Tag Archives: featured

I Fixed My Back Thanks to Alternative Medicine

acupuncture needle

acupuncture needleIt all began when I got back from a two-and-a-half week vacation in the United States a few years back. As I resumed my normal routine of running in the mornings before going to work, something didn’t feel quite right. Specifically, there was a throbbing pain on the left side of my bum.

I’d had recurring trouble with my piriformis muscle before, so I began doing some stretches that I’d learned during my last round of physiotherapy. But after things got so excruciating that I began popping painkillers on a regular basis, I booked in to see an osteopath at a nearby facility.

The pain didn’t go away. Instead, it migrated to different parts of my back over the next few months. There was one point when I could hardly walk. Meanwhile, my migraines – which had grown in intensity over the previous decade – were getting progressively more frequent.

Enter Pilates…

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Acupuncture needle by Acid Pix via Flickr

Happiness in Later Life

happiness

happinessLong ago and far away – back when I was still an academic – I once took a long drive home from a conference with a colleague. It was a two or three hour drive, the kind where you start off talking about work and end up talking about your childhood. About an hour and a half into the drive, I turned to him and asked: “Are you happy?”

He looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t really do happy,” he confessed.

I knew exactly what he meant.

I don’t really do “happy” either. Content…animated…joyous…silly. I do all of those at different times. But “happy” feels more permanent. Like something you need to commit to. And I’ve never been good at commitment.

That Happy Feeling

Lately, however, having finally – 30 years in – fashioned a career for myself that feels right, I’ve started having this weird sensation in my body. I say weird, because it’s so unusual, I don’t recognise it immediately. I think it’s called happiness.

It’s like a friend of mine who – beginning therapy late in life after a divorce – confessed to me that one day in a conversation with her therapist, she felt this strange thing well up inside her. “And I was like ‘What is that?'” she recounted to me afterwards. “And then I realized: Oh, that’s an emotion!”

Damned straight, sister. I think a lot of us walk around for half of our lives carrying feelings inside of us that we don’t even recognize, possibly because we’ve forgotten they are there.

Lessons from Mindfulness

Which is why, among other reasons, practicing mindfulness is so useful.

If you’ve ever practiced any mindfulness, you’ll know that one of the key ideas it drives home is that we all have a “blue sky” inside us – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill our world. A lot of the focus is on accessing that blue sky feeling and realizing that it’s not something we need to reach for outside ourselves; it’s something that’s already there.

In my own case, I think I’d gone so long thinking about work as this stressful, difficult externalized thing that I’d forgotten that work could also be an extension of “happy me”… and fun. So when I’d deliver a workshop on public speaking, for example, and feel really great afterwards, I’d be like: “That’s odd; Why do I feel not just OK, but good?”

Escaping the Scarcity Mentality

It’s also the case that some of us just aren’t wired to be happy.

I grew up in a large-ish family where a scarcity mentality prevailed. If you got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom, you risked having someone still the last potato off of your plate. So I think I have always approached life as if everything were a finite resource that was at risk of running out:  money, love, food, happiness.

Undoing that scarcity mentality has taken  a lot of work. One of the things that helped me most was reading Julia Cameron’s brilliant manifesto on creativity, The Artist’s Way. Cameron views creativity (which for her, comes from God) as a generous, supportive force rather than a punitive, miserly one. The idea is that whatever the origin of your creative process, it is an unending well of ideas and inspiration that never dries up. She encourages everyone embarking on a creative path to adopt this expansive view of how it works.

That has been s a struggle for me. Given my own hard-wired scarcity mentality, I come to the world with more of a zero-sum framework: if I get something, someone else loses something. There’s only so much to go around. But embracing Cameron’s “abundance” mentality with respect to creativity has enabled me to extend that idea to other areas of life.

As a result, I’m able to feel happier now without fearing that at any given moment, happiness might run out.

It’s still a work in process. Many days, I still feel off-kilter when I experience “that happy feeling.” But I’m learning how to live with it.

Image: Woman Happiness Sunrise Silhouette by Jill111 via Pixabay

Women and Money: Crowdsourcing Financial Advice

stock market

stock marketI was on Facebook recently when a former colleague who has just started a new job jumped in with a query about investment portfolios.

“I need advice on stock-picking strategies,” she wrote on her wall. “I want to feel more in control of my finances.”

Within minutes, a whole bunch of us who’d worked with her had glommed onto this thread. Turns out, she wasn’t alone. Several of us – seeing the cusp of retirement in the not too distant future – had taken a sudden interest in managing our money more wisely.

At some point several comments in, someone in the thread suggested that if my colleague was able to obtain the answer to this question, she could share it with the rest of us over drinks. (We’d pick up the tab.)

And then someone else had this brilliant idea: Why don’t we make a deal where one of us is put in charge of making these sorts of vital, grown-up decisions for the entire group on a six-month, rotating basis?

And just like that, the “Designated Adult” (DA) Club was born.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Stock Market Indices by Karsten Reuss via Flickr

Creativity, Random Words and Self-Definition

random words

random wordsI’ve started reading Tim Harford’s book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. Its basic thrust is that creativity is fostered not by carefully organizing our time and ideas, but by allowing disorder to interrupt our routines. One way to induce this creative messiness, Harford argues, is by introducing random stimuli to trigger new ways of thinking.

So, for example, when I taught a workshop on creativity recently for a group of researchers out at Oxford, we did a “random word” exercise. I had them open to a random page of whatever they happened to be carrying  – a book, a magazine, instructions for a writing exercise – and select the eighth word on that page. I then asked them to use that word – whatever it happened to be – to help them generate new ways of thinking about a challenge they were facing in their lives:  personal…professional…in their research.

I myself did something similar yesterday. I was on a day out with a group of coaches and clients at The Writing Coach, where I work as a consultant. These periodic gatherings are a way to foster real life interaction among a community of writers that is otherwise largely virtual.

As the gathering was held at The National Portrait Gallery in London, our fearless leader suggested that we might also use this as an opportunity to do some writing. So she handed out a list of random words and invited us to use them as a prompt for some aspect of our writing – e.g., a character, a scene, a setting – as we gazed upon the pictures. It was your proverbial “artist’s date,” in Julia Cameron parlance.

My word was “resurfacing.” Here’s how the Cambridge dictionary defines it:

a.  Covering or adding layers (as in to put a new surface on a road)

b.  To rise to the surface of the water again

c.  To appear again after being lost, stolen or absent

As I strode through the early 20th century wing of the museum, I reflected upon this word and its myriad meanings. And I realized that “resurfacing” was a wonderful prism through which to think about the current stage of my professional life.

As I embrace a portfolio career,  I am in many ways “resurfacing” the different aspects of my professional self: the writer, the editor, the coach, the teacher…even the project manager. Just as I could readily detect where some of the modernist artists had applied new layers of paint to their renderings of, say, James Joyce, the original image was still visible underneath. Together, they yielded one person, rendered simultaneously through multiple angles.

At the same time, however, I also feel that I am reappearing to myself  – as my whole self – after being absent for a long period of time. And in so doing, I am rising to the surface of the water in a new, more integrated form.

I’ve long been an advocate of choosing concepts, not lists, to frame my New Year’s resolutions. As of yesterday, however, I think I’m also going to embrace the idea of choosing words as a metaphor for self.

Is there a word that’s helped you to redefine yourself? Have you ever used a randomness strategy to stimulate your thinking?

Image:  Random Words Make a Sentence by Steve Snodgrass via Flickr 

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Tips for New Entrepreneurs

Freelance

FreelanceOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I started my new communications consultancy almost a year ago. Since then, I’ve been hard at work delivering a combination of mini-courses, workshops and one-on-one coaching. What’s odd is that although I’ve worked as a freelancer before, I’m learning a whole new set of skills this time around.

This post is aimed particularly at those of you who’ve always dreamed of setting up your own businesses. Here are five things to bear in mind:

a. Negotiate your deliverables in detail. That might sound obvious, because, hey, what are contracts for, right? But I’ve got news for you:  contracts can be super vague. Trust me, in my previous job, I wrote them all the time. And especially if you’re working with a client you know well – deliverables can be vague and fuzzy – because, hey, we’re all friends, right? The only person who benefits from a fuzzy deliverable is the person paying for it. It gives them leeway to claim that whatever they are asking you to do – including work neither of you initially discussed – plausibly falls within the contours of the agreement. So be precise. Super precise. And if they ask you to do something that doesn’t match the original deliverable, ask for more money. Which brings us to money.

b. Always charge more than you think you should. A year or so ago, when I was still in the concept development phase for my new company, I got some great advice from the women in my Ellevate squad: if a client accepts your budget up front, you’ve charged too little. Damned straight. Entire books have been written on how to sort out our collective discomfort with asking for money (The Soul of Money is top of my list… ). But once you work throught all of that, you need to remember that you are running a business and that time is money. So there are two reasons to ask for more than you think you should. First, everything in life is a negotiation. However high you come in, they are likely to come back with a lower offer. Adjust for that in advance. Second, when you’re starting out, much of what you’re offering is new. So if, like me, you’re delivering workshops or mini-courses, you need to factor in not only your delivery time, but your prep time. This doesn’t meant you should never charge less than your day rate, once you’ve determined what that is. It might be a client whose name you’d like to see on your resumé. Or it might piece of work you’re so passionate about that you’re willing to charge less. Or, because you’re new to this  line of work, you might decide that you’d like to demonstrate how much value you add – and get some testimonials under your belt – before raising your rates. Whatever you do, remember that failure to talk openly about pay usually translates into lower rates.

c. Learn to say no. I’ve said this before, but it really does take a while to let it sink in: learn to say no. When you’re starting out, it’s tempting to say yes to everything. But – take my word for it – that can quickly erode any balance you might be hoping to establish in your life. Just as there are good reasons to accept work that doesn’t pay as well as you’d like, there are equally good reasons to turn down work even if you have time. It might not be something you enjoy very much, so the opportunity cost of doing it is higher than for other jobs you might take on. You might not need the money all that much. Or you might foresee that it’s going to be way more work than you bargained for, and will simply amount to a headache. I have taken this approach to editing. Editing is part of my current portfolio.  But because I’ve done so much of it in the past, it’s not as exciting as the other work that I do. So I only take on editing clients who either pay exceptionally well or who represent clients I’d really like to cultivate. (See b)

d. Fake it Til You Make It. When I teach public speaking and my course on life skills for offices, I encourage my students to adopt that adage “Fake it til’ you Make it.” A year or so ago, a friend of mine, who’s also a very seasoned communications consultant, gave me this piece of advice: “Never tell people you ‘could’ do something. Always say that you ‘can.'” And how. Before they hire you, people want to know that you can do something. And chances are, you can, even if you haven’t. So while I never accept work that I don’t think I can deliver to the very highest standard, I have been in the position of saying “Yes I Can.” It’s amazing how empowering those three little words can be. And guess what? Once you’ve done it, you can do it!

e. Learn when to give up. Much like asking for money, it can be very uncomfortable to pester someone to get back to you on work you’ve pitched them. So how often to ping? I used to approach people only three times before giving up. I assumed they just weren’t interested, but were too awkward – or busy – to bother telling me “No.” Then I started asking around. One colleague told me that the magic number is “seven” – assume that your name has simply filtered to the bottom of their inbox and they need a quick reminder. People are busy, after all.  Seven sounded high to me, but I tried it. And in one instance, after five tries, I got a gig. Another colleague told me that his approach is to “pester them until they either give you work or tell you to F#$% off.” Works well for him! The one thing I would say is that if someone has made it clear to you that he or she isn’t interested, leave them alone. If you push too hard, it can actually be off-putting and alienate them permanently.

My best advice is to be patient. You won’t make a lot of money during your first year while you build up your portfolio of offerings and client base. But if you remember that “Every Day is Groundhog Day” and persevere, you may end up really glad you sallied forth.

How about you? What advice would you give your newbie entrepreneur/freelancer self?

Image: Notebook-iPad-Freelance work by jeunghwaryu0 via Pixabay.com

Teaching Writing: Editing vs. Coaching

Ballerina

BallerinaThere’s a scene in one of my all-time favorite films, All that Jazz, that addresses the perennial question about innate talent vs. learned ability. In the scene, the protagonist –  a choreographer modeled on the legendary Bob Fosse – confronts a ballerina in his company who’s crying because she knows she’s not as good as the other dancers.

“I can’t make you a great dancer,” Fosse consoles her. “But I can make you a better dancer.”

That’s how I feel when I work with writers.

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as being a “natural talent” in writing. You can definitely see when a writer has a gift – David Foster Wallace, Amos Oz, and my new idol – Anna Burns – all come to mind. But, as we all know, years of half-written sentences and crumpled up drafts – not to mention gallons of self-doubt – lie behind any prose that looks effortless.

For most of us mere mortals, however, writing is mostly about putting your bum in the chair and being willing to write shitty first drafts. So then the question becomes:  how do you help people become “better dancers?”

Read the rest of this post over on The Writing Coach UK

 

Image: Ballet Ballerina via Wikimedia Commons

New Year’s Resolutions: Choose Concepts, Not Lists

new year's resolutions list

new year's resolutions listWhile home visiting my family over the holidays, my sister mentioned a few of the resolutions she’d set for herself this year. They included doing more fiction writing (and, specifically, being willing to endure 100 rejections ), upgrading to varifocals so that she doesn’t need to hold a book within an inch of her eye to read, and a handful of other standard-issue resolutions.

“What are your goals?” she asked.

I paused to think it over.

“Thanks for reminding me,” I answered. “I need to set my concept for this year.”

Goal-setting: In Defense of Vagueness

As someone with a fairly strong Type A personality, it’s tempting to use the beginning of the year as an excuse to set even more goals for myself than I normally would.

But a few years back, I resolved that I wouldn’t do that anymore. Instead, I decided to embrace the idea of setting broad, overarching “concepts” to frame the coming year.

I’m aware of all the advice out there claiming that you need to set specific, actionable objectives if you want to get anything done. I’m also aware of all the research suggesting why if you go too far down the measurable outcomes path, you might end up abandoning your goals altogether.

To that end – and, let’s be honest, what good is research if you can’t cherry-pick the stuff that suits your needs? – I have anchored my defense of conceptual resolutions in a Stanford University study entitled In Praise of Vagueness.  Because of the way the brain processes negative information, this article suggests that we are actually better off motivating ourselves through a general principle (e.g., “I’d like to be more fit”) – or through an acceptable range of desired outcomes (e.g., I’d like to lose between 5-15 pounds) – than tying ourselves to one specific number ( e.g., “I need to lose 10 pounds by June 1st.”)

The basic idea is that presenting information in a vague way allows you to sample from the information that’s in your favor and choose the part that seems  achievable or encourages you to keep your expectations upbeat. That way, you are motivated to stay on track.

Goal-setting: Choosing a Concept

But I didn’t really start embracing conceptual New Year’s resolutions because of what the research said. I did it because I thought it would help me to bring greater coherence to the many different hats I wear, both personally and professionally.

I felt that having an integrated, “catch-all” concept would make me feel more comfortable being pulled in so many different directions. I also thought having a concept would encourage me to think more creatively about the different aspects of my life and how they fit together, rather than thinking in siloes.

So, for example, one year my watch word was “authenticity.”  That was all about bringing my personality out more in social media (principally blogging and Facebook), but also about choosing to read books that illustrated other people’s journeys towards self-discovery.

Another year, my watch word was “change.” That year, I knew in advance that I’d be laid off for my job and that I needed to be open to trying out different career options while I took time off.

Yet another year, I embraced slow living.

This Year’s Resolution

This year’s resolution, you ask?

It’s about balance. Not just the professional balance yielded by a portfolio career mentioned above.  And not just work-life balance if all that means is not being a workaholic.

But work-life balance in the sense articulated by author and entrepreneur Robert Glazer, which he defines as follows: …”an understanding that each day or week might bring different combination of things to attend to at work or in your personal life, but they total a portfolio of quality experiences. It’s not about the time itself, it’s about being fully present and engaged in each of the pieces…”

I like that idea. Balance as being fully present in each of the pieces of my life, whether that’s teaching or coaching or writing or swimming.

How about you? If you could pick a concept for 2019, what would it be?

Image: New Year’s Resolutions list via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons to Confront Pain as we Age

back pain

back painOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist recently. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your /primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Low back pain via Wikimedia Commons

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

Philip Roth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image:  Roth photo by Bibliotechque Municipale de Beaune via Flickr

Portfolio Careers: The Psychological Dimension

portfolio

portfolioA year or so before I broke up with my therapist, I arrived at one of our bi-monthly sessions one day, plopped myself down and announced that we’d be discussing career change. It was a few months after I’d been laid off from my job and I was beginning to contemplate my next professional move.

“I just don’t know how to pull it all together,” I moaned. “I mean, how do you combine writing, editing, coaching, delivering insight and project management all into one job description? What job is that?”

She looked at me quizzically. “Why would you want to do only one thing with your life?”

To paraphrase Buddha: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

With that one simple question, my therapist got me thinking usefully about portfolio careers again.

 

The Rise of the Portfolio Career

Portfolio careers have been the new black for some time now in the work world. Technological change, flexible working arrangements, the demand for highly specialised skills and the evolving appeal of work-life balance mean that more people now have jobs that blend a number of roles. In the UK where I live, for example,  one in five British people are expected to earn money from a secondary form of employment by 2030.

Portfolio careers are proving particularly appealing with older workers, (a category in which I proudly count myself.) Precisely because we’re all living longer than ever before, there’s no reason for people to start working at 65 – or 75 for that matter!

And who knows how long current pension schemes will sustain us?

 

Diversifying Risk

Many workers, like myself, are pursuing portfolio careers out of economic necessity. As marketing guru Dorie Clark argues, it’s the best way to hedge against financial risk.

My own portfolio career as a communications professional comprises three main verticals, with a fourth in development. My main income stream comes from offering soft skills training of various sorts, principally in writing, speaking and blogging.

At the same time, I supplement my training work with a fair amount of editing.

I’ve also started work as a writing coach. This is a hybrid of the first two. It combines some of the line-editing and writing tips that come with being an editor, with the motivational aspects of the workshop facilitator.

Finally, I’m also training as a public speaking coach, a fourth income stream I hope to leverage in the new year.

 

Finding Balance

I think a lot of silverpreneurs embrace portfolio careers for reasons that extend way beyond our pocketbooks. As we age, portfolio careers also offer a greater degree of autonomy…and fulfillment.

In my own case, I’ve never fully managed to reconcile my manager and maker selves in one integrated whole. So doing a job that combines the deeply-focused, puzzle-solver of the editor with the animated cheerleader of the coach and the supportive nurturer of the teacher is a perfect blend of who I really am.

I’ve also come to realize that although personality tests repeatedly confirm that I’m an extrovert, there’s an introvert in there screaming (quietly) to assert herself as well. The introvert welcomes those days when she gets to stay at home in her pajamas poring over a text to make it read better. She doesn’t always need to be on the stage. She likes downtime and peace and quiet too. So that sort of balance is equally important to me in this new phase of life.

I used to think that finding the right career simply boiled down to figuring out what you like and what you’re good at and where those intersect. I now think it’s also about finding a job – or, more precisely, set of jobs – that speak to the different strands of your personality as well.

Image: Another pile of accordion file folders by Kasaa via Flickr