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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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Imagine Ten Alternative Careers: An Exercise

toll booth
toll booth A blogger I admire once posted a list of jobs she’d love to have if she weren’t a writer. They included forest ranger, meteorologist, TV news broadcaster, librarian and a water slide tester. (Yup, that last one really does exist – go check out her link.)

She posted this list for fun, but my guess is that the reason her list ran such a gamut of professional opportunities is that each hypothetical career spoke to a different aspect of her personality.

It’s fun to try to imagine all the things you might do if you weren’t doing whatever it is that currently defines your profession/lifestyle. But it’s also really useful.

If you’re even vaguely contemplating a career change, you need to think really carefully not only about what you’re good at, but what you enjoy. Often, discovering a satisfying career is not so much about the job title itself, but the various tasks you do as you go about your day, and how those complement your skills and interests.

To that end,  for all those out there contemplating a mid-life career transition,  here are my top ten would-be careers. Then it’s your turn:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: New Jersey Turnpike Exit 11 Toll Booth at Night via Wikimedia Commons

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How To Dress for a Portfolio Career

scarves

scarvesOne of the joys of embracing a portfolio career later in life is that it provides an opportunity to integrate different strands of your professional identity. One challenge I didn’t foresee was how to assemble a wardrobe to complement those multiple selves.

But I’m learning as I go.

The Writer: Grad Student Redux

It’s easy for me to dress for the writer/editor part of my new career as a communications consultant. My default style – to the extent that I have one – tends to be fairly casual. Indeed, one of the things I enjoyed most about being a freelance writer back when my children were little was the ability to show up to the school run in some version of my pajamas.

These days, there is no school run. But when I work at home, I still revert to full-on graduate student mode. The other day, I was clad in a pair of baggy Adidas sweat pants, a college sweatshirt and a baseball cap. All that was needed to complete the picture was a bottle of Diet Coke, a package of Oreos and a half-eaten Stouffer’s “Classic” French Bread bread pizza. (Remember those? Bliss…)

The Teacher: Wanna Be Parisienne

On days when I teach or coach writing at a university, that’s also pretty manageable. I’ve got enough basics to easily anchor a five-day rotation. I simply accessorize like crazy.

I’m all about scarves. I used to just loop them around my neck haphazardly until my husband – (who in another life might double as Yves Saint Laurent) –  came back from a trip to France and sent me a video entitled “How to Tie Your Scarf like a Parisian.” Ever since, and taking a page from Margaret, I’ve been experimenting. (The scarf-as-necklace was a complete eye-opener to me…)

Speaking of necklaces, I’ve also got a decent assortment of those – which, like scarves – can add a bit of Je Ne Sais Quoi to the same old, same old. My next move is to invest in some vintage costume jewelry.

Going Corporate: No More Foxhunting

Where I struggle a bit is when I venture into the private sector for a meeting. There – sartorially, at least – I’m a bit out of my depth.

The first problem is that my only suit was purchased in the late 1990’s, back when people were still dancing the Macarena. It’s a decent brand, and I thought it looked all right, until my daughter asked to borrow the jacket to play a “huntsman” in her high school play. Seeing her on stage killed it for me. Sure, I live in England. But I’m not exactly trying to channel Lady Mary from Downtown Abbey on a fox hunt.

My second problem is that because my new business is not yet a year old, I don’t yet have the wallet to afford a suitable corporate wardrobe.

Thank goodness for friends. One of my friends’ daughters works in the corporate headquarters of a high-end retail chain in the UK. This company doesn’t pay its junior staff all that well, but it does reward them with – wait for it – a 65% discount on all items in the store. Guess who just got the keys to the kingdom?

So if you happen to see me wandering around the streets of London’s financial district looking like I own Paris, you’ll know my secret.

Dress for the Part(s)

Whether you’re embarking upon a new position within the same organization or in an entirely new field, starting a new job often requires a new wardrobe. Back-office admin does not require the same look as a front-office sales position. You need to adjust your wardrobe accordingly.

The same holds for a portfolio career. You just need to be a bit creative in your sartorial assemblage, while you wait for your income to catch up with your chosen métiers. (If I may work the French metaphor to death.)

Advice gratefully accepted. Merci.

Image: Scarf Cloth Colorful Towels via Pixabay

How I Maximized My Productivity as a Writer

cell phone

cell phoneIf you’re like me, you can’t read enough about how to maximize your productivity: Deep Work. The Hunter Method. No Meeting Wednesdays. While the optimal time for achieving your best work varies across individuals, there’s a consensus that you need to have laser focus while you’re doing it.

For a while now, I’ve been following that advice. As soon as I decided that I wanted to write a book, I started to devote 15 minutes a morning to doing just that. Over time, those 15 minutes blossomed into 30 and then 45. Once I was laid off, I began devoting several hours a day to my writing.

Even now that the book manuscript is finished (though still not sold – sniff!), I still write every morning. These days, it’s often fiction. Or a blog post. Or my newsletter.

But a month or so ago, I discovered a fatal flaw in my system. No matter how dutiful I was about prioritizing my writing, I did one thing when I first woke up that was absolutely deadly for my flow:  I checked my phone.

To be clear, it was really more of a scan than a deep dive:  I’d quickly scroll through my emails to see if there were any burning platforms…I’d look at any updates on assorted social media platforms…I’d check personal texts and chats.

I told myself that this mini “phone time” was essential. After all, my mother is now quite elderly. Perhaps something happened to her during the night. I’m in close “What’sApp” touch with various friends back in the States, and often miss out on threads that happen while I’m asleep. I’m also self-employed. So I’m always at the beck and call of clients.

But the problem wasn’t the length of time I spent on the phone. It was how distracting it proved.

Because once I’d digested the updates from assorted platforms, I couldn’t turn them off in my brain, even once I put the phone down. I’d find my mind darting back to a meeting I needed to prepare for later that day… a funny tweet I wanted to share on social media…a text I needed to send a friend. Which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of having dedicated writing time in the first place.

Before I knew  it, my  carefully constructed “laser focus” was gone. Or at least diminished.

Then I read this brilliant article by New York Times technology writer Kevin Roose about his cell phone addiction. Roose went so far as to hire a consultant to help him “break up with his phone.” This person encouraged him, for example, to change the lock screen on his phone so that it displayed three questions: “What for? Why now? What else?”

Brilliant.

I didn’t feel that my problem was that serious. But I did know that I had a problem.

So I instituted one tiny change: I no longer allow myself to check my phone until I’ve finished my writing and executed some of the other key markers of my morning routine like journaling, meditation, and stretching. In practice, that amounts to not looking at my phone for the first 1.5-2 hours of my day.

It was really hard at first. Like an addict, I’d find myself making excuses to sneak a peak. But after the first week or so, I began to find this digital detox a relief.

Postponing my phone time had two other benefits. First, I’m an extrovert, so I love being connected to the world through social media. But – much like my rules about dessert – the joy of checking my phone is now all the greater for putting it off. Second, my writing time is also now that much more focused and productive. A win-win, as they say.

I’ve always prided myself on being the consummate multi-tasker. But I’m coming to question whether that personality trait is really an asset for productivity. So I’m wondering: what small habit have you changed that had a much larger impact on your life?

Image: Apple Cell Phone Facebook Google by Tracy Le Blanc via Pexels

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How to Live Forever: Book Review

inter-generational learning

inter-generational learningAt first blush, I didn’t think a book entitled  How to Live Forever was for me.  I was expecting a hard sell on a new killer vitamin that would add years to my life…gene therapy that could prevent chronic disease…botox for the brain. That sort of thing.

As with many books, however, the book’s main message is revealed in its sub-title: “The enduring power of connecting the generations.” The author, Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, wants us to understand that we live in an age-segregated society, one where housing, labour markets, education and pensions policy combine to separate the old from the young. This “age apartheid” is not only out of step with current demographic trends, he argues, but down-right counter-productive:  It impedes the happiness of individuals, who benefit enormously from these cross-generational relationships, and it limits progress on a host of social ills.

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Art and Feminism NYC Generations via Wikimedia Commons

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I Fixed My Back Thanks to Alternative Medicine

acupuncture needle

acupuncture needleIt all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States a few years back. As I resumed my normal routine of running in the mornings before going to work, something didn’t feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.

I’d had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I’d learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating that I began popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility.

The pain didn’t go away. Instead, it migrated to different parts of my back over the next few months. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which had grown in intensity over the previous decade – were getting progressively more frequent.

Enter Pilates…

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Acupuncture needle by Acid Pix via Flickr

Happiness in Later Life

happiness

happinessLong ago and far away – back when I was still an academic – I once took a long drive home from a conference with a colleague. It was a two or three hour drive, the kind where you start off talking about work and end up talking about your childhood. About an hour and a half into the drive, I turned to him and asked: “Are you happy?”

He looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t really do happy,” he confessed.

I knew exactly what he meant.

I don’t really do “happy” either. Content…animated…joyous…silly. I do all of those at different times. But “happy” feels more permanent. Like something you need to commit to. And I’ve never been good at commitment.

That Happy Feeling

Lately, however, having finally – 30 years in – fashioned a career for myself that feels right, I’ve started having this weird sensation in my body. I say weird, because it’s so unusual, I don’t recognise it immediately. I think it’s called happiness.

It’s like a friend of mine who – beginning therapy late in life after a divorce – confessed to me that one day in a conversation with her therapist, she felt this strange thing well up inside her. “And I was like ‘What is that?'” she recounted to me afterwards. “And then I realized: Oh, that’s an emotion!”

Damned straight, sister. I think a lot of us walk around for half of our lives carrying feelings inside of us that we don’t even recognize, possibly because we’ve forgotten they are there.

Lessons from Mindfulness

Which is why, among other reasons, practicing mindfulness is so useful.

If you’ve ever practiced any mindfulness, you’ll know that one of the key ideas it drives home is that we all have a “blue sky” inside us – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill our world. A lot of the focus is on accessing that blue sky feeling and realizing that it’s not something we need to reach for outside ourselves; it’s something that’s already there.

In my own case, I think I’d gone so long thinking about work as this stressful, difficult externalized thing that I’d forgotten that work could also be an extension of “happy me”… and fun. So when I’d deliver a workshop on public speaking, for example, and feel really great afterwards, I’d be like: “That’s odd; Why do I feel not just OK, but good?”

Escaping the Scarcity Mentality

It’s also the case that some of us just aren’t wired to be happy.

I grew up in a large-ish family where a scarcity mentality prevailed. If you got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom, you risked having someone still the last potato off of your plate. So I think I have always approached life as if everything were a finite resource that was at risk of running out:  money, love, food, happiness.

Undoing that scarcity mentality has taken  a lot of work. One of the things that helped me most was reading Julia Cameron’s brilliant manifesto on creativity, The Artist’s Way. Cameron views creativity (which for her, comes from God) as a generous, supportive force rather than a punitive, miserly one. The idea is that whatever the origin of your creative process, it is an unending well of ideas and inspiration that never dries up. She encourages everyone embarking on a creative path to adopt this expansive view of how it works.

That has been s a struggle for me. Given my own hard-wired scarcity mentality, I come to the world with more of a zero-sum framework: if I get something, someone else loses something. There’s only so much to go around. But embracing Cameron’s “abundance” mentality with respect to creativity has enabled me to extend that idea to other areas of life.

As a result, I’m able to feel happier now without fearing that at any given moment, happiness might run out.

It’s still a work in process. Many days, I still feel off-kilter when I experience “that happy feeling.” But I’m learning how to live with it.

Image: Woman Happiness Sunrise Silhouette by Jill111 via Pixabay