Tag Archives: featured

Why I Hate Pets

pets

petsA friend of mine just returned from a four-day international conference in Wales. It wasn’t a gathering of journalism professors (her profession). Nor was it an extended family reunion.

It was a global gathering of owners and supporters of – wait for it – Welsh Terriers.

Yes, that’s right. One of my closest friends in the U.K. just went to a dog conference. One that was replete with guest speakers on Welsh terriers, a special break-out session on how to groom your dog, and even a fancy dress party (for the dogs).

I could barely mask my dismay.

Boxers vs. Briefs

On many of the world’s pressing issues, most people sort neatly into one of two camps: Coke vs. Pepsi. Boxers vs. Briefs. Yankees vs. Mets. At the risk of alienating 90% of my friends and family, I’d like to add another category to this list: pet vs. anti-pet. I don’t think I have to tell you where I fall.

I was reminded of this recently at a neighborhood get-together. We were sitting on someone’s patio, enjoying some cocktails, when a friend pulled up a photo on her phone.

“Guys,” she said, breathlessly. “I can’t wait any longer…”

And sure enough, it wasn’t a picture of her daughter, or her newly remodeled kitchen, or even (God forbid) her husband. It was a picture of the Chocolate Labrador she’d just adopted. In a matter of seconds, everyone followed suit, nodding and cooing over the veritable museum of pooch snapshots emanating from their own iphones.

Everyone, that is, except me.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Sweet Pets by Sweet Spots via Flickr

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Why Running Your Own Business is Empowering

strong woman

strong womanI had lunch with a friend the other day. Like me, she launched a new business in her 50’s. Now, she’s launching another one (after taking a year out to recover from cancer.) When I asked her how she was feeling about all of this change in her life, she smiled.

“I feel great,” she answered. “I feel empowered.”

Her comment got me thinking about the word “empowerment.” Much like “leaning in,” empowerment is one of those buzzwords we all throw around  without really defining what we mean by it.

Saying No…and Saying Yes

One of the most important lessons you learn as you age is how – and when – to say “No.” Just as there are good reasons to accept work that doesn’t pay as well as you’d like when you need the money, there are equally good reasons to turn down work even if you have time.

Lately, however, I’ve also been enjoying the freedom of saying “Yes.” It’s not that I’m taking on work that I don’t really need or want. It’s that when a random opportunity crops up that’s slightly outside my comfort zone, I’m not instinctively saying “No” before I fully consider it.

I was offered two potential pieces of work this week that are both slight reaches for me. One is fairly far outside of my knowledge base and the other is for an audience I’m not familiar with.

I’m not sure I’m going to end up doing either of them. But the simple act of being open to an unexpected opportunity felt empowering because I was expanding my set of choices.

Setting Boundaries

My old boss once told me that I was exceptionally good at “ordering chaos.”

He was right. And while he meant it as a compliment, it can also be a curse. Whether it’s a paper, a project, or a meeting, if I encounter something that isn’t well-organized, I can’t help myself:  I fix it.

The problem is, sometimes that’s not my job. I was in a meeting the other day where the potential client was very much in brainstorming mode. I love that sort of thing. But at a certain point I could barely suppress the urge to leap up out of my seat, grab a marker and commandeer the white board to help structure the thinking.

That was problematic on two fronts. First, no one asked me to stand up; I simply felt compelled. Second, I sensed that if I did take ownership of that white board, I might very quickly end up running that project for them. And I knew I didn’t want that.

So instead of trying to order that particular piece of chaos, I walked away from it. I told those assembled exactly where I thought I could make a contribution, asked them to reach out to me when they were ready, and then exited the room.

My old work self would *never* have done that. She’d have taken notes and started project managing. But newly empowered Delia simply said, “Call me when you need me.”

Asserting Your Worth

Taking a page from Kayleigh and Paul on the Creative Class podcast, I raised my freelance rates this year. I didn’t do anything drastic, and I stayed within my market. I also waited until I had a solid track record of success – with the testimonials to prove it – so that I could justify the increase, should anyone challenge me. (They didn’t.)

With one of my clients, I also went back and asked for more money when the scope of the initial work expanded – in time and volume – beyond what we’d originally agreed.

A year ago – and certainly 5 years ago  – I never would have done either of those things. My M.O. would simply have been to keep absorbing more work, even if it felt unfair or over-burdening. Indeed, I would have felt guilty had I asked for more pay.

This time, in contrast, I felt like I was simply asking for my payment to reflect my true value and effort.

Empowerment as Liberation

Most people think of self-employed people as liberating themselves from offices. But I never had a problem with offices.

What I needed liberation from was myself:  my inability to say no to things I didn’t want to do, my reluctance to embrace things I might want to do, and my tendency to wildly over-compensate for other people’s shortcomings.

So I do feel empowered. But not in the sense of finally being CEO in my company of one. Rather, what running my own business has taught me is that I am free to make choices that make me happier. And Lordy, does that feel good.

Image: Strong Woman (Unsplash) via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips For Adulthood: How to Lower Your Expectations

Danish pastry

Danish pastryOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I was talking to my son on the phone yesterday. He’s at college in the U.S. – ( we live in the UK) – and he was telling me about a recent mid-term he’d taken in Economics.

“Yeah, I don’t think I did very well on it,” he said. “I’m hoping I got a B.”

Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. When I was in college, getting a “B” in anything felt like a massive failure. But I suppressed that thought and instead asked him how he felt about the experience.

“I was bummed for a few minutes,” he said. “Because I did study for the test. But then I just went back to reading Antigone for my literature class and realized that mattered so much more to me.”

In other words, rather than castigate himself for not performing to his highest standard, he moved on.

Wow.  Not for the first time, I realized I was taking life lessons from my 18 year-old.

In that spirit –  and because I’m all about adopting a growth mindset – here are five tips for lowering your expectations.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Cherry Chocolate Danish Pastry via Pixabay

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How Marie Kondo Messed With My Nostalgia

phone book

phone bookI had a 21st century moment the other day.

A telephone book came through our mail slot in London and landed with a bang on the floor. It was a mere shadow of a *real* phone book – probably measuring no more than 1/2 inch in diameter – but it was a bonafide phone book nonetheless.

My 15 year-old daughter picked it up, inspected it and turned to me, puzzled: “What’s that?” she asked.

My husband and I stared back in disbelief.

Not to go all 19th century on you, but man, did that make me feel old. And nostalgic.

I knew this because in a recent, Marie Kondo-inspired  frenzy to declutter our home, my husband’s immediate instinct was to throw the phone book out. After all, who needs a phone book? It will just sit on a shelf somewhere gathering dust before invariably being tossed the next time we tidy up.

And yet, I found myself resisting throwing this one away. It felt as if – in giving it up – I was losing something powerful I might one day regret.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: The Phone Book Listings by Brian Herzog via Flickr

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In Search of Optimism

optimism

optimismI was working with a client recently on his public speaking. As part of an exercise, I asked him to recount a sad memory.

He paused. And then he paused again. And then he paused some more.

“Wow, that’s really tough,” he said, visibly struggling to call up a sad memory. “Something sad…hmmm. Give me a sec.”

After a minute or two like this, I finally interrupted him. “Can I lend you one of mine?”

The Importance of Reframing

This guy is lucky. Clearly, he hasn’t experienced as much sadness in his life as I have.

At least, that was my first thought. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized that it wasn’t just that he’d somehow managed to escape tragedy, even well into his 60’s.

It was that he’d made a conscious choice to be optimistic.

I’ve noticed a similar quality in one of my colleagues. We will deliver a workshop together and afterwards, he will immediately declare, “Well, that should translate into a business opportunity.”

Regardless of how well the workshop actually went, I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, maybe. But what if…the CEO is felled by a tree/I contract a life-threatening case of meningitis overnight/Brexit wipes out all communications consultants now and forever more/Fill in the blank…” You get the idea.

We’ve experienced the exact same workshop. And yet one of us walks out and shouts “Hooray!” while the other one worries, “What if it all goes to sh#$?”

Choosing optimism

This same colleague has taught me a lot about the power of positive thinking.

I had already discovered the power of affirmations in my writing life — courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — long before I met him. But I’m now regularly applying affirmations to work life as well.

On a daily basis, I’ll find myself uttering things like:  “I’m a great salesperson” or “I enjoy client relationship management” and “I’m highly skilled at empowering people to achieve their full communications potential.”

Even when I only half-heartedly believe them, I find that these affirmations help.

As does meditation. One of the great virtues of the mindfulness app I listen to every morning is that it encourages me to discover the “blue sky” inside  – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill my world.

A lot of the focus in mindfulness is on accessing that blue sky feeling. Over time, you come to realize that it’s not something you need to reach for outside yourself; it’s something that’s already there.

The Power of Hope

The research bears this out. I was struck by a couple of recent experimental studies which show that if you induce people to be optimistic, they can actually change their behavior. In one such study, providing simple assets — such as a cow or other livestock — to poor people in developing countries led to increased labor and other investments on their part.

In another, respondents in U.S. soup kitchens were asked to recall a time they felt positive about themselves. This in turn resulted in more effort in playing simple games compared to those who did not receive the “optimism prompt.”

Hope, it turns out, is a powerful motivator.

Dreams of Hope

Perhaps this message is beginning to sink in.

As someone who is haunted by recurring dreams about test anxiety and getting lost, I recently had one of those classic dreams where I was in a play and didn’t know the lines.

But in this dream, the ending was different. Instead of freaking out and succombing to the performance anxiety, I chose instead to improvise the scene at hand. And, lo and behold, it worked out.

Just as with affirmations and blue sky thinking, maybe my bad dreams are trying to tell me something:  I’m actually OK. All will be fine.

Perish the thought!

Image: Sunbeam Sun Shadow Light Mood Sky by meineresterampe via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Myths about Public Speaking

public speaking

public speakingOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Public speaking is a critical skill in the 21st century workplace. And yet many people list public speaking as their top fear, second only to death. That fear can be particularly damaging for women, who often suffer from “Fear of Public Speaking” (FOPS) syndrome.

But a lot of that fear is misplaced. And that’s because most people misunderstand the most effective way to make a presentation, whether it’s to an interview panel, their boss, or a large crowd.

Here are five myths about public speaking that you need to let go of if you wish to come across as relaxed and confident when you speak:

Read the rest of this post over on The Return Hub

Image: Actor-People-Women-Speech via Pixabay

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What Do You Look For in a Neighborhood?

coffee shop

coffee shopI went home to visit my mother last weekend in New Jersey. She’s 88 and lives in one of those vast, American, multiplex retirement communities where they have more activities than you can shake a stick at. You can join a hiking group, go into New York City to visit museums, or see a contemporary film on the premises. You can even get a Sam Adams for $2 at the weekly happy hour!

This one-stop shopping model is great, especially if you’re 88 and have limited mobility. Everything is right at your fingertips.

The problem occurs if you’re not elderly and want to do something “off campus.” Then you need to schlep down a long driveway and make your way out onto a piddly-ass state highway that contains…not much:  The odd pizza joint. Some discount rug stores. And a Target (natch).

Other than seeing my mother, I was miserable. Leave aside for one moment that I no longer drive. There was nothing I wanted to drive to. (OK, that’s not entirely true. I did manage to frequent two diners in the course of 24 hours. Lordy, how I love a New Jersey diner!)

Research shows that people are happiest when they live within 15 mins of amenities they value:  parks, libraries, coffee shops, and gyms. When you live closer to such things, you have more human interaction and also get more involved in your community. Makes sense.

The punch line of this research is that when looking for a place to live, you should focus less on the actual dwelling than where it is located. My husband and I are exhibit A. We were once trying to buy a house in Oak Park, IL (frequently voted the “coolest suburb” in Chicago.) We called the real estate agent in advance and instructed her not to show us anything that wasn’t within “10 minutes of good coffee.” (Good coffee was a proxy for everything we held dear about urban life and were reluctant to give up, despite having a 5 month-old baby at the time.)

She didn’t understand how literally we meant that statement. The first place she showed us was a lovely little bungalow that was a good 15 minute walk from nearest coffee shop. We told her it was too far. She stared at us in amazement. “Wow,” she said. “When you said 15 minutes, you really meant 15 minutes.” The next place was a five-minute walk from good coffee. We bought it.

Obviously, which amenities work for you will vary tremendously. I had breakfast with some friends recently who have a one-year old. They currently live in the city but have decided to buy outside of London. Their number one criterion? “We want to wake up and be able to see green and go for long walks.” I have another friend who simply wants to be able to walk to Church.

I currently live in a neighborhood in London where, within a 15 minute walk –  I can go to an arty film, swim in my local pool, and crucially, buy from a selection of over 400 high-end beers. (Are you sensing a theme here?)

How about you? What makes your neighborhood work for you? And if it doesn’t, what kind of amenities would you seek out?

Image: Cafe-Restaurant-Boutique Cafe via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Recurrent Dreams

dreams

dreamsWell, as long as sleep is now the new sex, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain.

Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month. Every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Image: Realm of Dreams via PublicDomainPictures.net

 

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Clubs for Grownups

ironing

ironingMany of us sent our kids back to school this week, so I am re-posting a blog on the  “back to school” theme.

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably just finished purchasing (or dusting off) all the backpacks, pens, pencils and athletic equipment that your kids will need for the upcoming school year. Now you’re grappling with after-school activities: which ones your kid should join, which ones to drop, and how to coordinate schedules across different members of the household.

Even if you’re not a parent, Autumn invariably brings a spirit of renewal. Just out of habit  – from all of those years of going to school yourself – you’re probably thinking about what activities you’ll be participating in this coming academic year: which book groups, health clubs or religious social organizations you’ll be frequenting on a weekly or monthly basis.

As you do that, I want to encourage all of you to join a new club. And I want you to reach outside the box. In other words, feel free to carry on with the clubs you’re already a member of. But push yourself to try something different – really different – on a whim that speaks to one of your secret interests. (By way of example, here’s a club in New York City that was inspired by members’ love of kidlit.)

Why do this? Because pursuing hobbies in adulthood is loads of fun.

To get you started on your brainstorming process, I’m going to propose some out-of-the-box suggestions I got by soliciting ideas on Linked In. Here are five “clubs for grown-ups” that sound absolutely fabulous to me:

1. Language Clubs – I was struck by the number of people who wrote to me about clubs that were organized around speaking another language. Sometimes, these took place around a meal (e.g. French or Italian Cuisine) or a wine from a particular region. Others coalesced around a film or book by a foreign auteur. But in all cases, you are required to participate in said activity while speaking a language that wasn’t your native tongue. Fun!

2. House Exchange Clubs – We’ve all heard of house swaps. Usually, someone who lives in, say, Tokyo exchanges houses with someone who lives in New York City. It’s an affordable way to have a holiday abroad. But some friends of mine are about to join a house exchange club in their own city. The idea is to meet up monthly at one member’s home while everyone else browses around to see what kinds of art, music and decor are on display. Then, over the holidays, you arrange to swap homes with that friend. I love this idea – a way to explore your own city but from a different vantage point. So clever!

3. Fix-it Clubs. One of my friends who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. wrote to me about a fixers collective that’s sprung up in her neighborhood. Here’s the website. Every Thursday, a group of people get together and place broken objects on a large, common fixing table. They then share ideas and techniques for repairing, mending, enhancing or re-purposing the objects, with “Master Fixers” there to offer support and guidance. The larger social message behind this club is to encourage people to value more things in their environment. If I had even a hint of a DIY bone in my body (and lived in Brooklyn!), I’d be all over this.

4. Admin Club. Another gem. This comes from a friend of mine in Washington, D.C. who gets together once a month with friends to tackle all those dreaded tasks that would otherwise languish on their to-do lists ad infinitum. It might be tax returns. Or a gazillion phone calls to the insurance company for a reimbursement. (Gosh, I don’t miss American health insurance.) Or writing out 25 party invitations for your cousin’s bridal shower. Whatever onerous task is dragging you down, you go deal with it…among friends, who offer both support and company. This club has my name written all over it. (Ironing name tags on school uniforms, anyone?)

5. Procrastinators Club. Finally, let me end with my hands-down favorite, which is a sort of gambler’s version of the Admin Club. Here’s how it works:  Upon joining, you kick in $20 and name a project you are working on and how much progress you will commit to making on it by the next meeting. If, by said meeting, you haven’t hit that goal, you lose your stake to whomever has completed their task and you have to ante up again. (In actual practice, the friend who wrote to me about this club subsequently volunteered that everyone in it continued to be unproductive and – not surprisingly – eventually lost all energy to keep the club going…) But hey, they get an A* for invention. What a great idea!

How about you? What sorts of zany clubs have you been tempted to join or create? Do tell…

Image: Black and Decker Corded Steam Iron by Your Best Digs via Flickr

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Rethink Vacations

vacation

vacationOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

The summer is nearly over. Here in London, where I live, it’s been well over 90 degrees Farenheit for the last few days, and my daughter and I still have one day outing left before she returns to school next week. So I’m not quite ready to get out the iron and attach name tags to her school uniform (which is my own official marker for the end of summer).

Still, despite all the research telling us how good vacations are for both us and for our employers, Americans, in particular, struggle to use up their vacation days.  I myself am guilty as charged. And bad habits start young. Fearing “vacation shaming” from bosses and co-workers, millennials are now the least likely cohort of workers to use up their vacation time, despite becoming the largest generation in the workforce.

In my newfound embrace of balance, however, I had a better summer this year in terms of rest.  So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned:

a. Take shorter, more frequent vacations. Apparently, holiday memories tend to depend not on how long the holiday was, but on the intensity of the experience. So even going away for only two or three days can be enough to re-charge your batteries.  Moreover, research shows that vacations from work seem to have positive, though short-lived effects on wellbeing.  This is perhaps why a study in the Journal of Happiness Studies recommended spacing your holidays out evenly throughout the year, rather than bunching them all at once.

b. Go alone. Our family had a very different vacation experience this summer than our normal fare – which is either to go on one, short family holiday or to stay home. This year, each of the four of us took short trips on our own, in addition to the short family holiday. I myself went to Argentina for 10 days at the beginning of July to see an old friend. It was blissful. I’d had a very busy and difficult Spring on both the professional and personal fronts. So going away without the strain of having to coordinate my time with the other three members of my family was a huge relief. Some days, I strolled the streets of Buenos Aires. Other days, I stayed home and read while sipping beer and listening to Cuban music. I came back ready and able to spend time with my family.

c. Split up and do your own thing. Which brings me to my truly revolutionary vacation suggestion: if you’re going on holiday with your family or friends, don’t try to do everything together. My family tends to take breaks to European cities when we go on vacation. We all love experiencing foreign foods, cultures and languages. But our ideal time spent in a museum varies enormously. I can last about one and a half hours, two max. My husband can do at least three; my daughter, five; and my son, eight. So this year, we instituted a new rule:  everyone gets to do their own thing during the day and we meet up for meals. It worked beautifully. Our family holiday was in Vienna. Both of my kids speak German and they are both very comfortable using public transport. It’s also a very safe city. So I got to visit the obscure clock museum in Old Vienna, my daughter got to go to the imperial palace, Schönbrunn, my husband was able to take a massive detour to find the best coffee ever and my son, well, let’s just say Egon Schiele got a lot of face time.

d. Take a micro trip. I first learned about these from my neighbor, a guy in his 30’s who was setting off one Thursday afternoon around 4 pm to cycle down to the British Coast, camp out on a beach, and wake up early to cycle back up to work. That’s not my personal idea of fun, but he said he’d been sprinkling lots of these little mini-vacations throughout the summer and had found them quite energizing. Apparently, micro trips are all the rage in 2019. (Note: you can also take a train or a plane; you don’t have to cycle!)

e. Staycations really are fun. I’m a huge fan of the staycation. We probably do one once every other year, and I’ve never been disappointed. The trick is not to try and sneak in work, even though you’re at home. Sure, you may wish to tackle something on your dreaded To Do list, and that’s fine. But mainly staycations should be about discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary and being more mindful about where you live. And if all else fails and you either can’t – or simply won’t – take a proper holiday, at least do yourself the favour of adopting a vacation mindset on your weekend.

How about you? What tips have you discovered for maximizing happiness on vacations?

Image: Summer Sun Beach Greece by KRiemer via Pixabay

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