Tag Archives: Jonathan Rauch The Happiness Curve

The Value of Paying It Forward

I, You, Me, We Group Silhouette by Geralt via Pixabay

I got a call the other day from a friend who’s looking to change careers in midlife. Knowing that I was a fellow traveler, she wanted to set up a time for us to talk so that I could give her some advice.

I probably get a call like that at least once a month. And I always take them. I usually follow up those conversations with book and podcast recommendations. I also suggest exercises that can help inch them towards their ideal day.

Finders Fees

Someone once suggested that I start charging for those services. After all, I’m serving as a quasi-career coach. But that thought has never even occurred to me.

For starters, they’re friends. And friends don’t charge friends for advice. But I feel the same way about finders fees. Clients call me fairly regularly for names of people who can provide this or that service. Whenever that happens, I always provide the names of colleagues whom I know, trust and can do the work.

The last time I did this, the colleague I recommended asked me how much of a cut I’d like for sending business his way. I said “nothing.”

What goes around comes around

Call me naive. But I’m of the “What goes around, comes around” school of thought. If I ever needed advice from one of the friends I routinely advise on career change, I’m confident they would return the favor.

This happened just the other day. A sticky situation had presented itself at work. So I called a friend who ran his own consulting business for 25 years and asked him how he’d manage it. He patiently spent at least an hour on the phone with me, carefully walking me through a series of scenarios.

Unbeknownst to him, his daughter called me shortly thereafter to help her rewrite her cover letter and CV. I readily obliged. To my way of thinking, there’s a certain reciprocity there.

Ditto those colleagues I’m tossing work to every so often, without expectation of a finder’s fee. I fully expect that at some point, someone will offer them a professional opportunity that’s not in their wheelhouse. Or that they’re simply too busy to take on. And when that happens, they’ll think of me.

And even if they don’t refer me work, someone else in my professional circle will. I’m a big believer in this concept of “paying it forward.” It refers to a situation where the beneficiary of a good deed repays the kindness to others, instead of to the original benefactor. It’s another way of saying “what goes around comes around.” Where my work is concerned, I fully believe that in some larger freelance eco-system cosmos, it all evens out.

Networking as We Age: The Power of Altruism

To me, that’s why networking is useful, particularly as we age. It’s not just that we know more people who can advise us professionally – the proverbial “dinner table of confidantes” I’ve written about before. It’s that you can help a wider circle of people.

As Jonathan Rauch notes in his brilliant book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50 – as we age, our brains are wired to be more altruistic. We possess a much greater ability to re-direct our focus away from ourselves and towards our community. That’s also the message in another wonderful book called The Go-Giver. Its basic premise is that you don’t succeed in life because you take more away from other people; you succeed because you give back.

To my mind, that’s a wonderful feeling – to be able to share one’s expertise and, in turn, to learn from others. How about you? When you give a referral, do you charge a finder’s fees? Do you ever give free advice? And how does it feel?

This post originally appeared on Sixty and Me.

Why Coaching Is So Meaningful As We Age

writing coach

writing coachI ran into a student just before lockdown whom I’d worked with a year ago. She was in the office of a local university where I coach PhD students on how to write their dissertations. She was there to pick up her diploma.

When I first met this woman, she’d been trying to write her thesis on and off for a decade. Her original academic advisors had long ago left the building. She was on her own now, with a newly assigned advisor who wasn’t even in her field, and struggling with debt, deadlines and concomitant mental health issues.

“Working with you was transformative,” she told me when we met. “You were the first person to talk to me about my work for more than 15 minutes  in ten years.” She was beaming. The slouching person near tears I’d worked with a year earlier had morphed into a confident and accomplished vision of health.

Coaching as Empowerment
I’ve written before about why I enjoy being a writing coach. Unlike editing, where you basically fix a person’s writing, coaching is about cultivating that ability in the writers themselves.

This support can take all different forms. One client I worked with was an undiagnosed dyslexic. We spent six weeks going over the basic rules of grammer, devoting one entire session to the comma. Another client wanted help crafting essays for his business school applications. The schools wanted him to tell stories about himself, but he’d never written in the first person before and felt uncomfortable.

Most of the people I coach are at some stage of writing their doctoral dissertations. With them, it might be about helping them re-think their introductions so that these provide a roadmap for the entire paper. Or showing them how construct a literature review that won’t bore the reader. Most of the time, it’s simply about asking them a series of questions to help them articulate their core argument in one sentence and why it matters.

As you work together over time, you don’t just help clients with their writing, of course. You help them to feel confident about doing all these things on their own.

Coaching During Lockdown: The Power of Connection

Lockdown has intensified my relationship with the people I coach, especially the students.
Writing a PhD can be a very lonely process. Most of the time, you’re holed up in a library, poring over a bunch of obscure texts and trying to make sense of them. Occasionally, you go visit your advisor for feedback. Their job is to make you feel even worse about your writing. (Here, I paraphrase any number of famous people who’ve been credited for observing that “the politics at universities are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”)

But during lockdown, students are stuck in their bedrooms. They can’t derive comfort from an impending coffee break with their friends or from the shared struggle of looking up and seeing a hundred other people tapping on their keyboards in a library. Worse, most of the feedback from their advisors now arrives via email.

So when I talk to them, it often feels like I’m the first human being they’ve spoken to in ages. This connection is good for them. But it’s also good for me. I’m finding that one of the silver linings of lockdown is how much I’m enjoying my daily, face-to-face connection with students. It’s become a high point in my day.

Giving Back as We Age: Wisdom and Crystallized Intelligence

I wonder  sometimes if I would enjoy my coaching work as much if I were younger. I doubt it. A recent episode of Adam Grant’s fantastic Work Life podcast probed the difference between “fluid intelligence” and “crystallized intelligence.” The former refers to the ability to solve problems in novel situations and tends to peak when you’re young. The latter is the ability to use knowledge acquired through experience, which emerges when you’re older.

I think the reason I’m enjoying coaching so much right now is that it affords me this ability to transfer the knowledge I’ve acquired about writing through 30 plus years of experience. As someone who’s spent a fair bit of her life in a classroom, the rush is no longer so much about how I come across to the students or how I perform. It’s increasingly about what they take away from our interactions.

Research suggests that the difference between older and younger managers is that whereas younger managers are all about self-advancement, older workers are much more other-directed. They are more collaborative, more empathetic and more inclusive. They listen better and delegate more.

I think this is what Jonathan Rauch calls wisdom in his book The Happiness Curve:  Why Life Gets Better After Midlife. Wisdom is not only, or even primarily, about knowledge and expertise. It’s about cultivating a greater ability to focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

Image: Writing by Alan Cleaver via Flickr

Note: This post originally ran on Sixty and Me.

Virtual Volunteering in the Age of the Corona Virus

virtual volunteering

virtual volunteeringIn the wake of the all-consuming Corona virus, there is plenty of advice floating around  for how to keep yourself calm and occupied at home. I personally liked Margaret’s list over on Sixty and Me. In addition to the usual ideas of crafting and exercising at home, she also had some great suggestions like virtual travel, watching Ted Talks, and doing a “life review.”

But there’s another way to occupy your time right now that will also help make you calmer and happier: virtual volunteering. At a time when we’re getting daily reminders to be mindful of the most vulnerable, volunteering on line is not only good for the community, it’s also good for you.

The Value of Volunteering as You Age

There’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that volunteering is good for your physical and mental  health, particularly as you age. As one author wrote long before the Corona virus set in, volunteering – by allowing her a place to deposit her abundant, mid-life energy  – became her personal “chill pill.”

Volunteering also taps into a larger sense of purpose. In his book, The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch explores the science behind the so-called ” Happiness U-curve.” The U-curve, a statistically robust finding which cuts across countries, shows that life satisfaction falls in our 20s and 30s, hits a nadir in our late 40s, and then increases steadily until our 80s. But that upwards curve, Rauch suggests, is not only the product of greater personal acceptance and expectations-adjusting as we age. It also derives from a greater ability to re-direct our focus away from ourselves and towards our community.

The numbers back this up. As Marc Freedman notes in his book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, fully a third of older adults in the United States already exhibit “purpose beyond the self”  – i.e., they identify, prioritise, and actively pursue goals that are both personally meaningful and contribute to the greater good. That’s 34 million people over the age of 50 who are willing and able to tutor children, clean neighbourhood parks, or work for world peace.

Virtual Mentoring

Obviously, in an age of social distancing, we need to move all of that good spirit and energy online. One of the easiest ways to do that is by becoming a mentor.  The beauty of being a mentor is that you don’t need to work inside a large company – or even a formal hierarchy – to make a difference. All you need is a transferable skill set, a bit of empathy and the ability to help someone breakdown their work, life or education challenges into tractable, bite-sized chunks. Writers, scholars, artists, social workers – not to mention you corporates out there – can and should mentor.

Nor, in this globally connected world, do we need to work or live down the hall or street from our mentees. When I worked at the BBC, I mentored a young journalist via Skype who lived and worked 5,000 miles away from me. I gave this young woman tips for how she might communicate better with her introverted boss. I advised her on stress-management when she got stopped and questioned by her government for having taken photos of a taboo region in the country. We even discussed how she might navigate societal expectations that – as a single, unmarried woman in her early 30s – she was long overdue to have a baby, even though she didn’t feel ready.

Online Campaigning

You can also get involved with online campaigning for a cause you’re passionate about. An American artist friend of mine in London recently launched a Kick-starter campaign to support a beautiful Haggadah collage she was making for the upcoming Passover holiday. Unfortunately, she launched this fundraising drive about a week before Corona virus awareness hit “red” on the dial in the UK and the US. So she abruptly cancelled her own campaign to support a friend in Texas who was raising money to build a safety net for the restaurant workers she was going to need to lay off.

This is also a good time to get involved in political campaigning. It’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a major set of elections in the US approaching us in November. Going door to door in swing states is ill-advised in the current moment. But there is plenty to be done online to support your political party/candidate. I personally plan to re-direct the volunteering time I normally spend teaching creative writing to children into depolying online tools to mobilise the large and occasionally pivotal swath of Americans voters living abroad.

Ageing  and Wisdom

One of the concepts Rauch talks about in his book about aging and happiness is “wisdom.” His argument is that wisdom is not only, or even primarily, about knowledge and expertise. It’s also about rising about self-interest in order to promote the common good.

I, for one, feel wiser for knowing this. And I can’t wait to spread my wisdom online.

Image: Volunteering Hands via Needpix.com

Building Awareness of The New (Old) Age: A Curriculum

midlife crisis car

midlife crisis carMiddle age is having a rebirth. Rather than conceptualizing this phase of life as something to survive, a new vision is taking hold, one that views midlife as a time of renewal and opportunity.

Instead of focusing on the statistically validated dip in happiness that settles in around 40, writers and scholars are now more interested in its upward slope. Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50  is just the latest example of this new literature on positive ageing.

This more optimistic take on middle age coincides with the reality that we are currently living in an age of longevity. The numbers speak for themselves. The average life expectancy for women in most industrialized countries is expected to exceed 85 by 2030. Of the babies born in 2017 in the U.K., the predicted real-life expectancy was 104, while in Japan it was 107.

But while the notion that we’re all living to be 100 may have caught on in the popular imagination, there’s still a good way to go in the policy sphere. It’s true that a rapidly aging population places all kinds of strains on government resources – requiring a shift in how we think about things like pensions and housing and beyond. But it also presents an opportunity. So we need to start thinking about how these “young old” people can keep contributing actively to their own – and society’s – well-being.

Motivating politicians to do something constructive and imaginative about engaging this older cohort begins by building awareness on a mass level. To my mind, there are three ways to improve public understanding of the particular characteristics and needs of this  “older” demographic.

Read the rest of this blog over at The Oxford Institute for Population Ageing

Image: VW Daimler Dart Midlife Crisis by Cracknell123 via Pixabay