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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

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Do Before You Start A New Job

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

On Monday I start a new job.

Alongside the relief that comes with accepting a job offer, there are inevitably a whole new set of concerns that crop up as well. In particular – at least if you’re like me – you fear that once you embark upon this new phase of life, you’ll never have time to shower any more, let alone make it to the post office to buy stamps.

That’s not true. But it is true that the priorities on your To-Do list will become all the more clearer, as things like “sort out religion” invariably take second fiddle to “buy new bras.”

To that end, here are five things you might want to take care of before you start a new job:

1. Childcare. Obviously, this applies only to those of us with kids, but within that subset of working parents, this is probably the single biggest stress-or. I am lucky in that I am going to start this new job part-time for the first couple of months before ramping up to full time. And because my husband is going to cover pick-ups during camp season in August (I find myself once again grateful for the much shorter summer vacation we endure here in England), we have some time to sort out the sitter situation. Hiring someone to look after your kids is no day at the beach, as I’ve documented before. So the sooner you get this ball rolling – use your networks!! – the better.

2. Buy Work Clothes. One of the joys of working freelance lo’ these past six years has been going to work (and school runs!) in some version of my pajamas. But that’s all come to an end, as I must now project some measure of gravitas and respectability in my new position. I’m happy about this, although knowing what to wear is not one of my fortés. Fortunately, my husband has an almost uncanny knack for knowing what looks good on women. Several years ago, he bought me a book entitled Does This Make Me Look Fat?, which is all about what clothes work for different body shapes and sizes. I spent 45 minutes yesterday perusing it, got some great tips for my body type (short-waisted, in case you’re interested) and then went over to ASOS, an Online, affordable but chic fashion company here in the UK to select a few staples for my new work wardrobe. I also plan on scanning Amid Privilege to get some more ideas, as Lisa has a way of making shopping seem fun and easy. Done and dusted, as they say round’ here.

3. Buy new makeup. I’m told that it’s wise to change your mascara every three months, partly to avoid eye infections. This is one of those rules of thumb – like replacing your running shoes every six months – that I’ve blithely chosen to ignore, partly because it seems expensive and mostly because I don’t wear eye make-up on a regular basis. But I will be now, at least to start off, and who wants to have pink-eye during their first week of work? I’ve also noticed that the eyeliner I bought recently – to replace the one I bought…oh, you don’t want to know how long ago – is actually an eyebrow pencil. Hmmm. Vidal Sassoon, where are you when I need you?

4. Go to the dentist. Let’s face it. Most of us hate going to the dentist. This is true, even for those of us who aren’t in a perpetual state of denial that it’s probably a good idea to do this every six months. (Hello, England! I’m looking at you!) And once you start working, this is one of those things that can move down your priority list very rapidly. Which is why I’ll be seeing my dentist tomorrow, even though it hasn’t been exactly six months. Among other things, I think she needs to pull one of my teeth and while I don’t look forward to the pain, I’d rather do it now than let it fester for another six months.

5. Break up with your therapist. Like going to the dentist (but hopefully more enjoyable?), therapy can also be a difficult thing to work into your schedule when you’re working full time. I’ve been with my life coach for five years now, and as much as I’m a huge fan of therapy, we both agreed during our last visit that I had “graduated” and that it was time for me to move on. We didn’t hug and I didn’t “accidentally” leave my coat behind. But I did get some closure, which actually felt good.

What am I leaving out?

Image: mascara wand by herbrm via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five (More) Tips For Job Hunting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

As I intimated a few weeks back, I’m shortly to curtail my freelance career and go back to work full-time.

I’ve been looking for a job for a while now, so this turn of events is a huge weight off of my shoulders financially, emotionally and logistically.

Back when I was towards the beginning of this process, I shared some job-hunting tips. But now that I’m on the other side – offer in hand (albeit not signed, sealed and delivered which is why I’ll wait just a tiny bit longer to share the good news!) – I have a bit more advice to impart from the trenches.

To wit, five more useful tips for job hunting:

1. Networking matters. Not long ago, a friend of mine who’s about to start looking for work asked me to have a coffee one morning. I told her that I couldn’t because I was having an “informational interview” that day connected to my job-hunt. “What’s that?” she asked, unfamiliar with the term. “Oh, you know. It’s when you network with people in the sector you’re interested in so that they can give you leads and advice.” “Oh,” she answered. “I’d never thought about doing that.” I’ve said it before but it bears saying again: networking – with friends, with former colleagues, with friends of former colleagues, with former colleagues of friends and just about anyone who will open their door to you – is probably the most expedient way to land yourself a job. I was offered three terrific (short-term) projects during my job hunt right in the area I was looking to move into, all by virtue of networking with strangers.

2. Don’t ignore job listings. When I started my job hunt, one friend told me that I shouldn’t even bother to respond to ads in the newspaper and assorted job-related list serves because I’d never find work that way. “It’s all about who you know,” she said dismissively. She was wrong. The two interviews I had for full-time jobs in the last six weeks both came about because I answered an advertisement. No contacts. No special pleading. Just me and my CV. So as soon as you know what it is you’d like to do, get yourself signed up for as many job alerts as possible. Among other things, it gives you a great sense of the range of possible jobs out there in your field as well as what they pay. Here are some tips for answering a job ad which I found to be spot on for my own job-hunting (and interviewing) process.

3. Be persistent. Much like blogging, I think the number one thing that you need in order to get you through the ups and downs of a job-hunt is perseverance. I have another friend who told me that she feels like she *ought* to be looking for work but hasn’t gotten around to doing much about it yet.  To which I responded: “Then you’re not ready.” Looking for a job is an an exhausting process, one that entails scanning of job alerts, following up with contacts (see #1), writing cover letters, adjusting your CV, scheduling (and then re-scheduling) informational interviews and – if you’re lucky – actually doing a few formal job interviews (which themselves take a lot of time to prepare.) So if you don’t have the fire in your belly (or your wallet!) to take this on, wait until you do. You’ll be much more effective. And that energy will carry you through the days when it feels like it’s just one rejection letter after the next.

4. Be honest with yourself. Once you do have a job offer, be really honest with yourself about what you need. Not just salary – though that matters too. Be honest about what you’re looking for in terms of  hours, commute time, benefits, working from home, flex-time, dress code, office culture etc. And be sure to ask lots of questions about these things. (But only once you have the offer!) In my own case, I realized that in light of childcare concerns, impending summer holidays and imminent move, it would be really hard for me to start full-time right away in my new job, even though that’s what I’d applied to do. When I relayed this to my (new) boss – wondering aloud whether I should just postpone my start date until I could sort some of that out – he immediately suggested that I start part-time. So that’s what I’m going to do for the first couple of months, scaling up to full-time thereafter. And as soon as he said that, I felt a tremendous wave of relief. Remember, you’ll never know if you don’t ask!

5. Evaluate three things. When I was trying to make some hard choices over the past month, I consulted with a lot of friends about my options. One friend wisely counseled me to think about the following three things when deciding whether or not to take a job: a. Are you passionate about what you’ll be doing or do you at least find it sufficiently interesting? b. Does the job fit your lifestyle vis travel/hours/commute etc. (see #4) and c. Will you be working with smart, interesting and/or likable people? The closer you can get to answering all three of these questions when evaluating an employment opportunity, the less likely you are to make a mistake.

What am I missing?

 

Image: 2011/02/03 by jazzijava via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five (Surprising) Tasks Computers Do

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s no secret that computers have changed our lives completely.

In the personal realm, we are more connected than ever before. We are sharing more ideas, “chatting” more with friends, and performing our lives out loud via constant status updates,  even if,  (paradoxically), we are also lonelier than ever.

In the professional realm, computers have also upended our lives. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that with the advent of technological change, certain once-vibrant professions – like copy boy and lamplighter – would be rendered obsolete.

But increasingly, we are delegating tasks to computers that even now, seem like they couldn’t possibly be automated.

Here are five surprising roles computers now play in our lives:

1. Teacher. Of all the new computerized trends, this one is probably the least surprising. The rise in Online learning has been well documented. In the year 2000, roughly 45,000 K-12 students in the United States  took an Online course. In 2010, roughly 4 million did. A lot of this is due to the skyrocketing success of the Online tutoring service, Khan Academy, which is now being incorporated into classroom learning. But the Online teaching revolution has hit the University level as well. Virginia Tech has recently launched something called the Math Emporium. This is a huge classroom, located in a shopping mall, in which hundreds of students take computerized college math courses at one time, with roving teaching assistants there to answer questions. The jury is still out on how much real, live classroom instruction still matters, but early results at the Math Emporium suggest that students are both learning more and paying less.

2. Babysitter/Parent. Again, no big surprise here, given how many of  us – even those with qualms about video games – have succumbed to their inevitability – even desirability- especially when caught in a long and tedious layover at an airport between flights. But the numbers are staggering. A Nielsen survey released a couple of months ago, titled “American Families See Tablets as Playmate, Teacher and Babysitter,” found that in households that contained both children and tablet computers, seven out of ten kids under the age of 12 used the tablet — a 9 percent increase compared with just three months earlier. As Huffington Post blogger Lisa Belkin points out, a computer or laptop or tablet has “simultaneously become our children’s source of communication, procrastination, education and entertainment.” And in performing these multiple roles, these gadgets have supplanted much of the work we used to pay babysitters to do…or did as parents.

3. Lawyers. Another area where computers are increasingly doing some of the heavy lifting is the law. The latest trend here is something called e-discovery, software that can both furnish and analyze documents relevant to a law suit and deduce patterns of behavior. If this sounds a bit 1984-ish to you, it is. It’s also putting scores of lawyers out of work. Thank goodness computers still can’t replace trial lawyers (though I bet John Edwards wishes they could.)

4. Writers. A former colleague sent me a fascinating – and chilling – article in The Atlantic about Narrative Science, a Chicago-based startup that has developed an innovative computer platform that writes reported articles in a human-like tone. While their early work focused on stories with lots of data and repetitive story lines – e.g. finance, sports – the company is increasingly focusing on applying the program’s underlying model: i.e., analyzing  facts to generate an over-arching narrative – to all sorts of topics. Fortunately, the company still employs real-life writers alongside their coders but one must wonder:  for how long?

5. Drivers. Ok, so here’s the creepiest trend of all in labor outsourcing: drivers. Yup, you heard that correctly. Apparently, Google engineers are quite close to perfecting the driverless vehicle. At a recent conference in Detroit, a spokesperson from Google said that, with further improvements, software and sensors could drive cars more safely than a human driver. Already, cars using this technology have traveled more than 200,000 miles without interference from a driver. And other major automakers and suppliers are pursuing some form of autonomous vehicle technology. Wowza.

How about you? What roles do you see computers taking on that you never thought possible?

 

Image: Although you’re far by Aphrodite via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Upsides To Moving

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

So it looks like we’re moving again. Yes, I know that it’s only been two years. But our landlord passed away last year and her estate is now selling the entire building as a one- family home for a whopping sum of money that would make your head spin.

So we’re outta here…and soon.

I’ve mentioned before that for me, at least, moving is about as much fun as having someone stick a red poker in your eyeball. Or force you to slow dance to Wham!. In short: Pure hell.

One thing we’ve done right this time around is to begin the de-cluttering process early. For the last month or so, we have assiduously gone around the flat – room by room – and ruthlessly tackled every drawer, closet, box and bookshelf. Every weekend, I take our long out-of-use double bicycle stroller and make a pilgrimage, Fiddler On The Roof-style, to assorted homes, charities and libraries in the neighborhood to drop off a new of donations.

And just as the last time I did this, I discovered five ways to stay positive while you move, this time I’ve discovered an entirely new set of upsides to moving. Here they are:

1. You realize how little you need. Let’s face it. Most of us have way too much sh$%. So moving really is the perfect excuse to trim down to a lean, mean fighting weight. (I’ve been telling myself that my flat is now bulimic, purging at regular intervals. I know. It’s a terrible image. But so apt!) I’m quite keen on the whole tiny house movement, which argues that living small can be good both for our wallets and our carbon footprints. And since living large is not really an option for us here in London, we’ve embraced the idea of “small is beautiful” with open arms

2. You see how far you’ve come. Consistent with #1, one of the things you discover while de-cluttering are all the things you may have needed when you first moved somewhere, but no longer serve you anymore. In our case, as my husband was rifling through some box buried beneath the piano that I hadn’t even realized existed, he discovered an entire list of words that have a different meaning in British and American English. This was something he printed out nearly six years ago, just before our move to the U.K. I remember glancing at it at the time and thinking, “Really? They say diary to mean calendar and dummy for pacifier?” Now, I look at that list and note how many of the expressions are second nature, like saying that I am “called Delia” rather than “named Delia,” and that I’ll have you “round to ours,” rather than “I’ll have you over to our house.” And as I toss that sucker in the bin (whoops! there I go again!), I can feel a sense of satisfaction and pride.

3. You locate projects you really do want to tackle. But while one of the big joys of moving is learning that you don’t really need most of what you’ve stored away, occasionally you do come across something you really do value but had forgotten about entirely. In my case, that was books. While I’ve donated a ton of books to our local library during this move, I also found a few that I have always meant to read but never quite got around to, things like Alaa al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building and Dawn Powell At Her Best. Something to look forward to on the other end!

4. You get your children involved. In keeping with my ongoing resolution to do less for my kids, I have enlisted both of their services in this move. Whereas in past moves, I would surreptitiously creep into my daughter’s bedroom at night and, Grinch-like, and steal all of the toys that I didn’t think she needed anymore, this time I asked her to do it. And it worked so much better. She was surprisingly open to giving up things that she doesn’t use any longer and even took pleasure in rearranging her “desk” (top of bedside table where she keeps her most prized possessions.) She also spent an entire afternoon sorting our “crayon drawer” into pens, pencils, and markers and then putting them in tidy piles which then went into a box. (Clearly she doesn’t take after me. Ahem.) But I felt like the entire process was beneficial for both her and me.

5. You let go of one thing you hate. Every house or apartment has one thing you hate about it. It might be the broken gate leading out to the garden. Or the poor reception you get on your cell phone in the living room. Or a faucet that is forever leaky. We actually like our current flat just fine. But it is located at the top of a small hill that is about five minutes away from cafes and shops. And every day when I come home on the school run, I find that just as I begin that small ascent up to our street, I’m ready to stop. In other words, we live about five minutes further than I’d like to, ideally. That’s not something to give a house up over. But given that I’m leaving anyway, I’ve decided to zero in on it as a motivator.

What about you? What upsides do you find in moving?

Image: Charlotte Moving Company Moving Simplified – Sofa Moving via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

 

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 Trends In Exercise

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Having just spent five days hiking up in England’s glorious Lake District, I’ve got a new found commitment to exercise. True, we spent a fair bit of our holiday touring pubs, napping and watching movies. But it was really invigorating to wake up every day and take a long hike as a family.

Which got me thinking – again – about exercise. I’ve noted before that I’m not a fitness freak nor naturally athletic. But my husband is and that – together with recent research showing that middle age is a critical time for preventing physical health declines in later life – has made me increasingly aware of just how important it is to exercise regularly.

So I’m always keen to learn about new strategies for keeping we mere mortals healthy. To that end, here are five new trends in exercise:

1. Barefoot Running. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I learned about this one from my husband. Apparently, the new rage in running is to do it barefoot. Why is that, you ask? According to the experts, one of the reasons that running is such an injury-prone sport is that when we wear running shoes, we are actually training our feet to run in a way that is neither natural nor good for them. Specifically, while running shoes force your heel to hit the ground first with a force equal to as much as three times your body weight, “natural” – i.e. barefoot – running encourages a low-impact strike on the ball of your foot. Among other things, this natural running technique explains why Kenyans have consistently been such great distance runners. Barefoot running provides comfort, safety and best of all…it’s free!

2. High Intensity Training. Here’s another new trend in exercising, also courtesy of my husband (Coincidence? Maybe.) New research suggests that many of us could benefit from as little as three minutes of high intensity training (HIT) a week. That’s right, three minutes. So, for example, you get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds. Then wait a couple of minutes and do another full-intensity 20-second work out. Then take one more break and a final 20 seconds going all out. Why does this work? There are two reasons. On the one hand, when you do HIT, you are using not just the leg muscles, but the upper body as well (including arms and shoulders), so that 80% of the body’s muscle cells are activated, compared to 20-40% for moderate intensity jogging or cycling. Active exercise also helps your body break down its stores of glucose (sugar). Great news for the time-pressed among us. And really, who isn’t pressed for time?

3. The Nano Workout. In a similar time-saving vein, but engineered to induce far less sweat, is the Nano Workout. The Nano Workout is the brainchild of Joakim Christoffersson, and is premised on the idea that many of us don’t have the time, energy or ambition to spend hours on end at the gym. Instead, Christofferson offers a series of exercises that are “based on the situation you are in and using the natural conditions the situation provides.” The idea is that by breaking down your day and analyzing the most common situations you find yourself in – whether at the desk, in the kitchen, or on the bus – you can achieve a more healthy life, no matter what your day looks like. So the next time you’re watching TV, try that hip flexor. There’s no time like the present.

4. Folding Bikes. I’m a huge fan of the collapsible bike.  But according to Cassandra Daily, the fondness that the Millennial Generation has demonstrated for cycling has led to a whole new breed of folding bikes that correspond to the nomadic, minimalist lifestyle that Gen Y leads. My own personal favorite? The Bergmönch – a bike that doubles as a backpack-slash-bicycle. Best not tell my husband about this one.

5. Perineal Strengthening. Yeah, that’s a fancy word for strengthening your vagina, particularly after childbirth. Guys may wish to look away at this point or stick their fingers in their ears, although I’d advise them first to read this fantastic post by Claire Lundberg in Slate on her own vaginal re-education classes in France. (Yeah, I know. Where else?) There are all sorts of things women can and should be doing to maintain the health of their pelvic floor, which becomes increasingly weak as we approach middle age, leading to all sorts of encumbrances, incontinence chief among them. Perineal strengthening  is something I suspect is going to get more and more play in the U.S. and elsewhere over time. After all, it benefits everyone. (Hint, hint…)

Image: Run free by Today is a good day via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.