Archive by Author

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

What is Atul Gawande’s Book, Being Mortal, Really About?

elderly care

elderly careIf, like me, you are a veteran of several book clubs, you will know two things:

1. The best books to discuss are the ones that provoke heated disagreement and

2. The best book groups are the ones where people come from different walks of life.

And so I was not disappointed when a group of inter-disciplinary scholars at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing  – where I am currently a visiting fellow – sat down to discuss Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End.

For those who’ve not read Gawande’s best-seller, Being Mortal is a book about how people age – and die – in 21st century America. Gawande comes to this topic as a surgeon who treats people with terminal illness, a journalist chronicling the nature of elderly care the the United States, and the son of a father who died of cancer and had to help manage his father’s end-of life care. (You can read his impressive and multi-faceted bio here. Among other things, he delivered BBC Radio 4’s  prestigious Reith Lectures on the future of medicine in 2014 here in the UK.)

What surprised me most about our discussion was that none of us could agree on what this book was really about.

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

Image: Checking in with a Patient by Myfuture.com via Flickr

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Signs You’d Make a Lousy Housewife

ironing

ironingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I have tremendous respect for women (and men) who choose to work inside the home. And yet, when it comes to myself, I’m fairly certain that – even if I wanted to – I could never make it as a housewife. (Or house husband, as the case may be.)

If you’ve ever wondered whether you were meant to work primarily inside or outside the home, here are five indicators that should influence your decision:

1. You need help operating basic appliances. I’m not talking about fancy, fuzzy-logic rice cookers or super-deluxe espresso machines (replete with matching grinders). I’m talking boilers. Last summer, my husband and I noticed that the heat would come on at seemingly odd times. We tried tinkering with the thermostat in the hallway, but that had no effect. But then the heat would go off again and we’d forget all about it. The other day, while a service repair man was at my flat fixing our washer/dryer, I asked him if he could take a look at our boiler to figure out what the problem was. He opened the cabinet, looked at the boiler for about three seconds, and then turned to me and said…“Um…Madam? See this large red button here that says ‘On?”

Read the rest of this post over at Kuellife…

Image: Four clothing irons on an ironing board by Your Best Digs via Flickr

The Designated Adult Club

retirement calendar

retirement calendarI was on Facebook the other day when a former colleague who has just started a new job jumped in with a query about pension plans.

“I need an accountant,” she wrote on her wall. “I need advice on what to with the multiple pension plans I’ve accrued since I started working. I’m not sure if I should combine them –  or keep them separate.”

Within minutes, a whole bunch of us who’d worked together with her had glommed onto this thread. Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Several of us had more than one pension plan and we all needed the same advice.

At some point several comments in, someone on the thread suggested that if my colleague was able to obtain the answer to this question, she could share it with the rest of us over drinks. (We’d pick up the tab.)

And then someone else had this brilliant idea: Why don’t we make a deal where one of us is put in charge of making these sorts of vital, grown-up decisions for the entire group on a six-month, rotating basis.

And just like that, the “Designated Adult” (DA) Club was born. (I gave it this name, in honor of the “designated driver” who volunteers to drive when everyone else wants to get sloshed.) Before long, everyone wanted to claim the IP on this thing.

All joking aside, I don’t think the DA Club is a half bad idea. Let’s be honest. Just as there are many tasks you’d love to outsource as a parent when your kids are little (swimming lessons being a particular favorite of my own), there are things you simply don’t have – or want to have – the bandwidth to figure out when you grow up.

In addition to pension plans, I’d like to add to our list of queries things like: figuring out which “color” you are without paying someone $1,000 to tell you…how to keep outdoor plants alive indoors during the winter months…what to do when your Siemens dryer tells you that the water is “full” and you have no idea how to fix it…what to bring to someone’s house in the UK when they invite you for “tea” at 5 pm….(Answer to that last one: Not Vodka. Trust me. I learned the hard way.)

Plus, I like the idea of having a rotating DA Club President, sort of like the Presidency of the EU. I have a friend who used to meet up on Friday afternoons with some of her friends to do what they called “Admin Club,” where everybody sits around plowing through the pile of gross items on their individual to do lists – e.g., filing their taxes, writing thank you cards for their cousin’s bridal shower, knitting a shawl for their Great Aunt Betty Sue, organizing their photos, etc.

I thought that was a brilliant idea. But I like this one even better. You wear the grown up hat for a six month period that works for your work/life/family needs, and then you turn it over to someone else. (“Sorry, friend. My term expired yesterday. I’m afraid you’ll have to figure out for the rest of us how how to obtain European citizenship if you don’t have a European grandparent…”)

One of my former colleagues, who liked the idea of this DA club very much, nonetheless stipulated that if we did ever incorporate as a proper LLC, I would not be able to blog about the different requests. She feared that it might reveal our collective dysfunction.

Sorry, hon. I don’t think I saw that clause in my contract…

Please join in the fun. What sorts of things would you like the DA Club to sort out for you?

Image: Retirement Calendar by American Advisors Group via Flickr

Why Bad Dreams Are Good For You

dreaming

dreamingI’ve long been an active dreamer. My dreams are lengthy, plot-driven and very detailed. I nearly always remember them when I wake up.

Nor are they particularly pleasant. From the proverbial math test that you haven’t studied for –  to the play you’re in where you don’t know your lines – I regularly experience some of the most common dreams in adulthood.

I’ve always accepted my troubling dreams as a sign that I am…troubled. Not massively so. But for those of us who lack the benefit of a “quiet mind,” I think it’s inevitable that the thoughts and feelings swirling around inside of us during the day are going to need some sort of outlet at night.

Lately, however, I’ve been re-assessing whether the fact that I have disturbing dreams might actually be a sign that I’m on a journey towards happiness.

What Are Dreams?

There are different theories on what dreams mean and how to interpret them. For Freud and others in the psychoanalytic tradition, dreams were a form of wish fulfillment. Even some scholars who don’t fully buy into Freud believe that dreams serve as a way of processing repressed thoughts and feelings (sexual and otherwise) that live in our unconscious.

Other researchers interpret dreams as a form of problem-solving. From this perspective, the brain responds to potential future danger by running – and responding to – a bunch of different scenarios while we sleep, just to keep us alert.

Still others believe that dreams help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the stories we construct in our help us to emotions attached to these experiences certainly are.

Being Lost in Your Dreams

In my case, the dreams I’ve had over the past few years very closely track some of my major anxieties – and personal evolution – during that time.

For a long time, I had dreams about trying to get somewhere. This sometimes took the form of an elevator, where I’d push a button to go to a certain floor and then the elevator would fly off in many directions, never landing at my destination. That dream has also, at times, taken the form of me driving or walking somewhere without a map. I try desperately to figure out where I need to get to but am increasingly worried about being late.

I feel like this is a fairly straightforward metaphor for the journey of professional reinvention I’ve been on, one that has intensified in the last year or so. It’s a dream about uncertainty…and movement.

Dreams About Parties

In the last few months, however, the “being lost” dreams have really faded. In their place have come a series of dreams about attending parties with other people: family, friends, strangers. In these parties, I can always see the fun going on in another room, but something blocks me from taking part.

If you google “dreams about parties” you’ll find interpretations range from social anxiety to needing to let your hair down to partying too much.

For me, it’s simpler than that: I’m on a path towards personal and professional fulfillment, but I’m still not entirely sure that I’m permitted to enjoy it. So the dream is very clearly reminding me that despite all the work I’ve done to construct a new narrative for myself, there’s still a bit of fear and possibly even ambivalence about seizing a life that is better suited to who I am.

Why Struggle is Good For You

I’m OK with that idea – that even as I feel ever closer to being at peace with myself – that I may continue to struggle for a good while longer in life. In this, I’m 100% with self-help guru Mark Manson, who argues in his new book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck ,that a certain amount of pain and darkness is the necessary and inevitable price of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

So I embrace my dreams. They tire me out. But they also remind me that I’m alive.

Image: Dreaming by Eflon via Flickr

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Secrets to Dinner Parties

dinner party

dinner partyOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Back when I was just out of college and living with three friends in Washington, DC, I once told one of my roommate’s mothers that we were going to throw a party.

“Oh?” she asked. “What will you serve?”

I paused, unsure how to answer.

“Um…beer?” I said, finally.

What a difference thirty years makes.

While I still love beer, one of the hallmarks of adulthood is leaving the phase where beer and (if you’re lucky) chips will do, and stepping things up a notch to more grown-up fare.

Which isn’t to say it’s easy. Although I resolved a few years back to have people over more often (and have made good on that promise), it’s taken me a while to figure out how to entertain without finding it stressful. Because even though I’m fairly far out there on the extrovert spectrum, it does make me anxious to have to organize a meal for anyone other than my family.

Read the rest of this post over at Kuel Life

Image: Dinner Table Set for Dinner Party by Toby Simkin via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tips for Professional Reinvention

career change

career changeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As a veteran of more than one career change – and on the verge of another – I’ve come to think of myself as a bit of an expert in this area.

But what’s lovely about dipping in and out of the job market is that you always learn something new each time.

In my current process of professional reinvention, I’ve picked up some new tips that have really served me well, so I thought I’d share:

Think of career change as a creative project

I stole this idea from Barnet Bain in his masterful The Book of Doing and Being. I initially picked this book up because I was doing a lot of writing and I thought it might be useful in unlocking my voice. It was. But at some point in the book, Bain explains that your creative project doesn’t necessarily have to be a film or  a novel; it can be a business you’re hoping to build or a professional shift you wish to undertake. This was completely liberating for me. As time wore on, I found that I was applying his myriad creativity exercises to explore my professional journey, not just my artistic one.

Take Your Time

I was really taken by an interview in Forbes with Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul. In the interview, Askinosie notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. He advises: “If you don’t discover the internal space where you can ponder your next steps with clarity, you will never find what you’re looking for. As someone who has been living in a self-imposed chrysalis for the past six months, boy did that phrase resonate for me.

Keep Learning

It’s always useful to read relevant self-help books when you’re in the throes of a transition. But this time, I’ve taken that to a whole new level. Spurred on by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who spend at least five hours a week learning new things, I decided that I would read more widely, branching off from some of the books mentioned here to books describing what it’s like to be middle aged from a variety of different angles. Of course, learning doesn’t have to take the form of reading. One of the best things about my acting class – which I mostly do because it’s fun – is that it’s also got me thinking about how to incorporate improvisation into my next job.

Decide What Makes You Distinctive

I’ve always counselled people who are contemplating a career change to think about the overlap between what they like and what they are good at. But one of the key takeaway’s from Dorie Clark’s fabulous Reinventing You is that in order to re-brand yourself, you also need to think about what makes you distinctive and leverage those points of difference. Clark tells the story of a lawyer who used her deductive reasoning powers to launch a successful wine business. Turns out, what she thought of as a weak point (having gone to law school) turned out to be a huge strength in the wine field, so that’s now a core part of this woman’s brand. This was an incredibly useful piece of advice for me. I sometimes hide certain aspects of my professional past because they don’t gel with what I think others expect to hear about me. Now I’m championing them; they make me (uniquely) who I am.

Shadow Someone For A Day

Again, this is a no-brainer if you’re trying out something new. But I’d never thought about it as an option for myself until I had lunch with a former colleague who was also in the throes of a career change. An expert in health communication, she’d thought about setting up a social enterprise to teach young mothers about healthy eating and nutrition. The idea was that they could bring along their children to a local cafe and the kids would play while the mothers learned. But after the first meet-up, she realized two things: a. she didn’t like cooking very much and b. she didn’t really want to spend half a day around other people’s kids. So she moved on. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, rather than staying the realm of fantasy – “Gee, I think I’d love owning a bookstore!” – go work at one for a day and see what the manager actually does. A really efficient use of your time.

How about you? I’d love to hear other things you’ve done to reinvent yourself professionally.

Image: Clock – Career by Flazingo Photos via Flickr

Should Marriage Have a Sell-By Date?

Sell By Date

Sell By DateIn the months leading up to our wedding some 20 years ago, my husband and I had a series of meetings with the priest and the rabbi who were to preside jointly over our ceremony. These weren’t exactly pre-cana classes – more like a series of “getting-to-know” you sessions – but they were thought-provoking all the same.

We got a lot of good advice from our respective officiants. The Rabbi leaned in and told us that the secret to a good wedding wasn’t the food, but the music. He then proceeded to recommend a band from the South Side of Chicago called The Gentlemen of Leisure which he assured us would rock the house. The priest, for his part, counseled us that we should never go to bed angry.

Both kernels of wisdom turned out to be true. But something else the priest said has also stuck with me through the years: “In my opinion, it’s far too easy to get married in this country and far too difficult to get divorced.”

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Seal Best Before Date Black Rotated via Wikimedia Commons