Archive | Self-development

Tips For Adulthood: Five Causes Of Loneliness

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Amid the flurry of research on happiness these days, it’s easy to lose sight of another side of adulthood: many of us all suffer from loneliness.

As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, various studies have shown loneliness rising drastically over a very short period of recent history. One leading scholar of loneliness has estimated that as many as one in five Americans suffers from being lonely.

Feeling isolated not only has adverse effects on our mental health, but negative consequences for our physical health as well. One study found that people who were not connected to others were three times as likely to die over the course of nine years as those who had strong social ties. Another study found that people who are lonely are at higher risk for inflammatory diseases. One study even suggested that loneliness may be contagious.

If we are indeed in the midst of a “loneliness epidemic,” it’s worth asking:  what causes loneliness?

1. Aging. Sure, depression is common in old age, and people are living longer than ever before. But the role of the elderly within communities is also shifting, from traditional societies where the elderly held a hallowed place as the repository of community customs, history and stories, to post-industrial societies where this guidance function is much less valued. As this sociological shift takes place, older people risk feeling marginalized from their families and neighborhoods, particularly if they end up in nursing homes.

2. Death and divorce. Writing about the loneliness epidemic, one national columnist talked about the “three D’s”: death, divorce and delayed marriage. It’s not hard to see why the death of a spouse would trigger a feeling of loneliness. Jane E. Brody had a lovely meditation on this topic in The New York Times not long ago. The divorce point is more interesting. We know, for example, that Online dating has seen its highest growth rate among Boomers. But all that dating doesn’t necessarily translate into feeling less lonely. Sometimes it just reinforces it, as people bounce from one partner to another.

3. Social Media. Which brings us to social media. The central thesis of The Atlantic article I referenced earlier is that even as we become ever more connected as a society digitally, we are becoming less immersed in real-life social ties. This is not a new thesis, and as someone who spends a lot of time Online I can readily attest to its accuracy. What’s interesting about the article is that it looks very closely at Facebook, and references research suggesting that while “active” interaction on Facebook – i.e. making a comment on someone’s status update, sending a private message – tends to make people feel less lonely, just passively scrolling through other people’s feeds and hitting the odd “like” button can make you feel more lonely. An earlier study offers some insight into this finding:  because we are psychologically predisposed to over-estimate other people’s happiness, when we see the invariably upbeat, relentlessly witty and sometimes just plain gushing status updates that pretty much define Facebook, it makes us feel worse about ourselves.

4. Commuting. Here’s a factor I hadn’t considered, but which makes perfect sense. According to Robert Putnam, the famed Harvard political scientist and author of Bowling Alone, long commuting times are one of the most robust predictors of social isolation. Specifically, every 10 minutes spent commuting results in 10 percent fewer “social connections.” And those social connections tend to make us feel happy and fulfilled.

5. Genetics. There is also likely a genetic component to loneliness. One survey of loneliness among twins showed much less variability in the self-reporting of loneliness among identical twins than among fraternal ones. ‘There’s also been a lot of fascinating research coming out of The University of Chicago about the way in which loneliness shapes brain development and vice versa, suggesting a neural mechanism in explaining loneliness.

 

Image: Loneliness by Rickydavid via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Think About Personality Types

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been fascinated by attempts to document personality types.

Part of that fascination surely stems from the fact that in another life, I’d be a psychotherapist.

And part of it  is that as I go about the networking process that is part and parcel of looking for a job, I’m coming into contact with all sorts of personality types along the way.

If you pay someone to advise you on changing careers these days, the very first thing they’ll likely do is administer a personality test to see what career paths you’re suited to. Personality tests are also increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms.

I’ve had my own brush with them along the way, recounted in this post, about how – for better or for worse , my own essential personality “type” doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. But I’m always excited to learn about new ways to parse personality.

So, how should we think about personality types?

1. Extrovert vs. Introvert. Extroversion/introversion is one of the four key dimensions of the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator which remains the gold standard for many in assessing personality types. But until I stumbled upon this informative (and extremely funny) piece in the Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch entitled Caring For Your Introvert, I think I’d misunderstood the essential difference between the two. It’s not – as many people think – a distinction between shy and gregarious.  Introverts are not, in fact, necessarily shy if that means that they hate being around other people and/or other people make them anxious. It’s that their relative need to be around other people is much lower than that of the extrovert, who feeds off of constant interaction. For the introvert, as Rauch puts it (borrowing from Sartre), “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Whereas if you leave the extrovert alone for two minutes, “he will reach for his cellphone.” Love it!

2. Personality Style. I’m thinking here of the widely-used DISC personality assessment, which focuses a bit less on “type” than on “style.” DISC identifies  four key behavioral styles, which they label D (drive), I (insight), S (steadiness) and C (compliance). What I like about this way of thinking about personality (as opposed to the more nuanced but complicated Myers Briggs assessment) is that it gives you a sort of over-arching “flavor” for people you encounter, each of which has a set of prevailing traits, strengths and weaknesses. In my old job, for example, once I learned that as a (high!) D (dominant/forceful/task-oriented), I was sharing an office with a high S (reliable, dependable, process-oriented), so many things came to make sense and I could adjust my own interactions accordingly.

3. Birth Order. Another way to think about personality types is that of birth order. In brief, birth order suggests that where you fall in a family vis your siblings has a huge impact on how you behave. So, for example, the eldest (according to this theory) tends to be sharp, responsible and success-oriented, the youngest is more rebellious and risk-seeking and the middle child is an agreeable team-player. I know plenty of exceptions to this rule but as an arm-chair theory of personality types, I think it shows a lot of promise.

4. Manager vs. Maker. A useful dichotomy of personality within the workplace is the manager vs. the maker. On one side of this divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divide their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity. I love this schema, because it cuts across professions to get to the core of what matters in a job: how you like to spend your day in terms of tasks.

5. Personality For Play. I learned about this personality matrix on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project blog. Gretchen borrows it from Stuart Brown, who’s written a book about the importance of play. Brown identifies seven key personality types for play, things like the joker, the collector, the explorer and the narrator. Again, no science here; pure observation. But I think there are some important insights to be gleaned for everyday interaction.

What about you? How do you sort people by type?

Image: Occasionally Slightly Louder by Von Krankipantzen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Reduce Holiday Stress

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, tis’ the season and all that good stuff. But if you’re anything like me, you’re not exactly gliding into the festivities this year, a glass of eggnog in one hand, some gift wrap in the other and a sprig of holly dangling playfully from your neck.

Rather, you’ve got the disemboweled remains of your daughter’s reindeer christmas cracker in one hand, a to-do list in the other hand that’s so long, the paper has actually begun to curl and some masking tape stuck to the back of your hair which you haven’t washed since last Tuesday.

I just glanced down at my own to-do list – you know, the one that’s meant to get me through this week and next before my family takes off on a two-week trip to the end of the earth (literally) – and it read something like this:

Alongside the sort of monumental, life-changing, BLOCK PRINT, do-or-die tasks like:

*turn in job applications by designated deadlines

*decide whether or not to buy the exquisitely-located-but-slightly-too-expensive-and-slightly-too-small-flat, and

*have that discussion (again) with ten year-old about sex,

I’ve got an equally long list of imminent tasks like:

*sort out food for coffee morning AT MY HOUSE this Friday

*finish buying Xmas gifts for all friends in Argentina (and make sure that there are enough Hanukkah candles for home…where did I buy them again last year?) and

*clean up dog poop in foyer before coffee morning (and we all know how I feel about dog poop…)

In short:  I’m frazzled. And I bet you are as well. Here are five tips for remaining calm during the holidays:

1. Just say no. Gretchen Rubin had a great post over on The Happiness Project recently where she encouraged readers to think of themselves in the third person as a means of taking better care of their own needs. In her own case, for example, she pretended that she was answering phone calls for herself by saying things like “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s really hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner” or “Gretchen really feels the cold, so she can’t be outside for too long.” In my own case, I have a terrible tendency to over-schedule my weekends, which just leaves me feeling absolutely wiped out by Sunday night. So particularly during this overly-hectic holiday season, I’ve been trying to remind myself that “Delia needs to chill on the weekends now so that she has energy to enjoy the holidays when they actually arrive.” Externally, this has translated into my canceling some dinners, play dates and even holiday parties so that I can just relax.

2. Accept being invisible. This comes from communications guru Chris Brogran, who has recently made a conscious effort to become not only less busy, but less public in his professional life. Brogan’s basic point is that for many of us, much of our alleged “busyness” is really about responding to our underlying fear that if we aren’t perpetually “out there” getting noticed by others, we’ll no longer be relevant. But that’s not only exhausting, it’s also – ironically – counter-productive, because it draws us away from core focus. Brogan’s talking mainly about bloggers and other heavy consumers of social media, but his point applies equally well in real life, particularly during the holidays where there is such an over-abundance of social gatherings. You don’t need to go to every cocktail party or to be seen at every coffee morning.  You might find that once you show up at fewer holiday parties, far from detracting from your holiday happiness, you’re actually more chipper because you’re spread less thin and investing your time more in those areas that you care about most.

3. Triage. I once wrote a post about productivity in which I suggested that one way to get on top of your to-do list is to divide your list into long-term and short-term items. Each day, you tick off one item from the short-term list. Each week, you take a concrete step towards something on the long-term list. This has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas per se, except that if you’re like me (see above) you’re going to need some extra help “getting sorted” round about this time of year. Translated into my own current set of competing demands, then: dog sh$! now; sex talk later.

4. Do less for your kids. Sure, this is meant to be a season that’s all about giving. But chances are that if you’re a parent  – and particularly if you’re a working parent  – and super-especially if you’re a working mom kind of working parent – you’re already multi-tasking way more than everybody else out there anyway. And enjoying it less.  So by all means, assuming your kids are old enough, hand off as much to them as possible so that you can take care of all those extra items that have quietly found their way onto your to-do list of late. (Did I mention the Hanukkah candles?) Let your kids decorate the tree. Hang a wreath. Cook the latkes. Not a parent? Do less for your spouse or partner. But whoever you are, do more for someone else. It’s a great time of year to volunteer.

5. Do something for yourself. Again, this might seem like a counter-intuitive message for the holiday season. But if you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, think about one simple thing that is entirely yours and which might – amid the chaos – stop time for an hour and help you to relax. It might be something as simple as getting a massage or taking a walk in the park. In my own case, I’ve been working hard over the past few months at making some new friends. So one morning this week – when I had so many deadlines pressing down upon me, I felt like I could barely breathe – I went for a quick coffee with a woman I’d met and we talked about a book we’d both read. So much fun. Afterwards, somehow everything else didn’t seem so onerous after all.

 

How about you? What do you do to stay calm during the holidays?

 

Image: Fuck the deliveries by Funky64 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons A Funeral Can Be Uplifting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Death seems to be in the air these days.

There is, first and foremost, the horrible news out of Tokyo, which just keeps on coming.

There was also the virtual death of Politics Daily in the wake of the AOL/Huffpo merger. While this is, of course, nothing on the order of the loss of human lives being experienced in Japan (and the Middle East), the full-to-the-brim inbox and intra-office Facebook discussions that had been so much a part of my life for the past two years is gone. And in their wake: silence.

Finally – and most immediately – my elderly neighbor passed away last week. Though I only came to know her over the course of the past year, I cherished her friendship. She was warm, funny, razor sharp and kept herself engaged – and engaging – to the very end. I hope to be just like her when I’m 90.

In order to pay my respects, I went to her funeral last week.

I’m not sure if I’m going out on a limb here, but I actually enjoy going to funerals. Sure, they are sad occasions brought on by sad events. But they are also a joyous celebration of life which is at once poignant, edifying and above all, calming.

Here’s why I think funerals are an uplifting ritual of adulthood:

1. You get to know the person better. Most funerals invite a series of people to talk about the deceased and offer insights into different aspects that person’s life:  a spouse/partner, as parent, as colleague, as friend. And I find that I always learn something new about the person which enables me to know them better. At my father’s funeral two years ago, one of the people he mentored got up and talked about what he’d learned from my Dad about the practice of law. I knew that my father had touched many people’s lives over the course of his career, but I hadn’t fully realized to what extent. Similarly, at the funeral of my landlord, I discovered that in addition to her long career as a teacher and educator in London, she’d also been a prima ballerina, performing and teaching around the world and winning a prestigious life-time achievement award last autumn from the Royal Academy of Dance. I left the funeral feeling that I knew her that tiny bit better:  more to savor; more to remember.

2. You get outside your own routine. Funerals can be a time sink. At a minimum, they usually last 1-2 hours (depending on whether or not you’re going to the burial), and that’s not including travel time. It can be tempting in such circumstances to focus on all the canceled meetings, missed phonecalls and rescheduled childcare. But I think that the lost time is a good thing because the hassle is part of the experience. Much like taking a sick day or going on a staycation, going to a funeral forces you to get outside of your own routine. And that’s really worthwhile. In requiring you *not* to operate on auto-pilot, a funeral jolts you into awareness about what it is that you *are* doing.

3. You engage in mindfulness. Which brings us to mindfulness. OK. True confessions. I’m still not sure that I fully grasp exactly what this is. But I think it has to do with learning how to be in the moment and to focus inward rather than chasing the myriad distractions that attend everyday life. I find that when I’m in a funeral – and regardless of whether or not it’s a religious service – I’m not only solemn but hyper-aware of my surroundings:  how the processional march sounds…the smell of the furniture/pews…the shuffle of my dress as I stand or sit. And I love that. As someone who often has trouble mono-tasking, I welcome this sort of  uber-attentiveness to the here and now.

4. You learn about traditions around death. Every religion has its own rituals for dealing with death. I grew up Catholic, so I was quite used to the open casket wake where people come to a funeral parlor to view the body and pay their respects in the days preceding the funeral. Jews typically sit shivah, which is a seven-day grieving process that takes place at a family members’ home. At the funeral last week, each of us sprinkled a bit of earth on the coffin once it had been lowered into the ground. But an Israeli friend I was with told me that in the jewish tradition, people take turns shoveling earth onto the coffin until it is entirely buried. I love learning about other community’s rituals and funerals offer an entree into that.

5. They bring closure. Not of the emotional sort – that can take years, if not a lifetime, to sort out. But the funeral does mark an end to that bizarre odyssey of planning and preparation that accompanies a death, in which you are simultaneously blown over by the toll of your loss but equally distracted by all of the work that necessarily goes into a funeral ritual of any sort. And for many of us, that’s when we truly begin to grieve.

 

Image: Funeral Service by MudflapDC via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Towards A Definition Of Adulthood (With A Nod To Judaism)

Over on The Happiness Project today, Gretchen Rubin is grappling with how we use vocabulary to define our goals.

Some people, she notes, prefer to talk about intentions rather than Gretche’s preferred “resolutions.” Others would like to discard the term “Happiness Project” altogether; while embracing the same goals, they want to dissect “life’s journey.” Still others don’t want to talk about happiness at all; they’d rather achieve a state of joy.

It’s an interesting discussion because it gets at the power of words to convey something essential, as well as how personal that vocabulary needs to be to have meaning for each and every one of us.

The post really struck a chord with me because – like Gretchen with happiness – I feel like I ought to have a working definition of “adulthood” on this blog. On my “about” page, I talk about adulthood as a journey, not a destination. And that’s very much how I think about it.

But last week, I was actually handed a definition of adulthood that really resonated and so I wanted to share it.

I came across this definition while viewing a rough cut of the fabulous film, Neverbloomers, by the Canadian filmmaker Sharon Hyman.  Some of you may remember Sharon as my E-BFF whom I met a year or so ago when I happened upon her website and realized that she was a comrade in arms. Sharon is in the process of finalizing her documentary, which is all about what she calls “GrownUphood” (love it!) and what that term means to different people (including herself).

There were lots of things that struck me about this film (which I can’t wait to promote up, down and sideways when it comes out later this year). But for now, I don’t think I spoil anything by revealing that in one scene, Sharon interviews a Rabbi about his views on adulthood. And here’s what he says:

“Being grown up,” he says, “is the ability to fully integrate that which we know, practically.” He then goes on to reference the Kabbalah, which has a Hebrew word for this: daas. According to the Rabbi,”daas”  is usually translated as “to know,” but it also means “to connect.”

So for this rabbi anyway, adulthood is a state in which all the knowledge that we possess connects or “clicks” and becomes an integrated feeling which, in turn, influences our behavior. And the intellectual faculty that allows for such integration is a uniquely adult talent which one only develops later in life.

Not to go all Fiddler On The Roof on you (“The Rabbi has spoken!“) but I love the concept of daas. I feel like it goes to the heart of what we are – all of us – going through as we age: a process of integrating and connecting our knowledge in a way that permeates our feelings and our behavior. At a minimum, I feel that this idea very much encapsulates what this blog is all about.

So that, my friends, is my profound thought for the day, courtesy of Rabbi Moshe New in Montreal whom I’ve never even met.

You see, I told you. I was meant to be Jewish after all.

*****

Here is my very last post for Politics Daily, which, quite sadly, shut down earlier this week. (More on that another time.) It’s a post on Social Networking and Local Government. I enjoyed writing it every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed writing all of my posts there. Vaya con Dios, PD.

Image: Fiddler On The Roof: Tevye and the Fiddler by Thwaites Theatre Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You're Working Too Hard

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Sometimes it’s the off-hand comment that really gets you thinking.

So there I was in the playground yesterday, about to pick my daughter up from school, when I started talking to a friend who was also waiting for her son. We were midway into a vague, “How’s it goin’?” sort of chat, when she suddenly commented, seemingly out of nowhere: “You seem so busy. Do you ever eat lunch?”

I laughed, reassuring her that I did, even while suppressing the memory of stuffing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into my mouth but two hours earlier as I galloped up a hill towards a bi-monthly appointment with my life coach (whom I see to help me…relax.)

But it gets better. As we talked some more about my work schedule, my double-school-run-afternoons and my husband’s recent business travel, she asked – in all seriousness – “Do you ever watch TV?”

She meant it in the nicest way, of course. She’s a really nice person. But, still, it cut me like a knife.

I mean: Do I ever watch TV? Am I so busy that the image I now project is that of a pop-culture-bereft, ready-meal-popping freak show who zips around North London on her collapsible bicycle desperately trying to keep up with her life? (Don’t answer that question. And by the way, does falling asleep to the Director’s Cut of Pride and Prejudice count as “watching TV”?)

So I gave it some thought. And I realized that I have been working too hard lately and trying to do too much. And I really need to relax. Here are five other tell-tale signs that you need to take a break:

1. Strangers tell you that you look rushed. It’s one thing when a friend tells you that you seem over-worked. But when even a stranger expresses concern that you’re too busy, it’s really time to take note. I was in the pharmacy the other day – where, because of the multitude of medical problems afflicting my family – the pharmacists are basically my extended family. Again, seemingly out of nowhere, the owner of the shop stepped forward and observed: “You always seem to be in a rush.” (“Why do you say that?” I wanted to reply. “Because I just knocked 42 of your contact lens solutions on the floor when I whooshed in here to grab my prescription while – literally – jogging?”) Once again, she meant it in the nicest way. This lady brings the descriptor “kindly” to a whole new level. And that made her remark all the more telling.

2. Muscle pain migrates to new corners of your body. Remember my piriformis syndrome? Thought I had that licked, didn’t you? Nope. It’s back. Only it has inexplicably migrated to the left side of my body. As soon as the pain started about six weeks ago, I recognized the symptoms instantly. And for a while, I ignored it. (Even though you should never ignore pain. You heard it here first.) But you know it’s time to cut back on what you’re doing when your body is basically screaming: “Hey! Pay Attention to Me!”

3. You feel relieved when you *have* to read your favorite magazine. I love The New Yorker. But despite my Sabbath Saturday resolve to devote more time to reading this magazine, I’ve fallen off the wagon. There are three – quite possibly, four – issues sitting in my magazine rack as we speak. One day last week, I found myself waiting for one of my kids for an hour with nothing to do but read my New Yorker. And I felt…relieved. As in: “Thank goodness this hour presented itself miraculously in my life!” Not as in: “Gee, I love the New Yorker and I think I’ll spend an hour reading it this afternoon because I want to.” What’s wrong with this picture?

4. You mistake tragedy for comedy. I love Indie films. The bleaker, the better. So when I recommended Winter’s Bone to some friends recently, I was puzzled when one of them, while passing me on the school run, shouted out: “Hey, thanks for the movie recommendation. We had a lovely evening. But it was a bit…grim, no?” To which I responded: “Grim? Really? I found it kind of uplifting.” When I recounted this exchange to my husband later that evening, he looked at me as if I were smoking crack. Like me, he also loved the movie. But “uplifting”? To paraphrase his reaction, when you mix poverty, drugs, murder and rural American sub-cultures, that’s not generally characterized as “uplifting.” Just sayin’.

5. You read Nora Ephron. I like my books much like I prefer my movies: heavy and (often) dark. (For me, the Dragon Tattoo series constitutes “light.”) So when my book club chose Nora Ephron’s Heartburn as its selection this month, I was initially disappointed. Not my cuppa, as they say. Boy, was I wrong. It’s not a great novel by any stretch. In fact, it’s not so much a novel as an extended rant by Ephron against her ex-husband for cheating on her when she was seven months pregnant. (And who can blame her?) But, man is Ephron funny. She has a terrific voice. And sometimes, we all just need to laugh.

Fortunately, I will have a chance to take a break later this month when I travel with my family – and my mother – to Berlin, one of those European cities I’ve always wanted to visit. Let’s just hope that whole terrorist threat thing has lifted by then. Speaking of grim…

*****

I was very grateful for this shout-out on the New York Times Freakonomics blog for my recent piece on health care reform in the U.K.

Image: Eat On The Run by Brave Heart via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Yom Kippur, The Pope And My Reluctant Secularism

Sometimes the easiest questions are the hardest ones to answer. Like: What religion are you?

I had reason to think about this issue the other day during a routine doctor’s appointment at a local London hospital. As we were winding up, the doctor turned to me and asked: “Oh, yes, and what religion are you? It could be relevant to your treatment.” He was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to tick the appropriate box on his chart.

I paused, as if he’d asked me the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. “Umm . . . well . . . I used to be Catholic.” I heard myself say. “But my husband’s Jewish . . . so I guess . . . um . . .”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. As polite as the Brits tend to be, you can tell when you’ve tried their patience. And I could see that this kind gentleman was thinking: “Honey, just answer the question. I’ve got loads of patients to see in the waiting room and I really don’t need an American confessional right now.”

“I guess I’m nothing,” I told him finally. “Yeah, that’s right. Just tick ‘nothing.’ ” But what I really wanted to say was: “Do you have a box for ‘formerly Christian’? Or perhaps for ‘wanna-be Jewish’?”

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Yalmukes by Bekah Stargazing via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Stepping Down From The PTA

I hit a milestone of sorts yesterday morning. I attended my last-ever PTA meeting at my daughter’s school.

I hesitate to say “last ever” because who knows what the future will bring? I did, after all,  *just* volunteer to sell cakes at my son’s school yesterday morning. And as all those who’ve ever been involved in a PTA well know, once you start selling cakes, it’s a slippery slope from there. (I once walked into a meeting intending to volunteer to bake some brownies and somehow walked out running the school’s largest fund-raiser for the next three years.)

But for this year at least, and quite possibly the next several, I’m done with the PTA.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’ve made a ton of friends through the PTA. It was the first way that I plugged into British society when I moved here from the States four years ago.

Raising money for the school has also made me feel like a responsible, engaged, committed parent. And it’s been a great use of that lonely, frustrated, administrative “project manager” who lives inside my writer body, crying out to anyone who will listen to set her free to just…run something.

And, hey, let’s face it, it’s the PTA that’s really given me the platform with which to run for Mayor of Hampstead.

On the other hand, it’s time to step down. I just got an incredibly detailed point-by-point email in my inbox from a fellow parent who’d like to see other parents coordinate more with teachers on how to bring additional resources to the school in these cash-strapped times. It’s a perfectly good idea and one that we may well need to implement. But whereas my inner Manager would have once gobbled up this email and skipped off to try to implement it, today I just hit “delete.” And happily so.

And that decision is not dictated by anything personal or even professional. It’s just that I no longer have the energy to put into the PTA. Or, better stated, I have that energy but it’s not energy that I wish to devote to the PTA anymore.

Because like jobs and careers and houses and seasons (cue The Byrds performing Turn, Turn, Turn), everything has a life cycle. Even your extra-curricular activities. And you need to acknowledge when you’ve lost your mojo and it’s time to move on.

So, farewell, class teas and school raffles and the laminator-for-making-posters-that-never-really-laminated-but-that-was-half-of-the-fun and all those local business owners who greet me by name and still offer me freebies in their shops just out of habit. It was a great ride.

And to the incoming crew, I say Godspeed.

*****

Today I’m over on Politics Daily talking about the Pope’s Visit to the U.K.

Image: Charity Bake Sale by Shereen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Continuing Education: The Importance of Experimentation

I went to a three-hour lesson on pod-casting on Sunday afternoon. It was the first in a two-part course I’m taking at London’s adult learning centre, CityLit. The course is designed to introduce beginners to the art of internet broadcasting.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London four years ago, I’ve taken classes in fiction writing and acting. In Chicago, I took classes in freelance writing and memoir. And once, many moons ago, I took a class in beginning Hebrew (not to mention the continuing ed. class to end all continuing ed. classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

According to a report released jointly by the Penn State University Office of Outreach Marketing and Communications and University Continuing Education Association in 2006, up to 45 percent of colleges and university enrollment in the United States is from adult learners. Revenues for continuing education rose 67 percent at the institutions surveyed in this report from 2004.

People go back to school as grown-ups for lots of different reasons. Sometimes, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. Above all, you have fun. (And yes, for the record, I’m still eyeing that course at CityLit entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway.)

Sometimes you go back to school because you need to re-tool professionally. From 2008 to 2018, the labor force is projected to grow more diverse and have more workers age 55 and older. Simultaneously, the highest-paying jobs – those that require at least a bachelor’s degree – are expected to increase at a rate faster than that of overall job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s  a good bet that we’ll be seeing more Americans – particularly boomers – sharpening their pencils and buying new notebooks as they gear up for a second or third career.

But the main advantage of adult education is that it enables you to experiment. Chris Brogan – guru of all things social media – talked about this recently. Brogan thinks about experimentation in terms of labs. (He’s currently experimenting with a new travel site called Man On The Go.)

His main point is that experimentation is crucial to growth. Why? Because you test drive new ideas. You collaborate. You enjoy the fun of failure, as Gretchen Rubin likes to put it. Above all, you create ideas of your own, rather than just reporting on the ideas of others.

Which is why I’m learning how to podcast. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll incorporate podcasting into my life, and whether it will be more of a hobby or something that I use in work. But I have a few ideas. More importantly, I know that if I don’t start experimenting now – creating a lab, as it were – I’ll never find out.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll be the next Cezanne

*****

Apologies that my weekly tips for adulthood post did not appear yesterday. Due to the editing schedule over at www.PoliticsDaily.com, that particular post will come out next week.

*****

And speaking of Politics Daily, be sure to check out my post today on the new Pro-Islam ads running in London. It’s kind of the UK’s answer to the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign. Except that it’s “What Would Mohammed Do?” Check it out…

Image: Podcasting by hawaii via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Worry Dolls: Why Grown Ups Need Them Too

Judith Warner has an interesting article in this weekend’s New York Times. It’s called “The Why Worry Generation” and it’s all about Gen-Y: the so-called “millennials” born between 1982 and 2002.

The thrust of the article is that even though these young people ought to be completely stressed out by the economic downturn, joblessness and high levels of debt they are confronting as they enter adulthood, they aren’t. They believe in themselves to the point that they are actually willing to wait for the right job to come along – one that’s fulfilling, not just pays the bills. And they believe that they are good enough to get it. In short: they just…don’t worry.

Warner bases her argument on a small group of  college grads with whom she conducted interviews. But her findings are borne out by a much larger study carried out by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press earlier this year. Pew also found the millennials to be remarkably hopeful and self-assured.

I read both articles and felt…anxious. Maybe it’s generational and maybe it’s just me. But I worry about everything. All the time.

I worry about money. I worry about my career. I worry about whether we’ll ever move back to the United States…or should. I worry about my kids: that they’ll be happy and well-adjusted and have lots of friends and never feel sad or lonely or excluded. I worry about my siblings. I worry about missing yoga. I worry about going to yoga. Sometimes I feel that even my worries have worries.

I have a lot of strategies for dealing with my worries. Sometimes I write them down in a little notebook. Sometimes I talk about them with my husband or my close friends or my life coach. Sometimes (she said, with a post-modern twist) I blog about them.

But by far the best remedy against my worries is a little tradition my daughter and I have started of late. As we were moving, I came upon a box of Guatemalan worry dolls that I’ve had for ages, dating back to when I lived in Central America many moons ago. If you haven’t seen worry dolls before, they are these tiny little dolls that come in a small, yellow wooden box. In the folk traditions of Guatemala, children are meant to tell a worry to each doll before they go to bed. In the morning – so the story goes – the children wake up and their worries are gone because the dolls have removed them.

Anyway, my daughter and I have built the worry dolls into our nighttime routine. Every night – just before she goes to sleep – we run through our joint worries, taking turns as we make our way through the dolls. What’s interesting  is how repetitive our worries are. My daughter always worries that she’ll “have a bad day” and “won’t like her lunch.” I always worry that I’ll “be stressed out” and “not get enough done.” Then we put the dolls in the box and close it with the lid.

It doesn’t always work. But there’s something deeply soothing about naming your worries out loud and then putting them in a box. It’s like a friend of mine who once cut out a picture of her ex-boyfriend and then stuck it in a bottle. The physical act of putting the proverbial “lid on it” really does help.

Added bonus? The whole process has reminded me of that great Dire Straits song “Why Worry.” Have a listen.

Happy Memorial Day.

Image: Worry Dolls by vintagecat via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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