theatre revue (though a non-trivial part of me does pine for that identity.) Nor would it mean making a living simply by leveraging my most marketable skills. Rather, I would need to find a way to enable the writer, blogger and aspiring actress to co-exist with the social scientist, editor and project manager.

That sounds simple and obvious. But it isn’t. For me, anyway. For deeply psychological reasons that are far too complicated to go into here, I’ve always been more comfortable bifurcating myself into two halves. Being a fully integrated manager/maker -right brain/left brain sorta gal has been an incredibly hard thing to realize. My body, soul and mind want me to choose one side or the other, and I am using every fiber of my being right now not to do that.

I am resolved to achieve this however. I know, at the end of the day, that I will only ever feel myself when I enable all of the different voices inside me to surface and co-mingle, messy as that might be. I wasn’t born an engineer. Nor was I born an artist. I’m a bit of both.

In Search of Balance

Accepting that has been one of midlife’s biggest challenges.

But I’m getting there. As a big fan of mindfulness, I was delighted to discover a new series on my Headspace App called “Balance.” It is all about trying to identify those things in your life – not just your job, but what you eat, how you spend your time – that make you feel imbalanced. And once you notice them, you are then empowered to decide whether or not you wish to remedy them.

I no longer do any work on the weekends, for example. (Granted, I have the luxury of being unemployed right now, so it’s quite easy to fob things off until Monday.) But the change I see in myself over the past eight months is that I no longer *want* to work on the weekends anymore. Because that feels imbalanced. Whereas it used to just feel normal.

I don’t think this is the kind of thing that one can appreciate, let alone rectify, until we hit mid-life. When you’re young, you simply act on your impulses. You don’t examine them and try to do better.

How about you? Do you struggle to achieve balance in life and how does that manifest itself? What would an “integral” life look like?

Image: Integrity by Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Weddings Make You Feel Young

wedding

weddingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do,  they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Romantic Weddings at Janna Sur Mer d’Amour, Lebanon via Wikimedia Commons