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Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Celebrate Paying Your Taxes

self assessment tax return

self assessment tax returnOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

The UK tax year ends on the 31st of January each year. So last Friday night, at approximately 8:04 pm, I hit “send” on my electronic tax return for my business.

I felt ridiculously happy. Despite being four hours short of fulfilling my commitment to Dry January, I nonetheless cracked open a beer and basked in the glow of a job well done. That glow carried well into Saturday.

Yeah,  I know what you’re thinking:  Taxes? Seriously? Get a life, sister.

But here are five reasons paying your taxes can make you feel great:

a. It’s an enactment of citizenship. I’m not all that patriotic in either of the two countries where I hold passports. I don’t have antipathy towards either nation; I simply don’t feel some overwhelming affection or bond. But somehow, paying taxes does make me feel like I am fulfilling the duty of being a citizen. Unlike voting, which is a privilege, taxes are an obligation. Perhaps this makes me a Socialist. I don’t think so. (Nor do I mind).  But when I pay taxes, I do feel that I am holding up my half of a bargain with my government, for which I get so much in return.

b. It’s an expression of pride in your work. I always feel good about paying taxes. But I think that this year felt particularly momentous because it was the first time that I paid them as a sole trader (British for small business). In painstakingly reviewing my past year of invoices, expenses and business travel, I was reminded of how far I’ve come since I set out my shingle on my communications consultancy less than two years ago. And that was a really great feeling.

c. It feeds your inner project manager. On the advice of a friend, I began using an electronic accounting software called Free Agent last year to map my business expenses electronically. It’s a fantastically user-friendly program with exceptional customer support. Don’t get me wrong; it took me a while to learn the ropes (see below). But now that I’ve got the hang of it (which occurred at approximately 7:57 pm on January 31st…cough), I know exactly what I need to do and can’t wait to carry on coding my bank account every week going forward.  For the “managers” amongst us, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

d. It’s a useful reminder to ‘read the instructions.’ This is one of Gretchen Rubin’s mantras. And boy, is she right. Despite the myriad webinars and online topic guides that Free Agent offers, I blithely blundered into using it without really knowing what I was doing.  On January 2nd, I’d smugly allocated one afternoon in my calendar to file my taxes electronically this year. Needless to say, the week before they were due I was up at all hours of the day and night, googling things like: “What is a credit note?” Never again.

e. You learn a new skill. Sure, there are these individuals called accountants. As my business grows, I’m sure I’ll be availing myself of one of them shortly. But in this ever more automated day and age in which we live, there’s a heckuva lot of things you can now do on your own if you put your mind to it. I’m a big believer in life-long learning. Especially when it’s DIY.

Years ago, I posted a blog entitled “5 Signs You’re a Grown Up.” It included things like “no longer draping tapestries on your sofa” and “serving something other than beer at parties.” I would now like to add “paying taxes” to that list. At least as long as you learn to master the software…

Image:  Self Assessment Tax Return 2019 via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Unconventional Gift Ideas

gifts

giftsOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As we enter the holiday season, a lot of us experience gift fatigue. Particularly for those people we buy presents for year in and year out, we are utterly stymied and in want of fresh ideas. More to the point, many of us are broke and/or beginning to sour on the idea of gifts altogether.

So this holiday season, I’ve come up with five unconventional gift ideas:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Christmas-Xmas-Gifts-Presents via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five ‘Free Range’ Tips for Growing Your Business

free range chickens

free range chickensOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been meaning to read Marianne Cantwell’s Be a Free Range Human ever since a colleague recommended it to me right before I left my last job. There’s something undeniably seductive about the subtitle of this book – Escape the 9-5, Create a Life You Love, and Still Pay the Bills. And given that at the time, I was still working for the BBC – which, for all its many delights – is still a ginormous corporation, the title really spoke to me.

Fast forward two years and I’m in a very different place. As I sped through the first 3/4 of Cantwell’s book, I realized I’d already put into place most of her excellent advice for how to figure out what you really want to do with your life. So I focused mainly on the last part of her book, which is all about launching your own business and making a decent living from it.

I’m so glad that I did. Although I’ve learned a lot from my own foray into entrepreneurship over the past year and a half, there is always more to learn. Continuing to educate yourself, as Cantwell reminds us towards the end of the book, is the single best investment you can make in your career. So here are five takeaways for those who’d like to deepen your “free range” career:

a. Ditch the Business Plan. Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to do with your life, you may be tempted to spend loads of time crafting a business plan. Don’t. One of Cantwell’s counter-intuitive pieces of advice is that you will benefit far more from just getting out there and doing whatever it is you want to try, rather than endlessly fine-tuning your idea. I learned this the hard way. Once I’d decided to launch my communications consultancy, I went and took a one-day course on “How to Craft a Business Plan” at a local university. I then spent at least a month editing it feverishly and shopping it around to various friends. It’s not that there wasn’t any value in doing that, but the best advice I got during that period was from a friend who read my concept note and suggested I put it down and go deliver a few workshops. He was right. Less than a year later, I’d considerably broadened my repertoire of workshops and had a much clearer sense of what I could – and could not – offer. Moral of this story: don’t get trapped in paralysis of analysis.

b. Ditch the fancy website. Another early mistake I made was thinking I needed to have a fancy website *before* I went public with my business idea. How would I ever demonstrate my value as a communicator if my website wasn’t pitch perfect? Thank goodness I didn’t have enough money to do that a year ago, because it turns out I didn’t need it. As Cantwell notes, a lot of people get so caught up in having the big, shiny things that they forget to just get out there and invest in getting clients. Right now, most of my work comes from repeat business and referrals from people I’ve worked with who liked what they saw and tell their friends and colleagues. Turns out, they don’t seem to care what my website looks like. They care if I’m actually any good at what I do. The website can wait. Building my reputation – and income stream – can’t. Ditto branding. Right now, my consulting business doesn’t have a name. Nor did Cantwell’s when she started. Free Range Humans came later. Someday I would like to have a kick-ass website, one that unites my blog with my professional website, all under the RealDelia brand. But that’s not my priority right now.

c. Figure out your free-range style. Another piece of advice that really hit home was Cantwell’s suggestion to figure out your “free range” style before designing your business development strategy. Given the number of personality tests I’ve taken over the years, I didn’t think I needed another typology. Again, I was wrong. Cantwell lays out three different free-range styles: the attractor, the connector and the trusted person. Attractors bring in clients and income through their brand or name. They are all about making their story, products or ideas visible. I’m a connector. This means that I typically win business through personal connections. I tap into those relationships to go out and create new ones. Trusted advisors, in contrast, tend to be more introverted in their style and win clients through expertise, qualifications and quiet interactions. All three styles work. The trick is to figure out which is the most natural fit for you.

d. Figure out what makes you stand out. Cantwell calls this your 1% difference. The best way to differentiate yourself from competitors isn’t by scanning the field and figuring out how you can tweak their offer. Instead, you need to start with yourself and determine what makes you distinct. For Cantwell, it’s her smile. Time and again, clients tell her that they are drawn to her smile. For me, it’s my energy.  I also have a PhD, which gives me a huge advantage over others competing for work in the higher education sector. So figure out what makes you special and how you can capitalize on it to win over clients.

e. Change your mindset for sales. Sales is a vital part of any business. Most of us hate doing it because it makes us feel sleazy. Cantwell has great advice for those of us who think of “sales” as a four-letter word. Her advice is that instead of “selling your soul,” that you “sell from your soul.” If you love what you do (which is a pre-requisite for a free range career) and can’t wait to get started, try selling that enthusiasm, rather  than trying to convince someone to buy something. She encourages you to consider how you’d describe your product or service if it were someone else’s product and you knew a friend would really benefit from it. When you believe in and love what you do, it doesn’t feel like selling. It begins to feel more authentic.

Image: [Semi] Free Range Chickens by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ideas for a Fast-Changing World

running long distance

running long distanceLast Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the second annual meeting of The Longevity Forum, a relatively new player on the UK’s ageing scene.

As I noted last year when I attended the inaugural event, The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But the organisation is also focused on the social and economic implications of this so-called longevity dividend.

As the conference was invitation-only, this blog shares five ideas I took away:

Read the rest of this blog over at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Runner running long distance via Pixabay

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Tips For Adulthood: How to Lower Your Expectations

Danish pastry

Danish pastryOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I was talking to my son on the phone yesterday. He’s at college in the U.S. – ( we live in the UK) – and he was telling me about a recent mid-term he’d taken in Economics.

“Yeah, I don’t think I did very well on it,” he said. “I’m hoping I got a B.”

Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. When I was in college, getting a “B” in anything felt like a massive failure. But I suppressed that thought and instead asked him how he felt about the experience.

“I was bummed for a few minutes,” he said. “Because I did study for the test. But then I just went back to reading Antigone for my literature class and realized that mattered so much more to me.”

In other words, rather than castigate himself for not performing to his highest standard, he moved on.

Wow.  Not for the first time, I realized I was taking life lessons from my 18 year-old.

In that spirit –  and because I’m all about adopting a growth mindset – here are five tips for lowering your expectations.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Cherry Chocolate Danish Pastry via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Myths about Public Speaking

public speaking

public speakingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Public speaking is a critical skill in the 21st century workplace. And yet many people list public speaking as their top fear, second only to death. That fear can be particularly damaging for women, who often suffer from “Fear of Public Speaking” (FOPS) syndrome.

But a lot of that fear is misplaced. And that’s because most people misunderstand the most effective way to make a presentation, whether it’s to an interview panel, their boss, or a large crowd.

Here are five myths about public speaking that you need to let go of if you wish to come across as relaxed and confident when you speak:

Read the rest of this post over on The Return Hub

Image: Actor-People-Women-Speech via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Recurrent Dreams

dreams

dreamsWell, as long as sleep is now the new sex, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain.

Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month. Every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Image: Realm of Dreams via PublicDomainPictures.net

 

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Rethink Vacations

vacation

vacationOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

The summer is nearly over. Here in London, where I live, it’s been well over 90 degrees Farenheit for the last few days, and my daughter and I still have one day outing left before she returns to school next week. So I’m not quite ready to get out the iron and attach name tags to her school uniform (which is my own official marker for the end of summer).

Still, despite all the research telling us how good vacations are for both us and for our employers, Americans, in particular, struggle to use up their vacation days.  I myself am guilty as charged. And bad habits start young. Fearing “vacation shaming” from bosses and co-workers, millennials are now the least likely cohort of workers to use up their vacation time, despite becoming the largest generation in the workforce.

In my newfound embrace of balance, however, I had a better summer this year in terms of rest.  So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned:

a. Take shorter, more frequent vacations. Apparently, holiday memories tend to depend not on how long the holiday was, but on the intensity of the experience. So even going away for only two or three days can be enough to re-charge your batteries.  Moreover, research shows that vacations from work seem to have positive, though short-lived effects on wellbeing.  This is perhaps why a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies recommended spacing your holidays out evenly throughout the year, rather than bunching them all at once.

b. Go alone. Our family had a very different vacation experience this summer than our normal fare – which is either to go on one, short family holiday or to stay home. This year, each of the four of us took short trips on our own, in addition to the short family holiday. I myself went to Argentina for 10 days at the beginning of July to see an old friend. It was blissful. I’d had a very busy and difficult Spring on both the professional and personal fronts. So going away without the strain of having to coordinate my time with the other three members of my family was a huge relief. Some days, I strolled the streets of Buenos Aires. Other days, I stayed home and read while sipping beer and listening to Cuban music. I came back ready and able to spend time with my family.

c. Split up and do your own thing. Which brings me to my truly revolutionary vacation suggestion: if you’re going on holiday with your family or friends, don’t try to do everything together. My family tends to take breaks to European cities when we go on vacation. We all love experiencing foreign foods, cultures and languages. But our ideal time spent in a museum varies enormously. I can last about one and a half hours, two max. My husband can do at least three; my daughter, five; and my son, eight. So this year, we instituted a new rule:  everyone gets to do their own thing during the day and we meet up for meals. It worked beautifully. Our family holiday was in Vienna. Both of my kids speak German and they are both very comfortable using public transport. It’s also a very safe city. So I got to visit the obscure clock museum in Old Vienna, my daughter got to go to the imperial palace, Schönbrunn, my husband was able to take a massive detour to find the best coffee ever and my son, well, let’s just say Egon Schiele got a lot of face time.

d. Take a micro trip. I first learned about these from my neighbor, a guy in his 30’s who was setting off one Thursday afternoon around 4 pm to cycle down to the British Coast, camp out on a beach, and wake up early to cycle back up to work. That’s not my personal idea of fun, but he said he’d been sprinkling lots of these little mini-vacations throughout the summer and had found them quite energizing. Apparently, micro trips are all the rage in 2019. (Note: you can also take a train or a plane; you don’t have to cycle!)

e. Staycations really are fun. I’m a huge fan of the staycation. We probably do one once every other year, and I’ve never been disappointed. The trick is not to try and sneak in work, even though you’re at home. Sure, you may wish to tackle something on your dreaded To Do list, and that’s fine. But mainly staycations should be about discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary and being more mindful about where you live. And if all else fails and you either can’t – or simply won’t – take a proper holiday, at least do yourself the favour of adopting a vacation mindset on your weekend.

How about you? What tips have you discovered for maximizing happiness on vacations?

Image: Summer Sun Beach Greece by KRiemer via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons To Read Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’

family

familyOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been a while since I posted about a book in this series. But ever since I finished Tara Westover’s amazing memoir, Educated, I felt the need to talk about this book.

I was initially reluctant to dive into this international best-seller, fearful of all of the “hype.” Eventually, however, curiosity got the better of me. So when my husband started reading it for his book group this month, I grabbed it off his night stand and gobbled it down in practically one sitting.

Westover grew up poor on the edge of a mountain in rural Idaho to fundamentalist, “end of days” Mormon parents who denied her access to medical care and schooling. I grew up comfortably in a standard-issue, New York suburb, with all the trappings that go with it.

Still, there was so much in this memoir that resonated for me. When I mentioned it to a friend, she said that she thought it should be “required reading for all teenage girls.” I agree.

It should also be required reading for all grownups. Here’s why:

a. It’s about family. To say that this is a book about family is to state the obvious. Westover is the youngest of seven children, and the book is mostly about the distinct and often conflicting voices within that busy and combustible household. But the book is really about the pull that family exerts on you, even after you leave, and even – in her case – if staying means renouncing your self-hood. As the youngest child, Westover was freed up to be the risk-taker and the rebel (which in her case, amounted to leaving home to get “educated.”) As someone who left home at the age of 18 and now lives an ocean away, I could fully relate to the complex mix of regret, longing and empowerment that accompanies the decision to strike out on your own. Those feelings never fully leave you.

b. It’s about finding your own narrative. As Westover navigates the peripatetic journey that leads her towards, around and, ultimately, away from Idaho over the years, she gradually learns how to give voice to her own narrative about her upbringing. It is a narrative that is decidedly at odds with the accepted narrative most of her family maintains. I firmly believe that identifying your narrative about your family of origin is a key milestone of adulthood, right up there with learning to drive and paying your own rent for the first time. I still remember vividly the first time I felt able to articulate my take on my childhood to my mother. I was about 37. My world view didn’t square at all with her memory of events, but then again, it shouldn’t. We’re all different people who experience family in our unique ways. For me, anyway, one of the major benefits of therapy is finally crafting your own narrative and making it your truth.

c. It’s about mental illness. One of the central conflicts Westover outlines in this book is the fight between modern medicine (practiced by “outsiders,” even others within their Mormon faith) and the homeopathy her family practices at home. Within her family’s medical belief system, there is no vocabulary for mental illness. When I was growing up in the 1970s, something similar prevailed:  mental illness was simply not discussed. There’s been a sea change in our cultural relationship to mental illness in the intervening years. But Westover provides a frank and chilling account of what it’s like to live in a family where mental illness goes un-diagnosed and untreated.

d.  It’s about domestic violence. Without spoiling any of the plot, suffice to say that there is a lot of violence within Westover’s turbulent childhood. Some of that stems from the nature of the family’s principal livelihood, which is running a junk yard. Some of that stems from said mental illness. The need for a child to feel safe and secure is continually invoked by social workers and policy makers alike as the number one condition for sound emotional development. But you don’t have to have been subjected to routine physical violence as a child to appreciate what it’s like to grow up in a family where you don’t feel safe. As Westover comments somewhere in the book, she gradually comes to realize that the people who were meant to protect her from violence (her parents) couldn’t – or simply wouldn’t. Lack of such security generates a permanent scar and is a breeding ground for life-long anxiety.

e. It’s about how we define home. One of the main characters in this book is the mountain in Idaho – she refers to it as  “Princess” – next to which Westover grows up. Despite whatever is going on between her and her family at any point in time, that mountain is a cherished friend:  a reassurance – and perhaps a reminder – of some of the positive aspects of her childhood. When I go back to my home town in New Jersey, as I have on occasion over the years even though my parents moved away right after I left college, I feel the same way. What resonates most for me aren’t the scattered friends who still live there. It’s the physical surroundings: the blaze of American flags hanging from nearly every doorway…the greasy pizza parlor where I ate lunch with my high school boyfriend…the town pool where I spent many a summer swimming with my siblings, waiting for the one day per summer when my mother would agree to buy us popsicles from the Ice Cream Van. You don’t have to identify with where you came from to feel a form of love for it.

And that, perhaps, is the greatest lesson of all that I took away from this book.

Image: Family Ties by Paladin27 via Flickr

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Household Items You Can Do Without

pickle

pickleOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband is a gadget freak. He loves coming home with all manner of things that ostensibly serve to make life easier. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But the other day he had a real doozy. Having visited the local hardware store, he came home with a device – wait for it – that extracts pickles from a pickle jar. (Cue: “Who Stole the Pickle from the Pickle Jar?”)

No, really, he did. It looks like a narrow plastic syringe for giving kids medicine, except that when you push it, four tiny metal pincer claws emerge to grab that elusive pickle. Nuff’ said.

Inspired by this dubious purchase (to be fair, it only set us back only about one pound thirty), I herewith give you five household items you (really) can do without:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Pickle via Wikimedia Commons

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