Tag Archives: featured

Tips for Adulthood: Five Highlights from The Longevity Forum

new old age

new old ageOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

It’s been a long time since I attended a conference where I found myself looking forward to every single panel. But that was precisely the feeling I had this past Monday, when I attended the launch of The Longevity Forum, the latest organisation to emerge on the UK’s burgeoning ageing scene.

The Longevity Forum takes a two-pronged approach to the demographic realities of a globally ageing population. It is, on the one hand, interested in the potential for current scientific research to extend the lifespan. But it is also focused on the social and behavioural changes needed to adapt to this age of longevity.

The inaugural event to launch the Forum was invitation-only, so this blog shares five interesting ideas I took away:

Read the rest of this post over on the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing blog

Image: Smart Phone Face Man Old Baby via Pixabay

Halloween in London: Why I’ll Never Make It As A Brit

jackolantern

jackolanternToday, in honor of Halloween, I am re-running a post I ran seven years ago about what it’s like to be a grown-up American running around London in a Halloween costume:

So today is Halloween.

And like all good Americans, I arose early and donned a costume.

Neither of my kids’ schools were dressing up this year. But Halloween is increasingly popular here in London, especially in neighborhoods like mine, which are home to their fair share of Americans. So even though my kids weren’t putting on their costumes, I thought: “What the heck?” and threw mine on for fun.

And that’s  – as we say over here – where it all went a bit pear-shaped.

You see, for the past five years I’ve dressed up as a witch on Halloween. This basically amounted to wearing a large, black, pointy hat, a black sweater and some black jeans and boots. But I was tired of being a witch. Plus, my hat had started to droop. So this year, when browsing for my son’s costume in a local shop, I decided to go crazy and buy a wimple.

For those in the know,  a wimple is that black and white thing that nuns wear around their faces.(Think Maria, pre-Captain, in The Sound of Music.)

From there, it was just a  matter of rummaging around in my closet for a frumpy, over-sized, white turtle neck, a plain, black skirt, some dark tights, a pair of clunky shoes, a semi-gaudy cross and – within minutes  – I looked just like my father’s Irish cousin, good old Sister Claudette.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself. (It’s amazing what can impress you when you’re unemployed.)

But then I went outside. And that’s when the fun really started.

You see, no one realized that it was a joke. That was fine, when I was walking through my neighborhood at eight a.m. past all manner of  harried parents, construction workers, commuters and shop owners. They could be forgiven for thinking that I was either a real  nun or just…a bit strange. But by the time I hit the school run and – STILL – no one had gotten the joke, I knew I was in trouble.

The first person I ran across was a good friend – (and fellow American, though she’s lived here for 15 years) – who was rushing to catch a train. I greeted her with something on the order of “God Bless you, my child,” at which point she did a double-take and paused to take me in.

“Are you going to wear that all day?” she asked, somewhat aghast.

Then I hit the school gate. After a few odd looks on my way in, I found myself standing in line behind a recent immigrant from Lebanon with the improbable name of  – wait for it – Jihad. It was Jihad’s daughter’s first day of school and he had all sorts of questions for me. I got so caught up in orienting him about the school that I completely forgot that I was dressed as a nun…until, of course, I turned to introduce him to my daughter and I noticed that he looked a bit uneasy.

“Oh! Right!” I chuckled, glancing down at my habit. “This is just a Halloween costume. I’m American,” I added, by way of explanation.

“It’s O.K., Madam,” he answered, smiling politely but looking over his shoulder as if a taxi might miraculously present itself within the school yard.

At line-up time, I ran into another acquaintance. While not American, she’d lived in the U.S. for at least five years. But when her gaze fell upon my costume, she looked positively grief-stricken.

“It’s for Halloween!” I said, clapping her on the shoulder, thinking that she didn’t recognize me and was wondering why my daughter had been escorted to school by a nun.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I thought that maybe…maybe…” Her voice trailed off.

You thought that maybe I’d gone into the convent over half-term?

I left my daughter’s school, dejected. No one seemed to get the joke. No one seemed amused. They all seemed perplexed…and mildly concerned.

Of course, I should have been prepared for this. I’ve appropriated a lot of things during my five years living in the U.K. – The BBC, The NHS, even a fair bit of British slang. But one thing I’ve never quite internalized is the whole buttoned-down, reticent thing.

For better or for worse, I’m loud. I’m chatty. And, no. I’m not afraid to walk around dressed as a nun at nine o’clock on a Monday morning in October. Especially if it’s Halloween.

On my way home, I ran into one of my son’s ten-year-old friends who did recognize me, wimple and all.

“Bless you, my child,” I said, half-heartedly making the sign of the cross.

He studied me carefully, looking me up and down.

“But that’s not scary!” he finally exclaimed.

Oh, my dear, you’d be surprised.

Image: Halloween pumpkin lantern by Barnimages.com via Flickr

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Why Acting Classes Are So Hard for Grownups

acting class

acting classI’ve often wondered how many of us out there have fantasized that in another life, we’d all be professional actors.

I know I have. My mother was an actress when she was young, and I was one of those classic theatre geeks in high school, playing everything from Helen Keller to Elizabeth Bennett.

For whatever reason, once I went to college I became far too serious for acting (or so I thought), and abandoned it in favor of my studies.

For a long time, I was plagued by that dreadful “What if?’ that we all apply with increasing frequency to the roads not taken once we hit middle age. Now that I’ve returned to taking acting classes in mid-life, however, I’ve come to realize that I was never good enough to be an actress. And the reason I’m not good enough is that I’m way too protected emotionally to take the kinds of risks required to be a truly good actor.

I know this with 100% certainty because I spend three hours every Friday evening taking an improvisation class with a bunch of other adults. Our teacher is steeped in the Meisner tradition, which means that we begin every class doing Meisner’s classic warm-up, the Repetition Game.

For the uninitiated, the Repetition Game amounts to standing opposite someone else for what feels like an excruciating period of time (but is probably only five minutes) and “calling” the other person’s emotional state, in the moment. The other person repeats exactly what you said until something shifts emotionally in one of the two players and then that gets called out, repeated, and so on.

So it might start like this:

“You’re happy.”

“I’m happy.”

“You’re happy.”

“I’m happy.”

Until eventually that gives way to something like:

“You’re defensive.”

“I’m defensive.”

“You’re defensive.”

“I’m defensive.”

And so on…

Sound easy? It ain’t. Meisner apparently wanted “to eliminate all intellectuality from the actor’s instrument and to make him a spontaneous responder to where he is, what is happening to him, what is being done to him.”

Wow. I don’t even know if “intellectuality” is a word, but Dear God, I cling to it for all it’s worth. It is SO hard to be truly “in the moment.” And that’s coming from someone who is an evangelist for mindfulness.

I know I’m not the only person who runs like hell from the nakedness of their emotions as a grown-up. I was comforted to read an account of the Meisner technique by a young, University of Chicago adjunct business school professor named Jean Paul Rollert. Rollert sat in on four acting classes in an effort to unpack the concept of “empathy.”

In addition to noting (correctly) that “acting classes tend to attract the same assortment of individuals who often congregate in adult education programs: the curious, the bored, the lonely, and the strange…,” he also goes on to observe that “Meisnering” is the equivalent of being “whipsawed, smacked, dunked, tripped, and kicked down a flight of stairs—all in the course of a scene.”

It is, in a word, brutal.

I’ve been doing this technique for close to a year now. And while I’ve had glimmers of success with the technique (though my teacher would shoot me for applying such normative judgments to the process), I find it incredibly hard to access my emotions on demand. My teacher tells me that even my body language betrays this truth about myself. Apparently, I tilt my chest backwards from my hips and push my head forward during the exercise, as if I am literally trying to run away from all feeling and lead with my brain.

I did have one breakthrough moment a month or so ago. I was doing the Repetition Game with a guy in my class who normally laughs a lot as a defense mechanism. All of a sudden, his own underlying sadness came through. And then mine did. And for just that one moment, the whole world seemed utterly and unbearably painful. Because it was.

It was – in equal measure – both an exhilarating and a terrifying sensation.

But after a minute or two, it was gone. We both retreated to safer pastures – he to his laughter and me to my brain.

I really want to challenge myself to feel more during these classes. It feels like the right way to live my life, in my ongoing quest for authenticity and all that good stuff.

But Damn, is it hard.

I wonder what Helen Keller would do.

Image: Miki_peleg_rothstein_in_Our_Class_2 via Wikimedia Commons

 

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On Valuing Teaching as a Helping Profession

teacher

teacherMy fourteen year-old came home from school recently having taken one of those personality tests that assigns you a type. (Yes, I’m afraid it runs in the family…) She proudly announced that although she had been given the label “campaigner,” she didn’t see herself as a cause-oriented person. Rather, she felt that it was the skills involved in campaigning – public speaking, persuasiveness, etc. – that made her a good fit for this type.

I could relate. Some of my closest friends do noble things like counselling victims of domestic violence and teaching acting to jail inmates. But I never imagined that I would end up in a “helping profession.” To me, helping professions were things like social work or nursing:  careers defined – first and foremost – by an emphasis on addressing someone’s physical, psychological, or spiritual well-being.

Until I started teaching again. And now I’ve changed my mind.

I’m sure a lot of teachers out there feel like they’re doing God’s work. And they are. But when you teach at the university level, you can quickly lose the feeling that you’re there primarily to help people. Because you’re not. When you train for a PhD, teaching is often an afterthought. You’re there to do cutting-edge research, make a name for yourself, and advance knowledge and understanding. If you keep at it long enough, you might eventually influence policy. But teaching – as one of my own graduate profs once explained it to me cynically – “is about collecting a paycheck.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any college professors out there who care about teaching or who invest in it. I know of plenty personally – starting with my husband. I simply mean that it’s not usually the reason people get PhDs.

In my own case, I’m still not entirely sure why I chose to get a PhD in political science. But I do know that it had absolutely zero to do with wanting to help anyone better themselves.

What a difference 20 years makes. I see my role utterly differently now. That’s partly because I’m not on a research track anymore (or any track, for that matter; I’m a paid consultant who’s brought in on to teach at assorted universities on an ad hoc basis.) But I think my change of mind is mostly down to the fact that, unlike my first jobs out of graduate school when I was teaching political science, I’m now teaching something I really believe in passionately – how to communicate better. This also an area where I feel I can bring some added value – a “special sauce” – as it were.

I know that I’m helping people as I pore over materials at my desk, homing in on the most important lessons to impart about how to do a successful job interview, for example. Or when I stumble across an exercise that can help people demystify the process of writing blog. Or when I’m in the classroom and witness the “aha” moment when someone is finally able to distil her 300-page thesis down to 50 words.

Turns out, all those things people say about teaching elementary and secondary school children really are true: It is rewarding. It is meaningful. It is inspiring. I’m aware that this might sound cheesy. “Tis’ better to give than to receive,” and all that good stuff.  But sometimes clichés are true.

Shame it only took me 20 years to figure that out…

Image: Teacher female college student by JerryKimbrell10 via Pixabay

Breaking Up With My Therapist

psychotherapy

psychotherapyI broke up with my therapist recently. That sounds a bit dramatic. What I mean is that I ended a formal relationship with a talk therapist I’d been seeing fairly regularly over the past few years. And, like all break-ups, even the ones that you know need to happen, I felt incredibly sad afterwards.

Therapy’s not for everyone

Therapy’s not for everyone. I used to be really surprised when people I was close to would admit that they’d never been to a therapist. Or that they had come to the conclusion, without ever having tried it, that “therapy was just not for them.” Really?  I would wonder to myself. How do you make sense of this giant, unscripted blob of feeling and experience we call life?

While I still think most people could benefit from doing therapy at some point in their lives, I don’t judge anymore. I now see that some people really *don’t* need to analyze themselves endlessly because, as a friend and I like to quip, “their mothers loved them.” Which is to say that some people have so much security and self-understanding that even when they face adversity, they are able to weather such storms on their own. Maybe they consult with family or friends. Or perhaps they turn to some other form of support, such as mindfulness or acting classes or exercise. (I’ve done all three.)

Therapy as a well

I’m not one of those people. But I did feel that it was time to cut the apron strings with this particular therapist. It had nothing to do with the quality of the service provided. She was incredibly insightful – always coming to our sessions with a new take on old problems. And – bonus! – she was also French. Which meant that when I wasn’t listening to her advice, I was ogling her accessories and thinking that I really needed to wear more scarves…

My basic view on therapy is that it’s a bit like a well. There are times in your life when you’ll need to crank that bucket of water up fairly regularly for a drink. And there are other times when just a sip can last you a long time.

So why did I leave? Part of it was money. I’m just starting a new business, so I couldn’t really afford to have so much money flowing out of my checking account without a lot more coming in. But mostly, it was that I felt like I’d made a lot of progress on a whole host of fronts – personal and professional – over the past year. So I could trust in myself to use some of the insights I’d gleaned from her – along with some of the tools listed above – to manage on my own for now.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve arrived anywhere. I used to imagine that there was this magical place in adulthood where the sun came out and you could skip through the puddles and no more clouds would appear on the horizon. Ever. Spoiler alert: it’s not so. And more to the point, therapy is not about arrival. It’s about accepting that the journey really is forever.

Saying good-bye is good for you

The tell-tale sign that I’d made the right decision? Right after I announced to my therapist that I’d be departing, I had a dream that I was late for a plane and didn’t mind. It was the first dream in my life involving travel where I didn’t feel completely lost and anxious. (Thank you, sub-conscious!)

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t some sadness that comes with the bargain. I hate good-byes. For goodness sake, I well up when I hear “Puff the Magic Dragon” because it conjures up such raw feelings of loss. So a big part of me just wanted to send my therapist a text and call it quits so as to avoid the drama and pain of separation.

She was having none of it. Like any good therapist, she knew that you can’t run away from those feelings. You need to acknowledge the sadness of letting someone close to you go and wish each other well.

Bonne chance.

Link: Psychotherapy by Oliverkepka via Pixabay.com

 

 

Life Skills for Offices

office

officeI was listening to a podcast the other day when I took off my headphones and announced to my husband, “I should have been an organizational psychologist.”

The podcast was Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat, a business podcast that provides “bite-sized ways of improving your job.”  In this particular episode, the host, Bruce Daisley, was interviewing the amazing Adam Grant about his thoughts on everything from organizational culture to performance reviews to employee motivation. (Grant is an organizational psychologist and as far as I can tell, he has the coolest job on earth.)

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s relationship to their work. Why do people choose the career paths they do? What makes some personality types succeed at certain jobs but not at others? How does an understanding of one’s own values influence one’s leadership style?

Sadly, it’s too late for me to retrain as an organizational psychologist (or any of the other alternative professions I’ve fantasized about.)

Luckily, I’m going to get my own chance to test these waters tomorrow when I start teaching a course at the London School of Economics (LSE) entitled “Life Skills for Offices.” The course is part of my new business as a communications consultant. (More on that another time…)

Most of my work right now involves training people in the higher education sector how to write, speak and lead more effectively. To do this, I draw on my background as both an academic and a journalist.

But I was approached by the LSE to help address a very specific problem. As part of its training, one of the departments at the School will be sending a bunch of Master’s students out into the world to do a nine-month job placement at a company. The catch? None of these people has ever worked before. So they asked me if I would be interested in designing a course that would help prepare people to work in an office.

“Yes, please,” I answered.

If you think about it, this makes a great deal of sense. After all, the very first day you enter a new job, you’re expected to do all sorts of things that you’ve never actually studied. And while some of us might be relatively better or worse at, say, creative problem-solving, it’s not something you are taught directly in university.

This strikes me as precisely the sort of thing we ought to be teaching as we prepare young people for adulthood.

I’m terribly excited. We’re going to be covering a lot of ground in the soft skills space – things like how to prioritise your workload, how to “manage up,” and how to work effectively in a team. And because it’s a workshop, we’ll be doing a lot of exercises, including drawing on my improvisation training.

I’m thinking of giving this course the tag line: “Everything you wanted to know about offices, but were afraid to ask.”

So tell me, because I’d really love your input. What do you know now about working in an office that you wish you’d learned when you first started out?

Please share in the comments section.

Image: Office Boardroom by Jo_Johnston via Pixabay

 

 

How and Why I Started Writing Fiction

I’ve started working on a novel.

It happened almost by accident. One day this summer – a day when I had way too much energy and not enough to do – I saw a link to an online fiction-writing course with an irresistible teaser like “Write a novel in one year.” And since the tip came by way of the amazing Jane Friedman, and it was free, I thought…why not? I’ll do the first one or two sessions, and if I don’t like it, I’ll stop. No harm, no foul.

Although I attempted to write a novel once before, I never thought I’d do it again. My major stumbling block wasn’t that age-old defense, “I‘m not sure I’ve got a novel in me.” (I’m not sure, but that wouldn’t stop me from trying.) Nor is it that I can’t find the time. Now that I’ve fashioned a creative space for myself – and spent a good part of the past year writing a non-fiction book, I’m now a pro at carving out at least one hour a day for creative pursuits.

My problem is that I’ve never felt like I really “got” how to write fiction. It’s easy for me to write about my life. I do it all the time. And Lord knows I’ve got enough material. (Cough.) But invent somebody else’s reality? Even though I read a ton of fiction myself, I just didn’t know how to do that.

Until I took this course. There are two things I particularly liked about it. The first is that it’s very explicitly about learning how to rewrite your life. That’s actually the name of the course, Rewrite Your Life. (Here’s the book version.) In other words, fiction writing is all about viewing your personal experiences – and particularly your personal pain – in a way that, as she puts it, “helps you forge new reactions to old traumas.” You get to “choose who you want to be; not who you ought to be.” Your life experiences are “personal treasure to be mined.”

That’s hardly a novel idea (no pun intended). But Lourey uses a variety of exercises to enable you to resurface some of that deeply personal material and refashion it into new settings/characters/plot lines. These exercises are great because they all start with you: your pain, your secrets, your hopes, your despair. So there is a lot of emphasis on writing as therapy in this course, right from the get-go.

The second thing I like about this course is that it makes writing manageable. It takes a few months to work your way through the course. (The ten sessions you’ll see on the e-course are deceptive; Each of them takes hours, sometimes weeks, to complete.). But by the time you finish, as I just did, you’ll have loads of material at your finger tips. Lourey says you need to write one 1500 word scene a week in order to complete a novel in 46 weeks (less than a year!). But if you’re writing 5 days a week, that really only amounts to 300 words a day. 300 words a day? Heck, I could sneeze and write 300 words – (not necessarily good words, but the editing comes later.)

I’m really excited to try this. In addition to Lourey’s course, I also have some other resources to draw upon this time around. First, I’ve reached out to a (now close) friend from my erstwhile writer’s group and we’re going to rekindle a new version of it. Second, I’m also now part of an amazing community of writers here in London – called The Writing Coach – where I’m consulting. We have both online and real-world meet-ups to exhort each other forward and to hold each other accountable. I even found a post I wrote ten years ago on tips for writing fiction that’s surprisingly useful. (Always great when you can give yourself advice…)

Most importantly of all, I have an entirely different attitude to the one I held when I first tried my hand at a novel. Back then, I was utterly focused on the outcome. So I wrote a draft, sent it out to agents prematurely, and then shelved it when I didn’t have a positive response. That may well happen again. Indeed, I may yet decide that this whole fiction thing isn’t for me. But what’s exciting this time around is the process – that of challenging myself to try something new.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Image: Once upon a time by Ramdlon via Pixabay

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.