Tag Archives: featured

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Clear Out Your Inbox

inbox

inboxOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m not one of those die-hard Inbox Zero types. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a certain base level of flotsam cluttering up my inbox. Otherwise, I’d do nothing but eliminate emails all day long.

But there comes a time — and everyone has a different threshold — when you just can’t bear to look at your inbox splitting at the seams anymore. For me, it was when my inbox went over 1000 messages. (I won’t tell you how much over or you might gasp.) And I knew that it was time to get our my virtual hacksaw and start chopping.

If you’re like me, you probably dread the idea of sitting down and going through your inbox. Maybe there’s stuff in there that you’re trying to avoid. Or you fear that by managing your inbox, you will necessarily *not* be doing something else with your time. Or maybe the whole task is just too daunting.

But today’s post is meant to help you see that by setting aside time to clear out your inbox, you’ll actually feel calmer *and* more productive. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on Thrive Global:

Image courtesy of Recrea HQ via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Need To Change Jobs

mask

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a former colleague at a party recently. He told me that despite having a prestigious and well-paying job in the private sector, he felt that he needed to move on from his current job because he’s been wearing a “costume” to work for the past two years.

I could completely relate. At various points in my professional life, I have felt that I had to don a costume every day when I went to work because my job was not an authentic reflection of who I was or wanted to be.

One of the great things about the “new old age” is that we’re all living longer, offering us many more opportunities to envision mid-life as a time of self-realization, productivity and growth. So if you’re wrestling with whether or not it might be time for you to shift gears, here are five tell-tale signs you might want to act on that instinct:

You feel like you’re wearing a costume to work. See above. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to hate your job. The first time I experienced the “costume” syndrome – back when I was an academic – there were aspects of my job I loved, including the amazingly talented and intelligent colleagues I worked with on a daily basis. But if it feels increasingly like you are pretending to be someone you aren’t at work – and the energy from that performance is exhausting you – then you need to think about how to channel that energy into a job search that can bring greater meaning and fulfillment.

You envy other people’s jobs. My husband and I have an expression for that feeling you get when you order something at a restaurant and then immediately regret it as soon as your dinner partner’s plate arrives. We call it “order envy.” Order Envy applies in the work world as well. I once ran into a friend who told me that he couldn’t wait for “Monday to start,” because there was so much to look forward to in his work week. At the time, I was experiencing something more like “Sunday Dread” about the five days that were to follow, so his cheerful enthusiasm felt like a knife through my soul. If you feel envy right now rather than relief that you don’t have that “Monday feeling,” you know that you are ready to look for a new job.

You feel suffocated when you get a promotion. A younger friend with whom I used to work invited me to coffee recently. She said that she needed some urgent career advice. Turns out, she’d just been given a promotion. “But isn’t that a good thing?,” I asked, naively. “No, it’s awful. I feel absolutely suffocated. Like because they’ve offered me more money and a better title, I can never leave now.” I, too, have experienced the “golden handcuffs” syndrome at points in my life. It was beautifully rendered in an episode of Friends where Chandler gets a promotion because he’s so good at his job and they want to give him an inducement to stay in the team. But instead of being thrilled, all he wants to do is to run for the door. Pay attention to those feelings; don’t ignore them. It’s a huge sign that you feel stuck in your job and need to emancipate yourself.

You look at job listings, even though you just started your job. Another dead give away. Of course, it’s possible that you only took your current job as a temporary measure. But if you’ve recently started a job that you convinced yourself was right for you, then you should be investing 100% in learning everything you can about that new job: how the company is structured…what’s actually required of your post…getting to know your new colleagues…the technology that’s used…the organizational culture, etc. etc. If, instead, you find yourself still out there wondering “What if?”, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You immediately apply for a short-term assignment outside your department. I work at a large, global organization that invests heavily in its employees’ professional development. Part of this is achieved through what’s called an “attachment scheme,” which is basically a way to enable people from different parts of the organization to work elsewhere on a short-term basis in order to learn new skills or deepen others. It’s a wonderful scheme – and really does facilitate life-long learning inside the workplace. (Other companies do something similar through short-term international assignments.) But I’ve noticed that some of the people who try and take advantage of the attachment scheme in my company have barely been there long enough to learn the job they were hired for in the first place. To me, that is a sign that they really need to change jobs.

How about you? What things have you experienced or observed over the years that told you that it was time to move on?

Image: Mask Carnival Venice Italy by Skeeze via Pixabay

 

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

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On occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. Regardless of your politics, this is a truly inspiring – and funny! – animation explaining the origin of President Obama’s “Fired Up! Ready to Go!” slogan.

b. At the other end of the spectrum, everyone will enjoy this hilarious video of real people reacting to (real) online dating messages.

c. John Seabrook’s account of his relationship to drinking in The New Yorker is absolutely beautiful.

d. I’ve only been to Germany a handful of times, but I loved this list of German faux pas. Watch out for that red man!

e. Nathaniel Edward Davis compiles a list of things he pretends that he’s read. Allen Ginsberg. Check.

f. I’m a huge fan of this new wellness website aimed at men – OlderBeast. Check out the post on how to eat natural peanut butter. Love it!

g. Finally, I was thrilled to be featured over on Sixty and Me with a guest post on five signs that you need an encore career.

Have a great weekend!

Image: Aditif makanan via Wikipedia

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways Sibling Relationships Affect Your Development

SiblingsI was watching a high school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last month when I was suddenly overcome by a desire to leap out of my seat, jump on stage and start belting out “Any Dream Will Do” with the title character. 

And I suddenly thought: Who on this planet can possibly relate to this impulse to shed my middle aged composure and burst out in song?

And the answer was: my sister. She and I were raised on musical theater, have been to countless Broadway shows, and often communicate with one another via lyrics from our favorite show tunes. 

Sure enough, the next day – as soon as I told her (via email) where I’d been the night before – she responded with a choice lyric from Joseph…to which I replied in kind. 

We all know that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave. Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50:

Image: Siblings via Wikimedia Commons

How Mindfulness Apps Energized My Morning Routine

mindfulness

mindfulnessThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” — both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive Global

Image: JohnHain via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long Term Relationship

two gannetsOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50….

Image: Northern Gannets by Al Wilson via Nature’s Pics Online 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Billy Joel Songs That Speak To Middle Age

billy joel

billy joelI’ve been listening to Billy Joel again. Yes, I say that loudly, proudly and unabashedly. If you grew up in the 1980s as I did, it’s pretty impossible *not* to be in love with Billy Joel. When “The Stranger” was released in 1977, it was all anyone listened to for several years.

My husband gets this. He’s the one who got me started on my new Billy Joel kick when, upon surfing the internet one day, he came across a series of videos where Billy not only performed a set of songs before a live audience, but also explained the meaning of the songs as he went through them. Side note to Billy Joel fans – (in case anyone who is *not* a Billy Joel fan has gotten this far into this blog post) – he doesn’t like Piano Man all that much…Sniff.

Particularly as I get older, I find that Billy Joel’s music speaks to me even more than it did back in junior high.To wit, five Billy Joel songs with particular resonance for middle age:

1. James – This song comes from one of Billy’s earlier albums, Turnstiles. It’s mostly a song about those early, intense friendships we have in childhood and adolescence that often dissipate as we grow up and choose different paths in life: “I went on the road. And you pursued an education…” I always feel incredibly sad when I hear the lyrics to this song, because it reminds me of the bittersweet, awkward feelings such relationships inspire, especially if you ever find yourself reunited with said friend and realize that you have very little in common anymore. But it’s also a song about regret, which is, for me anyway, one of the central emotions that we must learn to navigate in midlife. As Billy asks his erstwhile friend: “Do you like your life? Can you find release? Did you ever write your masterpiece?” Ouch. Most of us didn’t end up writing our masterpieces. But the song ends with some sage adulthood advice, encouraging James – and all of us – to follow our own dreams, not those set by others: “Do what’s good for you, or you’re not good for anybody.” So true.

2. New York State of Mind – Closely linked to regret is nostalgia, another inescapable feature of adulthood. I grew up in the tri-state New York area and while I’ve subsequently lived in many cities across many continents, there are a handful of Billy Joel songs that bring me right back to the place which, for me, will always be home: “I don’t care if it’s Chinatown or on Riverside…” For me, this song readily calls up the summer in college I spent living on Riverside Drive in an impossibly posh apartment one of my father’s friend managed to obtain for me and trying every bar in town…the numerous times my mother hauled all four of my siblings into the city to see previews of the original cast performances of shows like Evita, Annie and Sweeney Todd…the smell of pretzels mixed in with the city’s gritty streets. (Note to the super fans: if you want to see a truly miraculous Billy Joel moment, watch this video where he allows a very talented piano player from Vanderbilt University to spontaneously accompany him while he sings this song.)

3. Vienna -“Slow Down, you crazy child…you’re so ambitious for a juvenile...” Dear Lord, do I feel that this song was written for me. As someone who has lived much of her life at a gallop, I’ve had a very hard time learning that life is not a crew race, it’s more of a marathon. As Billy enjoins us: “Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.” So when I hear Billy sing this song, I always feel like it’s a sort of musical version of mindfulness practice.

4. I’ve Loved These Days. Another gem. This is ostensibly a song about people who’ve been overdoing it – living it to the hilt with drugs, sex and God knows what else – but knowing that very soon they’re going to need to stop their outrageous lifestyle and get real. (Sort of the Brideshead Revisited of pop music, if you will). But for me, it’s always been a song about break ups. About those terribly clear moments when you suddenly know that a relationship is over but you still want to squeeze whatever joy that you can out of the final hours/days/weeks together: “So, before we end, and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been. A few more hours to be complete, a few more nights on satin sheets…” It’s a song about the inevitability of loss and recognizing that all good things must come to an end – another bittersweet reality of growing up. (n.b.: This was my high school’s senior prom theme, which makes it all the more touching.)

5. Allentown. An ode to all those middle-aged folks who once had a job and a company and a place in society where it all made sense. And now, their entire their lives have been upended (by globalization/by modernity/by the internet/by time/fill in the blank…) and they don’t know how to be anymore: “Well we’re waiting here in Allentown for the Pennsylvania we never found. For the promise our teachers gave, if we worked hard, if we behaved…” In the year of the angry white voter, this song could be ripped straight outta 2016.

How about you? Do you dare to own your secret passion for Billy Joel and, if so, which are your favourite tunes?

Image: Billy Joel by David Shankbone via Flickr

Advice for Writers Struggling with Genre: Ask This Question

bookshelf

bookshelfIf you’ve ever thought about writing a book, the very first thing anyone will tell you is to figure out which “shelf” it will sit on in a bookstore. It’s not enough to simply have a topic, or even an angle into a topic. You need to know who’s going to buy this book. Because book publishing, like anything else, is a business and the key to a successful business is knowing your market.

I knew all of this, of course. Over the years, I’ve been in enough writing groups and consumed enough resources devoted to the art and science of getting published that I knew that were I someday to approach an agent with an idea for a book, I’d need to be able to provide a cogent answer to this question.

And then someday arrived and I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to answer it.

Let me back up. I’ve been working for several months on a book about…drumroll please…swimming and adulthood. After more than 25 years as a “casual runner” – someone who ran three times a week to stay fit – my body was telling me that that I could no longer run. The reasons why I needed to stop running aren’t all that interesting. (Well, OK, something called Piriformis Syndrome, if you must know…) But the upshot was that, on the advice of my doctor, I began – somewhat reluctantly – to swim.

This obviously not an entirely new topic for me. This blog’s strapline – “Finding Yourself In Adulthood” – is all about conceptualizing adulthood as a journey, not a destination. But whereas the blog tackles topics ranging from work and parenting to therapy and the arts in a much more general way, the daily act of swimming enabled me to analyse these subjects through a single prism. In essence, swimming serves as a metaphor through which to explore what it means to be a grown up in the contemporary age.

But even after I started writing this book, I still struggled with where it fit on the proverbial bookshelf. Was it an extended meditation on swimming itself, Like Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies?  Was it a sports memoir a la Gerald Marzaroti’s Late to the Ball about picking up a new skill (tennis) in midlife? Was it a humorous, loosely themed take on daily life, modelled on David Sedaris or Sandra Tsing Loh?  Or a was it a collection of more serious essays like Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable?

On alternate days it felt a bit like all of these.

It didn’t help that when I showed my précis (2 page overview) of the book to a few friends I got very different advice. One friend thought that it needed to be funnier, more like my daily status updates which I post on Facebook recounting the cast of characters I run into at my local swimming pool. Another friend thought that it should be a novel. Someone else advised me to convert it into an inspirational journey, the sort of Eat, Pray, Love of swimming.

Instead of writing the book, I began to obsess about genre.

And then, one day, at the tail end of a dinner party while chatting about this problem with a friend, I had my Eureka moment. My friend is a novelist who has written several novels in the Lad Lit genre and is on the cusp of becoming a sensation with his latest work-in-progress, which has already been snatched up by a major New York imprint. (He’s also sold the film rights. As he put it so beautifully, “Who knew that becoming an overnight success took so long?”)

After I regaled him with all of my anxieties about what the book could and should be, he looked at me and simply said: “Write the book that only you could write.”

It wasn’t rocket science. Nor was some dark, heretofore unknown secret of the publishing world. But for me, it was sort of like that age-old adage: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” And just like that, I immediately felt better.

Because I realised in that moment that I actually *had* been writing the book that only I could write all along. While it had elements of several different styles, at the end of the day the book I was writing was essentially a self-help book, albeit one very much rooted in my own experience. (I’ve since learned that there is a name for this sub-genre – self-help memoir or prescriptive memoir. Thank you, Jane Friedman.)

For me, my friend’s throwaway line (heartfelt, to be sure, even if infused with a few glasses of red wine), was clarifying: I need to stop obsessing over what other people think my book is meant to be. That comes later. For now, the book is already what I need it to be: a place to bring my voice and my insights to a topic I’ve long been passionate about with a fresh angle.

In a year where my new year’s resolution was to embrace authenticity, that feels pretty good.

Image: Bookshelves by Hernán Poo-Camaño via Flickr

Brangelina: Why We Rejoice In Other People’s Divorces

brangelina

brangelinaBack in what now seems a life time ago, before kids and mortgages and migraines set in, my husband and I were friendly with a couple we called, privately, “the beautiful people.”

They were, quite simply, gorgeous to look at. He was a tall, athletic and European and she was a lithe, exotic artiste of unknown ethnic origin. They were smart and successful and rich and beautiful and, seemingly…happy.

Until they weren’t.

One day they told us that they were separating and – just like that – the beautiful people were no longer. And with their split, the myth that you really could have it all – that you could be successful professionally while also throwing nice dinner parties having pitch perfect bodies *and* still be in love – disappeared.

While I liked them both, my first instinct was to feel smug.

This feeling resurfaced this week when I learned that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had split up after 12 years, six kids, two films and a joint production company (and a partridge in a pear tree…)

They, too, are beautiful people. And between their outrageous professional success, their large, blended family and the odd humanitarian ambassadorship for the UN thrown in, Brad and Angelina seemed to stretch the limits of what could be possible in coupledom. (Heck, Angelina is even a visiting professor at the London School of Economics this year…I mean, c’mon!, what *isn’t* that woman doing?)

It’s tempting, at first, to gloat at these failed marital projects. We can feel better about our own pathetically normal houses/children/relationships/fill in the blank. Or we write these couples off, saying (not unjustly), that it’s amazing how long it lasted in the first place…that it was only a matter of time until the whole thing imploded…and thank goodness that we ordinary mortals don’t have to co-star in films with Marion Cotillard and endure the temptations of the flesh that ensue…

That may all be true.

But I think we are lying if we don’t also admit that we’re all much more invested in other people’s marriages – and divorces – than we typically let on.

And that’s because all marriages – indeed, all long-term relationships – are inherently fragile. Even the strongest ones are rife with unresolved resentments, longings and deficits, and it is inherent in the marriage project itself to somehow learn to accept and endure those inherent blemishes. Indeed, some would say that  marriage is about learning to love your spouse very specifically, not despite – but because of  – his or her specific, individual flaws.

So when we see a famous marriage go bust – whether it’s Al Gore or Sandra Tsing Loh or Brangelina – we are reminded of the fragility of our own relationships. And that, quite simply, is terrifying. Their plight could, we know deep down, also be ours. But instead of owning that fear and feeling genuinely afraid, we mask that insecurity through sniggers and snarky comments.

If we’re going to be really honest with ourselves, we ought to acknowledge that when marriages split up – even, or perhaps especially, among the “beautiful people” – they are, in effect, breaking up for the rest of us.

That’s not something to gloat over. It’s something to thank them for. And be glad that it wasn’t us.

Image: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt via Public Domain Pictures.net

Tips For Adulthood: Teaching Life Skills To Teenagers

teenagers

teenagersI think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that parenting teenagers can be challenging. The teenage brain is still evolving, teenagers are very stressed out and anxious, and they can be an absolute nightmare at the dinner table.

Above all, we know that teenagers are prone to take risks. (Warning: Don’t read this article if you don’t want to imagine all sorts of dangerous s$%t your teen might be getting up to right now…).

And so those of us trying to parent a teenager spend many of our waking hours wondering: how will they ever “graduate” to adulthood? Will they have the life skills they need to succeed as grown ups?

We vaguely know the sorts of things we’d like them to be able to do as responsible adults – which run the gamut from the more practical life skills (how to use an ATM machine, how to get the oil checked and – yes, you guessed it – how to change a lightbulb) to the more abstract life skills (executive function skills, moral integrity, emotional awareness).

If you’re like me, you’ll read through the lists in the links above and find yourself nodding your head vigorously.

But how, in a person who is biologically, emotionally and socially conditioned to resist our best efforts to impart these skills, do we get them there?

This week’s tip list brings a raft of suggestions for teaching life skills to teenagers. To wit:

a. Give Them Responsibility.  I was amazed, when reading this article in the Washington Post, at how much of the advice for teaching life skills to teens boils down to this: start giving them responsibility. (I know, I know, duh.) Whether it’s about giving your teenager a quarterly clothing budget (to practice managing money), bringing them along to the insurance agent when you add them to your automobile policy (to teach them about handling emergencies) or instructing them in those most basic of skills – how to address an envelope and how to write a check – the advice is that you need to get them going on these small things now.

b. Offer Them Things To Read – A close cousin of the “give them stuff to do” is “give them stuff to read.” Of course, not all kids will respond to a reading list, but some  (my own, for example) tend to respect advice more when it comes from an expert. I’m a huge fan of adolescent expert Nicola Morgan, whose website is chock full of resources – for parents, for teachers and also for kids themselves – about topics ranging from sleep to exams to stress. On the life skills end of things – since a common one that comes up is learning how to manage time – Nicola has a whole study skills guide for kids.

c. Play Games. If books aren’t your kids thing, try games and activities. This site lists “fun” life skills games for adolescents of different ages that gets them working on things from anger management to job hunting to healthy eating. (I want to play the Shhh! game!)

d. Outsource it. You don’t need to do it all by yourself, either. There are organizations that specialize in helping teens adjust to adulthood. I was recently at a food allergy clinic with my son and the doctor told us that once my son turns 16, he will join an adolescent clinic where the kids come to get their allergy testing themselves. Because kids with allergies face special risks when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs – (bottom line: you don’t want to eat the wrong thing when you’re high) – but also with food preparation and consumption, it’s important, the doctor said, that my son begin learning how to cook and shop for himself now. They’ll start him off with seven “safe” recipes he can make on his own. To which I said: Bring it on…

e. Go with the flow. Finally, if the idea of trying to turn your kid into a responsible adult before s/he is ready doesn’t float your boat, exhale deeply and just let go. There’s a lot to be said for letting teens be teens and enjoying this period of life for what it is – one of experimentation, fun and creativity – rather than trying to rush them through it. After all, we were teens once too.

How about you? What tactics have worked for you when teaching teenagers life skills and which ones do you think matter most?

Image: Teenagers at Play via Wikimedia.com