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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

21st Century Skills For Older Workers

Older Worker

Older WorkerIn an era where people in the West are living longer and healthier lives, older workers  not only can – but often choose – to remain in the workforce longer or return to work post-retirement.

The numbers speak for themselves. In the UK, over 50s now make up nearly one third (31%) of the entire workforce, up from around one in five (21%) in the early 1990s. In the US, two age groups – 65 to 74 years old and 75 and older – are projected to have faster annual rates of labor force growth than that of any others.

A consensus is emerging that if we are to benefit from the value that older workers can bring to the workforce, businesses will need to adjust their hiring practices and rethink their commitment to things like flexible hours and re-training programmes.  So too will our concept of education need to evolve, to place even greater emphasis on life-long learning and multi-generational classrooms.

But to do this, we we will also need to rethink the sorts of skills these workers need if they are to remain “fit for purpose” in this changing workforce..and how to obtain them.

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

Image: Man sitting on chair beside table by Bruce Mars via Pexels

Tips For Adulthood: Five Oscar-Worthy 2017 Films

Oscars

OscarsI’ve fessed up before on this blog to being a huge Oscars fan. But this year I’ve actually gotten out to see more movies than I’ve been able to manage in past years.

Truth in advertising: I’m a “feel-bad” film fan. Which means that I don’t typically enjoy blockbusters or, indeed, any film that is overly sunny or has a happy ending.

With that caveat in mind, here are five films that I think are Oscar-worthy from 2017:

a. Phantom Thread: I’ve always loved Daniel Day Lewis, but his performance in Phantom Thread is truly breathtaking. While the character he plays is repellent – as are the relationships he gets mired in with women (albeit utterly relevant for this #metoo moment) – the vulnerability he manages to evince even while playing a narcissistic perfectionist is totally compelling. I know that Gary Oldman is tipped to win for Darkest Hour. I like Oldman as an actor and I’m sure that he’s great in this film. (I didn’t see it as I have an allergy to anyone attempting to impersonate Winston Churchill…). But given that Day Lewis is retiring from the acting craft this year, what better send-off than to give him one last Oscar to savor?

b. Loveless:  I really liked Director André Zvyagnitzev’s 2014 feature, Leviathan. If you’re looking for a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia, it’s hard to beat. But Loveless is even better. It’s also a bleak depiction of a soulless, corrupt, autocratic modern Russia…but told through the lens of a bitter divorce. (Hey, what’s not to love?) If you’ve ever wanted to feel completely defeated by – everything – go see this film. (And yes, that is an endorsement, coming from me…)

c. The Florida Project: Loveless makes The Florida Project look like a Rom-Com. Seriously. But this low-budget film depicting the life of  barely-scraping-by Americans living in a motel outside of Disneyland and featuring a completely unknown cast (save Willem Dafoe) is a treasure: inspirational and defeating in equal measure. It reminded me of a similarly low-budget, no-star (save Michael Fassbender) British film with a similarly gritty, realistic feel called Fish Tank.

d. Call Me By Your Name: This is an absolutely beautiful film, both in terms of the cinematography – it is set entirely in a small town in Italy – and in terms of its subject matter. It is a story of young love – and all of the headiness and pain and that go with it. Love, love, love Timothée Chalomet, whom I’d suggest for Best Actor, except that he has many years ahead of him to win it.

e. Films You Can Stream or Rent: Don’t hate me as I liked both of the following films. But I simply didn’t feel that they quite lived up to their hype: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (over-written) and  The Post (too predictable).

Two movies I’ve not mentioned – but will be seeing this weekend before the Oscars ceremony Sunday night – are I, Tonya and Lady Bird. Based on the previews and what I’ve read so far, I suspect at least one of them would have made it onto this list (and that one is probably I, Tonya.) I’ll let you know what I think.

How about you? Which 2017 film did you love and why? Please feel free to disagree with my assessments! I welcome your input and suggestions…

Image: Oscars by Kalhh via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips For Staying Monogamous

sandy ring

sandy ringhave a friend who is thinking about having an affair. He loves his wife, and they have two lovely kids. But in an ideal world, he would like to conduct his sex life outside of the marriage. Needless to say, he’s torn about this impulse, and has yet to take any concrete steps, but he has verbalized his desires to me and a couple of other close friends.

Whatever you think about that arrangement – or more importantly, whatever his wife thinks (!) – his very honest and open attempt to grapple with his feelings reminded me, once again, why monogamy is such a difficult ideal to uphold, even in the best of circumstances.

For those of you who recognize this as a real problem – in your own marriages or among those you are close to – here are five tips for maintaining a monogamous relationship:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50:

Image: Sandy ring by Derek Gavey via Flickr

The Ups and Downs of Working At Home

working from home

working from home I had coffee with a friend the other day at a swank café by St. James Park in London. I’d known her back in Chicago where we’d both worked as journalists. She arrived a bit late, Blackberry in hand, dressed in a smart, tailored suit.

“Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, glancing at her cell phone as she took her seat. “Meeting ran late.”

As I listened to her describe her job, I felt more than one pang of nostalgia. I think it was her reference to people “scurrying back to their offices” that really got me. Until recently, I, too, worked in an office. Now I work from home as a freelance writer, where I can at best manage a saunter from the bathroom to my desk.

She also mentioned her office’s Wednesday lunches and how they made her feel part of a team. In my current set up, I’m lucky if I can catch the mailman’s eye and bond with him over my utility bill.

It’s only natural that working at home induces a certain discomfort. After all, when you say, “I work,” the logical follow-up is “Where?” And when the answer is “home,” it does sound less legitimate.

Read the rest of this post over on Kuel Life….

Image: Apartment Comfortable Contemporary Couch via Pexels

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Daily Life

thank you card

thank you cardOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

So it’s that time of year: the time when we make resolutions. A few years back, I decided that rather than set specific, time-bound goals for myself each year, I would embrace a annual concept. One year it was slow living. Another year it was authenticity.

This year my concept is gratitude.

A lot has been written about the putative health benefits of gratitude: it’s great for making friends…feeling less envious…even sleeping better.

I buy that. I know that I always feel better when I’ve thanked someone for something they’ve done or when they’ve acknowledged me for a good deed.

Where I fall down is remembering to do this on a regular basis.

Here are five quick and easy ways to build gratitude into your daily life:

a. Start a Gratitude Journal. I’ve read about gratitude journals for ages and I know some people swear by them. The concept is really simple: at the end of the day, you set aside 15 minutes to write down everything you are thankful for in that day. It could be a person, your health, a specific event. It doesn’t matter. The point is to focus on things that made you happy that day and to reflect on why they made you happy. I’ve never actually done an actual journal per se (I have too many other journals in my life!), but the Headspace mindfulness app I use every morning is a really useful tool for cultivating gratitude. Many of the series there ask you to begin your meditation by asking yourself who you are doing the meditation for – i.e. who will benefit from your personal reflection on anger/stress/fill-in-the-blank? There is also a stream specifically designed to cultivate appreciation that also asks you to write things down.

b. Ask your spouse/partner what you can do for them today. I love this idea. I’m stealing it from Richard Paul Evans who wrote a now-viral blog post about how he saved his marriage by choosing one day to put aside whatever anger and frustration he was feeling towards his wife and instead ask a simple question: “How can I make your life better?” At first, he found himself cleaning the garage and attending to other household chores she wanted help with. Over time, however, they both started asking each other this question each morning and their relationship improved immeasurably as they realized what they most wanted and needed to do was spend more time together.

c. Praise your kid for a very specific act. As a parent, it can be hard to resist the temptation to constantly coach your kids. It’s very easy to notice what they’re doing wrong or not well enough, rather than what they do right. And before you know it, you’re treating them more like a project to fix, rather than as human being. If you’ve ever gone to a parenting seminar on how to induce good behaviour from young children, they’ll tell you to heap praise on anything they do right in very specific terms. But it’s also good advice if you’ve got teenagers. Don’t just say – “Hey thanks for cleaning up” say: “Thank you so much for putting your dishes in the dishwasher after dinner; that really helps me out after a busy day.” The specificity of the praise is much more likely to resonate than criticizing them for not also doing the pots and pans!

d. Give your colleague a thank you card. When I left my job last summer, one of my colleagues gave me a thank you card to thank me for all that she’d learned from me on the job as well as for my friendship. I was truly bowled over. It’s completely natural to give someone a “good bye” card when they go but a “thank you” card is actually that much more special because it is a really easy, personal way to thank someone for the impact they had on you. Going forward, I’m going to do this whenever I say good-bye to someone.

e. Recognize people on Social Media. If you’re on it, social media can be a great place to give a shout out to people – particularly strangers -and give them public recognition. Part of this is inherent in sharing someone else’s blog post and explaining why you liked it. But there are other. more specific ways of showing gratitude Online. On Twitter, for example, you can use the hashtag #followfriday (#FF) to list people whom you follow and think others ought to follow and (ideally) *why* you followed them. There are also specific hashtags like #tuesdayblogs where you share blog posts that champion someone else’s book. It’s a lovely  as a way of expressing gratitude to strangers.

What other simple ways of expressing gratitude in your life have you found and how do they make you feel?

Image: Support List Thank You Card by Andrew Steele via Flickr

Why Losing My Voice Made Me Feel Like a 5 Year-Old

children's scisssors

children's scisssorsInside Voice.” “Listening Ears.”

These are terms I’d not thought about in a decade since my daughter – now 14 – was in reception (kindergarten) at primary school.

But in the aftermath of a recent surgery on my vocal cords, they are now flooding back. I was unable to speak at all for a full three days last week and must rest my voice for the next two weeks. So I am now, at the tender age of …well, never mind, a pre-school teacher’s dream student.

As a consummate extrovert – someone who can frequently be found talking to herself when no one else will listen – not speaking is hard for me. But it’s all the harder when I am forced to feel like I still ought to be drinking out of a sippy cup.

A case in point. The first night back from surgery, I was watching my favorite French cop show, Spiral, with my husband. Despite being an otherwise rather intelligent man, my husband has difficulty absorbing plot twists rapidly. So every few minutes he would hit “pause” and then I would have to furiously scribble down my explanation for whatever was going on in the show on a piece of paper.

Unfortunately – and this hasn’t shifted very much since I was five – my handwriting is quite poor. So my husband could not decipher my graffiti and (silent) conflict would then ensue.

It got worse from there. With my two teenagers, I was unable to interrupt/scold/micro-manage/cajole/pick your poison with my usual alacrity. This resulted in me resorting to a variety of hand gestures that were definitely NSFW. I know, I know. Bad parenting. But it’s so much more efficient to deploy the odd chin flick when they fail to do the dishes, than to actually try and express my annoyance longhand.

This week, I am thankfully allowed to talk (more) but I am now doing speech therapy. Turns out, the main thing I need to work on is my breathing. When I breathe, far too much of the activity comes from my shoulders and neck, rather than from my diaphragm. It’s actually possible that the stress built up from a lifetime of incorrect breathing caused my voice problem in the first place. To rectify that, I now spend about half of my day blowing bubbles into a glass of water while humming notes and doing scales. Here’s what it sounds like.

I know that a month ago – the last time I was told not to speak – I found the experience to be an important source of life lessons concerning things like empathy and the value of alone time. On some level, I’m sure that losing my voice has also been good for reflecting on how I want to redefine myself professionally right now. (Inside the Crysalis, no one can hear you scream…)

More on that another time.

But this week, all I can say is that I do feel like I belong back in kindergarten. All I’m missing is the art smock and a set of those colorful scissors.

I know I talk a lot about being young at heart on this blog, but this is really pushing it…

Image: Colorful Scissors by Natural Pastels via Pixabay

 

 

 

 

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Zeus

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

a. As we all know, I’m a huge fan of personality tests. Imagine my delight when, courtesy of Jane Friedman, I happened upon this treasure trove of personality tests over at Personality Lab.

b. I was delighted to happen upon a magazine devoted entirely to…anxiety. Meet Anxy. I think I should apply to be an editor there. Not Kidding.

c. On the opposite end of the spectrum, check out things never heard in an office by Collective Noun.

d. Also in the humorous vein is Zeus giving an apology in The New York Review of Books. He bears a certain resemblance to…well, never mind.

e. Finally, if you are at all acquainted with behavioral economics you will find these behavioral science jokes hilarious. #FlossAversion is a keeper.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Zeus Otricoli Pio-Clementino Inv257 via Wikimedia Commons