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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons to Start Swimming

swimming

swimmingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m rarely an evangelist for anything athletic. While my kids and my husband are all very sporty, I just wasn’t born with that particular gene. (My best “sports” are bowling, ping pong and pool, if that gives you any sense for my athletic prowess.)  But like so many things in middle age, you can find yourself doing things in your 40s and 50s that you never imagined even five years earlier.

I didn’t set out to become a swimmer. Sure, I’d taken the usual lessons at the local YMCA as a kid, where I learned enough of the basics to stay afloat. And think I even learned how to do a “back dive” at sleepaway camp a couple of years later. But that was all 30-odd plus years ago in a galaxy far, far away. I didn’t enjoy swimming very much and I wasn’t particularly good at it. For me, swimming was sort of like learning how to boil water for pasta: a useful skill, but nothing you’d want to invest time or energy into perfecting.

Instead, as a grown up, I went running for my exercise. But after years and years of running, I finally made a decision last year to stop. My right leg had been aching on and off for ages – piriformis syndrome, for those who are counting (reciting obscure aches and pains being another tell-tale sign of middle age) – and after going to physical therapy for four months and seeing no improvement, I decided that running simply wasn’t in the cards for me any more.

“Why don’t you take up swimming?” My doctor suggested. “It’s much lower impact on your knees.”

“Swimming,” I thought? “But that’s so…cold…And wet…And cold.”

But given my leg problems – and the reality that “fast walking” sounded like something my mother might do – my choice was basically to start swimming or to give up exercise entirely. So I chose swimming. And now I’m here to convert all of you to the cause.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image: Swimmers via Pixabay.com

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Look Forward To As You Age

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I don’t know about you, but I think most of us could use some good news right about now. As this whole government shut down thing threatens to drag on into yet another week – with debt ceilings looming  – I’m looking anywhere and everywhere to have a positive outlook on life. So I’ve been reassured by a spate of recent research suggesting that whatever our politicians can or cannot achieve when locked in a room together, the rest of us can at least know that aging doesn’t necessarily need to further our sense of despair. To the contrary, some things really do get better.

To wit, here are five things to look forward to as you age:

1. Productivity peaks later in life. Worried that as you get older, you won’t be as sharp as the new kid on the block in the cubicle next to you? Fear no more. Recent research out of Finland suggests that most workers maintain their mental and social work skills throughout their lives. Provided that you stay healthy, there’s no reason that you can’t keep up with the demands of work well into later life. And it gets better. In America, anyway, you’re likely to earn more as you age. And that’s because – as a recent Brookings study shows – today’s older workers are much better educated than older workers in the past. Indeed, older Americans who stay attached to the labor force after 62 are much more likely to have received schooling after high school than the workers who retire at younger ages. And we all know that there are returns to education. So don’t worry that you may not know what Pinterest is. You’ve got plenty on those youngins.

2. Happiness peaks later in life. Of course, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (Ditto Jane.) So it’s equally reassuring to learn – courtesy of the Financial Times‘ Tim Harford – that we’ll actually have more fun as we get older as well. Economists who study “subjective well being” have long been aware of a U-shaped pattern as people pass through different ages. What this essentially means is that we are, on average, happier in our teens and in early adulthood, and as pensioners, than we are in middle age. Recent research out of Germany posits one explanation for this U-shaped curve and it has everything to do with…um…great expectations (to coin a phrase). Turns out, younger people vastly inflate their expectations of what life will deliver five years on, such that by the time you’re (cough) my age, you’re basically depressed by all that you haven’t achieved. By the time you get old, however, you start to be pleasantly surprised by what you *have* accomplished, rather than by what you’ve failed to do. This finding is consistent with other recent studies in the U.S. which suggest that as we age, how we define happiness changes, from a notion that is entirely bound up in achieving more (so-called “promotion-mindedness” to one that’s more about valuing what we already have.) While I’ll still fess’ up to wanting to write that best-selling novel, it’s reassuring to know that one day, the draft sitting within my desk drawer will give me a certain solace.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side….

Tips For Adulthood: What Would You Erase From Your Life?

On Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

A while back on Facebook, my friend Sharon Hyman – of Neverbloomers fame  (check out her new film!) – posted the following status update:

“If you could go back and etch-a-sketch away some part of your life, what would it be?”

Wow. What  a great question. I’ve always believed that regret is a central component of adulthood. But many of our regrets are really longings,  so we wouldn’t want to erase them, because they define who we are.

In contrast, I love the concept of the etch-a-sketch – that iconic childhood toy – to capture those aspects of our past that we’d truly like to eliminate so that even the vestiges of their imprint don’t remain.

So I got to thinking about what would be on my etch-a-sketch list. Here’s what I came up with. I’d love to hear from you, too:

1. Smoking. Yes, it’s true. I was a smoker for several years of my life. For a long time, it was just a social thing I did a few times a week with my friends when we were out drinking. This was college, after all, and our entire lives lay ahead of us. Who really thought about mortality? But then, during my first year of graduate school, I actually became a smoker. You know, one of those people who woke up in the morning and not terribly long after awakening, felt the need to have a cigarette. Boy, I wish I could erase that phase of my life. Because with what we now know about smoking – and its effects not only on our own health, but on those around us – I fully appreciate why my mother burst into tears when I announced to her that I was a smoker.

2. Not being an athlete. I’ve never been much of an athlete. As I’ve frequently bemoaned , during my childhood I was really only ever good at bowling and pool. In fact,  the only time I was ever actively solicited to join a sports team was when – during the orientation session during my Freshman year at college – some large, extremely fit blond creature ambled over and – no doubt hearing my rather loud voice and observing my less-than-commanding frame – asked if I’d ever thought about being a coxswain for the crew team. (Um, honey? I’ve never heard the term coxswain before you just uttered it but…um…no?) But in light of all the benefits sports have for kids – particularly girls – I now wish that I’d pushed myself to do more to participate in sports when I was young, even without being good at them.

3. My perm. Much like smoking, another erase-worthy event in my life is that permanent I had back in high school. We all have our hair issues, God knows. My own stem from my baldness and perennial wish that I could have more body in my hair than that one, isolated cowlick in that upper, front-left corner of my scalp. And so, during a brief period in high school, I sported a perm. I wish I could show you a picture – so that you might cringe along with me – but suffice to say that it wasn’t a pretty picture. My friends in college called it “The Jersey Flip” to convey that singular hideousness that is often attributed to my home state.

4. Not pursuing journalism earlier. Although I’m a big believer that figuring out what you want to do with your life professionally takes a lot of time and thought, I really wish that I’d become a journalist earlier on in life. I think that if I’d known myself better – or, better put – trusted myself more – I would have realized earlier on that journalism combined many of my passions in life, including writing, travel and, above all, analyzing people. I’m particularly drawn to the romantic image of the 20-something foreign correspondent in a war-torn country, dodging bombs and filing stories with a glass of bourbon at hand, a la Shutter Babe or The Year of Living Dangerously. Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so romantic in real life, but it’s one of those things I really wish I could go back and do over.

5. Him. Oh, c’mon. We all have one.

How about you? What would you go back and erase from your past?

 

Image: Cigarette by Sudipto_Sarkar via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

 

1. Well, it’s the Olympics and that dominates pretty much everything right now, especially in my home town. So I kick off this week’s list with a review in The Guardian of Olympic costumes, past and present.

2. When I first watched the Friday night opening ceremony, I felt a bit like Slates’s Simon Doonan. LOL funny.

3. But I really appreciated – as always – Roger Ebert’s thoughtful analysis of the show.

4. Via Very Short List, check out Olympic Logo A Day. Amazing.

5. On a serious note, I loved the fabulous Patti Digh’s take on discovering that her daughter had Asperger’s Syndrome over on the blog 37 Days.

6. Couldn’t agree more with David Plotz’s diatribe against the month of August.

7. On Colossal, you’ll want to see miniature people trapped in a world of giant food. So clever!

8. Finally, via my cousin Sarah, the video of the week: Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon sing Sexy and I Know It.

Tips For Adulthood: Join A Board

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Amid the many changes in my life of late, I’ve recently joined the advisory board of a company.

It’s a small company in the education/journalism field, one that I came across during my job hunt. And although they didn’t have a job for me, I really got on with the Director and stayed in touch with him after we met. Then one day, when I told him about my new job, he invited me to be on the advisory board of his outfit.

I went to my first board meeting a few weeks ago and it immediately struck me what a great move – professionally and personally – it is to join the board of an organization you believe in. Here’s why:

1. You give  back. Most of us want to give something back to the community in which we live. (OK, having just seen Inside Job, I suppose some of us don’t.) So let me qualify that statement: many of us want to give something back. But as you get older and busier, spending all day Saturday at the local soup kitchen is no longer a viable option. Joining a board is one way to give back. The whole purpose of setting up an advisory/governance board of a company or non-profit is to pool together a diverse group of people who can give you input and connections from their respective industries. In my case, I will be helping out this particular company with its social media strategy. But as we went around the table, people sitting there were offering help in all manner of areas: from networking with teachers to helping set out a “moral purpose” for the company’s mission. And it struck me what a wonderful opportunity it was – for all of us – to feel that we were contributing to something larger than our pocketbooks.

2. You learn something. As we age, it’s vital that we continue to learn. Joining the board of an organization immerses you not only in what that company is doing, but in the broader sector in which it sits. And so you begin to learn about a new field. It’s likely one that you already knew something about (or you wouldn’t be there in the first place.) But it’s also likely that you are now thinking about that field from a new perspective, as you help the company navigate its own place in that space.In my case, I know a fair bit about journalism and I know something about the British education system, having done some teaching last year. But I don’t know anything about how those two things join up in the National Curriculum and I’m finding it absolutely fascinating to learn.

3. You network. It goes without saying that joining a board represents a great opportunity to network, both with people inside your field and with those way outside it. There is a bottom line aspect to such networking:  you might actually land yourself a job. But there’s also a purely social aspect: it’s fun to meet new people! I’m now fast-friends on Twitter with a gentleman I met through this Board who, late in life, has decided to master social media and re-purpose himself as an educational consultant. He’s a great guy with lots of energy and ideas and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know him Online and in real life.

4. It looks good. If having fun, meeting people and expanding your professional connections aren’t reason enough to join a board, then do it for this very simple reason:  it looks good. Being on a board lends a certain gravitas to your CV. It is also a potential signaling device when/as/if you end up on the job market because you never know who else might know other people who work at this company (or serve on the board!) and will use this in evaluating you. So if you’re on a professional social networking site like Linked In (and if you aren’t, why aren’t you?) by all means, be sure to flag your board membership.

5. It will feed into your day job. In addition to learning more about a substantive area of interest (#2), being on a board will also give you ideas about your own job and professional sector. And that’s because when you sit down and analyze closely how another organization staffs itself, allocates its resources, makes decisions etc., it will invariably get you thinking about your own workplace and the pros/cons of its own internal structure/process. You might get new ideas for how to fund-raise. Or what to call a position you are currently recruiting for. Or how to streamline decision-making. Whatever it is, you will be learning. And I guarantee that you’ll take that with you to your own job.

So if there’s an organization that intrigues you, approach them and see if they’d be willing to have you on their board. They’ll get something out of it…and so will you.

Try it!

Image: SBN board meeting by mlovitt via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Weddings Make You Feel Young

Every Wednesday 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 – as I did some weeks back – 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:

1. Dancing – I’ve loved the weddings I’ve gone to in a friend’s basement as much as the ones I’ve gone to that took over an entire hotel. At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. But I must say that if you haven’t gone out dancing in a while – (and let’s be honest, who does that after they hit 40?) – boy, is it fun to go to someone else’s dancing party. At the wedding I attended recently, there was a large age spread among the guests. So the DJ went out of his way to alternate a bunch of contemporary music – which brought out my teen-aged nieces and nephews – with some classic music that got the – ahem – older crowd out there.  I mean, seriously. Come On, Eileen followed by Twist and Shout? What’s not to love?

2. Drinking – I don’t know about you, but ever since I turned 40 I can’t drink more than two beers without getting a hangover. But sometimes it really is fun to throw caution to the wind, stock up on your migraine medicine, and get out there and belly up to the bar. (Especially when you’re partying with 18 year-olds…) I hate to say it but it *will* make you feel young again. (Until the hangover kicks in, anyway…)

3. Socializing – Yes, as I age I’m all in favor of hanging out in smaller groups. But once in a while it’s exhilarating to enter a room with 100 people and…mingle. At the wedding I went to recently, I spoke with friends from high school, relatives ranging from 3 to 83, and complete strangers. My favorite guest was one of my nephew’s friends, a 20 year-old guy who kept repeating the phrase “I’m just here to have fun” and became the Zelig of the entire event, appearing in every photo and dancing to every tune. I dubbed him “random party guy” and kept circling back to check in on him throughout the weekend.

4. Travel – One of the nicest aspects of weddings is that they often take you to places you’d never go otherwise. And that gives you a chance to soak up a different atmosphere, whether it’s the Deep South or a remote beach or a foreign country. Over the years, I’ve been to weddings in Birmingham,Paris, Cape Cod and Daytona Beach. And part of the appeal of each one was the chance to soak up the local culture. The wedding I went to recently took place on a vineyard on the North Fork of Long Island. I didn’t even know they had vineyards on Long Island but it was absolutely beautiful. (And helped out with #2, natch…)

5. Cake – I will not pretend otherwise that my favorite dessert on earth is wedding cake. If at heart you have the dietary preferences of an 11 year-old boy, it gets no better than this.

 

Image: Wedding Cake by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You’re Not “Settled In”

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One British phrase I hear a lot these days is “How are you settling in?”

I get it with respect to my recent move. I also get it with respect to my new job.

And my answer, I fear, is “Not very well.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love our new flat. And while the job has been super-busy, it’s also very interesting and I’m learning a lot and getting terrific experience as a manager.

But “settled in?” Not hardly.

There are lots of reasons for this, but I think the main one is that a lot of the basic things I rely upon to give my life some semblance of order have been absent over the past couple of months. Which has caused me, in turn, to reflect upon what it is- exactly – that furnishes us with a sense of control over our day-to-day existence.

So here’s my list of what throws me off-kilter when it goes missing. I’d love to hear yours:

1. You lose your phone. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time not so long ago when none of us had a cell phone. We do so much on our phones now – from texting to scanning the news to mapping journeys to updating our status on Facebook – that they really have become an all-purpose gadget in the digital age. But  I don’t think you quite realize the degree to which you are dependent on your cell phone until you lose it or it breaks down, as mine did last week. Boy, was that an eye opener. Not only did the temporary phone the store gave me lack about half of my contact list, it was also a very primitive model, so there was no internet access/no weather/no Twitter/no bells and whistles/nothing. If you want to feel disoriented in five seconds flat, try texting someone  on a phone you don’t know how to work. Your text will look like a ransom note and you will suddenly feel like you have lost complete control of your life.

2. Your house is in disarray. Thanks largely to my husband, our move to a new flat this time around was about as smooth as it’s ever been. But as anyone who’s moved house regularly knows, there’s moving in and there’s moving in. We’ve done about 80% of the work now – the furniture is where it’s meant to be and the dishes are on the right shelves. But behind every sofa still lurks a pile of unhung picture frames and if you open any random drawer you are likely to discover a surfeit of random medical supplies. After my last move, I wrote a post about living with mess and coming to “radically accept” that unfinished feeling. But boy it ain’t easy.

3. You’re off social media. Granted, this one isn’t going to be as unsettling for some as it is for others. But if you’re used to being Online several hours a day for several years, to wake up and suddenly find yourself “somewhere else” during the day – in the dreaded “real world” – is profoundly disconcerting. In my case, adjusting to less time in cyber-space has been compounded by a glitch in my Seesmic account, which – for the non-initiated out there – is a fabulous, free software program that enables you to manage things like Facebook and Twitter all in one place. I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, but – as with the lack of my mobile phone –  I feel decidedly handicapped by the transaction costs entailed in using less sophisticated technology to access them. Simply put, I just don’t have all of my usual tools at my disposal.

4. You interrupt your exercise schedule. This is really key. For many of us – even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as particularly sporty – having some sort of exercise routine is a key way that we instill a sense of order and purpose into our weeks. In my own case, I’ve been pretty good for the last several years about running three times a week and doing yoga or Pilates on a fourth day. But since I moved and changed jobs, that’s all gone out the window. I’m still keeping up the running (more or less), but Pilates has virtually disappeared. And I’m feeling the consequences, both physically and mentally. I can’t afford to let this happen. Nor can my back. So until I resume Pilates, I know I’m going to feel off my game.

5. You lack a routine. When I took my new job, I negotiated that I would be part-time for the first two months and full-time thereafter. This decision was largely dictated by my imminent move and also by the fact that we didn’t have any childcare in place at the time. And while this arrangement has helped me manage both of those things, it’s also meant that I haven’t had much of a routine yet at work; some days I’m there a full day, while others I’m there only four or five hours. Some people groove on the lack of routine, but not me. Having no two days alike just makes me feel out of sorts and I actually think I’ll relax more once I’m there full time.

 

How about you? What kinds of things make you feel like you haven’t “settled in”?

 

Image: Cell Phone by JonJon2Kate  via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To Dinner Parties

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Once, when I was just out of college and living with three friends in Washington, DC, I told one of my friend’s mothers that my roommates and I 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 twenty five years makes.

While I still love beer, I do believe that 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 earlier this year to have people over to our house more often (and 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 organise a meal for anyone other than my family.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that things have gotten easier in that department. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Less is more. As with so many things in life, less proves to be more. Once upon a time – partly for efficiency reasons (“I’m cooking anyway“)  and partly because I’ve always subscribed to the “the more, the merrier” school of thought -I would routinely have dinner parties of eight or more. Among other things, it just seemed more sociable. These days, in contrast, six is my maximum. And increasingly, having just one couple over is becoming the norm in our household. Not only is it a lot less work, but when you keep a dinner party small, you can actually talk to your guests and…egads!…listen to what they have to say. Try it. It turns out that having fewer people over to dinner is actually more fun.

2. Clear the decks. For a long time, I thought that the reason I found entertaining stressful was because I hated to cook. Turns out, I don’t hate to cook. I even, on occasion, find it therapeutic. What I found stressful was not having enough counter space to prepare the dishes. So while I was getting ready for the dinner party, I’d constantly feel like the party itself was closing in on me. It helps to have a large kitchen if you want to feel less hemmed in. But let’s face it, I live in London so that’s not happening. But even if you don’t have a large kitchen, if you can somehow manage to clear the counters of clutter before you start cooking – so that your cookbook (see below) isn’t balanced precariously on top of your mixing bowl – you’ll find that the whole thing is much more enjoyable, if not artful!

3. Get a good cook book. I’ve always admired my friends who could just stare at a bunch of random ingredients and whip up something delicious. But that’s just not me. Nor will it ever be. I have learned, however, the value of a good cook book over time. Having a few recipes which you know are a. doable and b. tasty takes a ton of stress out of meal preparation. A few years back, a friend of mine gave me a cookbook called How To Cook For Food Allergies, because of my son’s multiple food allergies. I cracked this book open one day and realized that it was a gold mine – not so much for him (he really doesn’t care what he eats), but for me. It’s chock full of absolutely fantastic, healthy recipes and I’ve been using it as my staple ever since.

4. Practice meals in advance. This ought to be a no-brainer, but I’ve been burnt before on many an occasion so I thought I’d share it with you. Unless you’re super-confident in the kitchen (and I think I can safely say that I’m not), you do not want your dinner party to be the first time that you try out a new dish. Rather, once you identify a meal that sounds promising, try it out on your family and/or spouse first and see how it fares. Sometimes things that sound great are real duds. Trust me.

5. Don’t make dessert. I love dessert. In fact, it’s my favorite part of the meal. But when you’re pressed, it’s hard to find time to prepare appetizers, entrées and desserts for 4-6 people. So even though I don’t mind baking, I usually buy my desserts in advance so that I don’t have that extra task hanging over me before a dinner party. Takes the pressure off.

 

How about you? What are your secrets for making entertaining less stressful and more fun?

 

Image: The Dinner Party by mapgirl271 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Pick Five Obsessions

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, I’m back. Or, in the immortal words of Neil Diamond: “Hello, again. Hello.”

If I could offer one sage piece of advice from the last four weeks of my existence, it would be that when at all possible, do not start a new job two weeks before you move house.

And if I could offer a second piece of advice, it would be to try not to have your office move buildings two weeks after you move house.

But I digress…

During my time away from the blog, I had a chance to reflect on many things. One of the things I realized is that when your life is in turmoil, it’s reassuring to fall back on a few reliable things that you know will bring you joy.

As you age, you come to have what I refer to as a set of “quiet obsessions” – i.e., those topics which are endlessly fascinating to you and which you can never learn enough about. Indeed, the very fact of revisiting them becomes a touch stone of sorts.

These quiet obsessions are the inverse of having a hobby when you’re grown up – (something I also advocate) – but equally useful. Rather than keeping you fresh through experimentation and change, the quiet obsessions serve to anchor you in who you are and provide some continuity and depth in your identity.

I have lots of secret obsessions, but here I’ll just list five. Have a think (great English expression!) about what topics never tire you out and leave them in the comments section. I love learning about other people’s quiet obsessions!

1. Political conflict. I’m not sure where this obsession comes from, but I have a deep-seated fascination with intractable political conflicts, of the Israeli-Palestinian, Northern Ireland, Bosnian variety. I’m drawn to this topic in films and I’m equally drawn to it in books. And I’m especially drawn to first person narratives about the aftermath of political conflict, like this moving story about a bar in Queens that never managed to rise above the Balkan conflict. There’s something achingly compelling, I think, about political stalemates that endure, leaving their indelible bruises along the way. Yeah, I know. It’s  bleak. But I can’t get enough of them.

2. Watergate. Also political – but with a happier ending – is my obsession with Watergate. I am one of those people who could listen to the late NPR correspondent Daniel Schorr talk about the Watergate scandal forever and a day. I’ve also seen All The President’s Men God knows how many times. Imagine my delight, then, when I read this gem: an article in a recent New York magazine revealing how Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee secretly harbored some doubts about the Woodward/Bernstein narrative about Watergate all along. For a Watergate junkie? I seriously could not put this article down.

3. Bilingualism. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by foreign languages. I bought a How To Learn Russian book when I was in second grade. I majored in languages in college. And I’ve always been particularly envious of those friends of mine who grew up speaking two languages. So whenever I read a new study touting the benefits of bilingualism, I”m all over it.

4. Sibling relationships. Ditto new research on sibling relationships. I firmly believe that sibling relationships are among the most formative in shaping who you are as a person. Even in adulthood. So that new film, Your Sister’s Sister? Yeah. It’s on my list.

5. People’s relationship to their work. I often say that in another life, I’d be a career counselor. It’s true. I could analyze people’s relationship to their work and why certain jobs/routines/skill sets do or do not suit them until the cows come home.Which is part of the reason I enjoy job-hunting so much. But no, I don’t care to revisit *that* particular obsession again…
How about you? What topics do you find yourself never tiring of? Tell me. I’m curious…

 

Image: Washington DC- Foggy Bottom: Watergate Complex by wallyg via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Managing Your First Week On A New Job

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, it’s arrived. My first week in my new job.

After working for myself out of my home for five years, it’s been really strange – and exciting – to re-immerse myself in an office culture. New people! A new building! New snack options!

I’ve spent most of the week in an almost out-of-body state, aided in no small measure by my husband’s business trip on my very first day, one visit to the Emergency Room at 10 pm on my second night and – oh yeah, did I mention that we’re moving in 12 days – (and don’t yet have an address)? But I digress.

So while this is all very fresh, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice on some of the strategies that are helping me ease into this major life transition:

1. Take time to learn your email software.  There’s a tendency when you start any new job to learn the basics of whatever software program your company uses so that you can plunge directly into your job. That’s fine, if you already know said system. But if you aren’t familiar with how your email (or any other communication systems) work, learn them now and learn them well. It will save you tons of time from having to go back later and figure out how you actually reserve a conference room or schedule a meeting electronically with a colleague. Plus, knowing a system – as opposed to faking it  and hoping that you don’t accidentally hit the wrong key – will actually make you feel more confident and like you belong. Which is why – on my very first day – I sat down and took an Online tutorial in Outlook 2010. I’d used Outlook before, but it was two versions ago and a lot has changed. After a couple of days, that “recurring task” command was like an old friend who was dropping in for tea.

2. Take time to study your benefit plan. In a similar vein – if you haven’t done so already – spend some time poring over your benefits plan and any other perks that your company has on offer. Much like office software, we all tend to ignore the initial mound of material HR invariably bombards us with, figuring that we’ll sit down at some later point in time and review this stuff. But we won’t. As a result, you might forget to register for your pension plan (a friend of mine once realized this error two years into his job). You might also fail to realize all the hidden benefits that come with your job. When I actually took the time to read the Online guidance for new employees at my company, I discovered loads of things I’m eligible for, ranging from health club memberships and cycling schemes to fairly substantial discounts on any number of clothing, entertainment and travel purchases. (Teeth whitening is included in the dental plan? Seriously?) So review that stuff now, when you still have a bit of time to yourself and can get away with it.

3. Ask questions. There’s a limited period of time in a new job where you can get away with asking dumb questions. So take advantage of it. Ask people their names. Ask again. Make people tell you what obscure acronyms stand for. Don’t be afraid to have someone walk you to the cafeteria…several times. On substantive work issues, asking questions also makes you appear interested and curious – as if you really do want to learn on the job, rather than coming off as an arrogant know-it-all. But there’s another reason to be honest  about what you don’t know in your new job. People get into routines when they’ve been working in the same environment for a long time. It’s only when an outsider comes in – who doesn’t know the system – that they are forced to question their own assumptions or at the very least to justify them out loud in explicit terms. And that’s useful for everyone. Recent research suggests that asking good questions is a crucial life skill. Try it!

4. Make lists. I’m a big fan of lists. If you don’t want to bombard your colleagues with questions, make lists for yourself: questions about office supplies…questions about travel reimbursement…questions about policy documents. Most people would rather get an email with ten questions than be interrupted ten different times in an hour to answer basic questions about how to install a printer. So be polite and organized, but be inquisitive. Remember: your colleagues were new once too!

5. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. The hardest part of starting a new job is feeling OK about the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t know where the bathroom is. You can’t remember the name of the head of the research division. You have no earthly idea what you’re meant to be doing at an upcoming meeting or what your boss means when he tells you that you’ll be in charge of a given project. But you do know one thing, unless this is your very first job: in a few months time, this will all be second nature. So write with the wrong hand for awhile. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. And it’s the only way to learn.

 

Image: New job by sarah0s via Flickr under a Creative Commons License