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Career Change: The Value of Expanding Your Network

dining room table

dining room tableI’m shortly to commence volunteering at a local charity (non-profit) in London called The Girls’ Network. It’s an organization that pairs professional female mentors with teenage girls from disadvantaged communities in order to inspire and empower young women to pursue education and work. As someone who has both mentored and been mentored in the past, I’m a huge fan of the concept.

As part of the training to become a mentor, the charity asked us to draw our “dining room table,” i.e., those people sitting around a metaphorical dining room table to whom we turn for support and advice in work and in life. And then they asked this question: are there any people at your table who weren’t there a year ago?

To my surprise and delight, I realised that there were. In the past year, I have come to both give and take professional advice from two people I didn’t know before. One is an ex-business school professor whom I met at a creative practice workshop last autumn. In a room rife with artists and teachers clad in rainbow-colored leggings, he and I happened to sit next to one another. We quickly discovered that we had a lot in common: we had both spent a lot of time in universities, we were both in career transitions, and we were both interested in applying creativity training to the corporate world.

The second person is a woman I met through Ellevate, a global network for professional women. Ellevate operates chiefly through “squads” – groups of women of different ages, sectors and stages of their careers who meet virtually over 12 weeks to provide advice and support to one another. At the end of the three months, one of the women in my squad wrote to me privately. She’d observed that we came from very different backgrounds and approached things very differently. She felt that it might be useful if we carried on our discussion together. So we have.

In her fantastic book Reinventing You, Dorie Clark talks about the importance of having what she calls a personal “Board of Directors.” The basic idea is that rather than seeking out one mentor as you change careers, you want to set up a group of people who can offer advice. This diversity enables you to draw on a range of viewpoints – and skill sets – that complement your own. It also gets you away from conceptualizing mentoring as something an older person “does” to someone younger. (My Ellevate colleague is at least ten years younger than me, as were several people in my group.)

There are a few morals to this story. The first is that it’s always good to try new things. Much like joining a new club as a grown-up, getting professional training and participating in networking groups forces you to meet new people. In so doing, you may benefit in ways that are entirely unforeseen.

My second takeaway is that – pace Clark – there really is strength in numbers. As I go about setting up my new business, I find myself drawing on all manner of friends, family members and colleagues – new and old – for input. Thank goodness I have such a deep and diverse network. It’s a great example of what – in their landmark book about the future of work, The 100 Year Life – Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott call “intangible assets” .

Finally, I have learned once again about the power of reciprocity. When I met up with my Ellevate colleague this week on Skype, she advised me on how to approach an upcoming business development meeting. I, in turn, gave her some advice on her website. Win/Win!

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a new mentor/friend? How did you meet them? Use the comments section to share. (And, yes, I really would love it if that *were* my dining room table…)

Image: Hampton Court Castle Gardens & Parkland – inside the castle – dining room – dining table and chairs by Elliott Brown via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Why I Hate Sundays

Mamma Mia

Mamma MiaI saw Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again recently with my 14-year-old daughter. I need to get that out of the way up front in case there are any ABBA haters out there. Yes, the film is cheesy as all get out. And yes, Cher makes an appearance in a platinum blonde wig towards the end, improbably cast as Meryl Streep’s mother and Andy Garcia’s long-lost lover.

My daughter kept asking me who “Cher” was.

“Be quiet!” I hissed, brooking no distractions as I drank in Cher’s velvety rendition of Fernando.

Sunday Dread

I saw the film on a Sunday. Watching Mamma Mia was probably the best anti-depressant I could have hoped for. I hate Sundays. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who could enjoy them as much as I enjoy Saturdays. I desperately want to experience it as just another day of rest a day when – as The Lord’s Prayer so aptly puts it – you can “protect yourself from all anxiety,” kick back with a craft beer and read The New Yorker.

But it’s never been like that for me. Invariably, I wake up early, even though it’s the only day of the week that I don’t set an alarm. I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair, but that if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. So I douse any lingering anguish with a double espresso, and hope for the best.

I call this feeling “Sunday dread.” I used to think that it all stemmed from an underlying fear of Mondays and the resumption of normal activity. But I’ve been in a career transition for the past year, so I don’t have that excuse anymore. Monday can be whatever I want it to be. And still the Sunday dread arrives.

I’ve tried to flee this awful feeling at various points in my life with all manner of activities: swimming lessons, phone calls to old friends, elaborate brunches where I experimented with the kinds of foods I imagined people in Southern California to be eating: kale burritos or banana chip loaf. You know, relaxed people.

But it’s to no avail. I can’t escape the underlying anguish. It’s sort of like having a hangover, except that I don’t really get drunk anymore. Still, there is that vague undercurrent of nausea and fatigue, exacerbated by too much caffeine. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. As with a hangover, I know I just need to ride it out until it passes. And eventually, it does.

Childhood Sundays

I blame my father for my hatred of Sundays. As a child, he forced all four of us kids to go to church on Sunday mornings. He was a devout, if deeply conflicted, Catholic. My mother had left Catholicism when I was born, refusing to carry on submitting to a religion that obliged her to keep having children. I was never quite sure what to make of the fact that my birth simultaneously prompted my mother to abandon religion and my father to quit drinking.

But the upshot was that she stayed home and slept while the rest of us trudged off to Mass. So, church was never a neutral experience for me. It was always entangled in some sort of deep, unspoken conflict between the two of them, glimpses of which would occasionally bubble to the surface and then recede.

In the late afternoons, we’d drive down to visit my Grandmother on the outskirts of Newark, NJ, where my father had grown up. Our family had long since “graduated” from this part of Jersey. My Dad became a successful lawyer and escaped to a big house in a good school district further North in the state. But Sundays meant revisiting the bleakness of East Orange – a town name that still rings with the false promise of a Fitzgerald novel. To my seven-year-old eyes, it was nothing but a string of shuttered factories and faded corner stores with chipped paint, all surrounded by shady looking men drinking out of paper bags.

The Warmth of New Possibility

I live in London now. This means that if I’m up before 9 a.m. on Sunday – as I was the day I watched Mamma Mia – I can listen to the “Sunday worship” program on the BBC (a live broadcast of an Anglican service), while I empty the dishwasher. There’s no separation of Church and State in the U.K. So you often get this weird (to an American ear, anyway) co-mingling of the religious with the secular. Still, I find it soothing to listen to the rote mumblings of the Episcopalian service, which is so similar to a Catholic mass…and yet, distinct.

Yesterday, the weather here conspired to make me feel even worse than usual. London is experiencing its first proper heat wave since 1976. This is not a country that’s set up for this much heat, and I don’t just mean the lack of air conditioning. The baseline mood of your average Brit hovers somewhere between dour and nonplussed. So, when it gets above 80 degrees Fahrenheit – as it has on several occasions in the past six weeks – people lose it. They just don’t know how to operate with this much…bright light.

For me, however, the sun has been an unexpected blessing. In a summer where I’ve been trying to land an agent for a book I’ve written and launch a new business, the weather has lifted my mood. Every day has felt full of possibility. Like it was all within my reach. And work might finally be, I don’t know…fun?

Until yesterday. For the first time in over 45 days, it was windy and rainy, and we reverted to the London of Charles Dickens and Graham Greene.

Which brings us back to Mamma Mia. Cher sang: “There was something in the air last night, the stars were bright, Fernando.”

And for two hours, I could breathe. When I stepped out of the cinema into the light rain, I felt hopeful again.

Image: Mamma Mia by Nick Grabowski via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

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

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Are Goals Good for You?

empty swingset

empty swingsetLate one night after a recent college reunion, I got to talking with a group of close friends. We’d had a few drinks. And having split our sides laughing over the course of two days about our shared pasts, we began to muse about our individual futures.

One of my friends suggested that we each set a goal we’d like to accomplish by the time we hit our next five-year reunion. He created a make-shift whiteboard out of our cardboard beer carton so we could write our goals down and hold each other accountable.

The reaction around the room was a tell-tale study in contrasts. The guy who proposed the idea said that he’d like to undertake at least one major creative project by the proposed deadline. Someone else – who’d endured a particularly grueling year – said that she couldn’t set long-term goals right now: she was just trying to live day to day. A third friend confessed that he knew exactly what his goal was, but that it was so deeply fraught and personal that he didn’t want to articulate it just then.

A fourth friend looked at us all blankly. “Honestly?” she said. “I can’t think of anything major.” She paused to give it a bit more thought. “Maybe to keep on improving in Crossfit?”

As for me, I piped up with one goal. And then a another. And then a third. I quickly realized that if I didn’t shut up, my personal goal list would completely dominate our whiteboard.

What are goals doing for you?

At first, I felt really smug after this discussion. “Yay, me!” I thought to myself. “I’m so focused and determined! I’m awesome!

I was particularly pleased that my goals extended into all aspects of my life. Not only that, I could name them and own them. I was proud of myself.

But after a couple of weeks passed, I began to question my complacency. Why was it, I asked myself, that I *needed* so many goals? Why couldn’t I be more like my Crossfit friend – who was apparently so satisfied with what she’s achieved thus far in life – that she could afford to focus on something as seemingly trivial as an exercise regime? (No disrespect to all Crossfitters out there. I know it’s grueling…)

And the answer is that goals provide me with an excuse for movement. My worst fear in life is slowing down. When I move forward – even in a frenzied state (which, if I’m honest, often characterizes my movement forward) – I feel alive. I don’t have to succumb – or even catch a glimpse of – that awful feeling I associate with stillness. Which is one of fear and sadness that the game is up and I am only me, warts and all. There is no more chance for self-improvement.

How dreams help

Not long after my reunion, I had a dream that I was back in college with that same group of friends. In the dream, I discovered that I had failed to write a term paper that was due in two weeks’ time. I’d had an entire semester to prepare for this paper, and yet somehow, I’d let it slide.

Panicking, I rushed to the library to do all the necessary research. But as I ran towards the card catalogue (yes, I went to college back in the day when we still had card catalogues…along with the horse and buggy), I noticed a bunch of people off to one side of the room. They were swinging on a swing set…in the library.

I’ve written before about the window my dreams afford into my psyche. On one level, of course, this dream is merely an apt representation of the person I was in college: someone who, as the phrase has it, worked hard and partied hard. (Hence, the dueling images of the library and the swingset.)

But I don’t think that’s really what this dream was about. I think it was about my current mid-life quest to integrate two halves of myself: to allow the manager and the maker to co-exist together, rather than one half dominating the other. That’s why the swing set is inside the library. The dream isn’t offering these images as stark alternatives. It is encouraging me to bring those two selves together.

In search of peace

Which brings us back to goals. What that dream told me is that I need to stop continually setting new goals for myself. Instead, I need to replace all of my micro-goals with one, over-arching macro-goal: that of achieving peace within.

If I can do that, then I won’t need the constant churn of goal-setting and goal-replacement. I will just be.

And maybe that can be my own form of Crossfit.

Image: Empty swingset by wsilver via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things To Do on a Staycation

War and Peace

War and PeaceMy family is doing a staycation this year. We’re taking a few local trips here and there. But mostly – due to assorted work deadlines and general exhaustion with, well, life  – we’ll be at home in London.

Apparently, we’re not alone. Here in the U.K., anxieties around Brexit have prompted many more British people to vacation at home this year. In the United States, the word staycation is  now enshrined in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

I love London, so I don’t really mind being here in the summer. Still, the longer days, warmer weather, and changes to the kids’ schedules do inspire me to do things a bit differently, if for no other reason than to shake up my own routine.

So if, like me, this is a summer when you’re going to give traveling a pass, here are some ways to mark the occasion:

1. Discover a new place. One way to make a staycation feel special is to travel somewhere new near your home. This might be a new museum, a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, or that park that’s just a bit too far to visit during the school year. At the top of my list is to take a backstage tour of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London’s oldest theatre. On their tours, a group of actors perform key events from this theatre’s rich history while you look around. I may even do this on my own, since I don’t think any of my friends or family quite share my thespian enthusiasm. (Adulthood fantasy #6 is where I manage a community theatre troupe in which I also make the occasional cameo. Hey, we all need to dream…)

2. Get a new toy. Usually, we associate the novelty of a new toy with children. But it’s an equally valid concept for adults, who also need to play. One year, my summer treat to myself was a collapsible bicycle (a Brompton, for those in the know). We don’t own a car, so I used the bike as a way to commute around my neighborhood. This year, as our espresso grinder gasps its last breaths, my new toy is more likely to be from the coffee gadget family (always a winner in my household).

3. Learn a new skill. On a previous staycation, my husband and I took the command decision that it  was an opportune time to teach our then (gasp!) nine year-old how to ride a bike. This year, given that I’m about to launch my own business, I’m thinking of really mastering powerpoint for once and for all. Don’t laugh. It’s a really useful skill!

4. Tackle something on your “dreaded” to-do list. I once wrote a post entitled “Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To Do List.” One of the strategies I recommended was to divide your to-do list in half into long-term and short-term items. The idea was to tick something off of the short list every day, and to take a step towards removing something on the long list every week. I think this strategy works very well. But it does pre-suppose that every so often, you really do take that crucial step on the dreaded (long) to-do list. In my case, I’ve had “hang rest of pictures up” on my long list there since we moved into this house four years ago. Not kidding. This may finally be the year I do it. After that? Wash duvet cover…

5. Read some really long books. Let’s face it. We all have a list of books on our bedside table which – tempting as they might seem – we never get around to reading because they’re just too long. And I don’t mean the medicinal ones that you feel you *ought* to read so that you’re up to speed on such and such a topic. (Eternal Message of Muhammed anyone? Oh, is that just me?) No, I mean the really good ones that entail a level of commitment that’s just beyond your comfort level during a busy week. I love Karl Ove Knausgaard but many are his books intense. August just might be the time to tackle Autumn. If time, there’s always Tolstoy’s War and Peace. No, seriously.

What are you doing this summer around home?

Image: War and Peace book via Wikimedia Commons

Important announcement! If you like these Friday round-ups, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Friday Pix: Some Recommended Reading for the Weekend

tango

tangoOn occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading for the weekend:

a. My favorite new discovery for all we writers of a certain age is Bloom, a literary site devoted to highlighting, profiling, reviewing, and interviewing authors whose first major work was published when they were age 40 or older. To which I say: Hurrah! Am loving tapping in to this wealth of talent.

b. And speaking of writing, here’s a wonderful essay from Catapult about why one author needed to learn the tango in order to write her memoir. (Note to self: time to get on the pista??)

c. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I was really inspired by this account of the creation of the famous accelerator, Y-Combinator, by one of its co-founders, Jessica Livingston. I particularly liked the way she described her added-value to the team.

d. For those of us interested in learning more about the evolving landscape for older workers, here’s a super-useful list of which twitter accounts to follow. (Hat tip: Marci Alboher)

e. Finally, from Linked In, a wonderful list of advice from Chip Conley on what he wished he’d known at the ages of 10,20,30, 40 and 50.

Have a lovely weekend!

Important announcement! If you like these Friday round-ups, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Image: Tango Show Buenos Aires via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Giving Up Your Addictions in Middle Age

iphone

iphoneI’ve stopped using my cell phone for the last several weeks. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. What I’ve really done is to stop checking my phone incessantly.

I didn’t do this voluntarily. My house was burgled a few weeks back and they took all of our phones save one. Which means that for the past several weeks – because we’re still waiting for the insurance claim – I’ve been sharing my phone with my two teenaged children.

Sharing your telephone with two adolescents is worthy of a blog post of its own. If not ten. But that’s not what captured my attention most during this period. What’s really struck me is how amazingly freeing it is to not be tethered to your phone all the time, because someone else is using it.

This shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve read Andrew Sullivan’s amazing account of what it was like when he cut himself off from technology for a year, including a stint meditating in the wilderness. I’m familiar with all the studies detailing why digital addiction is a real thing and exactly how it works. Just this morning, I heard a report on the BBC about the fact that the average British adult checks his or her smartphone every 12 minutes.

I’ve always smugly considered myself to be above that fray. When I write, for example, I keep the phone in another room. I can go hours without checking it. When my family goes to bed, none of us brings a phone upstairs. (Hence, the robbery…cough. They didn’t even need to leave our living room to make off with plenty of bounty).

But still, it’s been instructive to realize just how often I check my phone and how much happier – and relaxed I am – when I’m not on it.

Which got me thinking about what else I might usefully abandon – or at least curtail – in the interest of personal wellness.

Alcohol is a definite candidate. I’m a very poor sleeper. And I have noticed that I sleep even less well after I’ve had a drink or two. I did once give up drinking for about a month to see if it would reduce my headaches. It didn’t. So I resumed drinking. But to be honest, I drink so little these days that I’m not really sure that would be teaching me very much. (Not to mention the fact that the  *other* report I heard on the BBC this morning said that people who give up alcohol in middle age are 45 % more likely to suffer dementia in later life.) Reaches for a beer…

I also once gave up reading for a week. Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t do this because I thought I was reading too much. Reading has been a huge part of my personal and professional reinvention over the past 12 months. I did it because one of my gurus – Julia Cameron – advocates a week of what she calls “reading deprivation” as part of her course on creative recovery.

It’s not that Cameron thinks reading is bad for you. It’s that she wants you to see that when you stop reading anything for a week – newspapers, magazines, novels – you free up an enormous time to take on other creative projects. (Personally, I think giving up television or the internet would be a better task to set most people to achieve the same objective. But I loved reading deprivation week. I did get a lot done. It also reminded me how much I love reading.)

My current target is sugar. I love dessert, as I think I’ve broadcast fairly regularly on this blog. And I’m not on a diet. But I have read all that stuff about the evils of sugar and so I’m curious:  would I feel less tired and get fewer colds and if I stopped eating sugar? Some of my friends swear by it. It couldn’t hurt to try.

Have you ever given something up permanently…or just for a little while? What did you learn?

Image: Iphone Apple cellphone by kroppek_pl by via Pixabay

An Exercise Jingle for Chronic Pain in Middle Age

pilates

pilatesThere’s a popular children’s song meant to inspire kids to exercise. It’s called Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. If you’ve ever had children, grandchildren, step-children or just spent time with little kids, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that they should create a grown up version of that song, one that captures that time of life when you become acutely aware that your body is slowing down. You know that phase: After a lifetime of perfect vision, you’re suddenly wearing glasses. Long after your own children have long graduated from orthodontia, your dentist has informed you that you, too, need braces…again! 

Aches in New Places

In my case, I’d already been battling something called piriformis syndrome for years. Piriformis syndrome – for those not in the know – is, quite literally, a “pain in the ass.” It comes about due to over-use of the piriformis muscle, which connects the base of your spine to your hip. In many people, the piriformis also surrounds the sciatic nerve that runs up and down your leg. such that – when strained – you might feel pain anywhere from your bum right down to your toes. Ouch.

I could handle that. I’d been doing stretches to help manage that pain for a while now. But then around the turn of the new year, a few new pains emerged to complement my ongoing sore hip.

First, I had surgery on my vocal cords and lost my voice completely. Since January,  I have been working with assorted speech and physio-therapists to retrain myself how to speak and breathe.

Next, my eyes started stinging. It also felt like there was something inside them all the time. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with blepharitis. My husband has had this condition for years. I wasn’t sympathetic and used to mock him for endlessly telling anyone who would listen about his “dry eyes.” Now that person doing the endless complaining is me. (“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.” Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

And then, finally, my jaw started to ache whenever I chewed anything (TMJ). The diagnosis for that particular condition was stress. I briefly consulted with a dental psychologist (yes, that’s a profession!), who basically told me that I needed to relax.

“Yup! Working on that,” I told her.

Grrrr.

Do we all turn into our mothers?

All of these conditions are likely to remain with me, to some degree or another, for the rest of my time on earth. And I know that I’m not alone. 70% of those who experience chronic pain are women. Women also perceive pain more intensely than men do.

In order to manage these assorted medical problems without ending up back in the hospital, I now spend a good 45 minutes a day stretching, putting a warm cloth on my eyes, doing vocal warm-ups and practicing my breathing.

Which, among other things, makes me feel like my mother. I have this theory that by the time we hit middle age, we all end up turning into our mothers. When I was a kid, it seemed like my mother was forever lying on the bedroom floor “wogging” her back. I used to think that was nuts.

Now I do it all the time.

At first, I was really frustrated that I was losing so much of my day to a “non-essential” activity.

Over time, I’ve tried to change my framing of my ablutions. I try to view this “lost” time that as time gained:  I’m listening to more podcasts. Stretching also makes me feel stronger.

A New Exercise Jingle

All of which is to say that if you soon hear a jingle aimed at we middle-aged folk that goes something like this: “Throat, jaw, hip and eyes. Hip and eyes! Throat, jaw, hip and eyes…,” you’ll know who penned it.

Come to think of it, I think I better trademark that now.

What are your middle-aged ailments? By all means, feel free to moan!

Image: Pilates by alexcdcarts via Pixabay

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: The Art of the Cold Call

networking

networkingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

We all know the gospel of job-hunting. You don’t get jobs by applying for them; you get them by knowing someone. Some put the number of jobs obtained through networking — as opposed to answering an ad — at as high as 85%.

The corollary to this truism of the job market is that job-hunting is all about connections. Once you decide on a direction for your career, you need to start by talking to people in your immediate network — even if they aren’t all that close to what you want to do — and gradually work outwards, through them, into people working in the sector of your choice.

It’s true. People are more likely to answer your email/phone call if you’ve been referred by someone they know.

But does that mean that you should abandon the cold call entirely? Should you never just get in touch with someone doing work that interests you and see if they’ll let you speak to them?

It takes a lot of chutzpah, but it can work if done properly. I recently did it, and was offered part-time work. Here’s how:

Don’t assume you need to be an extrovert

Sure, extroverts have an easier time approaching strangers out of the blue. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily better at talking to them.

Quartz recently ran an interesting article arguing that introverts might actually be much better at networking than extroverts because they can focus and listen. And people appreciate that.

(Click here for a list of networking tips if you self-identify as an introvert.)

Do your homework about the company

You should obviously go to any interview — cold call or not — knowing a fair bit about both the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. But when you’re doing a cold call, this preparation has to come before you even draft your initial email approach.

When I did this recently, I made a point of telling the person I targeted (truthfully) that I’d been following her newsletter and her blog for a years. I also made reference to something specific on her website. Sure, a bit of flattery is always a good thing. But I also really wanted her to know that I hadn’t just wandered in off of the street.

You’re contacting them because you’ve decided you want to work there and/or think they could help you get closer to your dream job. You want them to talk to you, but they have plenty of reasons not to. You need to be sure it’s clear from the get-go that they won’t be wasting their time.

Identify a problem to be solved

People are much more likely to respond positively to a cold call if you can convince them that you can help them solve a problem. That doesn’t mean that you should suggest that they hire you in your initial email because you are God’s Gift to X. Far from it. Humility goes a long way.

For example, if you notice that the company is doing a lot of marketing in trade magazines, but nothing online, ask about that. If it’s a business school, perhaps note: “I see that you offer a lot of courses on management training, but there’s nothing on team-building. Why is that?”

I’ve found that questions about gaps often prompt the person being interviewed to reflect on their own blind spots, and might even get them thinking about hiring someone to pilot an investigation into a new area. That person could be you.

Reveal your USP

You never want to go into a meeting — unless it’s a job interview! — and tell someone why they should hire you. Instead, you want to ask smart questions that impress them.

In particular, you want to pose those questions in a way that reveals what is unique about you that could really add to the team. (Some call this your Unique Selling Point, or USP.)

Lately, I’ve been targeting the higher education sector in my job search, offering communication training. I explain to everyone I meet that I “think like a social scientist, but communicate like a journalist.” This is shorthand for saying that I have a PhD, but don’t sound like I do. That’s an unusual skill set, at least in this sector. I play it up because I know it’s what makes me distinctive.

Be willing to hear the word “no”

You can’t cold call people if you’re not willing to hear the word “no.” When I first moved to the UK twelve years ago, I volunteered to run the Christmas Raffle at my then-five-year-old’s new school. This amounted to walking around the local village and asking every single shop person I met if they’d be willing to donate a prize to the raffle.

Guess what? A lot of people said some version of “no.” But a surprising number said “yes.” What I learned from that experience was that I didn’t really care if people said “no” to me.

Develop this skill and you’ll find the whole process a lot easier. (Here’s an inspirational story of one woman’s perseverance to get the job she wanted.)

How about you? Have you ever done a successful cold call? Why did it work?

Note: This article was originally posted on the Ellevate Medium page.

Image: Ghozt Tramp – Business Communication Duplicat Model via Wikimedia Commons