Tag Archives: career change

Three Mindsets for Professional Reinvention

singing

singingAt this point in my life, I like to believe that I pretty much know what I think about professional reinvention. As a veteran of several career changes, I’ve given a lot of thought to not only how – but when – to embark on a midlife career makeover.

But sometimes the learning one does along the way isn’t so much about adopting new tactics, as it is about discovering new mindsets. Moreover, as someone who’s frequently asked for advice on the subject of midlife reinvention, I find that different messages land differently with different audiences. So it’s always great to have some new frameworks to hand for inspiring others in their own professional development journey.

In the last week, I’ve come across three new mindsets for professional reinvention which I  thought I’d share because they really spoke to me, and may also speak to you:

Don’t get trapped in the ‘paralysis of analysis’

I got this idea from an interview I heard on the wonderful Second Act Stories podcast, which is all about  showcasing people pursuing “second acts” of various sorts in later life. The interview was with a woman called Jane Canapini, who – after spending 20 years in advertising – decided to launch a business devoted to her life-long passion, travel. The business is aimed at a mature audience and is (appropriately) called Grownup Travels. (Great concept!).

Based on her own experience, Canapini was trying to suggest that you don’t necessarily need to over-think career change in midlilfe. Sometimes the thing you ought to be doing is staring you right in the face, because it’s what you were doing in your spare time anyway (in her case, travel.)

I wholeheartedly endorse this principle. I am, by nature, a highly analytical person. I spent the better part of year inside a self-styled chrysalis reflecting on my next career move. But there is something to be said for leading from your gut – or your heart – rather than your brain, in selecting your next move. If you find that you’re stuck for ideas, think about three things you would do tomorrow if you had nothing else planned. Or what you did as a child. (I stole both of these ideas from the amazing Elle Luna, by the way.) Chances are, those are your passions and the answer to “what’s next?” lies somewhere in there.

Sing your unsung song 

This strap line comes from a story I was told by a former colleague who now runs the learning and development program at a large British company. He was telling me about a restaurant he’d recently toured that had received incredibly high ratings for its line management. He was there to see what tips he could glean to inspire managers in his own workplace.

The secret? All managers in this restaurant were required to ask their direct reports what they most needed in order to develop either personally or professionally – even if it wasn’t related to their jobs. In one case, a 21 year-old waitress was empowered to pursue her love of photography, which she was on the verge of giving up because the class she wanted to take conflicted with her waitressing duties. So her boss flexed her schedule to enable her to take the course. He was banking on the fact that if she could feel more fulfilled outside of work, she might come to feel more engaged at work. He was right. Subsequently, she proposed doing a photo shoot for a charity event at the restaurant. It was the proverbial win-win for employer and employee alike.

This woman was only 21, yet she already had an “unsung song.” By the time you hit 50, you might have several of those. As we age, we all yearn for something we didn’t do – the proverbial road not taken. It might be the novel we always meant to write…the sport we always dreamed of playing…the island in the Mediterranean where we secretly hoped to spend all of our summers.

You may not be able to make that “song” 100% of what you do. But you might be able to work it into a portfolio careerpursue a side-hustle, or engage actively in volunteer work.

Give Something Away for Free

This final mindset comes from a wonderful little book a friend gave me called The Go-Giver. The basic premise of the book is that you don’t succeed in life because you take more away; you succeed because you give back.

The lesson for career change is that if there’s something you really want to do, give it away for free. Set up a blog about your unsung song. Give an unpaid speech. Offer free advice or services.

If your eventual goal is to make money off of this passion, you obviously can’t give it away for free forever. But you may find, paradoxically, that if you build it, they will come. More importantly, you will feel that you are not just thinking about, but actually realizing, your unsung song (see point one). And that’s a great feeling.

How about you? What are your secrets for moving forward in a midlife career change?

Image: Close up photo of woman singing by Oleg Magni via Pexels

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Life Lessons from Philip Roth: “Believe in Your Own Crap”

Philip Roth

Philip RothI was scrolling through my list of podcasts the other day – listening to podcasts being my latest hobby – when I came across a New Yorker podcast devoted to the late author Philip Roth.

Roth was a very controversial author, and not everybody’s “cuppa” (as my mother is wont to say). While I haven’t liked everything of his that I’ve read, I count American Pastoral among the most awe-inspiring books I’ve ever encountered. (My husband, who has read each and every one of Roth’s books, says When She Was Good is his all-time favorite.)

So I came to this podcast mostly to see if I would learn something about the recently deceased  author that I didn’t already know.

I did. But it was not what I expected. I expected a celebration of Roth by some of his contemporaries and a reflection on his contribution to the canon. There was that, to be sure.

At one point in the podcast, Radio Hour host and New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick asked Roth a question we should perhaps all ask ourselves as we get older: “What did age give you?”

Initially, Roth answers that age gave him “Patience. Patience to stay with your frustration. The confidence that if you just stay with it, you’ll master it.”  But then he goes on: “Over the years, what you develop is… patience with your own crap. And a belief in your own crap. That if you just stay with it, it will get better.”

Roth is talking about writing, of course. And in many ways he is merely re-stating what writer Anne Lamott famously described as one of two secrets of being a writer:  shitty first drafts. As a writer and writing coach, I wholeheartedly agree. You need to learn how to live with the utter rubbish you put down on the page and believe that somehow, with time, as you work on it a bit more, you will transform it into something better.

But Roth’s insight about what he has learned through time and experience is also applicable to life itself.  As someone who only recently  – 30 years in – figured out what I wanted to do with my life, I’ve often berated myself for not having sorted all of this out much earlier.

But applying Roth’s observation to my own professional journey, I now see that the entire process – every wrong turn, every partial fit  – was all part of learning how to be patient with the “crap.” By which I mean, learning to endure the series of “rough drafts” (read: jobs) that ultimately merged and metamorphosed into my current calling. Which I love.

As the man says, it’s all about trusting the evolutionary and organic process of self-knowledge and self-improvement, being willing to take risks, and then…waiting. (Could I possibly transform this into a pithy strap line to go above my desk, she wonders?)

And with that profound reflection, I wish you all a happy new year.

Image:  Roth photo by Bibliotechque Municipale de Beaune via Flickr

Tips for Adulthood: How Career Change Is Like Dating

LoveI have a friend who started law school in her late 30s. There were plenty of reasons for her not to change careers at this point in her life. She had a good job with a major, blue-chip consulting firm. She was making a decent salary, and had a lot of flexibility, often working from home. She was also pregnant with her third child.

And yet, she’d always wanted to be a lawyer.

“How’s it going?” I asked her casually one day.

“It’s fantastic,” she told me. “It’s like finally dating the guy I had my eye on my entire life.”

Wow. I thought at the time. She’s really made the right choice for herself.

Fast forward fifteen years or so and I, too, am in the midst of a career change. It’s not my first time changing careers, but my friend’s comments about law school all those years ago seem all the more prescient this time around.

Here are five reasons changing careers can feel like dating:

a. It takes a while to sift through the options. I stopped dating before online dating became a “thang.” But even before it was all as simple as “Swipe Left, dating has always been infused with the idea that  just keep putting yourself out there and – to deploy a baseball metaphor- “wait for your pitch.” It can take a while. In a similar vein, career change doesn’t happen overnight.  Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul, notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. So don’t rush it. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, make sure you “try on” different options – possibly through job shadowing – to make sure they work for you. As with dating, you may need to go out with a few duds before you find Mr./Ms. Right.

b. Beware of big egos. Including your own. One of the worst dates I ever went on occurred when I was about 23 years old. I’d just moved to Washington, DC and was looking for a policy job. My father, trying to be helpful, asked a friend of his with powerful connections to set up a few informational interviews for me around town. One guy I met with couldn’t really help me find a job, but he did invite me out to dinner. We spent two hours doing nothing but talking about him:  How he’d been voted one of the “50 most influential people under 50” in D.C. How often he worked out at the gym. I gobbled down my Pad Thai and ran for cover at the earliest opportunity. But I learned something on that date that has stood me in good stead through several career shifts: don’t ever let someone’s ego  – including your own – drive you in life. If you’re going after something because of the title or the brand name or the corner office, you’re probably not going to be too happy. It’s OK to make a few mistakes. Useful, even. That’s how you learn. (I never went out on a date with someone I’d interviewed with again.) But particularly if you’re making a career change, try to listen to yourself and get rid of the “shoulds.” The shoulds are often pointing you towards legitimacy, not authenticity.

c. Trust your gut. “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.” A friend of mine uttered these words at his wedding, in a speech explaining how he met his bride. Per (a) above, he’d played the field as a young man. Indeed, well into his late 30’s. But when he met his (now) wife – whom he’d actually known most of his life – he realized that he’d found the right person to marry and settle down with. I’ve never really believed in this notion of “the one” – whether in jobs or relationships. But I do believe that in both spheres, your gut will often tell you when you’re on to a winner. In my own case, I’m currently launching my own communication consultancy. When I left my job a year ago, I had no inkling that I’d be running my own business within a year. Indeed, that wasn’t my ambition at all. But as I thought carefully over the past year about my skills and interests, I realized that this particular career move made perfect sense. “You didn’t find your job, it found you,” as a friend of mine put it. She was exactly right.

d. Something old. OK, so I’ve skipped ahead from dating to marriage. Shame on me. But I’m really drawn to that erstwhile wedding rhyme, “Something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue.” Face it. When dating, we all have particular types we gravitate towards. It might be athetes. Or redheads. Or artists. And even if it’s only a glimmer of that quality, we tend to look for it when we’re on the market for a partner. In a similar vein, most people tend to bring something of their old work selves with them when they change careers. It might be a skill set: Editing. Line managing. Or it might be a body of knowledge: Accounting. Environmental science. And that’s a good thing. It’s really hard to get a new job doing something wildly different than what you did before. Most career gurus advise against a radical shift, at least at first. So having a “type” – a part of you that you like and want to re-fashion – is advantageous.

e. Something new. Back to our wedding rhyme. (Well, you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Even if you have a dominant dating type, it’s often refreshing to switch things up and go out with someone completely different. Trade in the cardigan-wearing preppy cheerleader with hoop earrings for the mysterious girl in the corner smoking clove cigarettes and smelling of Patchouli oil. So, too, with career change. Be considered in your choice, but once you know what you want, be bold. If there’s something calling your name about working in the outdoors – even if you’ve spent twenty years at a desk – go for it!  I can’t tell you how many friends I have – including myself – who’ve wanted to try something really different career-wise, but ended up going for the safer option. And ended up disappointed. That doesn’t mean it’s always the right time to take risks. But having that spark, that newness, is what will keep you motivated to “keep on, keeping on” with your new professional journey.

Image: Love Couple Happy by Skimpton007 via Pixabay

Note: This article was originally posted on The Ellevate Medium page

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Career Change: Finding Your Moment In Middle Age

time

timeI had coffee with a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She and I used to work together. Like me, she left that company roughly a year ago. And, like me, she’s spent the better part of this year regrouping to figure out what’s next for her professionally.

We share a lot in common, and not only our previous place of employment. Both of us are working mothers. Both of us would like to launch our own businesses. And while both of us have experimented with different ideas over the course of the past year, our plans have evolved into something much more concrete since we last had lunch in March.

The difference is that while I feel like my new professional life is about to take off, she feels that her future is momentarily on hold. A host of domestic issues have simultaneously cropped up that are distracting her from her goals: some unexpected travel…her kids’ education…her new puppy who isn’t yet house trained. (OK, so I can’t relate to the last one).

Crucially, she is also waiting to find out whether or not she will have to go back to a full-time “normal” job in order to help her keep her family afloat.

I don’t say any of this critically. To the contrary,I say it with great empathy. I was her six years ago. Literally.

Back in 2012, I was again thinking about my next career move. (Yes, it’s a condition. My husband likes to say that I’m an “expert in career change.”) I wanted a job that would be both fulfilling and challenging. But I also had two kids aged 11 and 8 who couldn’t travel around the city on their own yet. The “11+ exams”  loomed on the horizon. (If you’re American and don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky.)

Plus, we were in the midst of trying to buy a house. Let’s just say that having “unemployed” on your mortgage application doesn’t exactly look fantastic.

So I took a job. I was lucky that it turned out to be a good job with wonderful colleagues. But I knew the whole time I was there that it wasn’t really authentically me. Although I was acquiring a lot of new skills, it wasn’t a place that I intended to stay. But I did stay – for five years – because the timing in other parts of my life was never right for me to leave.

I’m in a different place now. My kids are in secondary school. We own a house. Sure, the banister lifts out of the staircase if you put your hand on it. And our shower was recently replaced because sewage – yes, sewage – was clogging one of the pipes in the bathroom. But the house has four walls and a floor. Mostly, anyhow.

More importantly, I feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place. I finished the draft of a book I’d been working on for ages. Now I’m trying to sell it. I’ve got some potential clients for my soon-t0-be-disclosed business. I may well fail at both projects. But I have enough energy – and a sufficiently  uncluttered horizon – to be able to “take a punt” now in a way that I couldn’t have contemplated before.

I reassured my friend that she just needs to be patient. This may not be “her” moment, just like 2012 wasn’t mine. But if she’s patient, I’m confident that she’ll get there eventually.

How about you? Did you ever put off something you really wanted to do because the timing wasn’t right? Conversely, did the stars ever align and enable you to take a professional risk?

Image: time-2160154_1920 by Sevgi001453d via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tips for Professional Reinvention

career change

career changeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As a veteran of more than one career change – and on the verge of another – I’ve come to think of myself as a bit of an expert in this area.

But what’s lovely about dipping in and out of the job market is that you always learn something new each time.

In my current process of professional reinvention, I’ve picked up some new tips that have really served me well, so I thought I’d share:

Think of career change as a creative project

I stole this idea from Barnet Bain in his masterful The Book of Doing and Being. I initially picked this book up because I was doing a lot of writing and I thought it might be useful in unlocking my voice. It was. But at some point in the book, Bain explains that your creative project doesn’t necessarily have to be a film or  a novel; it can be a business you’re hoping to build or a professional shift you wish to undertake. This was completely liberating for me. As time wore on, I found that I was applying his myriad creativity exercises to explore my professional journey, not just my artistic one.

Take Your Time

I was really taken by an interview in Forbes with Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul. In the interview, Askinosie notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. He advises: “If you don’t discover the internal space where you can ponder your next steps with clarity, you will never find what you’re looking for. As someone who has been living in a self-imposed chrysalis for the past six months, boy did that phrase resonate for me.

Keep Learning

It’s always useful to read relevant self-help books when you’re in the throes of a transition. But this time, I’ve taken that to a whole new level. Spurred on by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who spend at least five hours a week learning new things, I decided that I would read more widely, branching off from some of the books mentioned here to books describing what it’s like to be middle aged from a variety of different angles. Of course, learning doesn’t have to take the form of reading. One of the best things about my acting class – which I mostly do because it’s fun – is that it’s also got me thinking about how to incorporate improvisation into my next job.

Decide What Makes You Distinctive

I’ve always counselled people who are contemplating a career change to think about the overlap between what they like and what they are good at. But one of the key takeaway’s from Dorie Clark’s fabulous Reinventing You is that in order to re-brand yourself, you also need to think about what makes you distinctive and leverage those points of difference. Clark tells the story of a lawyer who used her deductive reasoning powers to launch a successful wine business. Turns out, what she thought of as a weak point (having gone to law school) turned out to be a huge strength in the wine field, so that’s now a core part of this woman’s brand. This was an incredibly useful piece of advice for me. I sometimes hide certain aspects of my professional past because they don’t gel with what I think others expect to hear about me. Now I’m championing them; they make me (uniquely) who I am.

Shadow Someone For A Day

Again, this is a no-brainer if you’re trying out something new. But I’d never thought about it as an option for myself until I had lunch with a former colleague who was also in the throes of a career change. An expert in health communication, she’d thought about setting up a social enterprise to teach young mothers about healthy eating and nutrition. The idea was that they could bring along their children to a local cafe and the kids would play while the mothers learned. But after the first meet-up, she realized two things: a. she didn’t like cooking very much and b. she didn’t really want to spend half a day around other people’s kids. So she moved on. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, rather than staying the realm of fantasy – “Gee, I think I’d love owning a bookstore!” – go work at one for a day and see what the manager actually does. A really efficient use of your time.

How about you? I’d love to hear other things you’ve done to reinvent yourself professionally.

Image: Clock – Career by Flazingo Photos via Flickr

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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