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Tips for Adulthood: How Career Change Is Like Dating

LoveI have a friend who started law school in her late 30s. There were plenty of reasons for her not to change careers at this point in her life. She had a good job with a major, blue-chip consulting firm. She was making a decent salary, and had a lot of flexibility, often working from home. She was also pregnant with her third child.

And yet, she’d always wanted to be a lawyer.

“How’s it going?” I asked her casually one day.

“It’s fantastic,” she told me. “It’s like finally dating the guy I had my eye on my entire life.”

Wow. I thought at the time. She’s really made the right choice for herself.

Fast forward fifteen years or so and I, too, am in the midst of a career change. It’s not my first time changing careers, but my friend’s comments about law school all those years ago seem all the more prescient this time around.

Here are five reasons changing careers can feel like dating:

a. It takes a while to sift through the options. I stopped dating before online dating became a “thang.” But even before it was all as simple as “Swipe Left, dating has always been infused with the idea that  just keep putting yourself out there and – to deploy a baseball metaphor- “wait for your pitch.” It can take a while. In a similar vein, career change doesn’t happen overnight.  Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul, notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. So don’t rush it. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, make sure you “try on” different options – possibly through job shadowing – to make sure they work for you. As with dating, you may need to go out with a few duds before you find Mr./Ms. Right.

b. Beware of big egos. Including your own. One of the worst dates I ever went on occurred when I was about 23 years old. I’d just moved to Washington, DC and was looking for a policy job. My father, trying to be helpful, asked a friend of his with powerful connections to set up a few informational interviews for me around town. One guy I met with couldn’t really help me find a job, but he did invite me out to dinner. We spent two hours doing nothing but talking about him:  How he’d been voted one of the “50 most influential people under 50” in D.C. How often he worked out at the gym. I gobbled down my Pad Thai and ran for cover at the earliest opportunity. But I learned something on that date that has stood me in good stead through several career shifts: don’t ever let someone’s ego  – including your own – drive you in life. If you’re going after something because of the title or the brand name or the corner office, you’re probably not going to be too happy. It’s OK to make a few mistakes. Useful, even. That’s how you learn. (I never went out on a date with someone I’d interviewed with again.) But particularly if you’re making a career change, try to listen to yourself and get rid of the “shoulds.” The shoulds are often pointing you towards legitimacy, not authenticity.

c. Trust your gut. “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.” A friend of mine uttered these words at his wedding, in a speech explaining how he met his bride. Per (a) above, he’d played the field as a young man. Indeed, well into his late 30’s. But when he met his (now) wife – whom he’d actually known most of his life – he realized that he’d found the right person to marry and settle down with. I’ve never really believed in this notion of “the one” – whether in jobs or relationships. But I do believe that in both spheres, your gut will often tell you when you’re on to a winner. In my own case, I’m currently launching my own communication consultancy. When I left my job a year ago, I had no inkling that I’d be running my own business within a year. Indeed, that wasn’t my ambition at all. But as I thought carefully over the past year about my skills and interests, I realized that this particular career move made perfect sense. “You didn’t find your job, it found you,” as a friend of mine put it. She was exactly right.

d. Something old. OK, so I’ve skipped ahead from dating to marriage. Shame on me. But I’m really drawn to that erstwhile wedding rhyme, “Something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue.” Face it. When dating, we all have particular types we gravitate towards. It might be athetes. Or redheads. Or artists. And even if it’s only a glimmer of that quality, we tend to look for it when we’re on the market for a partner. In a similar vein, most people tend to bring something of their old work selves with them when they change careers. It might be a skill set: Editing. Line managing. Or it might be a body of knowledge: Accounting. Environmental science. And that’s a good thing. It’s really hard to get a new job doing something wildly different than what you did before. Most career gurus advise against a radical shift, at least at first. So having a “type” – a part of you that you like and want to re-fashion – is advantageous.

e. Something new. Back to our wedding rhyme. (Well, you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Even if you have a dominant dating type, it’s often refreshing to switch things up and go out with someone completely different. Trade in the cardigan-wearing preppy cheerleader with hoop earrings for the mysterious girl in the corner smoking clove cigarettes and smelling of Patchouli oil. So, too, with career change. Be considered in your choice, but once you know what you want, be bold. If there’s something calling your name about working in the outdoors – even if you’ve spent twenty years at a desk – go for it!  I can’t tell you how many friends I have – including myself – who’ve wanted to try something really different career-wise, but ended up going for the safer option. And ended up disappointed. That doesn’t mean it’s always the right time to take risks. But having that spark, that newness, is what will keep you motivated to “keep on, keeping on” with your new professional journey.

Image: Love Couple Happy by Skimpton007 via Pixabay

Note: This article was originally posted on The Ellevate Medium page

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Tips For Adulthood: The Art of the Cold Call

networking

networkingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all know the gospel of job-hunting. You don’t get jobs by applying for them; you get them by knowing someone. Some put the number of jobs obtained through networking — as opposed to answering an ad — at as high as 85%.

The corollary to this truism of the job market is that job-hunting is all about connections. Once you decide on a direction for your career, you need to start by talking to people in your immediate network — even if they aren’t all that close to what you want to do — and gradually work outwards, through them, into people working in the sector of your choice.

It’s true. People are more likely to answer your email/phone call if you’ve been referred by someone they know.

But does that mean that you should abandon the cold call entirely? Should you never just get in touch with someone doing work that interests you and see if they’ll let you speak to them?

It takes a lot of chutzpah, but it can work if done properly. I recently did it, and was offered part-time work. Here’s how:

Don’t assume you need to be an extrovert

Sure, extroverts have an easier time approaching strangers out of the blue. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at talking to them.

Quartz recently ran an interesting article arguing that introverts might actually be much better at networking than extroverts because they can focus and listen. And people appreciate that.

(Click here for a list of networking tips if you self-identify as an introvert.)

Do your homework about the company

You should obviously go to any interview — cold call or not — knowing a fair bit about both the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. But when you’re doing a cold call, this preparation has to come before you even draft your initial email approach.

When I did this recently, I made a point of telling the person I targeted (truthfully) that I’d been following her newsletter and her blog for a years. I also made reference to something specific on her website. Sure, a bit of flattery is always a good thing. But I also really wanted her to know that I hadn’t just wandered in off of the street.

You’re contacting them because you’ve decided you want to work there and/or think they could help you get closer to your dream job. You want them to talk to you, but they have plenty of reasons not to. You need to be sure it’s clear from the get-go that they won’t be wasting their time.

Identify a problem to be solved

People are much more likely to respond positively to a cold call if you can convince them that you can help them solve a problem. That doesn’t mean that you should suggest that they hire you in your initial email because you are God’s Gift to X. Far from it. Humility goes a long way.

For example, if you notice that the company is doing a lot of marketing in trade magazines, but nothing online, ask about that. If it’s a business school, perhaps note: “I see that you offer a lot of courses on management training, but there’s nothing on team-building. Why is that?”

I’ve found that questions about gaps often prompt the person being interviewed to reflect on their own blind spots, and might even get them thinking about hiring someone to pilot an investigation into a new area. That person could be you.

Reveal your USP

You never want to go into a meeting — unless it’s a job interview! — and tell someone why they should hire you. Instead, you want to ask smart questions that impress them.

In particular, you want to pose those questions in a way that reveals what is unique about you that could really add to the team. (Some call this your Unique Selling Point, or USP.)

Lately, I’ve been targeting the higher education sector in my job search, offering communication training. I explain to everyone I meet that I “think like a social scientist, but communicate like a journalist.” This is shorthand for saying that I have a PhD, but don’t sound like I do. That’s an unusual skill set, at least in this sector. I play it up because I know it’s what makes me distinctive.

Be willing to hear the word “no”

You can’t cold call people if you’re not willing to hear the word “no.” When I first moved to the UK twelve years ago, I volunteered to run the Christmas Raffle at my then-five-year-old’s new school. This amounted to walking around the local village and asking every single shop person I met if they’d be willing to donate a prize to the raffle.

Guess what? A lot of people said some version of “no.” But a surprising number said “yes.” What I learned from that experience was that I didn’t really care if people said “no” to me.

Develop this skill and you’ll find the whole process a lot easier. (Here’s an inspirational story of one woman’s perseverance to get the job she wanted.)

How about you? Have you ever done a successful cold call? Why did it work?

Note: This article was originally posted on the Ellevate Medium page.

Image: Ghozt Tramp – Business Communication Duplicat Model via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Unconventional Tips For Healthy Living

fitness
fitness
On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.
At first blush, I’m probably the last person to tell other people how to live more healthily.
I’m not a fitness freak. Nor am I naturally athletic. My best sports are pool and ping-pong, often played with a beer in one hand.

I never diet and I’m not even remotely neurotic about food. (It may be one of the few things I’m not neurotic about!)

And yet, despite all this, I lead what most people would term a fairly health lifestyle.

Here’s how I do it, and how you can too:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50….

Image: Kettlebell Fitness Crossfit by Sifusergej via Pixabay

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Talk Therapy Can Help You

psychotherapy

psychotherapyOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I had coffee with a friend recently. We have a lot in common, and tend to coach each other on everything from career change to creative writing.

But in this particular conversation, I discovered that there was one issue where we were profoundly out of sync: she’d never seen a psychotherapist. Ever.

I, on the other hand, can’t imagine going through life – and especially middle age – without having talked things over with a professional.
If you’re a therapy skeptic or just haven’t felt the need to see a shrink, here’s a layman’s perspective on five ways talk therapy can help you (But be sure to read my “five things not to do in therapy” before you go!):

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Psychotherapy via Wikimedia Commons

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons Weddings Make You Feel Young

wedding

weddingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always loved weddings. When I was younger, I saw them as a giant, free party.

And I still do. But as I age – and move out of the wedding phase of life and into the era when everybody starts getting divorced – I don’t go to all that many weddings anymore.

So when I do,  they are a real source of rejuvenation for me personally.

There are the obvious reasons for this: true love, the pageantry, Pachelbel’s Canon etc.

But there are also other ways in which attending a wedding will give you an much needed energy boost. Here are five:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Romantic Weddings at Janna Sur Mer d’Amour, Lebanon via Wikimedia Commons

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

ironing

ironingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

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

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

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

Read the rest of this post over at Kuellife…

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

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 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

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