Tag Archives: career change

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

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Talk Therapy Can Help

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by the front page article in the New York Times magazine over the weekend  by Daphne Merkin, which provides an account of the author’s life-long search for the perfect psycho-therapist.

I have a feeling that this article could serve as another great example of the age-old “there are two types of people in the world…”. On the one hand, there are undoubtedly people who will be turned off by this five-page, detailed meditation on Merkin’s ongoing relationship to psychotherapy, using it as confirmation that psychotherapy really is just an extended exercise in (pointless) narcissism. On the other hand, there are people (like me) who – while acknowledging the self-indulgent nature of therapy – find both the process and analysis…of analysis…endlessly fascinating. Which is another way of saying that I couldn’t put the article down.

Wherever you fall on the “therapy as literature” debate, I do think that seeing a therapist of any sort can be extraordinarily useful at certain points in your life. And, apparently, more and more of my adopted country’s citizens agree with me. While talk therapy has long been an important part of American life,  more and more Brits have gotten on board with psycho-therapy in recent years. A a recent survey suggests that 94% of people in the U.K. now consider it acceptable to have counseling and psychotherapy for anxiety and depression, compared with just 67% in 2004.

If you’re a therapy skeptic or just haven’t felt the need to see a shrink, here’s a layman’s perspective on five ways talk therapy can help you (But be sure to read my “five things not to do in therapy” before you go!):

1. It gives you a narrative. Whether of not you actually pay someone to help you do this, most of us spend a good portion of our adult lives trying to figure ourselves out. Therapy is a useful tool in that process because – if you stick with it long enough – you gradually acquire a story that you can tell yourself to make sense of your past. At the risk of dumbing things down, think of this as a sort of “thesis sentence” (remember 9th grade English?) about your life. It might be something as simple as “I was put on this earth to accompany my sister” or “I was invisible to my parents.” Whatever it is, having a framework about yourself is helpful for moving forward.

2. You identify patterns. As you begin to unearth your own narrative, you’ll discover that you have a habit of repeating certain behaviors. In my own case, a shrink once casually observed that “freedom of movement” is a defining characteristic of who I am. And in one fell swoop, I made sense of about five different things going on in my life, from relationship issues to living overseas. It’s not until you can clearly see the patterns that you can think about change.

3.You normalize your problems. “Ordinary Misery” or “Ordinary Unhappiness” (to generously paraphrase Freud) is the goal here, folks. Which is another way of saying that if you stay inside your own head too long you run the risk of thinking that your problems are worse than they are. Conversely, by talking to someone else about your problems you come to see that a.) you aren’t insane b.) lots of other people share your issues and c.) all of these things are fixable. This does not mean that you’ll necessarily end up “happy” (whatever that is). But in converting your demons into ordinary problems, you’ll be happi-er, which is probably enough for most of us mere mortals.

4. You change your life. Or at least you have the tools to do so. In my own case, I can point to several major life changes that wouldn’t have happened without therapy, ranging from the profound (career change) to the seemingly-trivial-but-in-fact-hugely-consequential (yoga). Provided that you do it the right way, therapy offers you a chance to take abstract  insights about yourself and apply those towards concrete changes in your life.

5. It offers hope. See 1, 2, 3 and 4. And in an era where suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

*****

I’m over on Politics Daily today talking about the new trend towards early puberty in girls and what it might mean for everyone else.


Image: Week Five – Face of Depression by Jessica Hime via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons I Love To Blog

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

As some of you know, last Friday was the first anniversary of RealDelia. And while I fully intended to break out the champagne…the confetti…the whole nine yards, somehow I didn’t quite pull it off. (I had hoped that my wife would throw me a party, but she was too busy that day).

So I thought that I would mark the occasion today instead, by telling you five reasons why I love to blog, and why you might like it too:

1. It helps you to find your voice. I have been writing for a long time now in my adult life. I started as a research assistant when I first got out of college. Then there was that long, hazy academic morass when I was a graduate student and then a professor. Over the past three years, it’s been a blend of personal essays, reported features and occasional fiction writing. But it was only once I started this blog that I felt that I finally found my voice as a writer, and realized that – with all my career shifts – that was what I’d been looking for all along.

2. It makes you more mindful as a person. Mindfulness is one of those new-agey terms that I deliberately avoided for awhile. But in fact, one of the great virtues of blogging – at least if you are blogging about your own life and trying to extract lessons from it – is that it makes you more aware of how you lead your life, in ways both large and small. In my own case, one of the major innovations in my personal life was my decision to stop working on Saturdays. And while I can’t attribute that decision entirely to blogging, I think that being in the habit of examining my life on a daily basis (on the blog) gave me the tools to step back and change my life.

3. You make new friends. There’s my e-BFF Sharon, of course – of Neverbloomers fame – whom I first got to know through this blog because of our shared interest in adulthood. Now we’re on Facebook, we Skype one another and I think a professional collaboration may come down the pike. But there are a whole host of people I can think of right off the top of my hat – Colleen, Mike, Kristen, Katy, LPC – to name a few, whom I never would have “met” except through blogging (OK, I did in fact meet Katy once but blogging is our bond.) And I’m so enriched because of those connections.

4. You become more disciplined. Yeah, yeah. It’s trite, I know. But it’s true what they say. When you start writing on a regular basis, it makes you a better writer. Partly because practice makes perfect. But also because you’re able to just sit down and pound it out when you really need to. Which – in my case – has come in really handy over the past nine months that I’ve also been writing for PoliticsDaily.com.

5. You learn a ton. When I started doing this, I thought it would be fun to share my small musings about the world with other like-minded folk. And it has been loads of fun. But it turns out that the best part about blogging is what you learn from other people, either because of a comment they leave on your post, or because you subscribe to their blog, or because you encounter them haphazardly while doing some research on – say – adulthood – and then you end up staying to see what else they’ve got up their sleeve.

In that vein – and to steal a page from Nicola (another great blogger I’ve gotten to e-know), I’d love it if, in the comments section, you’d leave a link to a blog that you really like and which you think I (and readers of RealDelia) should check out. Feel free to leave your own blog’s name. I’d love to come visit.

And most of all, thank you!

Image: Blogging Research Wordle by KristinaB via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

Stages of Adulthood: Is Age A Number Or A Concept?

Does your actual age tell you anything about where you *are* in adulthood?

I got to thinking about this lately after two public policy proposals emerged that explicitly addressed this very question.

The first was a recommendation earlier this summer in Japan to lower the official age of adulthood from 20 to 18. The reasoning? To encourage young adults to vote, participate in society more and assume their own credit card debt. In short:  to cultivate a greater sense of responsibility, that hallmark of adulthood.

The second is a proposal thrown out at the Conservative Party Conference in the UK last week to raise the official retirement age in this country to 66 (It is currently 65 for men and 60 for women). The logic here is predominantly fiscal – to shore up budget deficits by paying out less in government pension schemes. But Conservative Party Leader David Cameron also noted that with average life expectancy at 86 (up from 81 five years ago), people can now be more productive at an older age. The upshot: we can elevate the age at which it is “reasonable” to stop working.

Me? At the risk of sounding like a Juicy Fruit commercial, I’ve always thought about the stages of adulthood as more of a feeling than a flavor. Which is to say, I don’t think numbers mean all that much when talking about things like responsibility and productivity. (Some nagging feeling tells me I’ve gotten my 1970s chewing gum commercials mixed up…perhaps another inadvertent sign of aging.)

Take middle age. As noted in this recent article in the Times On Line, middle age can technically be defined as lying anywhere between 35 and 65. But as the author points out, “middle age” is much more of an attitude than a precise time of life.

I was reminded of this over the weekend, when my husband and I had a younger colleague and his wife over for lunch. They were both probably in their early 30s – maybe 10 or 12 years younger than us – so not such a huge age difference. But what really struck me most as we talked was what a different place they were at in life. To wit:

1. Choosing what kind of job best suited their career ambitions vs. rethinking career entirely.

2. Exploring neighborhoods in London to find the best fit vs. grimly routing out rodents in effort to come to peace with (exceedingly well-located) closet.

3. Sleeping in until 11 am vs. not being able to remember a time when 7 didn’t feel self-indulgent.

I don’t say any of this with envy. (OK, maybe a tinge of envy.) I very much embrace the idea of life as one giant adventure, into which we never quite “settle in.” And I like to think that this is the feeling that carries us through the different stages of adulthood. Indeed, that is – in many ways – what this blog is all about.

But that lunch did serve one of those “aha” moments in life where you suddenly realize that you’ve…grown up. To wit: as soon as they departed, my husband began grumbling about needing to change his contact lenses. And I said that my back hurt and I really needed to go home and do my exercises.

Yup, folks. We’re middle aged.

*****

One of my quiet obsessions these days is what’s going on with the European Left. Here’s my post in yesterday’s PoliticsDaily.com about Ten Reasons the Left is Failing in Europe.

Image: The Taste is Gonna Mooova Ya by Pirate Johnny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Finding My Parachute: Why Self-Help Books Aren't Just for Ninnies

It’s always a pleasure when – whilst ambling through one’s RSS feed or just cruising the internet – you stumble upon a kindred spirit out there in cyberspace.

This happened to me the other day when I came across an article by Liesl Schillinger in a 1997 issue of O Magazine entitled Hooked on Self Help Books Against Her Will – recently reprinted online.

In it, the author – a regular contributor the New York Times Book Review and one time Style columnist – fesses up to being a late convert to the whole self-help genre.

I could relate. Until quite recently, whenever I entered a book store and saw the “self-help” section, I turned and ran in the opposite direction.

Schillinger’s reluctance stemmed from her childhood belief that she could divine most of life’s important lessons from literature. She was also raised to be skeptical of anything therapeutic.

In my case – as I think this blog makes clear – an aversion to therapy was never my issue. My problem was always the popular nature of this kind of literature. Self-help books just seemed – as Schillinger puts it so gently – for “ninnies.”

But I’ve changed my tune on all that. It started the day I decided to change careers and realized that, despite my advanced degrees, I had absolutely no clue how to go about that. So I read a book called What Color Is Your Parachute – the self-help book to end all self-help books – and I was off and running.

Then I had a couple of kids and realized that, contrary to all this business about the end of over-parenting, an attentive but something-less-than-religious read of a few carefully selected parenting books can actually stand you in good stead.

As I gradually began to read blogs on a regular basis, I came to realize that these, too, are often another variant on the self-help genre. (Although I remain sufficiently resistant to the tag that I thought about sub-titling this blog “self help with a twist,” less anyone thought that I took myself too seriously…)

And, of course, what is seeing a life coach but one giant dose of self-help stuffed into a human body?

In short, it’s been a slow conversion for me. But, like Schillinger, I’m coming around to the conclusion that it’s by tinkering with the small things in daily life that you can actually effect change in the big ones. In other words, life really is one giant “How To” in six easy steps…it’s identifying those steps that’s the hard part. And that’s what self-help books are there for.

Now where did I put that tome on achieving work/life balance?

Image: Parachute by km6xo via Flickr from a Creative Commons License.

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Growing Up: Safety in Movement

Well, I’m back from Scotland, a place where they really do say “wee” for “little” and “aye” for “yes” and eat (gulp) haggis (end gulp).

One of the things I like most about living in London is how easy (and cheap) it is to leave. All of Europe – plus Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia – is just a few hours away by plane. When we first moved here, I wasn’t sure how much of these we’d actually manage to squeeze in. (Answer: more than I expected, largely due to my new found stint as a travel writer.) But even if we hadn’t ended up traveling all that much, what really appealed to me was the idea that I could leave if I wanted to. In other words, it wasn’t the actual movement that attracted me; it was the possibility of movement.

“You strike me as someone for whom freedom of movement is a defining part of who you are,” a therapist once told me. This happened, by the way, during the interview phase of finding a new therapist here in London. I didn’t end up choosing this particular person (a Jungian, as it turned out), but boy was that an hour well spent. (The kicker: because it was just an interview, she didn’t even charge me for this mind-altering insight. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.?)

I realized, as I thought about it, that she was absolutely right. It explains why I jumped at the possibility of moving overseas. It explains why I like to change careers. And it also explains why I used to have a lot of trouble committing to long-term relationships.

This isn’t, actually, how most people approach their lives. I know lots of people whose sense of security is derived from living in the same neighborhood over time…hanging out with the same group of people into adulthood…staying with the same job or company over their career. There is something about familiarity and routine that they find reassuring and predictable and it makes them happy.

But in my case, paradoxically – and for all sorts of complicated psychological reasons that I won’t bore you with but which have, rest assured, have been amply explored elsewhere –  I actually feel safer when I know that change is on the horizon (or at least potentially so). And so I’ve come, belatedly, to embrace this part of my character rather than just assuming, as I did for so long, that I’d eventually “grow up and settle down.” Because for better or for worse, this is who I am.

Which is a long way of saying that growing up is a really complicated thing to figure out. And you just hope that every so often, you bump into someone – it might be that random Jungian you interviewed and never saw again – who helps you make sense of it. In the meantime, thank goodness I can begin planning that next trip to Munich….

*****

Speaking of expat living, I was delighted to discover, courtesy of Freakonomics, that living abroad gives expats greater creativity in problem solving.

Image: First Air 727-100 by caribb via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks: Ghostwriting

I just got back from yet another trip to the United States and as I trolled through my ever-burgeoning pile of unread RSS feeds, I came across the following post about ghostwriting on the blog Lisa Romeo Writes.

I regularly subscribe to a bunch of different blogs about freelance writing and I’ve probably seen at least twenty if not hundreds of job listings for ghost writers over the past twelve months alone. But until today, I never thought much about ghost writing as a possible supplemental source of income for myself.

The main reason – as Romeo notes in her introduction to the post with respect to her own experience – is that I’ve always been so preoccupied with finding and expanding my own voice that I never wanted to deviate any of that energy into someone else’s work. Perhaps because I’m feeling just a tiny bit more confident about my own voice lately or maybe it’s just the pinch of these credit-crunched times, but when I read this post I suddenly thought: Hey! I can do that! (Sorry, but you must indulge my less-than-closeted love of Broadway musicals while I quickly link to famous A Chorus Line number of same title…ah, to spend the afternoon singing lyrics from A Chorus Line…but I digress.)

Why do I mention this here?

Because when I read this writer’s account of how she got started ghost writing and why she enjoys it – i.e. finding a way to tell someone else’s story in a way that respects their unique voice- I realized that I’d not only be very good at this kind of thing, I’d actually enjoy it. I strongly believe that the two keys to a successful career are a. finding things that you like and b. finding things you are good at and then identifying where these two intersect (much harder than it sounds). And so, it suddenly occurred to me that I ought to give ghost writing a second chance.

Which I’ve been doing…all day long.

And it’s something we all should be doing – i.e., thinking about our talents and interests and where these intersect. It seems like every day now, I get another email from a friend whose company has just folded or who’s been let go or who’s just had a baby and is going to try and make it on her own, and a lot of them ask me for advice about how to get started on a new career path. And while I have loads to say on this topic, the main thing I always tell people is: figure out what you like and what you’re good at and that’s where you need to begin.

Because if this economy is going to continue on its current trajectory, we’re all going to need to be a heckuva lot more creative in thinking about our skill sets and the many possible directions in which we can take them while still being true to who we are. Myself included.

So if you’ve got that burning life story you’re just itching to tell and don’t trust yourself to tell it, drop me a line…I’m listening.

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