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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.

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Traits Of Successful Bloggers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m teaching a bunch of classes on blogging later today at a local university.

So I’ve spent the past 24 hours immersed in “the art of blogging.”

One of the great things about teaching is that it forces you to reflect on all that you’ve learned about a given topic, cull that together and impart it to your students.

I’ve written before about five reasons I love to blog.

But in reviewing my material for today’s lectures, I’ve also reflected on what it takes to be a great blogger.

To wit, five traits of successful bloggers:

1. Curiosity. Contrary to what people may think, you don’t need to be an extrovert to be successful blogger. Susan Cain is a case in point. But you do need to be endlessly curious. The best bloggers I know – Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project comes to mind – never run out of material to write about because the they never run out of things that fascinate them. And they are able to transmit that sense of wonderment onto the page. Don’t believe me? Read this post by Gretchen on cultivating a sense of smell.

2. Perseverance. If I had a dime for every friend or acquaintance who told me that they were starting a blog and then never followed through, I’d be a rich woman. I was combing through my blog subscriptions in my RSS feed just the other day and realized how many of them had gone dormant. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Blogging is a huge commitment and it’s not for everyone. But there’s no question that you can’t succeed at it if you aren’t willing to go the distance. Which is probably why even most blogs that do launch don’t last more than a few months. I point this out because most people who balk at starting a blog are concerned that they aren’t technically up to speed. But take it from me, the technical part is the easy part. (If I can do it, anyone can.) What’s hard is committing to your audience – and yourself – and persevering week in and week out.

3. Generosity. There’s no question that blogging is a more narcissistic activity than straight up journalism. But the best bloggers are those who not only get that blogging is all about community, they actively practice it. One of the things I’m emphasizing in my classes today is the all-importance of the hyper-link to blogging. Sure, it takes awhile when you’re just getting started to figure out which Online community/ies you belong to. But once you’ve identified that space, you need to be actively linking to that community:  through your posts, through your comments, through social media. This isn’t just a practical strategy for building an audience. The dirty secret of blogging is that it’s when you’re generous in crediting the work of other bloggers, it’s actually loads more fun.

4. Humility. Related to #3, the best bloggers are also humble. If they’re smart, they let their work speak for itself, rather than relentlessly and shamelessly self-promoting. I’m personally always wary of bloggers who only show up on Twitter or Facebook when they have their own work to share. It gives the impression that they’re just too self-involved. Another way to demonstrate your humility as a blogger is to own your mistakes and to not be afraid or unwilling to accept criticism. Time and again, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover that when someone dumps on something I’ve written Online, if I just “show up” in the comments section and address them personally – taking their criticism seriously but also reasserting my own point of view – we can respectfully work through it, or at least agree to disagree. I think readers really appreciate it when bloggers take the time to acknowledge that they may be wrong or why they feel  they’re being misconstrued. The This American Life episode, Retraction, that I linked to last week is a great case in point.

5. Voice. I’ve written before about how important it is to set a tone when you blog. There are lots of different ways to do this, but basically it’s about conveying your personality on your blog and letting that shine through your writing. The reason voice is so important is that as a reader, it’s what connects you, emotionally, to the content at hand. One of my favorite bloggers, Colleen Wainwright of Communicatrix, recently took a short leave of absence from her blog. And when she returned after several months, I heard her voice again and realized how much I’d missed it while she was gone. That, to me, is the sign of the truly successful blogger.

How about you? If you are a producer and/or consumer of blogs, what do you think makes for a successful blog?

 

Image: Moo cards for blogging workshop by Mexicanwave via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Girls Should Play Sports

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I spent this morning at a cross-country race at my daughter’s school, watching kids aged seven to eleven run their hearts out on Hampstead Heath.

I’ve had a change of heart recently on sports. As a die-hard drama-geek growing up, I neither played a lot of sports nor cared very much for them. My view was that pretty much all of the main benefits you got from sports were easily replicated in other activities. As a result, and as I’ve fessed up here before, I‘m really not a sports mom in any way, shape or form.

But lately I’ve been rethinking the value of sports for my kids. Part of this is that my son is an avid soccer (football) player and fan. But a lot of it has been watching what being good at sports has meant for my daughter.

Women’s Sports Foundation research shows that boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 9 — and their parents — are equally interested in sports participation. However, by the age of 14, girls drop out of sport at a rate that is six times greater than boys.

That’s a real shame, because there are all sorts of reasons that girls, in particular, should be playing more sports. Here are five:

1. It boosts their self-esteem. It’s no secret that, on the whole, girls tend to have lower self-esteem than boys. Girls’ self-esteem tends to peak at around nine years old and then drops precipitously, while boys’ self-esteem tends to plateau in adolescence. Girls are also particularly likely to be critical of themselves, with one-quarter of older girls reporting that they did not like or hated themselves. In contrast, only 14 percent of boys said they felt this way. Sports builds confidence because, as a friend of mine put it recently, it teaches you how to improve your “personal  best.” Girls who are active also tend to be more optimistic, which has a direct bearing on motivation, and therefore achievement. In a recent study, 80 percent of female Fortune 500 executives identified themselves as former “tomboys.”

2. It teaches valuable life skills. Sports also teaches valuable life skills. When you work with coaches, trainers, and teammates to win games and achieve goals, you’re learning how to be successful. Above all, you’re learning how to function within a unit, and to work collectively with others towards the achievement of a goal. That skill is crucial for success in the work place; it’s also crucial to success in family life. My own view is that girls tend to rely excessively on one or two friends when they’re young, while boys tend to have more diffuse friendships. Sports is one way of countering this “best friend” bias in girls, while at the same time teaching them how to be both cooperative and loyal to the friends that they do have.

3. It keeps them healthy. In addition to being fit and maintaining a healthy weight, girls who play sports are also less likely to smoke. Later on in life, girls who exercise frequently are less likely to suffer from breast cancer or osteoporosis. As little as four hours of exercise a week may reduce a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60%. And in a world that’s obsessed with female body image, sports is a healthy way to keep yourself in shape, rather than starving yourself or endlessly dieting.

4. It improves academic outcomes. Being good at sports also has positive spill-over effects for school. Girls who play sports have, on average, higher grade point averages, better SAT scores, lower high-school drop out rates and a better chance of staying in college. Indeed, one study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that government policies aimed at directing more resources towards female sports may have been responsible for roughly one fifth of the 50 percent increase in female college attendance and college graduation between 1980 and 2000.

5. It’s fun. Again, no glass ceiling here. But as I watched the cross-country races this morning, I couldn’t help but be taken with the pride, satisfaction and ear-to-ear grins on the faces of the girls as they crossed the finish line, even if they didn’t win. And that, in and of itself, was worth the price of admission.

Image: Girls Soccer 18 by JosephGilbert.org via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Imagine Five Alternative Careers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Over on See Jen Write, blogger Jennifer Taylor posted a list of jobs she’d have if she couldn’t be a writer. They included a forest ranger, a meteorologist, a TV news broadcaster, a librarian and a water slide tester. (Yup, that last one really does exist – go check out her link.)

Jen posted this list for fun, but my guess is that the reason her list ran such a gamut of professional opportunities is that each of these speaks to a different aspect of her personality.

It’s fun to try to imagine all the things you might do if you weren’t doing whatever it is that currently defines your profession/lifestyle, but it’s also really useful.

If you’re even vaguely contemplating a career change, you need to think really carefully about not only what you’re good at, but what you enjoy. Often, discovering a satisfying career is not so much about the job title itself, but the various tasks you do as you go about your day and which complement your skills and interests.

To that end, and since I’m engaged in a job search of my own, I thought I’d get the ball rolling by revealing my top five would-be careers. Then it’s your turn:

1. Toll Collector. When I was little, I thought that when you tossed your coins into the toll booth on the highway, someone sat at the bottom of the toll booth and sorted them into piles. Turns out, I was wrong, but I think the fact that I thought that I’d actually enjoy sitting in a cramped, dark space underground sorting out dimes, nickles and quarters into little piles says a lot about my love of order. Translation? I need to run projects.

2. Barrista. Fortunately, in addition to being a closet administrator, I’m also quite extroverted. Which has always made me fantasize about working in the service industry. There was a time in my 20′s when I thought that I should work in a juice bar. But then I realized that I don’t actually drink juice. Coffee, however? Yeah, baby, bring it on. And thanks to my husband, I’m quite expert at using espresso machines! Added bonus to this sort of social job? Multi-tasking. Love it.

3. Career Counselor. I’ve always been obsessed with people’s relationship to their work. I love learning about daily routines as well as why it is that people love – or hate – what they do for a living. Which is why I think that in another life, I’d help people figure out which line of work suits them and why. After all, personality tests are increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms. Come to think of it, why don’t I just do this now?

4. War Correspondent. I’ve had the pleasure of working as a foreign correspondent but never as a war correspondent, which is an entirely different animal. It’s an incredibly dangerous job, as the recent deaths of Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin tragically attest. But it’s also a thrilling one, where you can feel that you are really making a difference as a journalist. If you doubt this, go watch The Killing Fields or pick up Deborah Copaken Kogan’s auto-biography, Shutterbabe. With a family in place, I think I’m too old (or too chicken) to pick up this career path right now. But boy, do I wish I’d done it when I was younger.

5. Professional Singer. I really don’t think this one requires too much explanation if you read this post, but suffice to say that I love to sing and I love to perform. And I have no doubt that were I truly talented at singing, I’d have hauled my ass to Broadway long ago. Tant pis!

Ok, over to you. What careers/jobs would you pick in an alternate universe?

 

Image: Toll Stop by planetschwa via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Read A Game Of Thrones

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I read a great post yesterday on the Online magazine The Tribe about why adults ought to read more children’s books. The author argues that great children’s books share much in common with great adult books in terms of plot, character and pacing. The difference is that because the authors are aware of the fickle attention spans of their target audiences (e.g., kids), they try that much harder to reel you in.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard this point of view. A year or so ago, Pamela Paul took to the pages of the New York Times to talk about the rising popularity of kidlit among adult readers.

I’m currently undergoing a variation on this theme myself:  at my 11 year-old’s urging, I’m reading the first book in George R.R. Martin’s wildly successful fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

Yeah, I know. A lot of people don’t think of this as “kid lit,” though I think it’s reasonable to describe it as cross-over fare aimed at both teens and adults.  I also know that some parents will want to haul me into social services for letting my (then ten-year old) read this stuff, especially if they’ve seen the HBO series, Game of Thrones, based on the first novel. (I haven’t.)

But for me, this is about as close as I get to children’s fiction.

Let me say up front that I’m soooo *not* your typical fantasy fiction reader. As with my taste in films, I tend towards the irrepressibly realistic (some would say dire.)

But I’m loving A Game of Thrones and here’s why  – if you haven’t already tried it – you should also give it a go:

1. It’s realistic. If you’re like me, when you hear the term “fantasy fiction” you immediately conjure up maps of countries that don’t exist, an array of dungeons and dragons and – as a wanna-be fantasy writing friend of mine put it so aptly – “animals that talk.” All of this can be found in Martin’s kingdom of Westeros. But as anyone who has read his novels knows, what makes them stand out is how utterly realistic they are. Sure there’s a demonic human being known as “the hound,” a whole lot of sword-fighting, and some kind of evil monster-like species I haven’t quite yet sussed out that doesn’t bleed. But what really pulls the reader in is the feeling that – as in the modern world: actions have consequences. As one reviewer put it in The New York Times, “When people are stabbed, they die; when kingdoms ignore debts, the bankers show up. The characters understand their world, and we understand the characters.”

2. It’s historically grounded. A lot of that realism flows from the fact that the book at times reads more like history than it does fantasy. There are literally more than a thousand characters in the series and Martin helpfully adds an appendix to the end of the first book so that you can figure out how the different clans relate to one another. The net effect is not dissimilar to reading something like Hillary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, in that you feel like you’re reading a fictional account of the internecine struggles among the factions in a real kingdom. Martin himself has allowed that he was frustrated with a lot of the post-Tolkien fantasy literature because it was so often grounded in a kind of “Disneyland Middle Ages” where they had the trappings of a class system but no sense of how it actually worked. He’s out to set the record straight.

3. It’s about growing up. One of the main reasons I started reading A Game of Thrones – other than that my son insisted that I try it – was an article about the fantasy genre in The Wall Street Journal by Lev Grossman. In it, Grossman systematically takes apart the standard biases that many (grown ups) bring to this sort of literature. One of the points Grossman makes is that fantasy – pace Harry Potter -  is often dismissed for being  about “the moment when a powerless, mundane person realizes that he or she is anything but.” Grossman accepts this characterization, but then goes on to point out that by the time we’re 35 – if not older – most of us are still figuring out who we are and what we want out of life. So why should a coming of age tale be any less resonant for adults than it is for kids? As someone who blogs about adulthood as a journey, I had to agree.

4.The violence is graphic; the sex is not. When I tell people that my 11 year-old has read the entire series, they often react with horror. So of course I had to go back and read the first book after he’d finished the first five volumes in order to know just how badly I’d screwed up as a parent. The fact is, there is tons of brutal violence described in minute detail. But is that really so much worse than your average video game (which I do, as a parent, limit)? And as for the sex, so far at least, it’s few and far between and quite muted. You pick your poison as a parent. (Can I patent that?) And I think that in this case, the superb story-telling and breadth of characters Martin introduces us to far outweighs the “bad” bits.

5. You will bond with your teen. My son is on the cusp of being a teenager, and all that entails. But right now, every morning my son asks me which chapter in of A Game of Thrones I’m on and we have a lengthy discussion. And for me, that would be worth it even if I hated the book.

 

Image: Fantasy Faire Unicornuus by Michelle Hyacinth via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Oscar 2012 Moments Worth Remembering

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We all have our guilty pleasures. Some of us read trashy novels. Others play children’s video games when no one’s looking. One of my friends still enjoys eating pop tarts as a grown up.

Me? I watch the Oscars. And when I saw watch, I mean consume, absorb and otherwise tune out the world.

So even when it’s a year – like this one when, let’s face it – the Academy Awards were kind of meh, I still derive tons of pleasure from watching them.

This year had its own collection of classic moments. And so if, like me, you couldn’t watch the Oscars live, here are five things worth remembering:

1.Unforgettable Past Oscar Moments. Before we even hit the red carpet on Sunday, my eyes were glued to this fabulous montage of Oscar Fails over on Slate V. Narrated by someone pretending to be that omniscient voice that tells you the winner’s past Oscar history as s/he approaches the stage, this clip includes some of the greatest Oscar moments of all time, including David Niven’s terrific ad lib all those years ago.

2. Sasha Baron Cohen Drops His Ashes.  And speaking of the red carpet, if you haven’t yet seen Sasha Baron Cohen’s hilarious Oscar stunt before the ceremony got underway, it’s a must-view. To me, what’s particularly noteworthy about this video is not Baron Cohen, who is always larger than life and outrageous. It’s the two incredibly dimwitted E! commentators reacting to Ryan Seacrest. It’s times like these that it really hurts to be an American.

3. Angelina’s right leg. Much has been made of Angelina Jolie’s right leg, which made a prominent appearance at the awards ceremony, jutting out as it did – in all its slenderness – from her Versace dress.  But did you know that this leg also inspired a Twitter account? Yes, that’s right. Tweets from @AngiesRightLeg soared on Sunday night, especially following this reaction to Jolie’s limb from the Oscar-winning writers from The Descendants.

4. JLo’s NipSlip. Not to be out done, Jennifer Lopez’ wardrobe malfunction also inspired its own Twitter feed, @jlosnipple. But I’m with Big Little Wolf on this one: whatever we saw, J Lo looked fantastic – full-bodied and owning it -  unlike Angelina who – once full-bodied herself – has gotten painfully thin.

5. Jimmy Kimmel’s Movie: The Movie. For the past few years, late night host Jimmy Kimmel has had a great time spoofing the Oscars. This year, he made an 8-minute long fake movie trailer for his forthcoming hit: Movie: The Movie, starring everyone from Meryl Streep to Tom Hanks to Samuel L. Jackson to Tom Hanks (as a robot). Laugh out loud funny. The joke is always on us.

What am I missing?

 

Image: Oscar by lincolnblues via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.