Tag Archives: featured

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

 

Why I Miss Phone Books

phone books

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

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

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

My husband and I stared back at him in disbelief.

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

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

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

So what’s with my attachment to phone books, you ask?

Much like mood rings or candy necklaces, we all have an emotional attachment to objects that remind us of childhood. In the case of phone books, they take me straight back to the kitchen of the house I grew up in in suburban New Jersey and the colourful, chaotic and cacophonous room that housed our White Pages and its corporate sister, The Yellow Pages. Seeing that phone book all these many years later it as as if I were suddenly back in that room, competing with the dog and the classical music station and my three siblings as we struggled to dominate the nightly family dinner.

But it’s more than that. Seeing a real, live phone book was also a lovely reminder of that frisson that accompanied the process of discovery around someone’s “details” (as we say here in the U.K.) when I was young. You’d make a new friend at school or discover a boy or girl you had a crush on or possibly just wanted to know the street your weird math teacher lived on. And so you went and paged through that vast, floppy tome of ripped, extensively underlined and coffee stained white pages to learn that your one true love (or physics partner…or jerky guy at the pizza parlor…or uptight lady at the reference desk of the local library) had a phone number. And somehow, knowing that small piece of information – that number – gave you some small measure of power. Or at least you believed that it did.

My inner social media junkie notwithstanding, seeing this phone book even made me long for the days when *all*  you might know about a person was their phone number and their address. And you had to imagine the rest. “Oh, he lives on such and such a street and goes to *that* junior high. Maybe I’ll ride my bicycle over there one day after school and see what color his house is painted or if he has a big back yard.”

And remember how strange it was when someone’s number was “unlisted?” We thought people were obsessively private if they didn’t share their phone numbers with a bunch of strangers. Ha! Now we have lawsuits over whether it’s fair game to reveal someone’s sexual orientation/behavior on line. Kind of makes you long for the days when “the dark web” sounded like the name of a Star Trek episode.

I’ve written before about how nostalgia is a huge part of growing up. I don’t quite put phone books in the same category as the place you grew up or your college friends or your first love – the sorts of things that can truly inspire that odd mix of longing, regret and fondness that nostalgia conjures up.

But it did feel strange – for just that brief moment – to be overcome with a desire for it to be 1975 again.

And then I threw the phone book in the bin.

Image: Auckland Yellow Pages via Wikipedia.com

Tips For Adulthood: Five Self-Help Books That Changed My Life

self helpOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve never been much for self-help books.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. And for a long time I think I was a bit of a snob where self-help books were concerned, thinking they were somehow low brow.

I was wrong. In the past few months, I’ve had occasion to read a couple of self-help books that have had a profound impact on how I want to move forward with my life. And in reflecting back, I realize that there have been a few others along the way that also left their mark.

So today I’m going to share five self help books that changed my life – organized by theme – in the hope that one of these might motivate you to change some aspect of your life that you’re not entirely satisfied with either.

Before I begin, If I can offer one piece of (self-help) of on my own, it would be that you not “dabble” in these books. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each one start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic which builds, chapter by chapter.

Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

Finally, be patient:  some of these books are deceptively short. You might spend an entire month on one page before moving on to the next chapter. That’s just fine.

To wit, five self-help books that changed my life:

1. Happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness franchise needs no introduction. She has a popular blog, several books and a podcast, all geared towards how to be happier in life. Gretchen’s basic philosophy is that through better self-understanding, most of us can make even tiny changes in our daily life that would make us happier, regardless of our baseline. So it’s not necessarily about rushing out and buying a new espresso machine or embarking upon an extreme sport vacation. Rather, small things like figuring out if you’re a chronic under-buyer or over-buyer and shopping accordingly or adopting a personal motif to inspire your creativity can improve your mood on a daily basis. Personally, I found her advice about singing in the morning to work wonders.

2. Career Change. I’m a huge fan of one of the most well-known guides to career change ever written: What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles. This book is so famous it has almost become a cliché. But when I left academia to go into journalism, I locked myself in a café several hours a day for several months and did nothing but follow this book’s script. The book’s basic premise is that to make a meaningful career change, you need to zero in on two variables: what you like and what you’re good at, and where these overlap (harder than it sounds). Six months later, I had a great job as a producer with Chicago Public Radio. I still recommend this book every time someone asks me if I have any advice on how to change careers without spending more than $15.

3. Creativity. I’m shouting to anyone who will listen about Elle Luna’s amazing The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Like “Parachute,” this book is also partly about how to finding meaningful work and/or embark upon a career change. But it’s so much more. It’s about going to the very core of who you are and figuring out how to be authentic to that self – what Luna calls our “must.” It isn’t an easy or comfortable journey. (Try the “write your own obituary” exercise and you may well end up in tears.)  But the book is utterly inspiring because Luna believes so firmly that each of us really does have an amazing gift inside. We just need to figure out how to unlock that creativity and release it into the world. Bonus: because the author is a visual artist, the layout and design of this book are worth the shelf price in and of themselves.

4. Decluttering. Yeah, yeah I know. The whole decluttering thing is soooo…now. But Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever is another deceptively short and simple book that’s loaded with so much more. Kondo’s essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” Sure, as one of the friends I recommended this book to put it: “Your socks need to ‘relax’? Has it crossed your mind that this lady might be a teensy bit OCD?” (If you google her video on how to fold the perfect underwear drawer, you might find yourself agreeing…) But by the last chapter you will forgive her everything because what she’s really trying to do is to use tidying as a vehicle for achieving clarity in our lives (e.g., change careers/get a divorce/take up windsurfing/etc.) If we can get rid of all our excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed.

5. Platforms. This one is for all you aspiring writers out there who think you have a book in you. I’m currently reading Christina Katz’ Get Known Before The Book Deal. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I’m finding it much more useful this time around, possibly because I have a much clearer idea for a non-fiction book proposal now than I did when I picked this up several years ago and was vaguely thinking about writing a novel. This book is written for all those aspiring non-fiction writers who want to be an “expert” in something but haven’t yet created their platform. It shows you how to do this, step by step. I found the chapters on identifying your target audience to be particularly useful.

How about you. What self-help book would you recommend?

Image: Self Help Books by Angie via flickr.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Get A Makeover

eyeliner

eyelinerOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m not exactly what you’d call a girly girl. I hate shopping, I rarely purchase clothes and I only really began wearing make up regularly four years ago when I started my most recent job.

So when my 22 year-old niece recommended me for a free makeover/photo shoot, I was initially skeptical.

“It’s fun!” she insisted.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is, but you’re 22 and I’m…not,” I answered.

When the call from the salon initially came through, I politely declined. But when they later followed up with a text, I found myself wavering.

I’ve only had someone show me how to apply makeup once in my life, another freebie back when I was much younger and first out in the working world. Back then, someone told me that figuring out how to style yourself is all about seasons – and my coloring renders me “Winter” – but I never bothered to investigate what that really meant. More to the point, that was like 20 years ago and I felt like it might be time for a”refresher” course.

It was. Here are five reasons to get a makeover:

1. It’s efficient. I have no idea which makeup looks good on me. For awhile now, I’ve noticed that others were applying their makeup differently to me and better, but I didn’t know how to alter my daily regime and that’s not the sort of thing I’d be naturally good at figuring out. This time, the lady who did my makeover told me that my natural skin tone is yellow. This means that I should stick to “peach” tones. But because I have blue eyes, I can also work in some grey accents and pink is OK for lipstick. Best advice? Putting eye liner on the top eyelid, not the bottom.  Apparently it “opens the eyes.” (Yeah, I’m pretty late to that party, but at least I’m not alone.)

2. It’s a good excuse to declutter. Relatedly, there’s nothing quite like seeing professional photos of yourself to realize that the jeans you think look good, don’t; the color of shirt you think suits you, doesn’t, etc. etc. I’ve just finished reading a book about decluttering – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – whose essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” If we can get rid of all that excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed. In my own case, I know that I could easily do without at least two-thirds of the clothes I own because I only wear them once a year. It’s time to accept that they simply don’t “spark joy” and move on.

3. You can bond with your child. I took my 12 year-old daughter along with me to the makeover/photo shoot. They gave her a tiny bit of lip gloss and curled her hair. She loved it. I know that many would find this troubling: it encourages her to focus too much on her looks and to learn that her natural beauty is something that she needs to perfect endlessly. But I’m really confident that my daughter knows exactly who she is and also knows that looks aren’t everything. And as long as she’s still at that age (just) where I’m her best friend, I cherish any chance for us to spend “alone time” together.

4. It’s good to experiment. I’m currently reading a self-help book that encourages readers to try one new thing a month. The idea is that only by experimenting, can you discover your true passion in life (more on that another time…). I’ve written before on these pages about the value of experimentation in adulthood. In my own case, I’m trying really hard to fight the side of me that always responds to new opportunities with “You don’t have time,” “It’s too expensive” and/or the perennial, “Yes, but…” In the case of this makeover, my gut told me that I actually wanted to try this and I figured I had nothing to lose. I didn’t.

5. You get a decent photo of yourself. Yeah, I’m not above that…

What about you? Have you ever had a makeover? Did you like it? What did you learn?

Image: YSL Baby Doll Eyeliner 11 Light blue by Heidi Uusitorppa via Flickr