Archive | Work

Nourish Your Inner Project Manager Through Cooking

cooking

cooking

I spent a week at my 86 year-old mother’s house recently. I was there to help her to clear out her home in preparation for an imminent move to an independent living facility.

The visit invariably entailed a lot of emotional moments: looking at old photos of my (deceased) father…throwing out 3/4 of her Christmas tree ornaments because she’ll no longer have a full-sized tree…realizing that at her age, the risk of tripping on a Turkish rug far outweighs its aesthetic appeal.

I could go on.

But I was also reminded of a fundamental truth about my nature: I am a born project manager. Whether it was driving to the local, jumbo-sized American liquor store to pick up boxes, sorting through old clothing to donate to the Vietnam Veterans of America, or interviewing potential moving companies for estimates, I was completely in my element.

Best of all, I had a deadline: we had to have the entire house de-cluttered in advance of an open-house scheduled a week after I arrived. So I spent seven days doing nothing but running around making lists, checking items off, and assigning duties to my three siblings for the next six weeks before I return for the actual move.

Manager vs. Maker

I once wrote a blog post with a short quiz to help people figure out if they are fundamentally “managers” or “makers.” (Conceptual hat tip: Paul Graham)

A manager is someone who divides their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job.

A maker is someone who needs large blocks of time to carry out tasks – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity.

Most people clearly sort into one or the other category. I, unfortunately, have one foot in both camps: I relish large blocks of time to do any sort of writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently a member of my family…).

The Problem with Being a Creative

Back when I was working, this problem solved itself. My last job encompassed both halves of my personality, such that I spent about 50% of my time writing and editing and 50% of my time managing projects, budgets and people.

It was, in that very specific sense, a perfect job for me.

But now that I’ve been made redundant, I am really struggling to keep that balance in my life. I now have vast swathes of free time, and although I am prioritizing my book project, there are only so many hours in the day one can write.

While there are any number of books out there offering advice on how to develop your inner artist, you don’t hear all that much about how creative types can nurture their inner swim coach.

Cooking as Project Management

One thing I’ve started doing to feed (no pun intended!) my inner project manager is cooking.

Let me confess that I’ve never been much of a foodie. My husband loves food, many of my friends love food, but, until recently, about the only foodstuff I ever really paid any attention to was beer. My sister loves to quote the time I commented, as an 11 year-old: “It was there. So I ate it.” Food had no allure in and of itself.

Nor did cooking. Cooking has always just something practical I did in order to ensure that my family was healthy. But as an activity unto itself, it was completely joyless.

Lately, however, I find myself really getting into making recipes. There is something deeply soothing about listing all the ingredients, tracking them down – especially the rare ones (Ras El-Hanout, anyone?) – and then carefully orchestrating the production of the meal so that it all comes out on time. There is also, invariably, that dreaded terror when (just as when you’re in the office), you fear that you might actually miss that deadline…and then the utter relief when you don’t.

I’m a huge dessert fan, so cakes loom large in my repertoire. But someone also gave me a Persian cook book for my birthday last year and that has been a great source of inspiration.

Of course, there are other ways to exercize your inner project manager if you’re immersed in something creative – volunteering or joining a board is another way to go.

But for me, cooking seems to work just fine, at least for now.

I guess once my mother moves into her new place, I’ll need to start working on some recipes for her…

Image: Food. Pot. Kitchen. Cooking via Pexels.com

Why I Hate Being In Between Jobs

desk

deskI had a singularly unpleasant experience this week. Both of my children, separately,  told me that I needed to get a job. And not (primarily) for financial reasons.

Ouch.

The worst part of it was that neither of them was trying to be mean. They were merely observing that as a person who is currently in between jobs and writing a book that isn’t (yet) under contract – I needed to find somewhere to direct my considerable energy.

They had a point. I’m one of those weird, hybrid people who relishes large blocks of time to do anything creative, like  writing or editing. But equally, I feel like I will die if I don’t organize someone or something at least once a day (frequently, a member of my family…).

Not surprisingly, my son has told me lately that I need to stop “fussing” over his taking his asthma medicine and getting to school on time. My daughter has put it more bluntly on more than one occasion: “Stop nudging me!” she’ll shout and then slam the door to her room. (I tried ironing. I really did. It helped, sort of.)

But it wasn’t just they’d both correctly identified my inner swim coach rearing its ugly head.  It’s that they were tapping into my greatest fear: that I am not legitimate.

I think all struggling writers – and maybe even some of the commercially successful ones – fear that without the formal trappings of an office – e.g., business cards, a regular paycheck, a door (!), it’s often hard to feel “legitimate” in your chosen profession.

In my case, however, in addition to devoting large chunks of time to a creative project, I am also devoting large chunks of time to identifying exactly how I want to spend the next phase of my professional future.  But how do you tell a 13 year-old that you’re working on “constructing your evolving narrative”? (Even though that is what precisely what I’m doing, and it’s coming along quite nicely, thank you very much.)

At lunch last week with a friend, himself a successful consultant transitioning into an as-yet-to-be-defined but hopefully more fulfilling new career path, I confessed to these feelings of illegitimacy that were plaguing me.

“Delia!” he exclaimed. “I am an intelligent person and I’m telling you that you are legitimate!”

But it fell on deaf ears.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve mastered all this stuff and am completely inner-directed, such that I don’t need some sort of tangible, external signal to validate the way I’m spending my time right now.

But that would be a lie.

I know that because I’m shortly to start a (non-paying) visiting position at a local university, developing a project connected to my interest in aging and adulthood.

That alone ought to be enough for me. And I am genuinely excited about it.

But when they wrote to tell me that as part of the position, I would also have a computer and an office, I was inexplicably elated.

Wow! A computer and an office!,” I thought to myself, a mere two and a half months since the last time I had both of those things. “I am a person again!

Phew.

Image: Desk by Pexels via Pixabay.com

How To Redefine Yourself When You Are Made Redundant

pale ale

pale aleI’m about to lose my job. It’s a long story, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I work for a large, British NGO in London that just lost a big chunk of its government funding.

As a result of that decision, my entire department is being shut down at the end of July.

The Upside of Starting Over

I’m actually really happy about this state of affairs – not for my organisation, but for me personally. I’ve already changed careers a couple of times, so I’m all about the “episodic career.”

As we all know, starting over professionally in mid-life doesn’t need to be a negative thing. Indeed, it can be the start of something really exciting and rewarding. I’ve been thinking hard about what was coming next for me for a while now and relish the prospect of trying something new.

Plus, the prospect of collecting a nice severance package sweetens the deal even further. I mean, seriously, how often are you paid to go hunt for a new job?

So why, then, am I feeling so lousy?

Being Made “Redundant”

I think it’s the terminology they use over here to describe this state of affairs. In the UK, it’s called “being made redundant.”

Say what you will about the term “layoff,” but it’s a heckuva lot better than “redundancy.” For me, anyway, getting “laid off” connotes something restful – you’ve been given leave to hang up your cleats and exit the sports field gracefully. You can now kick back with a low-alcohol Pale Ale in the back yard and read The New Yorker to your heart’s content. (Not your fantasy? Feel free to substitute in your personal set of unemployment-induced indulgences…)

But it’s temporary: you’re just hitting the snooze button. Normal life resumes shortly.

In contrast, being told that you are being made “redundant” conjures up images being – at best, burdensome – and at worst, completely unnecessary. In the dictionary, “redundant” is defined as “No longer needed. Superfluous.”

And that depresses me.

The Fear of Slowing Down

I’m a do-er you see. I’m always on the go, from 6 am to 10 pm. For God’s sake, I use a wheelie suitcase as a briefcase! I am a living and breathing metaphor for purposefulness in motion.

So the idea of slowing down terrifies me. Some of that’s about legitimacy – the normal sorts of professional identity issues one struggles with when he or she is unemployed.

But in my own case, there’s a much deeper cause to my uneasiness: the worry that I won’t re-start. That there will be nothing left to do. No more mountains to climb, to borrow a phrase from the Reverend Mother in The Sound of Music. And who am I without constant movement?

So to be labelled by my society as inert and unproductive is quite possibly the worst thing you can do to me. It taps into my worst fears: that the game of life is over and there’s just…me. It’s like a form of dying. Or at least that’s how I experience it.

Redundancy vs. Renewal

I know this is all very silly and superficial. There’s no reason that I have to define my new professional status by the dictionary definition of redundant. As Shakespeare once memorably asked: “What’s in a name?”

I also know that, deep down,it won’t be long before I’m back in the saddle, throwing myself into the next big thing. Indeed, the biggest challenge for me will be remembering to savor “slow living” before I resume the race.

But if you happen to see me before then, whether on the street or in cyber-space, please do me a favor. Try not to mention the word “redundancy” in my presence.

I prefer the word “rebirth.”

Which, according to the dictionary, means “A period of new life, growth or activity. A revival.”

Amen.

Image: Coopers Pale Ale from Adelaide Australia in the Bier Garden Saigon Vietnam JAN 2012 via Wikimedia Commons

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Need To Change Jobs

mask

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a former colleague at a party recently. He told me that despite having a prestigious and well-paying job in the private sector, he felt that he needed to move on from his current job because he’s been wearing a “costume” to work for the past two years.

I could completely relate. At various points in my professional life, I have felt that I had to don a costume every day when I went to work because my job was not an authentic reflection of who I was or wanted to be.

One of the great things about the “new old age” is that we’re all living longer, offering us many more opportunities to envision mid-life as a time of self-realization, productivity and growth. So if you’re wrestling with whether or not it might be time for you to shift gears, here are five tell-tale signs you might want to act on that instinct:

You feel like you’re wearing a costume to work. See above. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to hate your job. The first time I experienced the “costume” syndrome – back when I was an academic – there were aspects of my job I loved, including the amazingly talented and intelligent colleagues I worked with on a daily basis. But if it feels increasingly like you are pretending to be someone you aren’t at work – and the energy from that performance is exhausting you – then you need to think about how to channel that energy into a job search that can bring greater meaning and fulfillment.

You envy other people’s jobs. My husband and I have an expression for that feeling you get when you order something at a restaurant and then immediately regret it as soon as your dinner partner’s plate arrives. We call it “order envy.” Order Envy applies in the work world as well. I once ran into a friend who told me that he couldn’t wait for “Monday to start,” because there was so much to look forward to in his work week. At the time, I was experiencing something more like “Sunday Dread” about the five days that were to follow, so his cheerful enthusiasm felt like a knife through my soul. If you feel envy right now rather than relief that you don’t have that “Monday feeling,” you know that you are ready to look for a new job.

You feel suffocated when you get a promotion. A younger friend with whom I used to work invited me to coffee recently. She said that she needed some urgent career advice. Turns out, she’d just been given a promotion. “But isn’t that a good thing?,” I asked, naively. “No, it’s awful. I feel absolutely suffocated. Like because they’ve offered me more money and a better title, I can never leave now.” I, too, have experienced the “golden handcuffs” syndrome at points in my life. It was beautifully rendered in an episode of Friends where Chandler gets a promotion because he’s so good at his job and they want to give him an inducement to stay in the team. But instead of being thrilled, all he wants to do is to run for the door. Pay attention to those feelings; don’t ignore them. It’s a huge sign that you feel stuck in your job and need to emancipate yourself.

You look at job listings, even though you just started your job. Another dead give away. Of course, it’s possible that you only took your current job as a temporary measure. But if you’ve recently started a job that you convinced yourself was right for you, then you should be investing 100% in learning everything you can about that new job: how the company is structured…what’s actually required of your post…getting to know your new colleagues…the technology that’s used…the organizational culture, etc. etc. If, instead, you find yourself still out there wondering “What if?”, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You immediately apply for a short-term assignment outside your department. I work at a large, global organization that invests heavily in its employees’ professional development. Part of this is achieved through what’s called an “attachment scheme,” which is basically a way to enable people from different parts of the organization to work elsewhere on a short-term basis in order to learn new skills or deepen others. It’s a wonderful scheme – and really does facilitate life-long learning inside the workplace. (Other companies do something similar through short-term international assignments.) But I’ve noticed that some of the people who try and take advantage of the attachment scheme in my company have barely been there long enough to learn the job they were hired for in the first place. To me, that is a sign that they really need to change jobs.

How about you? What things have you experienced or observed over the years that told you that it was time to move on?

Image: Mask Carnival Venice Italy by Skeeze via Pixabay

 

Vacations, Paid Leave and the Madness of American Workaholism

summer vacation

summer vacation LONDON – The hint of an autumn breeze sweeps through my window on an early Sunday morning in August as I work through the annual back-to-school inventory of uniforms and school supplies. My eye graces the “To Do” List I crafted back in late May – still sitting in a corner of my desk, as if beckoning me to “action” it – with the myriad festivals, theater productions and “Top 10 European Budget Holidays” we’d meant to get to with my family before September. And I’m hit – not for the first time in the past three months – with a terrible realization: I never took a summer vacation.

I’m not alone. According to a survey conducted by Skift, a travel intelligence company, last year just 15% of Americans planned to take an actual summer vacation. Those numbers improved slightly in 2015, with figures from the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index forecasting Americans travelling more this year, but spending less.

Which brings us to economics. Let’s start with the fact that vacations are expensive – the average American vacation cost $8,272, according to Skift – and many people simply can’t afford them. Of the 1,005 Americans polled for that survey, one third of them said that they wouldn’t take a summer vacation because they can’t afford it. Indeed, Americans who earned less than $25,000 per year were the least likely to take vacation days, with almost half of that income bracket taking no days off last year. As an article on CBS Money Watch put it: “Low-wage professions or part-time jobs…are increasingly pricing workers out of taking time off.”

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image via Pixabay.com

Working Moms: Don’t Use Academic Research To Validate You

working mothers

working mothers

Like many out there, I was overjoyed to read the results of a recent study from Harvard University claiming that being a working mother  has tangible benefits to our kids. More specifically, the new research showed that working mothers are good role models for their daughters.

I was on my way to work when I read about the study and entered the office with an extra skip in my step. One of my colleagues, also a mother of two, called out to me before I even got to my desk. “Did you hear?” she said. “Work is actually good for our daughters!” She was positively beaming.

“Yup!” I replied triumphantly. “Already tweeted it!”

We high-fived each other across the cubicle, leaning in (to borrow a phrase) to the nine hour day that lay ahead, a tad less anxious than we’d been the day before and – in my own case – suddenly awash in confidence that missing my daughter’s cross country tournament the week before hadn’t permanently damaged her self-esteem. To the contrary, now she’d be even more confident and motivated because she had me as a model, holed up in an office miles away, toiling away on that final edit to the paper whose deadline took greater precedence over watching her run a race.

Continuing to ride that high, I immediately jumped on Facebook to contact a friend of mine who teaches family and child policy at a prominent American university and is up on all of this research. “Isn’t this great?” I wrote, linking to the study on her Wall. “Because didn’t most of the earlier studies say the opposite? And P.S., Yay!”

Actually,” she wrote back,”this body of research is so hard to interpret because so little of it is well-identified and there are so few plausibly causal estimates. Mostly people seem to conclude what they want from the existing literature. Thus, YAY! indeed for this latest study.

Fffffffffffffttttttttttttttt.

That’s the sound of the air coming out of my Guilt-Free-Mom balloon upon receiving her dispiriting reply.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image: Women in the Workforce via Wikipedia.com

Embrace Your Emma Watson and Become a Mentor

emma watson davos

emma watson davosLONDON – This week, the sublimely gifted Emma Watson has taken to the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos to exhort the corridors of power worldwide to do more to ensure that women are equal participants in the workplace.

As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador – not to mention a star of one the highest grossing film franchises of all time – Watson has the sort of global platform that can enable her latest initiative – IMPACT 10x10x10 to make some real inroads in “encouraging governments, businesses and universities to make concrete commitments to gender equality.” But you don’t need to be Hermione Granger to play a role in advancing women’s status and power in the workplace.

Indeed, we can all do our part – particularly we middle-aged, mid-career female professionals who are close enough to remembering what it was like to be struggling to move up the career ladder but senior enough to have a few years of worthwhile experience under our belt.  Which is why I took the decision in 2015 to start mentoring younger female colleagues in my company to help them both identify and realize their own potential.

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

Image via watsonfans.com 

Dear Americans: Don’t Work At Home; Work Less

I have no doubt that as I write this column, someone, somewhere in America, is busily stitching together her very own Marissa Mayer voodoo doll. But despite all the furor that has raged since the Yahoo CEO ordered her employees to cease working from hometo improve productivity, that debate has barely caused a ripple on this side of the Atlantic.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all sanctimonious on you and remind you of how far the United States lags behind most of the rest of the world in providing workers and their families with supports or protections. Nor am I going to point to the growing body of work suggesting that telecommuting may actually be more efficient for many work-related tasks and help keep employees around.

I’ve got nothing against offices. At heart, I’m actually that annoyingly over-zealous co-worker who rushes to Bagel Fridays and can’t wait to perform at the annual office karaoke night.

But I do think that this entire debate has largely missed the point. To my mind, the problem facing American workers isn’t where they work, it’s how.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: How to Work From Home by pwenzel via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Should Fareed Zakaria Be Forgiven For Plagiarizing?

I’ve always thought that Fareed Zakaria was a bit too slick.

It’s not that I don’t like him. I share the pundit’s broadly liberal internationalist view towards world affairs. And unlike many wonks (the big exception here being the University of Chicago’s Austan Goolsbee), Zakaria’s actually got a sense of humor, which is always a plus.

But there was always something a bit too cute by half about this good-looking, well-spoken darling of the Center-Left with his million dollar smile.

So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when I learned that Zakaria had become embroiled in a plagiarism scandal that has – temporarily, at least – cost him two of his plum platforms: Time and CNN. On Friday, both news outlets suspended Zakaria while they investigated charges that he had lifted passages from an article by New Yorker writer Jill Lepore on gun control. He has since apologized to Lepore and taken full responsibility for the incident, which he described as a “serious lapse.”

Read the rest of this post on The Washington Post’s She The People website…

 

Image: Fareed Zakaria at the Newsweek Offices by barthjg via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Huma Abedin At Home

Was Michele Bachmann worried that Sarah Palin was stealing the GOP convention side-show? Bachmann wandered way off the reservation when she improbably accused Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin of trying to infiltrate the American government on behalf of the Muslim brotherhood.

Sen. John McCain and – oh, about half the country – have now leapt to Abedin’s defense.

But a tiny sliver of this publicity is Abedin’s own doing. ln a much-anticipated article that hits newsstands Friday, Abedin and her husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, invited People Magazine into their home to do a profile of their family life.

You remember Rep. Weiner. He’s the guy who sent money shots of himself in his tightie-whities to a selection of ladies who were not his wife, prematurely ending his congressional career last summer.

The article isn’t out yet but from the many leaked tidbits I’ve read so far, the one that really has me shaking my head is Abedin’s assertion that “We’re just a normal family.”

Huma, with all due respect, I beg to differ. You and your husband are many things but I’m afraid that  “normal” ain’t one of them.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: wednesday-metro by azipaybarah via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.