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Virtual Volunteering in the Age of the Corona Virus

virtual volunteering

virtual volunteeringIn the wake of the all-consuming Corona virus, there is plenty of advice floating around  for how to keep yourself calm and occupied at home. I personally liked Margaret’s list over on Sixty and Me. In addition to the usual ideas of crafting and exercising at home, she also had some great suggestions like virtual travel, watching Ted Talks, and doing a “life review.”

But there’s another way to occupy your time right now that will also help make you calmer and happier: virtual volunteering. At a time when we’re getting daily reminders to be mindful of the most vulnerable, volunteering on line is not only good for the community, it’s also good for you.

The Value of Volunteering as You Age

There’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that volunteering is good for your physical and mental  health, particularly as you age. As one author wrote long before the Corona virus set in, volunteering – by allowing her a place to deposit her abundant, mid-life energy  – became her personal “chill pill.”

Volunteering also taps into a larger sense of purpose. In his book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch explores the science behind the so-called ” Happiness U-curve.” The U-curve, a statistically robust finding which cuts across countries, shows that life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, hits a nadir in our late 40s, and then increases steadily until our 80s. But that upwards curve, Rauch suggests, is not only the product of greater personal acceptance and expectations-adjusting as we age. It also derives from a greater ability to re-direct our focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

The numbers back this up. As Marc Freedman notes in his book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, fully a third of older adults in the United States already exhibit “purpose beyond the self”  – i.e., they identify, prioritise, and actively pursue goals that are both personally meaningful and contribute to the greater good. That’s 34 million people over the age of 50 who are willing and able to tutor children, clean neighbourhood parks, or work for world peace.

Virtual Mentoring

Obviously, in an age of social distancing, we need to move all of that good spirit and energy online. One of the easiest ways to do that is by becoming a mentor.  The beauty of being a mentor is that you don’t need to work inside a large company – or even a formal hierarchy – to make a difference. All you need is a transferable skill set, a bit of empathy and the ability to help someone breakdown their work, life or education challenges into tractable, bite-sized chunks. Writers, scholars, artists, social workers – not to mention you corporates out there – can and should mentor.

Nor, in this globally connected world, do we need to work or live down the hall or street from our mentees. When I worked at the BBC, I mentored a young journalist via Skype who lived and worked 5,000 miles away from me. I gave this young woman tips for how she might communicate better with her introverted boss. I advised her on stress-management when she got stopped and questioned by her government for having taken photos of a taboo region in the country. We even discussed how she might navigate societal expectations that – as a single, unmarried woman in her early 30s – she was long overdue to have a baby, even though she didn’t feel ready.

Online Campaigning

You can also get involved with online campaigning for a cause you’re passionate about. An American artist friend of mine in London recently launched a Kick-starter campaign to support a beautiful Haggadah collage she was making for the upcoming Passover holiday. Unfortunately, she launched this fundraising drive about a week before Corona virus awareness hit “red” on the dial in the UK and the US. So she abruptly cancelled her own campaign to support a friend in Texas who was raising money to build a safety net for the restaurant workers she was going to need to lay off.

This is also a good time to get involved in political campaigning. It’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a major set of elections in the US approaching us in November. Going door to door in swing states is ill-advised in the current moment. But there is plenty to be done online to support your political party/candidate. I personally plan to re-direct the volunteering time I normally spend teaching creative writing to children into depolying online tools to mobilise the large and occasionally pivotal swath of Americans voters living abroad.

Ageing  and Wisdom

One of the concepts Rauch talks about in his book about aging and happiness is “wisdom.” His argument is that wisdom is not only, or even primarily, about knowledge and expertise. It’s also about rising about self-interest in order to promote the common good.

I, for one, feel wiser for knowing this. And I can’t wait to spread my wisdom online.

Image: Volunteering Hands via Needpix.com

Portfolio Careers and the Corona Virus: Risks and Opportunities

webinar

webinarIn the wake of the outbreak of the Corona virus, there’s been much speculation on how it may affect the global economy. Former Economic Council Chairman Austan Goolsbee wrote an insighful piece in The New York Times last weekend about  what the virus my portend for the U.S. economy. He pointed out that the American economy is likely to be particularly hard hit by the virus because of the size of its service sector (think restaurants and gyms), its sports-related economy (which hinges on large events), and its health care expenditure (which may dry up as people become more reluctant to undergo non-essential medical procedures).

I run my own small business as a communications consultant in London, one that relies heavily on face-to-face interaction in the form of workshops and one-to-one coaching. In the last week, my entire business model has been upended by the virus, and I’m not alone. This state of affairs has caused me to think a lot about how this virus is affecting small businesses more generally and what we can do to mitigate risk. Here are five direct impacts I’m already experiencing:

a. Cancellations are on the rise. I’ve had three workshops cancelled in the next month, two in Germany and one here in London. All three involved people flying in from different parts of the globe and all three were considered too risky to hold right now. That was to be expected. Less expected was an an offer run a large, lecture-style workshop to a large group of undergraduates at a London university, which was rescinded within a few days of being floated. Apparently, only three people signed up for a similar lecture that was meant to be held today – intended for 300 people. So the organizers decided to cancel my planned workshop as well, before we even formalized the terms. I’m lucky. All four of these events will be postponed, not outright cancelled, and three were already paid for before awareness and panic around the virus reached its current level. But I can’t expect that trend to continue.

b. Travel restrictions also creating new opportunities. At the same time, the travel restrictions now kicking in have also created opportunities for my business. Late in the afternoon on Friday, I received a call from a client at Oxford University where I routinely deliver workshops. Because the academic department in question had to abruptly cancel an upcoming trip to Africa, it is now scrambling to deliver something worthwhile for their students on campus. So they called me up and asked me to deliver two workshops on short notice. With my newly open diary, I said “Yes, please.” That was a good phone call to receive.

c.  Virtual offices have their upsides. I’ve written before about the ups and downs of working from home. But man, am I glad that I have a virtual office right now. One of my coaching clients, with whom I normally meet face to face, agreed that the next session would take place over Skype. Not having an office also means that I’m not wasting money on overhead to run an empty office right now. I’m also saving money on transport, meals out and other business expenses. Mostly however, I just feel safer. I’m also helping others with more compromised immune systems stay healthier by not exposing them to any germs I may be unwittingly harbouring.

d. Investing in virtual tools. Given that I deliver workshops for a living, I’ve been asked many times whether I offer webinars. Delivering virtual training has long been a goal of mine, but until now, it was a back-burner issue for me – something I’d like to get to, once I have time. Now, in full-on risk management mode, it’s become a front burner issue. While it’s difficult to teach public speaking effectively via webinar (at least if you’re going to use a camera, which in my view is optimal), that’s not true for teaching writing. So as the old adage has it, necessity has become the mother of invention. I am going to begin developing a webinar ASAP. I may also opt to do more editing, something I’d side-lined in recent months because I felt I could afford to do less of it. This is a long way of saying that having a portfolio career is proving to be a real asset in the wake of this unforeseen crisis.

e. I’m writing more. Part of my portfolio career – mainly the unpaid part! – is my writing. Only a couple of weeks back, I bemoaned the fact that I’ve been so busy this year with work that I’ve not given proper pride of place to my writing. That’s no longer true. Now that a large chunk of my calendar has been cleared in the coming month, I’ve discovered – much to my delight – that I have time to write again. And that makes me incredibly happy. The trick is to take this unexpected bonus and turn it into a long-term benefit once, God willing, this epidemic passes.

I’ll be eager to see the UK government thinking actively about how to help small businesses during this crisis, particularly those of us in the gig economy.

In the meantime, I’m going to lean into my portfolio and see what happens…

How about you? How is the Corona Virus affecting your work?

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Image: Webinar by Nick Youngson via Picpedia

The Real Reason Boris Resembles Trump

boris and trump

boris and trumpEver since Boris Johnson became leader of the Conservative party in the UK, much has been made of his purported similarities to the American President, Donald Trump. Both men are seen to be “disrupters” within their parties.  Both men have espoused a populist, anti-globalisation message to harness support among working class voters.  And both men have led unruly personal lives.

While one can debate how closely these two men align beneath the surface, there’s one, less visible area where they are almost 100% in sync:  their speaking styles. A voice analysis by the Vox Institute in Geneva of the two men’s inaugural addresses as leaders revealed a remarkable similarity on nearly all aspects of speech, including things like tone, frequency, loudness, and intonation.

Read the rest of this post over on Clearwater Advisers

Image: Johnson and Trump at the 47th G7 in Biarritz via Wikimedia Commons

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood, plucked from around the web. Subscribe here

Amanda Wakes Up: Challenging Your Own Political Biases

shaking hands

shaking handsFrom time to time, I make recommendations about books on this blog which I think speak to some aspect of being a grown up .

Today’s pick is Alisyn Camerota’s Amanda Wakes Up, a fictional account of a journalist who gets a big career break when she’s promoted to be an anchor on television news, only to discover that her dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s a fun and funny whirlwind account of what it’s really like to work in TV news – leg bronzer and all – written by a consummate insider. (Camerota is a co-host of CNN’s New Day and previously worked at Fox News for many years. She is also – for the record – a friend of mine and while that is definitely why I bought the book, it is definitely not why I’m reviewing it.)

So why talk about this book on a blog about adulthood? Because in addition to treating the themes of news-as-entertainment, sexism in the workplace and office romance, the book also hits on a powerful challenge that we all face as we grow older: how to question our own political biases.

In the story, the title character Amanda is at times obliged by her bosses at the mythical FAIR news – whose motto: “True and Equal” may ring true (and equal?) – to go easy on some of her guests, instead of adopting a harder-hitting tone. She feels that this is beneath her dignity as a journalist and also threatens to make her look like a mouthpiece for a maverick political outsider who is taking voters by storm with his bold, if not always accurate, relationship to the truth during an election season. (Imagine!)

At other times, however, her job also forces her to talk to people on the other side of the political divide and to take their concerns seriously. She comes to appreciate that while she may appear to have nothing in common with gun rights supporters  in New Hampshire, for example, she really likes them as people and in talking to them, is able to appreciate them as more than just a cliché. Meanwhile, others around her – including her boyfriend – carry on living in their bubbles, as most of us do, because they aren’t forced to ever step outside of them.

The book reminded me of a period in my own life when I was working as a journalist for an online political magazine and both of my editors were openly pro-life, as were several of my colleagues. I think it was the first time that I’d been around that many pro-lifers in my adult life. I wrote the occasional piece about abortion and abortion rights for this outlet, and I always felt that I got a lot more push back on those stories than on other things that I wrote.

Initially, this frustrated me. How can they question that? I would think to myself, assuming that my take on the facts was not only correct, but manifest. But it wasn’t, to them anyway. And in giving those pieces a lot more scrutiny, my editors forced me to acknowledge how my own political biases were coloring my writing about those issues. Ultimately, I came to be really grateful that they’d put me through my paces because it enabled me to see things that I assumed were obvious (and were, to me) but which weren’t necessarily so for many others. And that, in turn, made me a better journalist.

While a plea to engage seriously with “the other” politically may sound like fairly well-trodden ground, it’s amazing how rarely it happens these days. Atul Gawande wrote a powerful piece in The New Yorker recently in which he recounts his conversations with regular Joes and Janes from his Ohio hometown about healthcare. He realizes how – despite appearing to be miles apart politically – all of these people are really fairly close to one another when it comes to their fundamental views about healthcare. And so, presumably, are the rest of us, if we could ever just sit down and have that conversation.

None of which is to say that you need to move to the political center in order to be a grown up. But particularly in today’s hyper-polarized political arena, it wouldn’t hurt to dip in and out of there now and again, if for no other reason than to check your own assumptions.

Image: Shaking Hands by Geralt via Pixabay

Five Things David Axelrod Taught Me About The 2016 Primaries

david axelrod

david axelrodOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction. I have a particular allergy to popular books about politics – especially biographies and auto-biographies – as I tend to find them hagiographic in the first instance and self-congratulatory in the second.

So when my 84-year-old mother – who *does* read everything – suggested that I read Believer by political consultant and strategist David Axelrod – I was dubious. A book entitled Believer, written by one of the chief architects of President Obama’s two successful White House campaigns? I didn’t think I’d learn very much I didn’t already know and – as someone whose literary tastes tend to run to the dark and dysfunctional – I was quite sure that I’d find it far too uplifting.

I was wrong. It is uplifting. But it’s also worth reading. And by serendipitously picking this book up right smack as the 2016 primary season got underway in early January, I actually learned a ton.

Here are five things David Axelrod taught me about the 2016 primaries:

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: David Axelrod via Wikimedia Commons

An American Goes to the Polls in the U.K.

UK voting booth

UK voting boothLONDON – I’m not quite sure what I expected when I showed up at my local polling station in London last Thursday morning to vote – for the very first time – as an ex-pat American in a British General Election. But it certainly wasn’t this: an “open air” voting booth, a single sheet of white paper perhaps seven inches long listing a bunch of political parties with a small box next to their names and – wait for it – a pencil – to fill out said ballot.

It gets better. At a certain point as you stood in line to vote, you were meant to split off into two separate lines based on the name of your street, with all streets in the district divided alphabetically. Fair enough, except that it turned out that most of the larger streets in my district were all clustered in the first half of the alphabet, so while about 18 of us stood waiting in the “Big Street” queue, two lucky souls sprinted ahead to the “Short Street” queue. (Call me crazy but had someone not thought to cross tabulate street size/population with alphabet when they devised this fairly straightforward time-saving device)?

I actually found myself feeling sorry for the volunteers at the “Short Street” queue” table when one person discovered that she actually belonged in the “Big Street” queue and had to rejoin our line. The poor souls looked absolutely heartbroken to have lost a potential customer.

When I finally made it up to the head of the line – which, to be fair, didn’t take very long given the microscopic length of the ballot – one volunteer took my last name, found it on a list and called out my voter registration number to a second individual who then assiduously checked me off a different list. Which was all well and good except that when I glanced down at the sheet of addresses I noticed that myself, my husband *and* the former owner of our house were all registered to vote at our address, even though he now lives in a very different part of the country.

While voter ID controversies here are nothing like they are in the U.S., the British Electoral Commission will be instituting a new law requiring photo ID for all voters starting in 2019, although that photo can come in the form of a free elections ID card. In the meantime, the whole thing was so quaint and – well – English, that I half expected some kindly old lady to rock up with a trolley full of tea and cakes and offer me some while I waited my turn.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Why Did Kate Middleton’s Nurse Kill Herself?

It’s the million-dollar question, and not only here in the U.K. Jacintha Saldanha — one of the nurses taken in by the prank phone call to the hospital where Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, was being treated for acute morning sickness — killed herself early Friday. And we are all left scratching our heads. Why did she do it?

Of course, the first thing we all wonder is about her mental stability. We’d all desperately like to believe that this hard-working mother of two, who commuted 140 miles to her day job, often working double shifts so that she could spend more time with her family — must have some deep, dark secret to hide. Because then the rest of us could at least explain away an event that is, as the chairman of King Edward VII Hospital put it,  “tragic beyond words.”

But from what we know, there is no sign that Saldanha was suicidal, unstable or psychologically frail before she took her own life this week. Shy and nervous? Yes. But so depressed she was suicidal? Doesn’t sound right, at least according to those who knew Saldanha, who was described at work as “an excellent nurse, well-respected and popular with all of her colleagues.”

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People column...

 

Image: Kate Middleton by Nuwandalice via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Obama As Father Figure

As we careen towards the finish line in this tumultuous electoral season, President Obama is asking voters to renew his contract as a father figure. And with his new, 11th-hour message that this election is all about “trust,”I think the father-thing is going to resonate.

Without going all Carl Jung on you, presidential campaigns are often about archetypes. John McCain as warrior.  Paul Ryan as super-hero. Joe Biden as the loyal friend.

In 2008, with the whole “hope and change” narrative – not to mention his youthful good looks and energy – Obama was situated somewhere between Jesus Christ and Rock Star in our collective unconscious. But now look at him. After four sobering years of economic crisis and an Arab Spring that just won’t quit, that increasingly-visible graying of the hair above his ears is symbolic. The President has aged, matured, and  – like the rest of us parents – seems both wiser and wearier as a result.

It’s evident in the way that he speaks to us. As I’ve watch the presidential debates with my own kids, I’ve been struck by how parental he sounds. Particularly in the third and final debate, where the president could barely mask his disdain for Mitt Romney’s less-than-up-to-date grasp of our military, many pundits – including my colleague, Melinda Henneberger – saw his tone as patronizing, and wondered whether it wouldn’t alienate undecided women voters in particular.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

 

Image: Obama 2008 Presidential Campaign by namakota das via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Pro-Choice and Pro-Conscience in Grand Rapids

The first and only time I went to Grand Rapids, Mich., I was accosted in the zoo while walking with my then two year-old daughter by a grown woman dressed as a princess.  Assuming that I lived close by, the princess lady asked me if I would like to sign my daughter up for etiquette lessons.

That was six years ago and etiquette lessons were about as foreign to my M.O. as training to be a mechanic. And yet, the fact that some little girls in this city were clearly expected to grow up to be polite, pretty and perhaps not much else did make me wonder at the time whether there were other scripts available for females in Grand Rapids.

I’m pleased to say that there are. In an election year in which woman power may well decide the presidential election, an inter-generational group of 12 women has launched its own chapter of Stop the War On Women Grand Rapids. They range in age from 30 to 75. They are nurses, lawyers, artists, and social workers. Some are married. Some are not. Some are parents. Some are not. Some are gay. Some are straight.

They aren’t protesting etiquette training. Instead, as my longtime friend Kathleen Ley put it to me, they were initially motivated by the “stunning avalanche of disdain and distrust for women in Michigan and in the United States and the legislation at the state and federal levels intruding on women’s health care choices.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People blog…

 

Image: Got Women? by billb1961 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Should Fareed Zakaria Be Forgiven For Plagiarizing?

I’ve always thought that Fareed Zakaria was a bit too slick.

It’s not that I don’t like him. I share the pundit’s broadly liberal internationalist view towards world affairs. And unlike many wonks (the big exception here being the University of Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee), Zakaria’s actually got a sense of humor, which is always a plus.

But there was always something a bit too cute by half about this good-looking, well-spoken darling of the Center-Left with his million dollar smile.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when I learned that Zakaria had become embroiled in a plagiarism scandal that has – temporarily, at least – cost him two of his plum platforms: Time and CNN. On Friday, both news outlets suspended Zakaria while they investigated charges that he had lifted passages from an article by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore on gun control. He has since apologized to Lepore and taken full responsibility for the incident, which he described as a “serious lapse.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People website…

 

Image: Fareed Zakaria at the Newsweek Offices by barthjg via Flickr under a Creative Commons license